Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Day in Utrecht

Utrecht is about an hour south of Amsterdam, but still located in the North Holland province. From literature I read about it, Utrecht really prides itself on being better than Amsterdam in every way. After visiting there, I saw that they kind of have a point.

We started the morning at Kasteel de Haar, which is actually a fake castle. It's not a fake castle in the way that Disney World or Medieval Times in the States are fake castles. As far as I can figure out, it's a fake castle because the restoration of it in the nineteenth century was not accurate enough. It was a real castle two thousand years ago, but had since fallen and was then rebuilt in the late 1800s. The architect, Pierre Cuypers, combined both neo-gothic and neo-renaissance styles to perfect the look that its nineteenth century owners were looking for. Apparently, this de-legitimized it as a genuine castle. I'm a little hazy on the details.

The restoration also included a re-modeling of the exterior grounds and gardens. The weather restricted us from getting a feel for the horticultural artistry, but the snow made it look like Narnia. That's something, right?

uhm, I like gargoyles?

Utrecht itself is like a smaller version of Amsterdam, canals and all. It seemed a bit cleaner and nicer, but also much busier. There were TONS of people shopping in the flea market and department store. In fact, there were just a lot more people EVERYWHERE.

Here is a photo of Dom Tower, the tallest church tower in the Netherlands, taken from the base of the tower. Before I leave, I'm going to climb all the way to the top and not let my semi-fear of heights discourage me. 

 I honestly have no idea what this photo is of, but it was the view from under the arch of the Dom Tower and it is gorgeous.

We saw this poor guy while passing over one of the canals. The idea of making something that is ordinarily so perfect and innocent into something morbid, in such a beautiful location, really stuck with me. I feel like it requires no back story even if there is one.

I mentioned in the previous blog that I would soon be beginning a new project. I have decided to photograph the Lorax in all of the places that I go to, particularly recognizable sites. Twitter friends have already seen a few sneak peeks at the Lorax in boring places, but I'll begin with where I begin on this trip, at Het Funen in Amsterdam. 

 The Lorax overlooking Amsterdam from the rooftop terrace of Funen. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Everything Starts At the Seam

I have finally made my way to Amsterdam and am working on getting adjusted to life here. Unpacking might help.

So far, I've done a lot of orientation-ing, which is completely unfun. I love all the informative stuff (particularly a brief history of Amsterdam lecture this afternoon) and the practical instructions, but I could do without people expecting me to talk to them. I'm not completely misanthropic, but I don't like meeting people when they're in cheery-show-off-the-best-part-of-my-personality mode. I prefer making friends by sharing a conversation about Harry and the Potters at a coffee house. 

One of the fun parts of orientation was a canal ride through the city. Here's a few photos from the canals as well as some from my first morning of wandering around. You can tell which were taken on the canal because those have a dirty glass filter (I definitely did not expect it to be an enclosed canal).

The view from just about every single block in Amsterdam.

A lot of the houses are crooked with the front faces looking like they're about to fall off. They're all so narrow because, when most of them were being built in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, they were taxed based on width.

Centraal Station (to write in Dutch, add extra vowels to everything) is one of my favorite buildings in the city and I get to go to it multiple times a day so I look forward to taking many more photos of it.

Anchored outside of the science museum, Nemo, is a pirate ship!

Being a pirate ship is already cool, but having Hermes on it makes it officially the coolest ship in the entire world. Poseidon is also on the ship, but I can only bring myself to care about him thanks to Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series (which, by the way, is completely awesome and everyone should read it so I have someone besides ten year-old boys to talk to about it).

This is a Chinese floating restaurant. How effing awesome is that? It's modeled after the original one in China (I think). The original seats 5,000 patrons, but this one is much smaller. I most definitely intend on going here at some point.

Another photo of an Amsterdam street. You can see the falling fronts of the houses a bit better from this angle. These ones aren't too precarious as compared to others I've seen. At the top of the gables are hooks that Amsterdammers use for moving. Since all of the front doors/hallways are so narrow, all of the furniture goes out through the windows when they move.

Earlier today, we turned down an alley and I saw a Christian hostel. I was not expecting to see anything overtly Christian (besides churches) in Amsterdam. It came as a bit of a shock. A few meters on, there was a mannequin in a red lit display case. Then the mannequin moved! It was a real woman and we were in the Red Light District! And there's a Christian hostel in the Red Light District? 

Fortunately, it was still daylight out and there were about seven of us so we didn't feel in any danger. We just rushed through without doing anything and went on our way. I couldn't take any photos because I have been advised not to do so. My first meeting of Intro to Sexual Studies is supposed to include a trip to the Red Light District. I doubt I'll be able to take photos then either, but I'll be able to include a more descriptive blog about it. 

I have two projects planned for the blog while I'm in Amsterdam (one of which I've mentioned before). They should surface sometime within in the week. For now, look out for some photos/commentary of Utrecht on Sunday.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Providence, RI

When I was in Boston, my friend and I took a day trip over to Providence to visit my top-choice (and slightly out of grasp) university for transfer.

This is the student center (I think?) for Rhode Island School of Design. It was also the inspiration for the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast.

From the Brown green. I should have had one of us stand beside it as a scale because it was freaking huge.

More from Brown. Even in the snowy, glum weather it's pretty.

My requirement for schools? Must have ivy.

Don't look at the marquee. That's not what is important here. What is important is the words on top of and below the marquee. This is the FIRST Baptist church in America. Like, actually the first. Founded by Roger Williams. Completely beyond awesome. Roger Williams was such a badass.

When my friend and I first entered the atrium of the Amtrak station looking for a map, we saw a huge photo of this building and I joked, "let's go there!" I was so excited to actually stumble upon it later! I could have taken a million more pictures of the intricate architecture, but we were hurrying to get back to our train.

Providence is an arts center so you know everything there is going to be weirdly gorgeous and awesome. The neighborhood up near Brown and RISD had lots of fantastic looking buildings like the two shown. They really highlight the rustic, European style I always imagine New England buildings having. If you ever get a chance to go to Providence, follow Washington St. to where it splits into Waterman and Thomas. Then walk up both of them. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Boston, MA

I jetted over to Boston to visit a friend of mine earlier this week. I think I stayed a grand total of 39 hours and forgot to bring my camera charger. Ergo, I did not take very many photos.

Despite the lack of photographic evidence, I did get to see a lot of cool things. We spent one evening in Harvard Square. Drinking hot boba tea for the first time (which takes a few sips to get used to, but is just as delicious as cold boba), we perused the bargain basement of the largest Urban Outfitters I've ever seen and split a noodle dish at my beloved Wagamama.

Being in Harvard Square, we obviously couldn't leave without seeing Harvard itself. So, we turned through one of its gated entrances along the bustling sidewalk and all was immediately silent. I was amazed at how calm and almost somber the campus was. Just behind the brick walls was a noisy, clambering city square, but here the monumental buildings preserved sacred academia.

The fresh snow on the greens was still untrod and the stillness of the whole place was getting to me. So, after a failed attempt at a snow ball fight, I decided to disrupt the perfect, glistening blankets of snow by leaving my mark (at least until the next snowfall came in a few hours).

What I enjoyed most about Boston was simply that it is a city. My permanent residence as well as my old school are in suburban towns, which can be very asphyxiating. Besides that, growing up in suburbia means I'm always a little rusty at normal city life. Using public transportation without looking like an idiot, for example.

It was also great to be in the snow. This time next week I will be in The Netherlands and it will be very very very cold. So, I was glad for the opportunity to test drive my snow gear in the four inches that blanketed the sidewalks my first night in Boston.

To indicate how different that is from my normal life: it's January (as you all know). I am sitting on my mom's apartment patio barefoot wearing a tank top and looking down at people swimming in the unheated pool. I actually can hear a train in the background, but it is not any form of public transportation. It is a tourist train that people drive in their cars to get to and sit for an hour while cowboys entertain them.

Yes, this Texan will be experiencing quite the culture shock (and, perhaps, frost bite) come next week.

Thankfully, I got a little taste of it (in a rustic, New England type of way) with one of my good friends to show me the ropes. Now, perhaps, I won't fall flat on my face in the snow as I struggle to get out my bus pass.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fort Worth Stock Show

Yesterday, I dug out my cowboy boots from the back of my closet to have one last truly Texan hurrah before leaving the country.

The Fort Worth Stock Show happens every year, but despite having lived here for seventeen years, I don't think I've ever actually been to it until now.

Basically, it's your typical carnival + lots of animals + lots of cowboys + the rodeo. Unfortunately, we didn't get to go to the rodeo because it was sold out, but we did get to play with lots of cows and horses and goats and llamas and alpacas and ducks and chickens and rabbits.

Yeah, we were the only adults in the Petting Zoo.

It turns out that baby goats look and act just like puppies. Adorable.

I really liked this alpaca. His teeth gave him such personality. We named him Nigel.

This was the first time I've ever seen an automated milker. I stared a little longer than was natural.

I think I was more fascinated with watching the people at the Stock Show than the animals. Even though I live in Texas, it's not in a very Texan area. All of the people at the Stock Show came from smaller Texas towns and are legitimate cowboys whose rugged farm clothes put my friend and I's dress cowboy boots and skinny jeans to shame. It was such a different world to me that I felt like I was sight-seeing on vacation as opposed to spending the afternoon a half hour from home.

As my friend said to me at one point, this is what everyone in Amsterdam will think of when I tell them I'm from Texas. Rodeos, cowboy boots, deep southern accents and the sharp aroma of manure.

Well, I don't know if they would think of that last one. The smell of farmer's fuel is something so often left out of picturesque notions of the West. One thing I do know, however,  is that I will not be seeing anything like the Stock Show in The Netherlands. So, I was glad to get in a bit of hometown culture before departing to a completely foreign society.

Only in Texas.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How to Turn a Book into an eReader Case

So far the selection for eReader cases is pretty slim. Except for some great cases on etsy, I haven't found any that I'm completely in love with yet. And for the price most of these covers run, I'd really have to be in love with one to buy it.

So, if you're short on money (like me), picky (also like me) or opposed to leather (of which most brand name eReader cases are made), here's one cool way to make a cheap, awesome case using a book and materials from around the house.

Old sweatshirt
Sewing machine
Cardboard cutter
Hot glue gun
Optional scrap material, ribbons or buttons for decoration 

It also has to be a book you won't mind ripping the pages out of. For this search, my friend and I went to Recycled Books to find a cheap one.

My friend trying to find books that were large (and slim) enough to fit a Kindle.

Our favorite choice was Story Town in the upper right corner. Isn't it the perfect name for an eReader? In the end, it didn't make the cut.

I ended up choosing The Scandalous Adventures of Reynard the Fox, which is the exact perfect size to hold my Kindle.

I just couldn't resist the emblem of that sly fox on the cover.


Use a cardboard cutter to detach the binding.

I took extra care with the title page because I wanted to use it for decoration.

After that, I just ripped out the rest as one. It takes a bit of maneuvering and slicing of the threads.

VoilĂ !

Here's a picture of the title page I attached to the inside cover. Rubber cement worked like a charm.

I used an old sweatshirt I didn't mind cutting up to create a comfy pouch to protect my Kindle.

Sadly, the only sweatshirt I was willing to part with was a jarring shade of red that clashes awfully with the book, but when it's all closed up, you can't see the bright red TOO much.

Sew the material into a 6x9 inch pouch (other dimensions may apply for Kindle DX and other eReaders).


First, I wanted to cover up the stringy, remnants of the spine with some ribbon I found in my mom's scrap sewing box.

Close up of the ribbon

Hot glue the pouch with the open side facing in so the eReader won't fall out.
Here's where you can see how AWFUL that red sweatshirt looks next to the aged book, but hey, I didn't want to pay for material.


Normal book....


I'm thinking about adding a faux latch attached with velcro for extra security. The latch could also help pull in the color of the pouch (which I fully intend to change once I get some better scrap material) and give it some much needed embellishment --- I like the aged look, but this particular book could use some color.

Total Cost: $15 for the used book

For the finished product, you get both a soft and a hard case that is completely personalized and way cheaper than the cases on the market now. Plus, I haven't seen any made out of books yet.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Scattered across the US are refurbished cigarette machines called Art-O-Mats. If you put in five dollars, you get a piece of original artwork. Like those little machines at pizza parlors, you don't know exactly what you're going to get.

My friend and I found an Art-O-Mat near us and put in a few tokens each.

I ended up with a necklace and a little block with a monster painted on it.

I wanted a model robot, but they were sold out. That's always my luck with vending machines.

The Art-O-Mat is a pretty awesome idea and it led us to find another art gallery nearby. It's always nice to know that there's a bit of culture in our humdrum suburban neighborhood.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Grad School Will Make You Crazy

I just read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. It's the second book I've read recently that switches between historical fiction and modern day, where a grad student is attempting to write their thesis. Eventually, the events of the historical fiction chapters end up becoming the subject of said thesis.

The other book I read of similar construct was My Name Is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakespeare by Jess Winfield, which is about a lazy Shakespeare grad student at the University of California at Santa Cruz whose professor parents stupidly named him Will Shakespeare Greenberg and who spends most of his time smoking shrooms. The climax occurs when present-day Will eats an effing huge shroom and trips that he's gone back in time to the Elizabethan age at the exact same time that sixteenth century Will eats something mysterious from an apothecary and also goes into a psychedelic stupor.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane was much more low-key. It featured an overachieving heroine and didn't try to claim the existence of drug-induced time travel. It did, however, claim that at least one of the witches of the Salem witch trials practiced magic and that magic exists to this day.

The novel was written by a current grad student and its insane plot, as well as that of the similarly structured My Name Is Will, led me to the question:

Is grad school really so horrific that students go crazy and start thinking the subjects they're researching actually exist?

Then, they realize that the thesis they've written is actually a work of fiction so they end up publishing a novel instead of a dissertation and have to remain in grad school forever?!

Because if that's the case, I kind of don't want to go to grad school anymore. Well, maybe I do because I'd love to publish a novel...but seriously, more and more fictional novels are being published by grad students.  And, based on the general absurdity of these two novels, grad students are really losing their grip with reality.

Besides that though, I thoroughly enjoyed both books. Especially My Name Is Will. Who doesn't love mistaken poaching and hallucinogenic jaunts amid pastures of manure?

20 New Things Update
Here's a few ideas I've come up with for my list of 20 new things before I turn 20:

Eat Indonesian food
Buy (and use) a fountain pen
See a concert in Glasgow
Read a nonfiction book all the way through

Just a few ideas. Suggestions more than welcome.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Kindle: A (Very Long and Comprehensive) Review

I am in love.

With my Kindle.

Even the box made me happy.

Y'know, not to sound materialistic or anything.

Seriously though, what a fine creation. Before I get anyone claiming that I'm a traitor to real books, that I'm encouraging the death of books, let me share my reasoning behind my purchase of (and love for) an eBook reader.

If you are strictly a bibliophile, a collector a books, someone who is aspiring for a Beauty and the Beast library and who gets off from the smell of books, but who doesn't actually read that much, then, no, eBook readers are not for you. However, I have rarely found such a bibliophile who isn't also addicted to reading. People who love collecting books, typically love reading them too. And reading a lot. eBook readers are perfect for people who always have a book with them and can't put them down.

eBook readers allow you to keep reading while you eat or knit or lay in that perfectly comfortable position, which, as we all know, is usually impossible because the pages won't stay open. If you're as addicted to me, you have probably rigged up meticulous book holders across your house. When I was little, I used to prop the Harry Potter books behind the faucets of my bathroom sink while I brushed my teeth.

The Kindle, in particular, has a text to speech feature on (almost) all books from Amazon and all of your personal documents. So, if you're in the middle of a climactic moment, but it's time to go to work, you can turn on text to speech and have your kindle read to you while you get dressed or drive.

There are about a gajillion more reasons why the Kindle is an amazing tool for readers, but know that you can reconcile your bibliophile-ness with owning an eBook reader. I'm definitely not going to stop buying real life books (I bought one just this evening, Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett), but the Kindle is amazingly convenient and sublime.

If you're still not convinced (or if you are looking for more information about this particular eBook reader), I have elucidated on about half of those gajillion reasons why I love the Kindle in the following (terrifyingly long) review.

If you're a person who reads a lot of books, you probably take a handful of books with you when you travel. I definitely know from experience how awfully this can weigh down your carry-on bag on the plane. When I went to San Francisco last month, I had to strategically plan how many books I could fit in my carry-on along with all of my 3 oz. toiletries. The Kindle is only 10.2 oz in weight and a third of an inch thick. I won't even need to allocate room for it in my carry-on when I fly to Boston next week!

My brother has the Kindle for iPhone app so he doesn't get why I need to buy a Kindle when I can get the books for free on my phone. He just doesn't understand.

My horribly ancient 2G iPhone battery rarely lasts an entire day and would probably not last an entire flight with the Kindle for iPhone app open. The Kindle, however, can last for a week straight and two weeks if you turn off wireless (which you would on a plane, unless you fly on awesome airlines like Virgin...not that you'd be on a plane for two weeks straight anyway).


When I first got my Kindle (five days ago), my best friend asked me how I could possibly stand to stare at a screen for so long. This is an aspect of Kindle that you really have to see in person before you understand. The Kindle uses eInk, which is a new technology that looks EXACTLY like ink. The screen of the Kindle looks just like the pages of a book. Even though I had played with a Kindle prior to receiving mine and knew how genuine the eInk looked, when I first took mine out of the box, I mistook the welcome screen for writing on the temporary protective cover. It's that real looking.

Oh yeah, and my best friend, totally ordered a Kindle just hours after seeing mine for the first time.

Awesome Factor

My favorite part of the Kindle (and here's where the bibliophile in me really comes out) is the screensavers. When you put it on sleep mode, the screen displays random images of authors or other literary images. Not only are these beyond awesome (probably only to Comp Lit majors), but so far my Kindle has shown way more female authors than male ones. My Kindle is totally a feminist.

The second most awesome thing about the Kindle is its dictionary feature. You can move your cursor to any word in what you're reading and it will display the definition at the bottom of the screen. You can also choose to look up said word on Wikipedia for no charge (oh yeah, there are no monthly rates for wireless access on the Kindle --- so long as you go to approved sites).

Price of eBooks

Once my best friend ordered her Kindle, she told me how she's going to go broke buying books on it.

Not necessarily.

Hardly any Kindle books are more than $9.99 (the only ones I've encountered so far are cookbooks) and most are much less. Brand new books and bestsellers start at $9.99. Children's books and older editions come cheaper. Just about every single classic is free. I have six pages worth of classic titles on my Kindle and I didn't pay a penny for any of them.

If you're typically paying full price for books (around $20), you will save a ton of money in the long run.

If you are like me and buy most of your books from Half-Price or cheap sellers online, the $9.99 price tags might be a little high. However, keep in mind that you don't have to buy all of your books from Amazon.

The Kindle allows you to upload .pdf and .doc files. If you can find a free downloadable eBook online, you can put it on your Kindle. I recommend Project Gutenburg and Wowio. Project Guternburg doesn't always offer .pdfs. Most of them come as Plain Text or HTML, but they are always free. Wowio, in addition to being all .pdf, also has more contemporary titles. 

What It Needs

Ok, I gotta cop, the Kindle is not perfect. But what new technology is in the first couple of editions? Just ask owners of original iPhones, who can only use apple headphones and don't have a GPS (oh right, that's me. hmph).

There is no brightness adjusting, which, I believe, is because of the eInk. I get that adjusting brightness might mess that up, but surely a backlight could be added? Until then, there are lights specifically made for the Kindle available.

The lack of a touch screen also feels a bit outdated, especially when competitors like the nook have made a touch screen available at the same price. Fortunately, Amazon doesn't seem to be suffering from the Kindle's passé navigation abilities. It is still the best eBook reader on the market for international travelers (though not necessarily for non U.S. permanent residents).

More books are being added everyday, but there are still a substantial number of books I would like to purchase that aren't yet available. Childrens titles are more difficult to come by (Inkheart, grr) and if you have a more academic reading appetite, you should probably hold off buying any eBook readers until more of those titles are available.

The book series I most wish were available on Kindle? Harry Potter. But it never will be. JK Rowling is staunchly against eBooks.

In Conclusion?

It's awesome for travelers and people who can never seem to put down a book. It will save you money on books in the long run. As the months and years go on, more books will be available and software updates will fix some of the current complaints. I really hope that it is not the future of books. For now, physical albums are still produced and bought despite the popularity of mp3s. I can only hope the same for books.

Maybe we can reconcile innovative technology and classic aesthetics?
Photo via