Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Day at Rice University

Houston is the fourth largest city in the USA and so it should not surprise anyone that our fair city has some excellent universities - one of which is Rice University. I had to visit Rice U. today (Tuesday, Dec. 30) to discuss plans for a research project at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering which our company intends to support in 2009. Even though today was officially a vacation day for me, I didn't mind going to Rice for a few hours of work. Besides being a great university with some 400 world-renowned instructors, the Rice campus offers visitors some of the finest examples of architecture. And since the weather today was perfect (only a few clouds were visible), I brought along our new Canon 50D digital SLR and can now share some photos of the campus with my readers. Enjoy!!
Lovett Hall - one of THE main buildings on the Rice campus. This courtyard is where the annual graduation ceremony is usually held.
Rear view of Lovett Hall.

Close up view of the arches along one of the walkways.

Another impressive-looking building in the central campus ....

A statue of the university founder, William Marsh Rice.

And, lastly, the official university seal!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Beer Can House!

Yesterday, I spent my Sunday afternoon (Dec. 28) taking in two "hot spots" in Houston's expanding art world! Images from one of these places are worth sharing with my readers.

Last April I posted some pictures from Houston's annual Art Car Parade. This event is sponsored by an organization called "The Orange Show". Turns out T.O.S. recently purchased a Houston icon located near downtown called "The Beer Can House". This little bungalow got its name for reasons that should become obvious once you examine the pictures below. The building was originally a simple little home but after the owner, John Milkovisch, retired, the place took on a new appearance - to say the least! Have a look below ......

The Beer Can House is now covered with the shells of empty beer cans and the front porch and fence are adorned with many, many cans and parts of beer cans.

A close-up view of the fence out in front of the Beer Can House.

A close-up view of the siding which completely covers the house (except for the roof). The owner meticulously cut up beer cans, rolled out the beer can body into small strips of aluminum which he then nailed onto the exterior surface of his home.

The former owner - John Milkovisch -and his wife. Sadly, John passed away in 1988 but thanks to "The Orange Show" art organization, the home was purchased and preserved and is now open to the public an Saturdays and Sundays.

A quotation from the former owner and artistic creator of The Beer Can House.

If you have patience, you can zoom in or print out the above and read the complete history of The Beer Can House. FYI: There is NO CHARGE to enter and inspect the inside of this place.

Actually, my first stop for the day was at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Currently featured was an exhibit entitled "Hot Glass". On display were some absolutely amazing works of art made entirely out of glass. Sadly, the gallery does not hold the copyrights to the works of art in the gallery and hence I was unable to take any photographs and so I cannot share any images of the artwork on display. Then I went to The Beer Can House (above) where, thankfully, there were no restrictions on taking pictures!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

UPDATE on Starbucks Closure in Al Zour, Kuwait

UPDATE: Regarding the closure last month of the Starbucks nearest my work site in Al Zour, Kuwait (reference my earlier posting in November), a trusted Saudi colleague informed me yesterday that the Al Zour Starbucks is STILL CLOSED!! Honestly, I wonder what is going through the minds of the local Kuwaiti authorities when they closed this shop down ostensibly because the owner simply needed some paperwork! It really sends a bad signal to the world. When I stopped by the place on the last weekend it was open (way back in November), it was packed - both inside and outside. I only wish they settle this mess and reopen the place before my next anticipated return trip!! As the Saudis and Kuwaitis would say - "Inshallah" (translation: "if Allah wills it").

PS: I fully realize this topic may not concern many of my followers, but I am sure that Cheryl - who just signed on as one of my followers and is a self-confessed "coffee addict" - may wish to take note! :-)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

Merry Christmas to everyone! For your information, we are having a very warm winter here in Houston. Today's temperature was about 74 deg F!! It just doesn't feel like Christmas. At any rate, it sure feels great not having to go through airports especially with all the winter weather causing havoc at the main airports in Chicago, New York, etc. Staying home is not so bad! I've had a pleasant time at the area malls. (Madame Lefty: I agree with you - Memorial City Mall is really nice. For reasons I can't explain, I found the Galleria mall to be not as nice as I remembered from prior visits. The Galleria didn't have quite the holiday "feel" to it this time around.) And I took in the new movie - Valkyrie - today and was pleasantly pleased with the historical accuracy of the facts presented. I recommend this film to those who like WWII-themed movies.

Oh well, that's about it for now. I will leave you with the following pictures of some of the Holiday decorations that I have managed to spot throughout the Houston metro area. Enjoy!!

And Merry Christmas!!

My favorite house in the Houston metro area ... this home has the most decorations that I've spotted in the past two weeks. Yes, I suppose all these balloons can seem a bit silly, but what the heck - it sure looks different.

Not too bad - a good runner up as home decorations go.

Plain and simple - wooden reindeer. I suspect these decorations are quite old and predate all the balloon-like figures we see nowadays.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas 2008 - At Home in Houston

True Confession from the "Traveling Chemist": It sure is great not having to travel over the Christmas Holiday!! I get to stay home, take care of chores and hang out at the mall. Sounds boring I know but after a year of being on the move, I have no complaints!

Here are a few of the sights in and around the Houston metropolitan area:

(1) An increasing number of homes have these inflatable figures on the front lawn. (One problem: criminals sometimes vandalize these ballon figures leaving behind a deflated mess and some very disappointed young children.)

(2) This weekend (Saturday, December 20th) I ventured to Sugar Land, TX and took in the First Colony Mall - one of the largest in the Houston area:

The Sugar Land City Hall building all decked out for the Christmas Holiday.

The Santa at the First Colony Mall was prefectly dressed for the part!

The main entrance to the First Colony Mall. It took me only about 20 minutes to drive to the mall from my apartment .... and ten (10) minutes to find a parking space!!! When I left at 12:45 pm, the parking lot was full and more cars were streaming in!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Thanks in part to my frequent travel schedule throughout this year, I have managed to accumulate a lot of vacation time. Unfortunately, our new department president (bless her heart!) has decided to forbid the carrying over of any time off into the new year. Thankfully, I've managed to get a small exemption and will carry over one week which I MUST use up in the first quarter of 2009. So, for the next four (4) weeks, yours truly will be at home enjoying some badly needed R&R. Hence, the "Traveling Chemist" will NOT travel anywhere - except to The Mall for Christmas shopping! (Memorial City, The Galleria - pictured above - and First Colony are just a few of Houston's finest places where I will likely lose - I mean spend - some of my hard-earned money.) To keep my readers interest from lagging, however, during the intervening lull caused by my not traveling, I will be posting examples of what I hope will be some fine photography of sights throughout the Houston metropolitan area (population 3 million people) during the Holiday season. Our work team purchased a new Canon 50D digital SLR camera and I have been allowed to take this camera home with me and play with my new "toy" and learn about its new features.

Happy Holidays everyone. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Homeward Bound

Traveling certainly offers me many opportunities to visit new places, meet new people, experience new cultures and of course take many pictures. Why would I want it to end? Well, when the Christmas Holiday approaches, it's hard to explain but I just want to get home! And so it happened this Thursday (Dec. 4). After a reasonably comfortable overnight stay at the Sheraton Hotel at Frankfurt Airport, I boarded Lufthansa Flight 440 and - after a 50 minute delay caused by an unexplained "airport emergency" - we took off at 11:50 am local time in Frankfurt and landed at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) at 3:15 pm Central time. About 10 hours and 25 minutes of flying time. As my cousin would say - a real "butt burner"!! And so it goes ... another trip completed and some well deserved REST.

I've been soooooo very busy this year that I have been unable to take much of my allotted vacation time. Hence, I am now on "mandatory vacation"! I must use up most of my 2008 vacation time in the second half of December and the first half of January. During this time interval, I will try to share my Christmas cheer in the form of photos which I will post from time to time. I plan on making NO TRIPS during the Christmas Holiday and will instead remain at home-sweet-home taking care of chores that I've put off doing the rest of this year. And as one wise friend once said to me: "Christmas is the time of year when people who normally don't travel that much, travel". And he's correct! That's why I prefer to stay away from crowded airports, avoid the flight delays, don't get stuck in traffic snarls, etc and simply stay home. Besides, I'm sure there will be plenty of travel next year!

So before I close, here are a few pictures of my return trip home:

Pay attention to the escalator sign!! Press the handle down!! Releasing the handle LOCKS the cart in place and as the escalator goes UP the cart rolls DOWN .... and can hit the passenger standing behind the cart. I am still nursing the leg wound caused by the cart banging into my shin! Ouch!

CAUTION: Stay away from the Starbucks at Terminal 1, Wing 'B' at Frankfurt Airport ... if you like decaffeinated coffee, you will hate what this place dispenses. The decaf Americano I ordered tasted so weak, it was basically warm, brown-colored water with so very little flavor. Shame on you Starbucks!

Flight 440 departed from Gate 15. What was unique about this gate is that it is connected to its very own Business Class lounge. You board the plane directly from the lounge area! What a concept!

A view from the window near my seat. The 747 has two engines on each side of the aircraft.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Home for the Holidays!!

Well the day has finally arrived!! I departed Kuwait at the delightful hour of 1:15 am aboard Lufthansa 637. A nice flight and we managed to land in Frankfurt 10 minutes early at 5:07 am local time (2 hours behind Kuwait time). The only problem is that I managed to hit my leg against the luggage cart as I maneuvered the contraption up the moving escalator. It rammed against my leg causing a small (3 cm sized) abrasion. Fortunately I recovered and avoided being knocked down the escalator! I then checked in to the Sheraton at 5:50 am and thankfully they had a room for yours truly so I crawled into bed for some badly needed rest. As I type this post, it is 1:55 pm local time. Just had a nice meal and I'm watching the sky outside. It was snowing this morning. Yes, seeing snow is a nice contrast to the sands of Kuwait .... BUT I only hope that tomorrow's weather does not cause any delay in my flight to home sweet home!!

One little bit of information: because of our early arrival, our pilot indicated that our flight was actually one of the FIRST planes to land at Frankfurt Airport this morning as the entire airport is under a nighttime curfew that ends at 5 am (presumably for noise control).

I will make this a brief posting but before I go I will share a few photos from my last day in Kuwait. Ta ta for now (yawn) ....

Finally a camel picture!! And may I say it's about time! I managed to go the entire trip this time without a single camel picture to share with yawll (that's Texas-speak for "you all"). Well, on my commute to work for my last day (December 2), I came upon a Kuwaiti-style traffic jam so to speak. Had to wait for this guy to cross the street!!

On my last day in the office in Wafra, our waiter made me a cappuccino. Nice!

"Part 1" of the long journey home - my flight from Kuwait to Frankfurt departed Kuwait at the delightful hour of 1:15 am!! I'll give Lufthansa credit - they left ON TIME!!