Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Why "2"? Because I wrote the first "COLD HARD CASH" entry on Monday, but just as I was about to post it the electricity went out with a bang, literally and so all my efforts were erased. Lesson learned - "Save as Draft" button comes in handy after all.

So needless to say that I was extremely pissed. It took me two days to get over this and I've still not come to terms with what happened on Monday. Besides, it was a really nice story that I wrote.

In my description of an opera, Rossinni's "The Barber of Seville", I described, quite eloquently, the feeling of smug content with life, universe and everything that one experiences watching, free of charge, a very good performance of a great opera. Yes, that was the last performance of the 2005-2006 International Series presented by the Daytona Beach Symphony Society. And it was the last time in the foreseeable future that we got to go to a major cultural event for free. Therefore, I lamented in my last post, that from now on we must pay COLD HARD CASH to enjoy theatrical performances here in Daytona Beach, a town not known for its student or military discounts.

In my original post that didn't survive the blackout, I also provided an entertaining description of our trip to the SkyVenture Orlando, an indoor skydiving attraction. It would be useless to try to re-create my story again. Да, рукописи может и не горят, но электронные статьи точно исчезают без следа. So now noone, except for myself, Chris, Albina and her daughter Bianca, will know how great it was to float 10-15 feet off the floor in a 250-mile per hour wind inside a pressurized tunnel. Noone will know how difficult it is to stay afloat and not crawl on the floor like some bottom-feeder in a fish tank. Nor will I explain again how even the smallest movement throws you off balance and make you twist and turn and fly all over the chamber, hitting the glass walls and generally providing entertainment to the spectators outside. The only thing that I will repeat is that high price non-withstanding ($20/minute for an introductory 2-minute session), it is tons of fun and is worth doing at least once. For more than that we'll need, once again, COLD HARD CASH.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bike Week 2006

What is a Bike Week, you ask me? It's another manifestation of an American love affair with all things loud and gas-consuming. It's a city-wide celebration of the three Bs - bikes, boobs, and beer. It's a mostly red-neck festival of loud pipes, leather chaps worn over bikini bottoms, five-dollar cans of Bud (if you count a tip), live music performances, and politically incorrect T-shirts. It's a Spring Break for yer old, bald, fat and ugly. It's a party that goes on for 10 days, 24 hours a day and that brings close to 500,000 people into Daytona Beach and its environs.

Yes, it is true that every year the Bike Week grows more diverse. There are more young people attending, more women, more black folks, more Northerners, and more foreigners. But overwhelmingly it's a red-neck and Southern event through and through, at least for now.

Now, let's get something straight right away. First of all, what goes on at the International Speedway during these 10 days should not be referred to as Bike Week. It's a commercialized event heavy on big names in motorworld and stinking of corporate America. I'm not saying don't go. By all means do, if you want to see some pretty darn good bike racing or test-drive a nice new Buell, Harley, or BMW. Nor am I saying not to go to the Daytona Flea Market, just around the corner from the Speedway, a great place for fresh fruits and vegetables, kitchy souveniers, a daily motorcycle stunt show and a swap meet. Nor am I advising you against going to Ridgewood Ave, lined up with souvenier stalls, for some shopping, to Ormond Beach for some old-fashioned Harley experience, or to Samsula for a night of female cole-slaw restling. All I'm saying is if you want a real party, go to Main Street. And that's exactly what Chris and I did last Saturday.

First, we went to a free concert at the bandshell on the beach. It's really a very nice place with great ocean views. Plus there are several restaurants, a Marble Slab Creamery, a Starbucks, and a large movie theater. So first we watched the concert and then decided to get some coffee for Chris at the Starbucks (see picture).

Then we slowly made our way along the beach to Main Street for the big party. As usual, it was jam-packed with bikes and people. To get a temporary relief from streams of leather-clad human flesh we stopped by a couple of bars. Now, there are several that are a must-do during Bike Week. Dirty Harry's is famous for it's thrice-daily wet T-shirt contest. Any woman is welcome to give it a try. There are usually 5-6 contestants per show - 1-2 "heifers", 1-2 desperate housewives in their last attempt to get attention to their overly tanned, wrinkly and sagging body-parts, and a couple of wayward college chicks drunk off their behinds at 2PM on a hot Saturday afternoon. The boobs are all freshly enlarged, except on the "heifers", with the white stretchmarks and the bluish veins forming a "Stars and Stripes"-like patterns. It's all good to most of the spectators who haven't been sober since last Monday.

A good place for food and music is the Full Moon. They always have a huge stage set up outdoors with rock concerts going on pretty much non-stop. The food is fresh and abundant if not cheap. A plate of shredded beef with rice and veggies will set you back $15. Better go for a flavorfull turkey leg, as big as your head or a jumbo hotdog generously smothered in ketchup, mustard, and relish. You have two choices here. You can take your food inside a dark saloon, away from the blistering afternoon sun, with the floors a bit sticky from all the spilled beers (and hopefully not from something else). Or you can grab one of the bar tables outside, preferrably away from the stage and under an umbrella and watch other patrons getting their pictures with the smiling beer girls. They are believe it or not one of the best-looking ones that the Bike Week can offer.

Froggies is a fun place too. Right of the bat, you are offered a good spanking from a couple of scantly-clad chicks. They do it for tips, administering the "punishment" with a rather heavy hand, according to the suckers that pay to be belted in public. Once inside though there isn't much to do, but drink. I don't really know if they have any concerts there at all. But the music is loud and in the evenings there are dancing girls, the stripper-wanna-be ones, shacking their money-makers on little baby-blue platforms.

Finally, no trip to the Bike Week is complete without visiting the Boot Hill Saloon. It's right across the street from an old cemetery which explains their motto "Better Here Than Across the Street". And who can argue with that! It is indeed better at the Boot Hill than almost anywhere else on Main Street. First of, they have probably the best-designed T-shirts and ladies love wearing them too. Second, even though their beer girls are not the prietiest bunch, they sure dress the best or should I say, the least, always setting the fashion for Bike Weeks to come. They ditched T-shirt and bikini tops in favor of underware and pasties years ago. Since then, the pasties got progressively smaller while the body parts under them - progressively bigger (evidently, plastic surgeries are becoming more affordable; I think Wal-Mart should look into the opportunity). I bet $10 that next year it's all going to be nothing but some body-paint. But apart from girls, they do play some good-old country music and their performers are most engaging. Then again, how can one not want to join in signing the "Gang Bang" song?!

And what about the bikes, you ask? Well, what about them? With so much going on, bikes are constantly in the background. The stream of riders along Main Street never lets up. The lucky ones manage to find a free parking spot along the street. Others drive slowly through to A1A and funnel out, seeking $5 parking spaces around the neighborhood. If you enjoy Discovery and TLC channels' shows about custom-built bikes, you'll see a lot of that here as well. Lately trikes and bikes with side-cars are all the rage. But pretty much any bike with custom paint, outrageous accessories, or nice detailing (including girls in the back) draws attention and countless camera flashes. Many people come to the Bike Week every year. Many bring the same motorcycles so occassionally we get to see a familiar "face" (paint job). Many people bring their bikes here to sell and the price tags range from $4800 to $75000.

Now for the men that drive these bikes. They sport beer-bellies of various sizes, facial hair, wear black Bike Week-themed T-shirts or muscle shirts, have a beer in one hand and a digital camera in the other. They show various stages of farmer's tan, from lobster-red (most often) to leathery brown, and many - elaborate tatooes. Of course, this description applies to a lot of Bike Week women. So here's a tell-tale sign - no make-up and loose-fitting jeans mean it's a dude. There are some extreme cases, of course.

But overall, you gotta love the Bike Week. It's loud, obnoxious, in-your-face, and expensive to go to. But here in Daytona Beach, where the rest of the year we live on a set of the "Cocoon", it feels great!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My Typical Work Day

Today is Thursday and the week is winding down already. Less than an hour into my work day I decided to keep track of all the things I do from 9 to 5 (5:30 to be exact). Why? Well, first of all, I don't have much to do right now, although it might change any second. And then, you get a better understanding of what my job is like and how cool (or not) it is.

9:00am - Turn the computer on, log in to the Mondial server, and check my Outlook. I have only 4 e-mails this morning - not bad at all. Two of the e-mails let me know that one of the projects is going to be delayed. Another e-mail is from my new Russian translator confirming his availability for a project I sent to him yesterday. The last e-mail is from my boss, letting me know that he initiated a wire transfer to one of our overseas agencies.

9:05am - I reply to all the e-mails and contact my co-worker, Leo, to let him know about a delay in project delivery. Find out - Leo is sick and is taking a day off. Oh no!!! My typical day just turned a bit less typical. Let's hope that it's a slow day because now I'm not only getting all Leo's e-mails, but also am taking over all his projects for the day.

9:10 - I'm checking my Hotmail account. I won another ProZ challenge and earned 4 more points. I'm quickly approaching 100 points! ProZ is an on-line community of translators and interpreters. We go there sometimes to look for translators, especially for obscure languages. Also, translators use ProZ for help with difficult or unfamiliar terminology. Other translators offer their answers or comment on previously suggested answers. Then an asker gets to choose the best answer and the answerer is awarded 3-4 points (unless it's a non-profit question). Usually about 15-20 questions are posted daily in my pair (English<>Russian) and in my areas of expertise or interest. I answer a couple of them at most and comment on another 2-3.

9:35 - checking my e-mail took me a bit longer than usual since I was interrupted a couple of times by my boss. He just wanted to make sure that I was ok getting all that extra work. No biggie, I told him, at least for now. And then I checked my Army e-mail. I usually don't get anything very important or interesting there unless it's a week before my drill weekend.

9:40 - breakfast time

9:45 - back to work. First, I had to search for some English<>Albanian translators for a potential project. I found several on the ATA website and shot them an inquiry e-mail. Then I received a fax from one of our clients approving a quote we gave them yesterday for English>French translation. So I prepared a work order for one of our translators and sent the project out to her. She confirmed almost immediately - fantastic!

10:03 - our Marketing Manager, Robin, IMs me and asks to give her a call. She has a log book, hand-written in Traditional Chinese, that needs to be translated into English. She sends it to me for review. Immediately, we see several potential problems - barely readable text, uncertainty over a character count, and such. I decide to send it to our Chinese team in Canada (has to be native English speakers for an into English translation) for evaluation. Let's see what they have to say.

10:15 - two projects arrive. One is a Spanish translation and one is a German into English translation. So now I have to check both translations against the originals. Even though I don't speak either Spanish or German, I do catch errors from time to time. After the files are checked, I have to do word count and enter the billing information into our master Profit & Loss grid. Then I create invoices and send them out to the clients along with the translated files. Finally, I close the projects and take them off my task schedule.

11:14 - Eleonora stops by. She's off today and we had plans to go to the beach on my lunch break. I'm not sure if we're still going to do it since she's got a migrane headache.

11:18 - Robin sends me another project - two files are to be translated into Spanish and two - from Spanish into English. I'm going to take a look at the files, figure out who to assign them to, prepare the work orders and send them out.

11:36 - Just as I finished sending the EnglishEnglish project out, another one came in. This one is English>Chinese and requires some desk-top publishing services. Here's the problem - we're not sure if it's into Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese. So we're trying to find out.

11:47 - I got a call from дядя Гриша, Irka's father. He works for IMA, the motorcycle organization that hosts Bike Weeks in Daytona. Apparently he's right here, at the race track. Maybe he'll stop by.

12:02 - The so-called "typical" day of mine turns out anything but "typical" after all. Uncle Grisha stops by. I finish all my e-mails and a couple of work-related phone calls and we go out to lunch. Of course, it's a Bike Week in Daytona, so everything is packed with people. It takes half an hour just to get to the beach side. Fortunately, Johnny Rockets is not too busy when we get there. They have great views of the beach and probably the best milk shakes in town.

14:48 - I'm back from my very extended lunch. Tons of e-mails. First, my Russian translator needs clarifications for an on-going project. So we're contacting the client. Also, teh quotes that I requested earlier today for possible Chinese and Japanese translations came in and they don't look good. Forwarded them to our marketing manager for consideration.

15:04 - one of the projects that were completed earlier today has to be re-sent to a different person because the original contact person is at a trade show in Germany, the lucky SOB!

15:07 - received two new files from our old client, a company that makes fireplaces. Now I'm going to prepare a quote and send it out to the client for approval.

15:17 - called one of the clients to ask to send me the project files. They signed an agreement earlier today, but still haven't sent the file, duh!

15:19 - a English>French translation project is in. I'm checking it, completing the usual P&L entry and an invoice, and sending it on its way to the client. Thanks God it's a small project, not much to check!

15:25 - trying to call one of the translators (English>Japanese) to confirm that she received a project I sent her yesterday. But she's not in the office and I can't reach her on her cell phone.

15:28 - ok, seems like things have quited down a bit. So I'm just checking my Hotmail account and my military e-mail. My friend Rob dropped a line (he's chilling in his new pad in St. Pete, FL). Hope he follows the link and gets to this blog. Hey, Rob, how does it feel to read 'bout yourself? :)

15:53 - not much is going on right now. At this point, all the projects that were due today came in and were processed and sent out to the clients. So I'm using this time to add new proposals to my database.

16:00 - break time is over. Next request for a quote just came in. This one will take a while to prepare - first I have to download a huge file from the client's FTP; then I have to run the Acrobat version of the file through a program that will convert graphics into editable text. This will allow me to do a word count for the file. Only after all this prep work will I be able to put together a proposal.

16:08 - still have 25 minutes left for FTP download. I'm going to finish watching the PBS movie "The Elegant Universe" (based on Brian Green's book with the same title that deals with quantum mechanics and strings theory).

16:32 - play time is over. More work just came in. I have to e-mail one of our agencies in China and find out if they are available for a large translation and how soon can they do it.

17:33 - just finished putting together a large proposal. See my note from 16:00. Sent it out. Also, had to e-mail last-minute changes to our agency in China regarding a possible project that just got downsized big time (4000 words instead of 20000). Also, had to e-mail a French Canadian translator requesting him to translate some words that he missed in the last project.

17:35 - time to sign out and go home. Wait, I am home already! Ok, then it's time to sign out and go cook some dinner.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Survivor - Army Style

That was some weekend! Our brigade decided to finally start doing some real soldiering and not just paper pushing. And so they held a soldier competition called..."Survivor". Each unit was supposed to provide several 5-person teams that were to "outrun, outwin, outsoldier, outeverything else". I ended up being a team leader for my team which was a bit scary.

The competition started on a Saturday morning with a breakfast at a mess hall at Camp Blanding, FL. Well, at least I thought of breakfast as an unofficial first obstacle since it was absolutely disgusting. I guess, not all the teams survived it either, since only 31 out of 33 teams reached the starting point. The second unofficial challenge of the day was to survive an unexpectedly cold morning while geared up for an exceptionally hot day. While at it, we also made some last-minute adjustments to our gear, locked and loaded our M-16s with some blank ammo, and mentally prepared ourselves for the tasks at hand (read - complained about how we didn't want to do it).

At exactly 0900L or 9AM ET for non-military folks, my team was finally given a green light. We briskly marched the first 500 yards to our first challenge - a Leadership Reaction Course. That's where an entire team had to solve an action puzzle based on one of many scenarios. In our scenario, we had to move a box of food concentrates across a contaminated stream over to the other side to save some starving people. The concentrates looked very much like red bricks and on closer inspection proved to be them. And of course, there was no bridge over the stream, just some randomly placed stumps, some not big enough for even one person to stand on them. There were some other details of the assignment that added to the challenge. We were given 5 minutes to come up with a plan and 15 minutes to execute it. Surprisingly, we completed the mission in 2.5 minutes! Even more surprisingly, we got a "NO-GO" on it! Why? Because we forgot that the concentrates aka bricks couldn't be exposed to air for more than 5 seconds at a time. If only we remembered to close the box every time a brick was added or removed!!!

A bit bummed, we left the Leadership Reaction Course and set off on our way to the next checkpoint, a Confidence Course. Some teams actually ran this 3-mile long stretch. Chris' team did. My team wisely decided not to get in over our heads and just walk as fast we could. 59 minutes and some seconds later we arrived at the obstacle course. This was not a timed event, but the points were taken off every time a team member failed to complete an obstacle. And there were plenty of opportunities to fail - 19 obstacles total. Some were ridiculously easy, such as crawling under a barbed wire, walking on balance beams, or moving through a scary-sounding "Nut Cracker" (it's on one of the pictures). Others were really challenging, such as a very long "Monkey Bars" obstacle, an incline wall, and a "Belly Buster". I am very proud to say that I passed all of the obstacles. But overall, my team did rack in enough penalties to set us back quite a lot. Nevertheless, our spirits were high since we knew we did our best and earned some bumps, bruises and cuts along the way that would guarantee us some admiration from our non-military friends and family.

After taking a short break, we set off on the next leg of our course to the IED lanes. Unfortunately, we lost one of our soldiers to a case of blisters. We knew that we would get some more penalties for loosing a team mate. And so we tried to move even faster to the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) lanes, some 3.8 miles away. And we did it, covering almost 4 miles in 54 minutes! Needless to say, we were pretty tired and hurting by then.

The IED lanes were probably the most interesting and the most challenging part of the entire competition. After a short break and a situation brief, we set off tactically (in a wedge formation, weapons at ready) on a narrow sand road into the palmetto underbrush. Some 300 yards into the patrol, our "point" (a forward person) noticed a canister that we suspected was an IED. Immediately we halted all movement, then moved back, set up the perimeter and called in with a report. We thought we were safe, but all of a sudden a second IED, this one much better camouflaged, went off right next to us. Our point person became a casualty. We had to react correctly, figuring out her injuries and providing first aid, calling for MEDEVAC, and then putting her on a litter and moving her 300 yards to a safe area. Now, that last part almost killed us all - carrying a 110-lbs casualty on a litter through loose sand and dirt is not as easy as it sounds. The 110 pounds become more like 1100 pounds and the 300-yard level road feels like an up-hill marathon. But we did it all from start to finish in 9 minutes and 25 seconds - not bad at all!

After catching our collective breath and drinking some water, we pressed on to our final challenge, only 1 mile away. We were so tired and aching! And the dirt road was killing us. But we all broke out into a run as soon as we caught a glimps of the finish line. And so we ran straight to our final challenge - disassembly and assembly of M-16s. I don't really remember much about this task other than we were tired, thirsty, my feet were killing me, and my hands were shacking as I was putting the parts back together. But apparently we finished it with little penalty.

Grateful for this thing to be over, we climbed on an old bus (no AC) and were driven (what a novel experience!!!) to the fun part of the day - a paintball game. On any other day it would be a great opportunity. But we were all very tired to really enjoy it. Still, we got off the bus, received our gear and a block of instructions on use of paintball markers, and set of on a foot patrol. Our first scenario was to react to a sniper attack. Right after it, without a warning, a second scenario - an ambush - kicked in. 5 minutes later, covered in sand, paint, and bits of green plastic from the balls, we returned to our bus.

After getting back to the barracks we had to immediately turn our weapons in and go to an award ceremony. Another team from my unit finished 1st. Chris' team got 2nd place. And I have no idea about my team except that we weren't in the top three. By the time we got to the barracks it was past 8pm (or 2000L for us military people).

It is Tuesday now. The sense of accomplishment and the feeling of pride subsided. What remains are the blisters, the bruises, and the sore muscles. Oh, yeah, and this is going to be an annual event. But no matter what, it was still a pretty freaking cool thing to do! Give me another couple of months to recover and I just might want to do it all over again!