Problem Solving

September 12th, 2016
I’m nearly finished writing my dissertation, and I think one of the reasons I’ve nearly scaled to the top of an apparently-not-asymptotic is that I’ve had a carrel in the library.  An office.  A closet.  A box.  A working box.
It’s pretty great.  All my books are here and power cords for my stuffs and little snacks and extra socks.  A view of the Potomac and Arlington and the Kennedy Center if I try.
It’s on the fifth floor of the library.  When you get off the elevator, you walk down past the Special Collections offices, take a left, then against the wall, on the right.
There’s this  long row of tiny cubicles between where my box is and the rest of the library.  When I come here, I have to go to either the far end of the row of cubicles or the near end of the row of cubicles.
So obviously I should always choose the near end.  Because my box door is super close to the near end.
The problem is that if someone is sitting in the cubicle on the near end, there’s really not enough room to walk between them and the wall without a serious invasion of personal space.  It’s weird.  Whenever someone is there, I walk to the far end, where there’s like an 8 foot gap in the cubes; very easy to walk through.
But that’s annoying.  Whenever I see someone sitting in the last cubicle on the near side, I get annoyed.  The rest of the morning- every trip to the stacks, the water fountain, the bathroom- walk to the far end, walk to the far end, walk to the far end.  But today I had an idea!
When I got here, there was nobody sitting in the last cubicle on the near end.  But that might not last.  And it needs to last.
So I took some books that were left out, a pencil from the ground, and carefully pulled a coffee cup from a trash can.  Set them up carefully on the last desk.  Still Life with Study Supplies.  Very believable.  The desk is Taken.
When I go home today, I’ll put everything back where I found it, because it’s the right thing to do.  But until then, I’ll enjoy the empty cubicle and easy access to the rest of the world.
And now I’ll start writing the last section of my last chapter.


September 10th, 2016

Compiled from Twitter, because this is important:

Still-in-manjar-but-not-for-longo 2015, Day 11: Jiggity Jog

July 24th, 2015

Well, you guys?  I go home now.



But don’t worry, not until evening.  First, I’m going back to the Cultural Center place with some of the posse.  Then we’re goofing around at the hotel a little bit; writing postcards, etc.  Then…  uh.  Well, then we get on a plane and fly to Dar-Es-Salam, then to Amsterdam, then to DC, where my new house is waiting for me!

Kilanimaljaro 2015, Day 10: So Far We

July 23rd, 2015


Alright!  So we’re finally back!  Well, the night before we got back!  But we woke up in a nice hotel, and I woke up extra early so I could have my own personal SURF-ARI, aka check my email.  Then I went downstairs, where they served a nice breakfast, which we were really excited about, until we were told we had to RUSH AND GO OUTSIDE AND CATCH THE BUS ITS GONNA LEAVE AND GO ON THE SAFARI WITHOUT YOU!!!  Then it would be a SO-CLOSE-BUT-SO-FAR-I because we missed the bus.


So we rushed!  And we went outside!


And like 25 minutes later we left.  Because SO-FAR-WE have done nothing on time, and you’d think after a week we’d know that.  BUT NBD., we hung out and eventually piled into some Land Cruisers, aka SAFerrARIs.


Our driver chatted with us about the school system (private is better, but more $$$ go fig), the different tribes in the area (Warusha, Masai, Chagga, Meru) and how since he wasn’t from around there (but from near Lake Victoria), he wasn’t any of those, which meant his kids didn’t speak his mother tongue but were apparently Swahili-monolingual (at that point; they’d learn English later).  This driver wasn’t intense about passing people, which was great cause I didn’t have to constantly be wondering how SAFE-ARE-WE?

Anyhoo, this is the day we went to Tarangire National Park to see animals, so I am going to stop talking about Not-Animals and get to the InFact-Animals.  Um.  When we first got there, I saw an impala way off in the distance and kinda freaked out and took a ton of terrible photos.  And then in five minutes I had seen like a million from much closer.  And that scenario pretty much happened with every animal.  Anyhow, here’s a list of things we saw and I remember and may or may not have photos of:

  • Zebra
  • Water buck
  • Impala
  • Wildebeast
  • Elephant
  • Giraffe
  • Dikdik
  • Mongoose
  • Lion
  • Warthog
  • Baboon
  • Tufted Hawk (or something like that)
  • Basket weaver
  • Hornbill (maybe a Von Der Ducken or something like that, idk)
  • Human (hahahah people are animals too hahahah)
  • Some other smaller brown birds that werent that interesting sorry


Um.  What else?  The guide was constantly on his radio with other guides.  I thought maybe they were just chatting, but they were relaly sharing information about cool animals, which lead to us (sorta) seeing a lion.  It was way donw in a valley and we could only just barely see it, but there were like 20 trucks all on this one little spot with all the safarers straining to see it.  But it was cool; we saw a lion.

And a dead snake.

Um, yeah.  Then we drove back, basically.  We’re leaving tomorrow.

Kilimandonezo 2015, Day 9: Mweka Like a Tree

July 22nd, 2015


From the itinerary:

A morning walking to Mweka gate reflecting of the past weeks experience with our Climb Kili vehicle waiting to transfer you to your hotel for a very welcomed shower at the hotel.  Overnight at SG Resort.

Last day! So I don’t know if I mentioned this, but the night before we were supposed to have walked to some camp, but instead we stayed at some other camp because it was closer and, if you recall, we slow. Anyhow, we wake up at Millennium camp, which should have a reason for being named that but apparently it doesnt, and we walk to Mweka Gate. The itinerary suggested it would be an easy walk, which it was, but it also suggested it would be short, which it wasn’t. I think we left at 8 maybe, and we didn’t arrive until.. well I have no idea, but much later.

Cause we slow. But it didn’t bother me, the going slow, because it was the last day and the sooner we got to Mweka Gate the sooner the trip would be over. So we took our time, and I took my time taking my time. I photographed every mushroom I saw, tons of Kilimanjaro Impatiens, lots of rocks, etc.

Impatien.  It is seriously so hard to not put a T on the end of that.

Impatien. It is seriously so hard to not put a T on the end of that.

The night before, as we came down the mountain, we had just left the rocky top of the mountain ecosystem and had entered the short little tree ecosystem. As we went further down the mountain, the trees got taller and the plant life thicker, and, in the highlight of the day, we started seeing monkeys again! Of course, my camera only barely registered them, but monkeys! Black and white ones. We actually didn’t see them until the very, very end, I think.

Singin' and dancin'

Singin’ and dancin’

When we got to the gate, all our porters were there waiting for us, singing a welcome song. and dancing. It was fun. We signed the little book saying we completed the trail, had folks clean our boots for us, which was kinda weird but pretty nice, and ate lunch.

After lunch there was this (I thought super weird) ceremony thing where the lead guide announced to everyone how much of the tip pool each porter was going to get. (There was a tip pool.) It was interesting though for a couple reasons. One, I naively thought that the porters were all basically the same rank, so to speak, but that was not true. The bottom run and the lowest-tipped were the dudes that carried the portable toilet, which both makes sense and doesn’t make any sense at all. They were followed by the water carriers (also kinda backwards, considering how important water is), then the kinda general equipment porters, then the porters who carried our personal stuff, then the waiters/cooks assistants/cook, and finally the guides, with the lead guide getting the biggest chunk.

The other thing that was kinda funny about it was that the lead guide, who was making all the announcements, would say what each person was getting in English, but then he’s repeat it in (presumably) Swahili, which would elicit cheers from whoever just found out about his bonus. The reason I thought it was funny is that I had kinda assumed that everyone spoke English pretty well and the reason they didn’t talk to us much was because, you know, we’re just boring tourists and why bother talking to us? I also noticed that the further up the hierarchy the announcements went, the less likely it was he would repeat anything in Swahili, which made me think that English language skills were pretty directly related to how high up in the organization you could go. Of course, I could totally be reading the entire situation wrong, which would be my style and not at all surprising.

Room for one more!

Room for one more!

Anyhow, after that we all pile pack into the truck to head to Arusha. We have car trouble along the way, so we have to stop at a mechanic, but after 20 minutes and a couple bottles of something or other poured somewhere or wherever, we’re back on the road. We get to the SG hotel (which bills itself as a “neo-Africanized resort”?) and it is awesome. The first place we stayed at, like I mentioned, was expensive, had poor service, scary water, etc. I mean, it was fine, but when we got to the SG I was stoked. Okay i had just spend a week on a mountain, so of course it would at least feel better, but this place had pizza and a bar and weird neon lights in the rooms, and showers with reliable, non-scary hot water. So. Showers, dinner of pizza and beer, and bed! In a bed! Where I wasn’t even a little bit cold! And I’m going on a safari tomorrow!

Topofmanjaro 2015, Day 8: Summit Like it Hot

July 21st, 2015

(Since I first began publishing these, Google has disabled embedding photospheres, because no good reason. So this will probably look dumb. sorry. You can also click here.)

From the itinerary

19,340’~5,895m ? 13 mi~21 km (5 km ascent/ 12 km descent) ? 7-8 hrs ascent~4-6 hrs descent
Tonight is the night!  A midnight start to conquer the highest point in Africa. This section of the route is considered one of the steepest on the non-technical paths of Kilimanjaro. It is a 6-7 hour hike to Stella Point in order to see the sunrise.  We continue our way to the summit between the Rebmann and Ratzel glaciers. We head in a northwesterly direction and ascend through heavy scree towards Stella Point on the crater rim. This can be the most mentally and physically challenging portion of the trek. From Stella Point you can see the summit; just 1 hour to Uhuru Peak and the rooftop of Africa!  We then descend down to Mweka Camp for dinner and celebration.

Like I said yesterday, we had a change of plans. Rather than leaving super early and getting to the summit at sunrise, we just left a little early. So. Around 3:30 we were woken up with the customary coffee/tea, then we pretty much immediately left. I went to bed fully clothed (I think everyone did), so it was a pretty quick up-and-at-em.

My camera can't focus, but nbd.

My camera can’t focus, but nbd.

So in the dark we start walking. And in the cold we start walking. It was really fun- walking in the dark. I tried to take as much time as possible to just look up- the stars were amazing and so much of the previous nights I was too cold to just sit outside at night for too long. Alas, we were walking in the dark, so I had to spend a fair amount of time watching the ground.

So. Walking in the dark. There’s not a lot to say about it. After a couple hours I was getting reeeeal cold. Well, not I was actually fine, broadly speaking, but my toes were getting cold cold cold! So I popped out a couple of those chemical handwarmers and jammed them into my boots. They take awhile to get started, but after an hour or so, feeling was back in Toesville. So that was pretty cool!

Eventually the sun rose.



And we just kept walking, really. It was pretty rocky, anbd pretty slow, and there were some traffic jams when we met other groups. Well, when other groups attempted to pass us because, remember, slow. As you approach the (first) summit, it’s kinda loose gravel, and we were going really slow. Like, maybe one step every two seconds. when we get about a hundred yards away from the first summit, we can see the brown and yellow “You’ve made it” sign, which pumped me up a little bit. Anyhow, we got to the first summit and got stoked and took photos and drank tea, but soon enough it was time to make the last push to the highest highest point.

Stella Point!

Stella Point!

It seemed like the next point was kinda close, but when we started walking it just seemed to get further. That happens a lot, actually. We’re still going really slow, but that doesn’t seem like such a problem anymore, since we’re above 19k feet, so as long as you’re going forward you’re happy. (By this point, two dudes on our trip had decided to not continue on and two were suffering from pretty intense altitude sickness.)

Maybe 45 minutes after the first peak, we get to Uhuru Peak. It’s 12:30, which means it took us 8 hours and change to make it to the top. We’re slow, but we’re stoked. And we take a tooon of photos. And we wait for our group to all show up so we can do a photo together, which takes awhile, cause the last push had spread us out pretty thin. I think you’re only supposed to spend 15 minutes at the top, but we were definitely there for closer to 45. Conveniently, I super duper have to go to the bathroom while we’re up there, so maybe I didn’t enjoy it as much as possible.

We did it, you guys!

We did it, you guys!

Dad and I took our an old cub scouts flag to pose with, as well as an A&M Flag, us being such faithful Aggies. Oh, can I embed Instagram videos? I must be able to. In fact, I was just looking at an embeddged Instagram video on deadspin. okay, let’s see here…

A video posted by b s (@burtroyal) on

Cool, I hope that worked.

ALRIGHT. So this seems like a logical stopping point, but it’s not. Cause we still have to go down the mountain. So we eventually wander back to the first peak, then we go down down down to our base camp. Here we ended up going in two different groups. Our group SCREAMED down the mountain, doing in maybe two hours what had taken us 7 in the morning. OBviously, going down is easy, but we were basically skiing down the mountain on our feet, shuffling through the loose, gravelly rocks that we’d been sludging through all morning. It was actually kinda fun, plus every step is an increase in oxygen, which is really great.

More mountain

More mountain

The third peak of Kilimanjaro, Mawenze, is visible to our left the whole way down. It gets a lot of photos taken of it. Eventually we make it down to our base camp, where we’re greeted enthusiastically by all the porters who’d been waiting for us. I think they’re all pretty happy that we made it, but I think they’re equally happy that they had the morning/afternoon off to hang out at camp and not have to carry our stuff around. Anyhow, we get lunch, pack up our tents, and wait for the rest of our posse to return from the mountain. Over the next couple hours they start to show up, but they are beat! One dude collapses in the mess tent, another is so exhausted he’s basically in a walking coma. And we still have a four hour hike to where we’re sleeping that night! Not an easy day.

Anyhow, eventually we leave that camp and start hiking to the next camp/our last night. It’s really long! I know I just said it a couple sentences ago, but we’ve hiked for like 12 hours so far and there’s still 4 more. But what are you gonna do? Ain’t gonna do nothing but keep walking. Which we do, until, jeez, like nine o’clock or something. But then we get to a nice camp, with dinner waiting for us and our tents set up. Food, brushing teeth, and our last night of camping on Kilimanjaro.

Kilobytejaro 2015, Day 7: Barafubama

July 20th, 2015

Views: Rombo, Tanzania by Brett Sutton

From the itinerary:

15,300’ ~ 4663m ? 2.2 mi~3.5 km ? 4-5 hrs
Today we take a slow pace to Barafu Camp from Barafu you will have excellent views of Kibo and Mawenzi peaks. Barufu Camp is situated on an exposed ridge, so it is necessary to familiarize yourself with the terrain before dark. We continue to acclimatize, rest, relax and make necessary preparation for the summit day ahead.

Tofday is the day before we summit! Which means when we go to bed tonight, we’ll getting up just a few hours later so we can make the ascent in time for sunrise at the top. So today is a relatively easy day, really.

It’s also a really rocky day.  Going through my photos, there are tons of photos just of rocks.  And more rocks.  And then the sky and clouds and stuff, but then also of rocks.  That’s accurate though- I definitely remember the rocks.  Seems like valley after valley we walked through, each one…  rocky.  I’ve got nothing to say.

Handmade checkerboard.

Handmade checkerboard.

Eventually we get to Barafu camp, where we sign in.  We elect to go stay at a camp another hour up the mountain in order to make the next day as easy as possible.  Because it’s not going to be easy.  At all.  But today is.  Even with the extra hike to the further camp, we get in in time for lunch.   So we eat it.  Then we lounge around- it’s a warm day, thankfully- and get psyched for that night.

Eventually night comes and with it dinner.  The original plan was for us to be woken up around midnight or 1 to start our night time hike.  Unfortunately, our guide decided that that wasn’t a great idea.  Basically, over the previous days we had proven to be a really fantastic, fun, affable, charming, attractive, patriotic, magnanimous, elegant, beatific, and regal group.  BUT we had not proven to be a fast group.  Nor a quick group.  Nor a speedy group.  In fact, along with all the great things that our group *was*, we were also a SLOOOOOOOOOW group.  That’s fine- pole pole after all- but apparently we took it a little too seriously.

The point is that our guide thought that even if we left at midnight, and even with the hour we saved by hiking to the Barafu high camp rather than staying low, we still didn’t have much of a chance of making it to the summit for sunrise.  As a result, he thought it would be best for us to leave around 4 (still plenty early), but that way we’d get extra sleep and would spend less time walking in the cold cold, dark dark.

It was a little disappointing, frankly, but the guide was surely right, and it would have been pretty annoying to wake up that early and hike that coldly and darkly and then have sunrise happen when we were in the worst part of the slog to the summit.   So, you know, no big deal.  We go to bed around 9 or so and dream, briefly.  Tomorrow we’ll be on the roof of Africa, and that will be amazing, regardless of the relative position of the sun.

Kilidudejaro 2015, Day 6: Whites Ford Barranco

July 19th, 2015

Views: Rombo, Tanzania by Brett Sutton

From the itinerary:

13100’ ~ 3992m ? 2.2 mi~3.2 km ? 4-5 hrs
Today the group conquers the great Barranco Valley and up the Barranco wall, and adventuourse [sick!!!] stretch that ushers us into the arctic zone of Kili.  We continue the trek on the South Circuit path through the Karanga Valley. We camp tonight at Karanga Camp.

You guys, I cannot get over how much I love having coffee delivered to me when I wake up.  It’s so great.



Like the description says, today we conquer Barranco wall.  Which is, you know, really pretty much just a wall.  This was the most fun hiking of the trip, I thought.  Lot’s of climbing, carefully picking out handholds, etc.  Okay that makes it sound like it was some technical thing, but it wasn’t just walking.  Really fun.  Kinda slow going, and seems like everyone hiking that day left at the same time, so it was a bit trafficky, but it was really pretty fun.  As you’re going up, you keep thinking you’ve reached teh top, only to get there and see it goes up.  Then that feeling repeats, maybe four times.  But fun fun fun.

Oh, i forgot. Before we get to the wall, we have to go through a little valley and cross a little river. Which, for the sake of the title of this post, we’ll call the Barranco river, though really it was barely a creek.

After we climbed the wall, we walked down, down, down.  I think this was one of those days where we went up like 2,000 feet in the morning and then spent the rest of the day going down.  Went through long, rocky valley one after another it seemed.   At this point, there’s really little vegetation- little shrubby things but kinda dispersed, and nothing you couldn’t see over.  Feels like Iceland, actually.

Texting man, the moon, Venus.

Texting man, the moon, Venus.

Since the next couple days involve a lot of altitude, we get schooled on the portable hyperbaric chamber that they bring along.  It looks cool, but I reckon it would be pretty boring to actually have to use.  I wasn’t totally paying attention though, cause the meeting they called to discuss the chamber was right in the middle of a really gorgeous sunset, which I took about a thousand pictures of..  Thankfully, my lack of paid attention didn’t cause any problems- our guide continued his 10+year career without having a need for it.

Kilimousejaro 2015, Day 5- Don’t go Barranco My Heart (i couldn’t if I tried)

July 18th, 2015


From the itinerary:

13,000’ ~ 3962m ? 5.6 mi~10 km? 6-8 hrs
Today you depart Shira Camp in the morning taking the path which rises up gradually towards the Kibo peak, as we continue, our direction changes to the southeast towards the Lava Tower, also known as the “Shark’s Tooth.”  Shortly after the tower we continue down to the Barranco Camp at an altitude of 13,000ft~ 3962m.  Dinner and overnight stay at Barranco Camp.

Today we walked some more.  Kind of a long day, but great.  I don’t have any specific memories, really.  The lava tower (where we lunched) was great.  I spent some time climbing on it and took a toooon of photos of a little mouse/chipmunk looking thing that I found.  I only published one, because obviously, but it was pretty fun.  He was actually there with a buddy, but I was never able to get a photo of both of them together.

The Lava Tower itself was cool.  I mean, it was just as it sounds- a big tower of lava.  Would have been cool to have been there when it was formed.  But then I wouldn’t have internet access, I reckon.

Lava tower, dining tent.

Lava tower, dining tent.

At one point, I found a broken floor tile.  That was pretty cool.  And we walked by a face of the mountain- I think the Western face, or Western something, that you can also use for summiting, but it’s a technical climb that requires ropes and stuff.   But it’s fun fantasizing that maybe I could do it.  Anyhoo, here are some pictures.

Killer-tan-jaro 2015, Day 4: Shira Madness (in which I forget to wear sunscreen)

July 17th, 2015

From the tour itinerary:

12500’ ~3810m ? 2.8 mi~5 km ? 4-6 hours
After breakfast, we leave the glades of the rain forest and continue on an ascending path, crossing the little valley walking along a steep rocky ridge, entering in the moorland zone covered with heather, until the ridge ends. The route now turns west onto a dry river gorge. We reach our camp in time for rest, dinner, and overnight at the Shira Camp.

?The best part of waking up?

?The best part of waking up?

Climbing Kilimanjaro with a team of porters and guides is pretty awesome. Having folks carry all your stuff is great. BUT the best part- the part I wouldn’t trade for any other part- is being woken up at 6am by one of the porters offering you coffee or tea. I would carry all my stuff myself, I would cook for myself, I’d even try to do the thing without a guide (not that they’d let me) if otherwise it meant I wouldn’t get the coffee. Because being woken up with a hot cup of coffee is awesome.

Um. So after that everything’s basically a blur. It’s our first trail breakfast, so that’s kind of exciting. I don’t know if all vegetarians feel this wway, but breakfast is usually the easiest meal to eat when travelling abroad. A lot of folks seems to agree that some variation of bread+egg+fruit is a good way to start the day. And the team cooking for us apparently agreed. We also would get porridge most mornings, which is great. Millet for breakfast? Yes please. Incidentally, we didn’t get millet until one of the last days, but now I know I love it.

After brekkie, we pack up our bags, which are carted off by the porters pretty soon after. Then we leave. Well, then we stand around taking pictures of the white-necked ravens that populate pretty much the entire mountain cause at this point they’re still extremely interesting. That fades, eventually. But I took a lot of bird photos that morning.



So then we start walking. Up for awhile, and then kinda over a bit, then up, and then over. There wsa a little bit of down after that, followed by another bit of up. Alternatively, I don’t remember all the details, but that still sounds pretty accurate.

We stop sometime in the middle of the day to have lunch- the tent is all set up for us.  I always enjoyed eating in the tent, but I often wondered whether it wouldn’t be so much easier to just set down on a rock rather than have those dude have to set the whole thing up.  Oh: a fun thing I picked up from the Oklahomans: saying sit like set. Oh I just realized that sit/set are an accusative/unaccusative pair like fell/fall.  Cool!..  I mean, right?

After lunch, the trail got pretty fun- steep, but not super steep, and not just a slog kind of steep, but walking on rocks and a bit of scrambling.  And very pretty.  We pass by some caves- the Shira Caves.  Alas, that’s all I really remember.  Shira camp was cool.  I practiced drawing (see below).  I’m still terrible at it.