Posts Tagged ‘Brave New Jon’

Brave New Jon – Animoto Video

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

So I’ve been playing around with Animoto recently, and thought I’d make a video showing some of my escapades over the past 1 year, 2 months, and 28 days since Project Brave New Jon officially commenced.

Brave New Jon started over a girl, but it turned into a giant self re-invention exercise that has seen me go from an inactive size 38″ to a size 29″, and turn into a hiker, climber, and many countless other things that I’ve done over the past year or so of my life. But now may be the time for me to finally accept that the reason for BNJ – the girl involved – is really gone. It’s sad that she’ll never really know what I did over how I felt about her, but that’s life. I wish I knew why it ended, but I’m clearly not supposed to ever know.

High Resolution version: Brave New Jon


My Mazda Miata MX-5 – One year on…

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Photos: A year with my Mazda MX-5.

So, this time last year, I was fairly pissed off with the world (mostly over a particular girl) and decided to cheer myself up with retail therapy. After various other craziness, I found myself in a car dealership one afternoon, looking at MX5s.

Now I’d never had a (full) driver’s license in the UK. I’d learned to drive, but never really sorted out the final getting-the-license bit. I relied on friends, family, and UK public transportation for 24 years. But there’s only so long that this lasts you in the US (I’m talking about the ability to drive, even a rental car for an afternoon, not even owning a car), where many activities require some form of vehicular transportation – for example, getting to the office (before the shuttle service we have now existed), which is 37 miles outside of Boston. It was inevitable that I would learn to drive “on the right side of the road” sooner or later, all I needed was a little impetus to get that moving.

The impetus was being really pissed off with the world, over a girl (as begins many a story in life). Within 3 days of her randomly deciding not to see me again for no reason, I’d had a few lessons on US driving, and one week later, I had the passed the testing (no silly many months of waiting list like in the UK, though the standards here are shockingly lower than in the UK – conversely, there the DSA (Driving Standards Authority) is overly anal, out of touch with reality, poorly (mis)managed, and generally a giant government was of time). The first time I drove alone was on a roadtrip to New York in a rental car. The second time was an extreme amount of Californian coastal highway driving, including 74 miles of twisting, winding mountainous roads. That was April.

By June, I was still pretty pissed off with the world (I’d even briefly considered whether to leave the country and go somewhere else entirely – I can now completely sympathize with a certain hacker who moved to Australia), had spent a few weekends tearing up the Californian countryside in rental cars, and decided I needed to get a car. Initially, I planned to be fairly sane, and buy something like a Prius, or an older (but dirt cheap) used car. Then I discovered two things:

1. Insurance in Massachusetts is regulated by the State of Massachusetts (there are changes underway this year, but it’s all largely cosmetic), and auto insurance would cost me at least 3K/year, regardless of my vehicle.

2. There are some surprisingly affordable cars in the US, when you’re used to UK prices – my car in the UK retails for around twice as much as I paid for it, which isn’t particular atypical, though most of the time it’s slightly less.

So, if I was going to pay through the nose, I might aswell have fun while doing it. I started looking at MX5s. Initially, I was looking at older used models, with the older pre-2006 design. But there was really something about the complete redesign for the 2006 model year that did it for me. This model had more class, more leg room, and more cup-holders (everyone knows you should always judge a US car by the number of cup holders). I rented one in California and took it for a spin up the route 1 highway. I liked it. A lot. Even if it was an automatic rental. So, that pretty much made the decision for me. I planned on getting a standard one, 5 speed, with regular interior, which I was almost about to do when at the dealership I noticed another vehicle:

* 2006 Mazda MX-5.
* Under 10K miles.
* 6 speed manual.
* All the extras.

And let’s not forget I’d committed the carnal sin of being super pissed off with the world, and simultaneously being in a car dealership at the same time. These things are known to be bad in combination. I picked it up in time to drive up to OLS last year. Then I had some fun registering the license plate “RED HAT”, because, well, it was available and nobody else had thought to get it first. It amused me.

Last summer was an interestingly, terrifying, Boston driving experience. I was a newly qualified driver, in a almost new car, surrounded by crazy Boston drivers. This meant I never drove in town, would only go to specific places, and I tried to avoid doing anything that would get me lost. Still, I had a lot of fun with the freedom that vehicle ownership gives you – especially a convertible in a New England summer. I drove to the beach (a lot, especially at 4 or 5am to watch the sunrise, and sometimes also in the evening for the inverse), went to my first ever drive-in movie, and did some other local trips like Blueberry picking. I also drove up to Canada the day after getting it.

Time passed, the fall came, and I bought a GPS (complete with optional, extremely pretentious over-done stereotype-in-a-box British accent – not that one, before you think so). This changed my driving experience considerably. Now I didn’t have to be so worried about dying constantly and could just focus on avoiding the maniacs on the road, rather than trying to navigate. And if you don’t think Boston drivers are insane, well, you’ve probably never seen the contrast between American and British drivers first hand. There’s no cup-of-tea niceness here, only bloodthirsty vengeance, a constant need to cut people up, and a desire never to use signals. I started going to other places I hadn’t previously tried to get to in my car – New York, other States, even eventually driving around town, although I still like to avoid doing that – the MBTA “T” is actually far more effective, in many cases.

With the passing of the fall, winter came in, and it was harsh. My low profile sport tires really weren’t much of a match for New England snow, but I was determined to live my Californian driving lifestyle. I’m probably the only person I know who drives around with the top down in January, when it’s -10 outside, wearing mountain gloves. While that’s perfectly possible, and clearing snow from the car to achieve that takes under 30 minutes, driving on snow turns out to be sufficiently more difficult than I had anticipated. I probably had a number of near-calls, and certainly need to look into snow tires for this year’s winter weather craziness. I’ve upgraded my gloves, too.

Anyway. After a year of owning this thing, and my first annual inspection (and insurance renewall…), I’ve decided I made the right choice in a car. Mazda pretty much got this right. Sure, it’s not the S-2000. And yes, that is a very lovely car, but it’s also nearly 20K more than the Mazda, and I’m not sure really whether it’s worth that. The car interior is almost as close to ideal as one could get – though the door cup holders might be better placed. It’s small, but well laid out, the controls are done right, the soft top release is much improved on the older model (to the point where you can put the top down, in moving traffic, using one hand), and even the trunk size is ok, just so long as you advise guests in advance not to bring huge suitcases when they fly in.

On the whole, I’d thoroughly recommend the MX5. I went to my first ever auto show this year also, and saw the latest model before it really started to hit the roads. They’ve really only made a few cosmetic changes – though they do now have Active Stability Control as standard on my model (well, one presumes), the access control is improved, and they’ve slightly tweaked a few cosmetic items…but on the whole, it’s still just about right. Don’t buy it if you’ve got a family or ever like to travel with more than an overnight bag ;)


non-Best Coast Surfing

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

So I went non-Best Coast (aka East Coast) surfing for the first time this weekend, at Nauset Beach, near Orleans, which is a few miles from Hyannis.

I got into surfing last year after my initial crash diet down from being fat Jon, as part of Brave New Jon. My ex-girlfriend happens to come from a quiet beach town filled with surfing types (San Buenaventura – more popularly known as “Ventura”), and so whenever I would go there to make myself miserable (rather a lot, as it happens), I’d try distraction in the form of surfing. I’m not a good surfer (I can barely do very much yet at all), but I understand the mechanics, have been a few times, and know enough to be dangerous on my own. And practice makes perfect.

Fast forward to this weekend. A mutual friend had decided to throw a random party down on the Cape, which conveniently coincided with me wanting to try proper non-Best Coast (East Coast) surfing for the first time, which is useful. I stayed over Friday night, hung out and drank the Raspberry wine that Andrew and Emilie had given me the week before, and then drove from Brewster over to the Pump House Surf Shop on 6A in time for 10am(ish).

Photo: Soft top rack

Pump House Surf Shop is actually pretty cool, if not a little annoying several miles from the actual beach. But they do great board rentals ($20 per day), and the guy who owns the shop is friendly enough. They also rented me a soft top rack for my MX5, which allowed me to strap a short board to the roof (I won’t really be able to use a long board and transport it with my car, but I can live with that), and drive down to the beach. I wouldn’t want to drive any further than that with a surf board strapped to the roof – one hears rumbling the whole time, and I’m not entirely convinced the soft top would enjoy the experience at 65mph.

Photo: Jon Masters, as “surfing dude”

Having proven that the concept is possible – driving from Cambridge down to the Cape, renting a board, physically attaching it to my car, and actually getting out into the ocean, the waves weren’t particularly great. But that’s ok, since I wasn’t expecting wonders this particular weekend. It was more about proof of concept, testing water temperature (you don’t want to go out into the Atlantic ocean without a 5mm wetsuit like mine, and be careful about getting cold – I managed a couple hours), this kind of thing. I shall endeavor to go more often this summer.


State of happiness

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

So I came to a realization while I was over on the Best Coast. After a year of trying to distract myself in every conceivable fashion, I’m still not over Karin, and I won’t feel any better about it any time soon.

I’ve decided to finally give up on dating and meeting people. It’s consumed vast amounts of my spare time over the past year and it’s only really resulted in more pain. Everyone I meet is compared with her (whether I mean to or not), I’m (very) briefly happy, and then when it doesn’t work out a large part of me breathes a sigh of relief. I dislike sleeping these days, because it only serves to give time to thinking about her at length. And if a day does go past when I don’t happen to think of her, well, then it’s much worse the next time.

And that’s largely how it is, unfortunately. Flights, long drives, long lonely hikes, and countless other activities, are all great times to think about how much I really miss her, how much nobody else is going to change that, and how little I can do about it. So I finally resigned myself to just give up on trying and try to focus on other things in life. As we noted over dinner last night, I’m freeing myself of vices one by one. I don’t smoke, don’t really drink, don’t eat meat, don’t drink caffeine, mostly consume fruits and vegetables, and drink soymilk. I’ve also lost over 55lbs now since last year, and am a completely different person than I was before she left. That’s not to say I wouldn’t trade everything to see her smile one more time, but that’s not how life works out.

Anyway. I don’t like to sound depressing. I had a reasonably relaxing Memorial Day weekend, followed by a hike up Wildcat Mountain yesterday, and got to see Andrew and Emilie (yay). This week is mostly filled with work, writing, gym, and fruit, but over the weekend I shall be spending one of the days down on the cape, and hope to go surfing for the first time this season.


Brave New Jon – Size Small

Monday, May 26th, 2008

So I went to The Banana (Banana Republic) earlier and bought a whole bunch of small size crew t-shirts to begin to replace the medium sized ones currently dominating my wardrobe.

I’m teetering on the edge of being under 160lbs. Some days it’s 159, others it’s 160lbs, but I’m hoping to be well and truly down into the 150s within the next few weeks. Meanwhile, I’m ramping up my preparation for the Presidential Traverse, later in June (I’m climbing 9 mountains back-to-back, in one day), the Grand Canyon being a warmup.

The funny thing is that I can actually get away with wearing a size small shirt now without looking too silly. Medium was starting to look a bit silly. I’ve also gotten down under a size 30 jean – I’m hoping to be a 29 soon. And I’m continuing with my healthy diet, filled largely with fruits, soy milk, and other vegetarian goodness. My PETA Vegetarian Starter Kit finally arrived, in time for me to start considering cooking more again.

Tomorrow, I’m hiking all 5 peaks of Wildcat mountain (A, B, C, D and E), an 8.5 mile hike in Northern New Hampshire. It’ll be the first hike without any big toenails – the second one finally fell off earlier today, to join the one that came off just before hiking the Grand Canyon.


The Best Coast – May 2008

Monday, May 19th, 2008

So I just got back from 10 days spent on the Best (West) Coast of the United States. Over the past week, I have driven more than 2,225 miles, crossed the Hoover Dam 6 times, lost 5lbs, been in 4 States, visited the Grand Canyon 3 times (hiked the South Rim in one day, seen the West Rim, and done the touristy Skywalk), visited 2 National Parks, been to several clubs and casinos in Las Vegas, sailed in San Francisco bay, driven down the coast of California, eaten more fresh Strawberries than any Californian would deem sensible, had one camera break on me, had a flying cow trash a rental car, and much more!

Photo: The Golden Gate Bridge. One of my favorite places.

I arrived in San Francisco, California (my favorite City and State of being on the planet) on Wednesday morning, picked up a rental car and drove down to the Red Hat office in Mountain View (MTV), to say hi to some folks I wanted to meet (vacation notwithstanding). In the late afternoon, I headed to Golden Gate Park, and then hooked up with my good friend Sven, and stayed at his place in the Haight (an absolutely awesome place). On Thursday, I recovered from jetlag, hung out with Sven, chatted about upstream realtime, things like that.

Photo: KFOG KABOOM 2008

My old college friend Alison (who I last saw 9 years ago, but we keep in touch online) was visiting California around the same time, so we had pre-synched itineraries and met up in San Francisco on Friday afternoon. I had spent the morning in Berkeley (saw a National Laboratory, had coffee, ran errands). We headed up to Mt. Tom (Tomalais) to enjoy the afternoon sunshine, before hanging out in the evening with Alison’s friend, Tiffany. Both ladies joined us for the KFOG KABOOM sailing extravaganza on Saturday afternoon, which was absolutely awesome. Just like last year, Sven dropped anchor at a great spot and we watched the fireworks while eating some truly excellent food prepared by an actual chef (who normally spends his time creating menus for quality restaurants).

Photo: Alison Cornish and Jon Masters stopping for Strawberries

On Sunday morning, I drove Alison and myself to Yosemite National Park. We did a quick mini-hike only up to the waterfalls for photographs (my camera was trashed at this point – just like this time last year my camera was stolen, this time it was dropped, so it wouldn’t be until the next day that I had a replacement…I should have some shots of Yosemite that can be added), before we had to turn around and drive back to San Francisco, swap the car out for a blue Ford Mustang convertible, and then on to Monterey. We stayed in Monterey for the evening.

Photo: Jon Masters posing with a Ford Mustang

On Monday morning, I drove us to a Circuit City (to buy a replacement Nikon Coolpix camera as close to the old one as possible – because it takes AA batteries, which is a slowly disappearing feature), and then from Monterey all the way to Los Angeles down the California Route 1 highway – better known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), even though it’s not actually called that until you get nearer to Los Angeles itself – stopping for fresh strawberries on a few occasions. We stopped briefly at Hearst Castle, and at other locations along the highway for various classical photoshots. And of course, in Ventura, that perfect little town, for coffee at the Crowne Plaza hotel (where “Little Miss Sunshine” was also filmed) I resisted the urge to lie on that damn beach and be miserable as I wasn’t alone.

Photo: The Excalibur, Las Vegas, Nevada

After leaving Ventura, I drove us direct to LA. But we weren’t done when we got to LA. That would just be a regularly fairly long roadtrip down the entire coast of California. Instead, I then drove us from Los Angeles all the way out to Vegas, in a marathon late night of driving, rocking out to various cheesy pop, and stopping at the typical locations (Mad Greek, etc.). We slept a little, and then hit the strip, Excalibur, IHOP (I’ve decided I actually love their double blueberry pancakes), and went back to our hotel (New York, New York, Las Vegas, Nevada :P ) so Alison could change for Cher and I could drive to the Grand Canyon.

Photo: Hoover Dam, as seen at night

I left Las Vegas around 7pm Tuesday, headed to Henderson’s REI for some equipment, and finally hit the road to the Grand Canyon around 9pm. This meant that I didn’t actually get to the Canyon until the (not so very) early hours (I stopped to take photos at Hoover Dam, get decaf. coffee and gas, and to relax), and was fairly exhausted when I did. But that didn’t stop me taking a weekly conference call and reading email at 7am from my iPhone, while at the Grand Canyon. I was late leaving the lodge (Yavapai), and didn’t start out until about 9am, after stopping for a larger than usual breakfast (I don’t normally eat breakfast, but I figured this was a time to make an exception, given what I was about to do). I stopped to take a lot of photos of the South Rim, which is an awesome view.

Photo: Hiking the Grand Canyon in one day. Over 300 high resolution photographs uploaded

At 10:34am on Wednesday morning, I hit the Kaibab trailhead, and subsequently did something that is explicitly not recommended. I hiked the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in one day – actually in around 8.5 hours, including photo stops, lunch, and time at the Phanton Ranch at the Canyon base. It helped to take my mind off Karin for quite a while, and besides, I actually did have something to prove to myself – I’m doing a 24 mile hike next month, which will be worse. I arrived at Phantom Ranch around 1:15pm, and stopped briefly in the canteen to buy a t-shirt, after enjoying the views, the beach, and filling up on water. Then, I hiked Bright Angel Trail all the way back to the South Rim of the Canyon, arriving in time to stand and to watch the sunset, even after taking a couple of shuttles.

Photo: Jon Masters, at the base of the Grand Canyon

I explicitly do not endorse or encourage anyone reading this to hike the Grand Canyon in one day. If you are inexperienced or not in good shape, it could be pretty bad. There are many many signs telling you not to attempt to do this, rescue is complex, and you really really don’t want to try doing this. But if, like, me you still want to do it, and you actually do, then the experience is highly rewarding, that’s for sure. I met a couple of other foolhardy hikers along the way who had also attempted to do the same – and some less crazy folks that I was just glad of sharing a conversation with to while away the time. I was glad the bandaid on my toenail held in place – I lost my toenail the day before, since the blackened one from my hike up Mount Washington had finally fallen off in the shower.

Photo: Hoover Dam, as seen by day

After hiking the Canyon in one day, most people would probably decide they had had enough. I however, am not most people. I drove 6 hours back to Vegas immediately, in order to catch my friend Alison before she went to sleep. I missed the Zumanity show that she had been to, which I could have made if I’d left for the trails a bit earlier in the morning, but we still got to hang out. And I still wasn’t done with the Canyon, because Alison wanted to see the West Rim of the Canyon (specifically, that Skywalk), and I had agreed to drive us out there. We called up, and were told they close at 8pm. This is true, they do close at 8pm, but they don’t let you in after 6:30pm. And the Destination Grand Canyon West Skywalk reservations folks don’t bother to tell you this when you call them. So we drove all the way out there only to have to turn around and go all the way back to Vegas.

Photo: Jon Masters, on the West Rim of the Grand Canyon

Not to be foiled by the incompetence of the Skywalk reservations phoneline lady, I offered to drive us out again on the Friday. So, after checking out, taking some photos, driving up and down the strip, things of this nature, I drove us back out to the West Rim to see the Skywalk. We made it this time, and the Skywalk was almost worth the hassle (and the expense), since you can stand on glass thousands of feet over a huge void. The West Rim itself is definitely worth seeing at sunset, which we did (personally, I wouldn’t recommend you bother driving out there yourself just for the Skywalk). And then some big shuttle bus coming from the Skywalk sped past us, likely spooking some animals, who jumped out into the road soon after. We were lucky only to actually hit just one cow (we didn’t kill it). On a remote Arizona backroad, at night, with little GSM coverage. While doing about 10 or 15mph. The car wasn’t too happy, but it was drivable. The cow got off surprisingly lightly. And some kind local passer’s by (from California originally) helped us to get in touch with the Mohave County Sheriff’s department. The officer who responded was one of the nicest, kindest, and most professional people that you could hope to meet right then.

Photo: Flying cows and rental cars do not mix

Our plans to get back to Los Angeles were, however shot, and my nerves weren’t so good for having had my first accident (which I don’t think was my fault. I was driving correctly, wasn’t tired, and I really want to blame that big shuttle van for spooking the animals). I got us back to Vegas. Somewhere on Friday night there was a whole bunch of middle of night recalculating of logistics, re-routing of flights, additional hotel costs, insurance claims, police reports, and things of this nature. All because the silly Grand Canyon West folks hadn’t given us the right information the first time so we’d driven back out there a second time. Those same people will not let you book the “park and ride” bus on the day of your trip, nor do they publish their prices clearly on the website, and there are many other issues I won’t bother venting this time. Suffice it to say, I won’t be driving back up to that Skywalk any time soon. I do, however, think that Hertz were very good in dealing with the incident, and the lovely Mohave County Sheriff’s deputy was such a very kind man too.

Accidents aside, the trip was quite relaxing until the end, and I enjoyed getting out to the Best Coast of the United States. It had been too long.


California Bound

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

So I’m off to the Best Coast for a little vacation. I’m headed to San Francisco, sailing on the bay, hiking Yosemite, driving down the coast to Los Angeles, out to Vegas, Hoover Dam, hiking the Grand Canyon in a day, things of this nature.

I’ll be hanging out in San Francisco from Wednesday lunchtime (ping me if you want to grab some coffee). The only real TODO (other than various non-touristy errands) is Alcatraz. Although I’ve been to San Francisco countless times – I truly love that town on oh so so so many levels – I’ve never been to The Rock. Thus I shall endeavor to hunt down Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage and the odd madman or two. My friend Alison is arriving on Friday afternoon (I’ve known her for half of my life, ever since I went to college the first time – her pet name for me was always “schoolboy”, which I also was at the time). We’ll head up to the redwoods, and then hook up with Sven on Saturday to see the KFOG fireworks. Linda will be there in San Francisco at some point over the weekend, too.

Sunday’s rough plan is to ensure that we have our Red Ford Mustang, and then head to Yosemite at some crazy hour (read: have breakfast somewhere near the park), do some hiking, then drive back to San Francisco and begin the long drive down California State Highway 1 (known in part, and therefore to locals, as the “Pacific Coast Highway”) towards Los Angeles. We’ll stay somewhere along the route on Sunday night, and then spend Monday finishing that drive, and then head out to Vegas. Monday night will probably involve some alcohol. But not too much as to be useless on Tuesday, as I’ve a reservation 6 hours away at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, I’ll leave the lodge around 5am, hit the South Rim trail head, and solo hike down to the river at the base of the Canyon. Then, I’m planning to hike back up to the top all within the day, and stay somewhere between the Canyon and Vegas. I’ll do the 6 hour drive back to Vegas early on Thursday, then pick up my friend Alison and drive back to the West Rim via Hoover Dam so we can do some touristic things, and see that glass skywalk (the one where you’re not allowed to even wear shoes, have cameras, or look at them slightly the wrong way). I’ve no specific plan for Thursday night and Friday…yet (if I get bored, there’s always Mojave). I expect to drop Alison at LAX at some point in the evening, or the afternoon, or whenever. She’s headed to Cambridge before me.

Saturday, I’m likely headed out to Ventura for some surfing with my favorite little local surfing school that I went to a few times last year…oh, and some alone time on that damned beach. Saturday night, I’m headed back to Los Angeles, flying back to Boston in time to arrive on the redeye early on Sunday morning. I’ll grab some sleep, then I’m driving Alison down to New York (actually, we’ll probably park in Connecticut and take the MTA train into the city), dropping her off with some friends, and maybe hanging out for a few hours in Central Park. I like the idea of lying under a tree for hours.

I wish I could say I’m going to be happy, even on vacation, but the reality is that I can only try my best. I’ll be on the Best Coast, and with some of my best friends, but of course, all along, my thoughts are likely to turn to Karin. It’s really cruel and usual punishment to think about her so damned much, but that’s life. I don’t think she ever truly understood just how highly I thought of her. All the damn time.