Washington DC

Spring break! Jonas and I are leaving cold, snowy Boston for a road trip down south. Not Miami, Fort Lauderdale or Cancun like all the others, but to Washington DC, Philadelphia and Atlantic City – and it’s gonna be great!

We took the bus from Boston to DC Sunday night, ten minutes to midnight. We figured that we could save a night but still have the entire day by taking a night bus. The drive was supposed to take 10 hours, but after half an hour we had to turn back to Boston to drop up a man, who didn’t fell safe in his wheelchair, so the drive took almost 11 hours.  We arrived at union Station in DC around 10.30 after not many hours of sleep, but regardless we headed for the hostel to drop off our luggage and the went to see all the monuments and memorials.

DC is truly the city of memorials. We walked around the city for most of the day, getting to ten or more memorials, monuments and landmarks. Everything from the well-know like The White House, the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial, to the more unknown memorials for Frank Roosevelt, Martin Luther King (who is BU alumni, by the way!) and the fallen in World War II. The weather was really perfect and felt almost summer-like for us, coming from Boston’s subzero degrees to DC’s 15 degrees Celsius.

The second day we went to the US Capitol on a rainy day. It was a really amazing experience – we took a tour around the building and went to both the House of Representatives and the Senate – the Senate was actually in session, when we went there, but it was only a few speeches, not much action. Everything from admission to the guided tours where free, which surprised me a little, but makes good sense, since the Congress should be available to everyone, regardless of income. I finally learned the American system of two champers (House and Senate), but I still don’t fully understand how the power is divided between the two, and how the President fits in to the picture. The system seems way too complex for the common man to understand.

The third (and last) day we went to a few museums, and then we wanted to go to the Arlington Cemetery, where many US Presidents rest and a lot of US soldiers. We took the subway to Pentagon – it was faster, and then we could see that as well – and tried walking to the cemetery from there. We got to a back entrance, but were told that it was restricted area, and we had to go around to the visitors’ entrance. We walked on coming to another entrance, which was also military only (most of the cemetery is military ground). Finally we gave up and ordered an Uber ride to take us to the right entrance, only to find out that the cemetery would close in a few minutes.

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Appathon

Today I went to a mobile app hackathon – an Appathon. “Hacking” in this context doesn’t refer to breaking in to computers and servers, but rather hacking together something during the day. The event was arranged by students and faculty on BU and held on BU. The idea is to gather people in groups, and they can develop on some idea for a mobile app for ten hours, and then judges vote for the best app.

The event was not very well organized, the forming of groups wasn’t organized in any way but an “idea board”, so it was up to each person to find a group to work with. I got together with three other guys working on an app connecting BU students to buy and sell used textbooks. Only one of us had some app developing experience and we used a really long time trying to get our computers set up with the developer software, unfortunately without any luck. We then decided to just work on one computer, doing some pair programming, which worked pretty well.

I implement the backed server, that the app should connect to, and filled it with some test data, while the others worked one the app itself. When the time was up, we had a somewhat working prototype being able to search for and list books from the database, but that was about it. We did a good job pitching the prototype and the general idea to the judges, most of who thought it was a good idea, even though it is a niche market. We didn’t win any of the awards, but the winning apps were clearly better and more polished.

Even though the event wasn’t the greatest success, I got to work with some cool guys, and meeting new people, which is why I joined in the first place.

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Juno vs. Boston

 

 

I’m from Denmark and I usually think of myself as used to snow – and a lot of snow. So when everyone began talking about Juno, “the storm of the century”, I though, how bad can it be? Well, Juno really meant business! From Monday afternoon to Wednesday morning, I think we got on average about two feet of snow (that’s 60 cm!). The university closed down from Monday afternoon, canceling all classes, not starting again until Thursday morning.

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People stocking up the day before the storm

I went out into the “storm” on Tuesday to take some pictures. It wasn’t in any way dangerous to walk around outside, the wind was nowhere near a storm, but all the snow blew around, reducing the visibility to a few hundred meters. It was a strange experience walking around during the storm, because the streets were completely empty (except for snow of course). The only vehicles on the roads were snow plows and occasional emergency vehicles. I even saw a guy jogging in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue, which is usually filled with cars.

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Tuesday morning

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Wednessday – most of the snow have been plowed away from the streets

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There are piles of snow like this everywhere now!

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Public transportation

Time to do a post on public transportation!

The transportation system is a little confusing – probably like in every big city – or at least the paying system is. Getting around is quite easy to figure out – especially if you use Google Maps to guide you, it works just as well as Rejseplanen in Denmark. The local transportation system for “inner” Boston consists of five subway lines called the T going to and from the city centre, and a lot of bus lines the other way between the T lines.

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The paying system is a bit more complicated. When I arrived in the airport I took the Silver Line, which is basically a shuttle bus from the airport to some of the main subway lines. I didn’t have to pay anything for the ride which, I think, is quite normal for airport shuttle busses. When I was to change to the Red Line I looked for a terminal to buy a ticket, but without luck. I asked a local and he said, that once you’re in the system, you can change trains without any additional fare. So I got from the airport to my airport for free.

Later I have found out how it works. For all underground stations (all station near the centre is underground, but some stations away from the centre are above ground) you go through gates that open when you have paid the fare – like in the London subway. Then, when inside this “paid” area, you can change between the lines without paying extra. In the underground stations you can enter the train at any entrance you want. But on all above ground stations, there are no gate system, and you have to enter the train at the front of one of the carriages. Here you pay the fare and enter the train. Same goes for the local buses, just like in Denmark (or the Copenhagen area at least).

There are several methods of paying. You can choose to pay cash on board, putting cash into the fare vending machine – this way the fare is a little more expensive. Otherwise you can buy a CharlieTicket or CharlieCard. The first is a paper ticket and the other is a plastic card. Both needs to be filled with stored value to be usable. Then you insert the ticket or tap the card at the vending machine and the fare is deducted automatically. If you have the CharlieCard you can purchase weekly and monthly passes for a fixed price. Filling the card can be done at most stations (mainly the underground stations) and for CharlieCards also online (which will be available the next day).
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The birthplace of JFK

Today on my way home from campus, I walked down a small quiet street I went past this house. Apparently I live about 500 meters from the birthplace of America’s 35th President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

The house is like most houses in the neighborhood a three-story wooden house with a front porch. It looks like all other houses on the street but has an American flag in the front yard and a sign revealing who lived there.

The parents Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald moved into the house in 1914, three years before John F. Kennedy was born in 1917. The family lived in the house until 1920 where they moved just two blocks away. In 1927 they left Boston to move to New York.

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Now with a bike

Today I bought a bike. I went to Craigslist, which is a buy-and-sell website with everything from electronics to apartment leases (somewhat like the Danish Den Blå Avis). As it is a collection of thousands of sellers, you have to be careful not to be a victim of a scam. But with some common sense you can make a good deal.

I found a good bike from a seller close to me – to avoid being scammed I’m always meeting people in person and seeing/trying the product being paying for anything. The posting had pictures and a description of more than a few words, so it seemed okay. I wrote the owner, and he replied pretty quick, and we agreed to meet at a parking lot nearby (always meet in a public place). I tried the bike round the parking lot to test gears and brakes, and paid him cash.

The bike seems pretty old, but it is in good shape. For $140 it seems like a good deal.

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After driving it in the wet weather, I have found out that the brakes don’t work that well when they’re wet. It can probably be fixed if I tighten them a bit.

Mobile subscription

Today we went to get a prepaid mobile subscription. Just a little trip to Walmart and back. Only 1 hour+ commute each way. In the rain. Jetlagged… Today was a good day.

As we found out Saturday, the best subscription for was only offered in Walmart, so we had to go to one, which is way outside of Boston (the few Bostoners, I’ve told about it, didn’t even know to get there by public transportation). We met near the BU campus and first went to check in at the university (all foreign students have to check in to get their immigration status verified), and make appointments for immunizations at the Student Health Services. After that we took the blue line out of Boston to the end station and a bus onwards to Walmart.

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It was a little confusing how to get the right subscription, but here is how it works: We bought a sim card starter kit from T-Mobile for around $40 of which the $30 was the first month’s subscription. This is for when you want to use your own phone – other subscriptions are offered together with a phone. The sim card then has to be activated on T-Mobile’s website before it gets a phone number and can be used. A few minutes after the activation is done, the sim card works and can be used.

So now we have unlimited texting (even to international numbers(!)) and unlimited data with the first 5GB on 4G/LTE speed, and we can go outside without falling down the Internet-void-hole. Things are getting pretty good here!

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Skype exam

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Today I had an oral exam in Denmark – in Boston. Via Skype. It was a strange feeling sitting in my room in my apartment being at an exam.

The exam was based on a group project, so my two group members went in first, and then the examiner called my on Skype, and my exam had started. Formally the only requirement for me was being able to prove that I was alone in the room, so I gave them a quick tour of the room, and sat with the door in the background for the exam. Other than that, the exam was no different than a regular oral exam; they asked questions, I answered, ping pong.

The exam went well (really the project report was the most important thing), so I got the grade 10 (comparing to an American “B”, I guess). Now my semester at the IT University in Denmark is over, and I have a week before the semester starts in Boston.

First impressions of Boston

Today Jonas and I went to take care of things like getting a CharlieCard to use for public transportation and getting a prepaid mobile subscription, so we are not in an Internet-void every time we move outside of the house. Actually we agreed when and where to meet up, but when we had left our apartments, we had no way of contacting each other.

We met at Harvard Square north of the Charles River and went to a T-Mobile to learn about mobile subscriptions. Compared to Danish subscriptions prices here are ridiculously high. I might make post about subscriptions later on. We didn’t buy any subscription as we found out the best fit for us probably is a subscription only available at Walmart stores – and the nearest Walmart was about 20 miles away (that’s like 32 km!).

We bought a CharlieCard (might also do a post about public transportation later(EDIT: it’s here)), which is somewhat like a Danish rejsekort, but not personal. We bought a week pass, allowing us to travel unlimited with the T and all local busses.

We also walked around Cambridge in the nice (but cold!) weather, sightseeing a bit of Boston:

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A newspaper shop at Harvard Square.

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The book store / café on Harvard Campus.

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Boston skyline as seen from Kendall/MIT.

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Panorama skyline! (Click for larger version)

 

The apartment

The apartment I am living in is part of a three story house. The ground floor is one apartment, and we have the two top floors. I live with four other students – three American and one from Iceland. So far I have only met one of the, Eric, who gave me a quick tour of the apartment.

My room has a bed, a desk and a chest of drawers – basically everything I need.

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