Friday, June 3, 2011

Final post: a reflection on the last 6 months

I’ve been home in Michigan for almost 2 weeks now, and I’m already getting to leave to Boston for the summer. My parents, brother, and I flew back after our week of family vacation in Paris. Being in one place for more than one week has been very refreshing. It’s also allowed me to reflect on the last six months. I don’t expect to digest everything this fast, but here’s a start.

Surface level things

I think about the experiences I had in France from January thru March, during my time at Polytechnique. I remember…

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Guest blog from my brother: Daniel's trip in Europe

Hi I'm Daniel. I'm the guest writer of this post and Steven's brother.

First I'll tell my own story of Europe. Of course, I was with my parents the whole time. First stop, London.

In London I went to the Tower of London and saw these weird guys who carried the keys (Beefeaters), went to many towers, and saw the Crown Jewels of London. The next day we traveled everywhere. First we went to the British Museum. There were many cool things there; then we went to Buckingham Palace and saw these weird soldiers with big hats. We walked another mile and we were at Big Ben, a giant clock. Last but not least we went to Wimbledon lawn tennis club and went to its museum. That night we went to the Ceremony of the keys to watch them lock the Tower of London's gates.

 A big dragon!   

Thursday, May 19, 2011


After Copenhagen I headed to Amsterdam to meet with Xy Ziemba ’12. We stayed there Sat/Sun 7 and 8 May.

The two unique things we did were:
1. See some unusual car-bike combinations
Human powered hybrid?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Frisbee around the world!

Jason Curtis and I organized Oliners studying abroad to make this video. Props to Jason Curtis for putting it together!

P.S. Traveling around Europe allowed me to be the cameraman of half of these scenes.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Last Thursday and Friday (5 May) I went to Copenhagen. I wanted to see what Scandinavia was like, and Copenhagen was the closest city. Why did I want to see what Scandinavia was like? Because it seemed like all my European friend pointed to Scandinavia as examples of great societies.

Mermaids, Windmills, and Bikes
Of course in Copenhagen everybody must see the little mermaid. It is very underwhelming. why not make it more exciting?

Much more interesting are the huge windmills and bikes throughout Copenhagen.

Danish Design
I also wanted to go to Copenhagen, because I wanted to see Scandinavia and its design influences ( especially after taking UOCD*)

First I went to the Danish Design Center. Their exibhts seemed like they were straight out of a UOCD textbook. If you have taken UOCD these things might look familiar to you.

I also ran into the Scandinavia show room for Tesla Motors. The sales person was very interested in talking to me, even though it was obvious I was not trying to buy a car. Evidently there are only several dozen such cars in Denmark. I asked how can this be, since Scandinavian society as a whole was more on the cutting edge of green technology then the U.S. The sales persons said that this was true, but there is not a culture of showing off possessions as statis symbols. Thus the wealthy Danish business man might still bike to work if it was convenient. This is exactly what I found as I saw many gray-haired men in suits bike around Copenhagen.

Finally I spoke to some desighners I randomly ran into they invited me to their office to chat. Turns out they work for INDEX, an orginzation that organizizes the largest design prize in the world. Later I recollected that I actually saw the head of INDEX speak at a conference I went to last year (Better World By Design).
One question that I was left with: why is the design profession- the people, lingo, education, still dominated from an art perspective?- by industrial designers, artistic terms/exhibits (the way they’re displayed sembles modern art exhibits), I don’t know the answer. If you do. Let me know!

*UOCD stands for User Oriented Collaborative Design. It is the required introductory design course at Olin. Most engineering schools do not teach their students this user oriented approach.

Monday, May 9, 2011

VW: Venezia to Wien

Hello blog readers, I’m Jeffrey Atkinson, Olin ’12, am currently studying in Trento, Italy, and traveled through central Europe with Steven last week. Since the Rome post, I’ve been promoted from guest editor to guest blogger, and I’m sharing a bit of what we did in Italy and Austria during our trip.


I’ve been traveling alone since Monday, 2 May. Monday-Wednesday I was in Berlin.

Absurdities of the human race

Berlin has a  very unique history, and it has made me realize some absurdities of us humans.

The guy is selling visas.. to East Germany!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Hallo from Berlin!
Here’s what I’ve been up to since Rome
Monday 4/25 to Tuesday: Venice. Walk around, island hop
Wed to Fri: Vienna: Imperial palance, watch 2 operas (Magic Flute by Mozart and Nabucco by Verdi)
Sat to Sun: Fussen: Neuschwanstein Castle, Munich: BMW museum
Jeff was with me up until Fussen, so I've asked him to guest write for Venice and Vienna

Fussen: fairytale land of Castles

The southern part of Bavaria is famous for its "fairy tale" scenery and castles.
The farmland here reminds of Michigan, which isn't surprising given the large number of Bavarian immigrants who came to Michigan in the 1800s.

But Michigan does not have big mountains, or this:

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Buon giorno! I spent the past 4 days in Rome with Jeffrey Atkinson ’12, and invited him to guest edit this blog post.
We had a busy itinerary:
21/4 (Thursday): Walked around Rome at night
22/4: Colosseum, Pantheon, Trastevere (the less touristy Rome), Good Friday mass in St. Celia (from 300 AD!)
23/4: Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, Roman Forum
24/4: Easter Sunday mass in St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica, Borghese Gallery

Famous landmarks

I’ll begin with pictures of famous landmarks in Rome. No explaination needed. (Ed. note: well, they're really interesting, but you can look them up on your own.)


St. Peters square (oval)

Easter Sunday Mass

Before arriving in Rome, we arranged with the office of American visitors to the Vatican to receive our tickets for Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square (hosted by ‘PapĂ  Benedetto’ XVI, our tickets read).
We actually saw the Pope twice in Rome, first while trying to cross an intersection that was blocked off – all the pedestrians were waiting on the sidewalk for some reason we couildn’t quite discern. Suddenly, a police motorbike sped by at 50 miles per hour or more, followed by three more bikes and three SUVs. A black Maserati sedan flashed by, offering the impatient crowd a glimpse of a white-robed figure in the back of the well-lit interior... Hey, that’s the Pope, we exclaimed. The pedestrians started clapping, although they seemed as surprised as us. It was a surreal moment for a random street corner in Rome – a good thing we didn’t try to cross the street in front of the police!

The second time was, obviously, expected: we woke up early on Sunday to line up at the Vatican for Easter Mass.
I think this picture was taken when the Pope said “Happy Easter, Christ has risen” in Spanish, as evidenced by some Chilean flags waving.

Even if you’re not Catholic, Christian, or religious, there’s something powerful about thousands of people from across the world gathered, at times in almost complete silence.  Some proudly carried their country’s flags into the square – symbols of thei r culture rather than government, and cheered at the end when a short Easter message was read in their language out of the dozens represented.

Blobs, umbrellas, flowers

What do all these things have in common? They’re all popular items sold by street vendors all over Rome. These street vendors are at times annoying, but also entertaining

Blobs: turn the corner into a piazza, and you’ll see a man flinging an animal-shaped gel blob into the ground. Apparently kids like the fact that the flat shapes the blob forms when it hits the ground. Jeff says he saw this same random product all over Trento and other places he’s travelled in Italy. So… here’s our theory: some centralized distributor must supply these toys all over Italy. And why the blob? Because some factory, likely Chinese, overproduced these toys this year, and so the distributor could buy them at really cheap prices

Umbrellas: one time, it started raining in Trevi fountain. In less than 2 minutes, tens of street vendors appeared selling umbrellas. We saw one guy trying to sell umbrellas to a man who already had an umbrella.
  • Vendor: only 2 euro, buy this umbrella
  • Man: “I already have an umbrella”
  • Vendor: “Then buy this super compact foldable umbrella” [pulls out small umbrella]
  • Man: “I have the  same one. Your colleague sold me one earlier”
  • Vendor: “Then buy this even bigger umbrella to protect you from the rain even more!” [pulls out huge, noncollapsible umbrella]

Flowers. Everytime in a restaurant, we had street vendors walking into the restaurant, trying to help couples increase the romantic setting by selling them flowers. And the waiters didn’t care at all!

The most  ridiculous situation happened on the Spanish steps, apparently the place all romantic young couples go in the evening:

The street vendor, eyeing a young French couple trying to take photos of themselves, offers to take pictures for them.

They refuse. But their fatal error- instead of ignoring the street vendor, they make eye contact.
Street vendor then offers the couple flowers. The woman politely says no thanks. Error #2: she should’ve just said no and walked away.

Street vendor tries another strategy. He continuously offers the couple flowers by putting the flowers into the woman’s hands, saying “it’s OK, it’s OK”, implying he’s given up selling the flowers, and since it was late at night with no on else around, willing to give them out for free. Again, woman is too polite, and wanting to stop the annoying vendor, finally gives in, takes the flowers.

The couple tries walking away, is politely followed by the street vendor (this time he heckles the man), who reminds them everytime they try to kiss that the flowers are still unpaid! 

The lone street vendor, politely following the couple. After all, they still have to pay for the flowers!

This ridiculous situation continues for 20 minutes until the couples gives back the flowers and the persistent street vendor finally gives up.

How to visit a museum

I had an epiphany while visiting the Borghese galleries. The evolution of my museum-going strategies
The first time I visited the Louvre, I walked, tried to understand statues just by looking, failed, and got bored of seeing so many statues in 1 hour.    
Later I discovered the power of audiotours- especially Rick Steves- for giving context to artwork.
Cardinal Borghese, whose collection was expanded upon and turned into a museum.

At the Borghese, I discovered the magic of sitting down, and sketching the artwork. It forces me to sit down, and relax, and allows me to appreciate the work put into every chisel/brush stroke. Besides, even I can get RickSteves-fatigue sometimes.

Monday, April 25, 2011


As a quick stop before Rome, I stopped in Nice, on the Cote d’Azur on last Wednesday. The town wasn’t too impressive (felt like most other resorts), but this was the original beach resort.

It was a scenic train ride along the Mediterranean sea

I also met an artist who was excited because I was from michigan

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