Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

South Africa, Day One: The Dangers of Developing Nations

Oct 16 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

This is the second in a series of blog posts about my recent trip to South Africa. I’m posting them a week after they happen. For all 825 photos from my trip, see my Flickr photo set.

Cape Town, South Africa

I awoke at 7:00am on Friday, feeling relatively refreshed (jet lag wouldn’t allow full recovery), and determined to take a photo walk around Cape Town. The night before, I’d studied some maps and books about Cape Town, and one of the books recommended an interesting walking tour very near my hotel. I re-drew the map on an index card so I wouldn’t have to pull out a map while in the middle of the city, then grabbed my camera, applied insecticide to every inch of exposed skin, and headed down for breakfast.

My tour package paid for breakfast in the hotel restaurant, which is an odd thing (the restaurant, not my tour package). It’s on a slightly raised dais in the foyer, one half separated from an adjacent cafe by a fancy equivalent of a hanging bead curtain. It feels nothing like a restaurant; it feels like dining in the hotel lobby. Which you really are.

But the food was exquisite: fruits, scrambled eggs, bacon, spicy sausage, juices (one of which I couldn’t identify by label or taste), half a dozen different breads, cheese, several flavors of gourmet yogurt…I could go on and on. Fantastic.

Birds flocking over Cape TownBut I had exploring to do! So at 9:00 I ventured out into the streets, taking photos like crazy. Cape Town is a highly photogenic city: the Dutch architecture–both colonial and modern–give the city a pleasantly jumbled, New York City vibe, and the majestic cliffs of Table Mountain that surrounded it on two sides frequently peeked out between and above buildings.

I had 3 SD cards with me, each capable of storing about 700 photos, which I figured would be plenty (I was wrong), so I happily snapped photos of everything around me.

After about an hour, I noticed something: A lot of people were staring at me. After about two hours, I noticed something else: they weren’t staring at me, they were staring at my camera.

I’d borrowed my Mom’s expensive Sony camera for the trip (at her insistence). I never realized the full power of manual zoom until this trip: no waiting for the lens to zoom as you press the button.

But I digress. Mom’s camera was clearly expensive, and I realized I was frequently set upon by hungry eyes.

One of my stops was an old church, and the wonderful older lady who took me around the place actually winced when she saw my camera. She politely but firmly told me to wear it slung around my neck and shoulder, or somebody would grab it from me. This was after several different people had warned me to never go out after the sun went down.

Gulp.

I returned to my hotel, where I found a nearby pizza place and ordered a strawberry salad for my suddenly nervous stomach. I remembered one of the guide books mentioning a sightseeing tour bus that circled the city; one fare paid for the whole day, and you could get on or off at any stop throughout the day.

I found the nearest stop and hopped on the bright red double-decker bus. I received a pair of iPod-style headphones to plug into jacks on the bus, and rode around Cape Town.

Cape Town, South AfricaThis was the way to see the city. Safe, informative, and with easy access to dozens of interesting places in Cape Town. Unfortunately, I only had space for about 12 pictures on my first SD card, so I spent most of the afternoon gawking at the beautiful beaches, sheer mountains, and gently rolling countryside.

I returned to the hotel, ate my dinner, went to my room, and felt miserable. This was the lowest point of my trip. I wanted to be home, I wanted to be in England; I would have taken Chicago over this. Plus, I checked the weather, and learned that a storm was coming in the day after tomorrow.

In bed that night, after tapping out my disappointment, I made a deal with myself: I’d take the bus tour tomorrow, get out at high-class touristy spots, and take a lot of photos. The next day (the rainy one), I’d stay in the hotel and read. That would be my last day in Cape Town, and I trusted I at least wouldn’t get mugged that day.

I agreed with myself, then tried to sleep. But fate denied me even that pleasure. I tossed and turned all night.

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South Africa: On The Way

Oct 15 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

This is the first in a series of blog posts about my recent trip to South Africa. I’m posting them a week after they happen. For all 825 photos from my trip, see my Flickr photo set.

Cape Town, South Africa

The first challenge of a trip to South Africa is getting there. My flights lasted a total of about 24 hours each way, including layovers in Dakar (Senegal) and Johannesburg (South Africa).

Fortunately, airplane travel these days is dead simple: swipe a card, receive a boarding pass, stand in a line, remove electronics from your bag, stuff electronics back in your bag, walk, then sit down.

I opted for aisle seats on all flights, so I could rush to the bathroom if I felt like it. I did feel like it, but I was never sick. One of my seat-mates, however, looked ready to: during take-off, he gripped the arm rests and muttered prayers to himself, then put a blanket over his head for the next 4 hours. Nice guy, though.

The main problem with this kind of air travel is sleep. The seats are cramped and not conducive to 8 hours of uninterrupted slumber. Every plane flight included a mewling infant. One neighbor snored. A full night’s rest is impossible for all but the most determined or medicated, and I forgot to take my Sominex beforehand. I made do with a few hour’s sleep and fitful dozing otherwise.

I switched planes in Johannesburg, allowing me to observe a South African airport. It was like any other international airport; I walked past Subway and KFC on the way to my gate. 3D TVs were on display (they had to be watched head-on, and induced headaches no matter how I looked at them). I arrived at Cape Town weary but awake, and marveling at modern air travel. I jetted from North America to South Africa with all the drama of a bus ride.

The 15 on Orange Hotel foyerI met up with my travel agency contact, and a few of us weary travelers piled into a van and were driven to our hotel: the 15 on Orange.

This is a serious hotel. Employees bustled around the foyer at 10:30 at night. Everyone was professional and perfectly groomed. When I got to my room, I discovered that the worrisome fiery light emanating from my bathroom was the glowing counter-top. It was made of backlit orange stone. I didn’t know you could do that.

I changed, flopped down on the bed, and closed my eyes. I fell asleep in record time. Jet lag has its benefits.

Tomorrow, I would explore Cape Town on my own, and find out just how much of a “developing nation” South Africa is.

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Landed in South Africa

Oct 07 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

I made it! Currently lounging in my hotel room; it’s 10:30pm local time and I’ve been traveling for about 24 hours.

Now to take a nice, hot shower, and get a solid night’s sleep.

Tip: On Amazon.com, buy an electrical outlet converter for the country you’re going to (most see, to cost about USD $10), and take chargers for your camera and other devices. That way, you don’t have to buy and take multiple batteries for each device.

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South Africa

Oct 04 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

On Wednesday, I leave for my week-long trip to South Africa. I’ve no idea what kind of web access I’ll have. I’m sure I’ll have some, but I don’t know how easy it’ll be to get to this blog and update it. So, I don’t expect to be blogging a lot while I’m down there.

As expected, I’m excited and scared. Still running around. Worried I’ll forget something important.

I expect to have lots of photos, up on Flickr, as soon as possible after returning.

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Quick Life Update

Sep 28 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

"Wildebeest" by h.koppdelaney on Flickr

"Wildebeest" by h.koppdelaney on Flickr

I’ve found the house I want to move into. Planning to make an offer this week.

Otaku, No Video continues to expand, so that it now includes:

  • Two to three videos per week on YouTube (at least one anime review and at least one manga review)
  • A live video news show, streaming on the internet every Saturday afternoon for 1 to 1.5 hours.
  • Three blog posts per week
  • A chat room, which sees daily activity

Launching the O, NV forum has been an interesting experience. I effectively killed much of the conversation with some boorish behavior. I’ve learned, but it’s taking a while for the site to recover. I’m thinking of creative ways to jump-start interest in it.

Work is exciting and exhausting. I’m running several significant projects.

Thanks to my 1.5 to 2 hour commute each way to and from work, I basically only have time to work, drive, and keep up with O, NV. Thus, my desire to move.

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Fly Me to the Moon

Sep 03 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

NASA LogoI’m several weeks into my new job at NASA. I’m elated and frightened.

I’m experiencing a new employee’s stress. Besides learning the location of the kitchen, and when the trash is collected, I’m incredibly scared of screwing up. Of missing some vital assignment or suggesting the wrong thing or telling the wrong joke. So much shared culture has built up here, and I’m afraid of suggesting the taboo topic, the subject that will forever tarnish my reputation.

Of course, there’s absolutely no evidence of this. My co-workers have been universally kind, understanding, and explanatory. In fact, if this were a place where an ignorant suggestion would forever tarnish my reputation, I wouldn’t want to work here.

But I do want to work here. Badly. I want to spend the next 20 or 30 years of my career here.

Plus, I’m now beginning to receive real work assignments, serious responsibility. I don’t want to screw this up.

No, it’s  more than that: I want to succeed brilliantly. I don’t want to do okay; I want to do great things here. I want to bring NASA big successes.

Without offending anyone or screwing up.

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New Job Update

Aug 19 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

I love my new job. I love love love my new job.

I’m working with nice, friendly people, on interesting stuff. I review software that NASA’s developed to determine how it could be used by industry. How cool is that?

And my quarterly allergy/asthma/something attack has mostly cleared up; now I just walk around with a throat full of phlegm.

‘Twas frustrating to spend my first few days at work sick. Had to look my best while feeling that I just wanted to go back to bed.

On the other hand, there are far worse things.

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Urp

Aug 15 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

I start a new job at the Goddard Space Flight Center tomorrow, working for NASA.

I’m so nervous I’ve become physically ill. It began with lack of appetite and progressed to an upset stomach earlier this evening. Now my throat’s scratchy and I can’t sleep.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say I have a bug.

That’s the price I have to pay to move forward in my life, I guess. It’s rarely comfortable.

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Into the Jungle

Jun 22 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

"Lion at sunset" by Rob Inh00d on Flickr

"Lion at sunset" by Rob Inh00d on Flickr

I’ve been trying to nail down one international trip this year.  Was trying to find a good trip to Greece or Italy, but every itinerary was jam-packed with activities. I wanted more freedom.  (Don’t we all?)

Then I saw a deal on a trip to Africa.

So, if all the paperwork goes through, I’ll be going to South Africa this October, from the 6th through the 15th.  I’ll be spending about half the time in Cape Town, and the rest in a game preserve, photographing wild animals.

It’ll cost a bit more than I had planned to spend on my trip this year — a bit over $4,000 on airfare, hotels, and all that — but, c’mon, it’s a week in Africa, staying at high-quality accommodations.  I’ll find a way to pay for it.

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New Floors

Jun 21 2010 Published by under Miscellaneous

"cherry" by erix! on Flickr

"cherry" by erix! on Flickr

This is a completely personal post.

I had new hardwood floors installed this past weekend, covering my entire upstairs and the stairwell.  It was expensive, but my house looks fantastic. Oddly, walking into an office with a cherry hardwood floor (even if it is laminate cherry) just feels right.

It also feels exhausting. I didn’t install any of it, but I had to prepare: moving 4 bookcases worth of books downstairs, as well as various delicate pieces of equipment, models, etc.  All the pictures had to come off the walls, too, and with several dozen framed anime cels, that took a while.  Afterwards, not only did I have to move everything back, a thick layer of sawdust covered all of it, so I had to clean it, as well.

Tired? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

Especially after seeing The Karate Kid. That’s one solid film: a strong and quiet story, involving actors, beautiful cinematography (is it just me, or have more films recently featured excellent cinematography?), and a moral philosophy that’s actually reinforced by the events of the film.

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