Millenium Rock

February 25, 2013

gibraltarI’ve been on a fiction craze lately and have finished another series of books. I was totally captivated by the Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first and most famous of this trilogy). Apart from learning about Sweden (where they take place) and about the interesting story of the author (who died not long after submitting the completed trilogy to his publisher), there were other interesting tidbits I latched onto.

One of those is the territory of Gibraltar. It’s famous for its location (at the straight that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea) and for eponymous rock mountain. The limestone rock is roughly 1,400 feet tall and dominates the landscape, as you can tell from this photo. While this photo is taken from Spain, Gibraltar itself is a British Overseas Territory and the 30,000 inhabitants squeezed onto 2.6 square miles are mostly British citizens. Naturally Spain isn’t too pleased with this arrangement, but they are being a bit hypocritical since they have a similar setup in Morocco on the other side of the straight, a mere 10 miles away.

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Pail Punting Preliminaries

January 6, 2013

bucketlistI finally got around to watching The Bucket List the other night and enjoyed it (could Morgan Freeman possibly be more likable?) and like every other soul who watched that movie got to thinking about my own such list. I’d never written anything like this down before so I was curious to see if I could quickly list 10 things worthy of inclusion. That’s a long bucket list, I know, but I figure I have plenty of time (hopefully) to get them all done. So here’s my list (subject to change as I consider in more depth over the coming days/weeks/years/decades):

Tony’s Provisional Bucket List

1. Learn to speak another language proficiently (not Klingon)
2. Spend a significant block of time overseas living as a local (goes with #1)
3. Learn to play the guitar reasonably well (simple songs) and sing on key
4. Learn enough construction skills to renovate a house
5. Write a book good (lucky?) enough to be published
6. Take or audit at least one philosophy class
7. Learn to board surf
8. Design and build a house or building of some kind
9. Take a bar tending class and/or a cooking class
10. Learn to sail at an intermediate level

Feel free to share a list (or a partial list) in the comments section. Don’t be shy – life is short, after all.

Balls to the Wall

August 7, 2012

This past weekend I visited relatives in Brooklyn, NY and we took a short trip to walk the Brooklyn Bridge and to see the new Freedom Tower that is nearing completion. As a little aside we went down to the financial district and saw a big crowd of people around something. I couldn’t really tell what it was because of the crowd, but when I got close enough I could see it was the famous “Charging Bull” statue. While not technically on Wall Street, it has become an accessible symbol for the area. I was thinking there should also be a bear statue, but since people dislike a down market it’s not surprising there isn’t one (even though bears are way cooler than bulls).

Wall Street itself has an interesting history. As we all know from watching the Ric Burns documentary, Manhattan was settled by the Dutch, who were famous as traders. So much so, in fact, that when the British sailed in to take over they simply refused to fight for the Dutch leaders to keep it. All that mattered was that commerce would continue as usual (and it did after a peaceful transfer of power). As for the wall in Wall Street, it gets its name from the wall that marked the northern end of what was then New Amsterdam (only the southern tip of Manhattan was settled). Originally an earthen mound, it was built up in the 1640s into a 12-foot structure. In the 1680s the street was laid out alongside this rampart. At this time auctioneers and dealers gathered there (and other places) to trade. In 1699 the wall that gave the street its name was removed as the settlement grew.

In the late 18th century (Independence period) there was a large buttonwood tree at the foot of Wall Street under which investors would trade securities. This game them shady place to work (literally) and kept everyone in close proximity. Finally, in 1789 the Buttonwood Agreement formalized rules and trading commissions, creating the New York Stock Exchange.

Rolling another 7

July 15, 2012

I love old stuff, especially old buildings. Most of the places I want to visit have architectural wonders I’d be thrilled to see. Growing up I also loved Greek mythology and was fascinated by Greek and Roman history. That’s when I first became aware of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The list of wonders served as milestones for Greek tourists in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD (the original Grand Tour), guiding them about the Mediterranean. While great for those tourist, I found the list a bit disappointing because only one entry has survived to the present time (the Great Pyramid of Giza). The rest of the list, all built between 600 and 280 BC, are long gone with the Lighthouse of Alexandria surviving longer than the others (until sometime around 1400 AD). So unfortunately there’s not much to see for the modern tourist, and with no photos or contemporary paintings we even have to guess at what they looked at based on limited written descriptions.

But all is not lost! On July  7, 2007 a new list of Seven Wonders of the World was created after a seven year process with over 100 million votes being cast. Seeing all of these would make a fine addition to any bucket list. But unlike the ancient list, this new seven are spread quite evenly about the world. You probably already know quite a bit about most of these, but here’s a recap:

Chichen Itza • This is an ancient Mayan city that features a distinctive pyramid (El Castillo). Located near Cancun, Mexico this city thrived from 600-1200 AD.

Taj Mahal • Completed in 1653, this marble complex of buildings is located in Agra, India (not far from New Delhi). It’s domed marble mausoleum is most prominent and stands 561 feet tall.

Petra • Carved from solid rock in present-day Jordan, this city was built around 1200 BC and features dozens of buildings and monuments so there’s more to see than the “Treasury” that is most often scene in photos.

Christ the Redeemer • This 130 foot tall statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro is the newest of our new wonders, having been completed in 1931. While not close to being the largest statue in the world, it has the benefit of standing atop a 2,300 foot mountain that serves as its pedestal.

Colosseum • I’ve seen this one, and it is especially beautiful and impressive at night. Built in the first century AD in Rome it could hold 50,000 spectators, which is considerably more than “old” Fenway Park’s capacity.

Great Wall of China • Started  in the 7th century BC (the iconic sections were built around 200 BC), the wall stretches over a mind-boggling 13,000 miles.

Machu Picchu • This Incan city atop a mountain isn’t as ancient as you might expect (15th century AD) but like the other South American entry has altitude on its side (it stands almost 8,000 feet above sea level) and like all great architecture enhances the natural beauty around it.

The Great Pyramid, being the sole surviving ancient wonder, was granted honorary membership to this group.

Echoes of Albania

April 16, 2012

My old defunct blogspot blog is still online, and every once in a while it gets a hit. Oddly enough, these hits are usually the result of a google search for the village of Zemblak, Albania where my father grew up. So I decided to end my little hiatus from this blog (been busy finishing up the game and making websites and such for it) by posting a bunch more pics and some info about the village.

  

  

These photos were taken during our trip in 2008. The roads in the village are packed dirt but are in good condition. Walls enclose many of the houses and yards. At my uncle’s house there is a large grapevine upon entering the gate that provides a cool and shady spot in addition to delicious grapes. A vegetable garden also resides inside the walls. The village is on the slope of the mountains and a short hike allows a great view of the whole village. These days many of the houses seem to be empty. Younger people are leaving the agricultural life and are being drawn to the cities, whether to nearby Korce or the bigger northern cities of Durres or Tirana.

South of Silicon

April 2, 2012

I’ve noticed a pull on me towards Paris for the last year or so, but lately I’ve also started being pulled west. I’ve never been to California and it’s vying to be my next destination. I have zero interest in Los Angeles so northern California would be my target. In the map to the left I’ve highlighted two prominent valleys in the area. In purple is Silicon Valley, and in Yellow is Salinas Valley of John Steinbeck fame. Salinas Valley has nearly ideal farming conditions for a number of crops including  lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, and broccoli, leading to the valley’s nickname “America’s Salad Bowl.” Floral crops and wine grapes also thrive in the 90 mile corridor, however.

Most of my travel inclinations are fueled by literature (though The Brothers Karamazov didn’t really give me the urge to travel to Russia – Dostoyevsky isn’t nearly as descriptive of places as Steinbeck) so the book I read after this one could help shape any future travel plans. I’m sticking with classics for a while, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (a book about the cathedral and not the bell ringer as the title implies) is on my Kindle and ready to go to nudge me back towards Europe. And a recent podcast about the Bronte sisters has put Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in the queue as well. But I doubt that either of those will be influential sinceI have little inclination to go to England because of the weather.

Compass Creativity

March 11, 2012

SXSW is happening! South by Southwest is a music, film and interactive media show that takes place in Austin, Texas every spring. It started way back in 1987 and has expanded from a relatively small music festival (Austin is a great location since it has a strong music scene) to a massive event with 20,000 registrants that has an estimated $167 million impact on the local economy.

A number of now-famous musical acts were “discovered” as SXSW, including Hanson, John Mayer, The Polyphonic Spree and James Blunt. This year over 2,000 acts will perform at almost 100 venues trying to be next on that list. The film festival generally focuses on emerging directors, but this year started with Joss Whedon of Firefly and Buffy fame and his new film “Cabin in the Woods.”

There is also an education event, named SXSWedu, so maybe I’ll make the trip down there next year for that and for the Interactive show to further my current work. Austin is also hosting an F1 race this year in November, so it seems this city to which I’ve long wanted to visit is upping the ante to make that happen.

Source Immaterial

December 29, 2011

As we march towards 2012, I gave myself a few Christmas presents (solstice presents?) that will provide me with valuable fuel for my brain. I’ve always loved magazines, and I may have even bored you at some point (thought not on this blog) with a particularly fond childhood memory of mine in which I had just bought a computer magazine and was cooking chicken pot pies for myself (oddly, I don’t recall why my brothers or parents weren’t there) and I savored every word of the magazine (Amiga vs. Atari ST!) and every bite of the pot pies.

Anyway, the point is that I love magazines. These days I don’t get any of them in the mail though; my old school information source is delivered in a decidedly hi-tech way through my trusty iPad. Most come through an app called Zinio, though a couple are independent apps and one (the Brit mag Autosport) I download as a PDF and read in Goodreader. In every case, I get a nice little notification when a new issue has arrived (and I don’t have to worry about the postman taking his time). My current roster are old favorites like car magazine (Car & Driver, Automobile, Road & Track, Autoweek, Popular Mechanics) that are ridiculously cheap at less than $1 an issue, combined with a couple of new delights I picked up last year (NatGeo Traveler, RetroGamer). Now I’ve added a few new mags to the mix to expand my horizons a bit:

Dwell isn’t a magazine about wallowing in holiday loneliness (wouldn’t that be a big seller). Nope, it’s an architecture magazine. Its focus is on homes rather than large scale stuff (I might look for such a periodical at some point) and so far I really like it. I’ve always thought about designing and building my own home, and while I’m not sure whether that will ever happen or not, I’m sure to pick up a lot of ideas from this as I aspire to be Howard Roark.

Rhode Island Monthly is a way for me to get in touch with the state that has become my home (at least for this phase of my life). I don’t read the ProJo these days so RIM will have to keep me up to date with an admittedly light look into state issues and happenings. More importantly, it’s an inspiration for me to explore new places and restaurants.

Mental Floss is a very clever concept with sections devoted to right brain, left brain, and the type of little tidbits I find fascinating (did you know that treadmills were originally conceived as a was for prisoners to generate power to pump water or crush grain?). Seriously, this magazine is tailor-made for me – above the title of every issue is written “Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix.”

Home Theater. Okay, not exactly new territory for me here, but it was so cheap (40¢ an issue) I couldn’t resist. Since I haven’t read a magazine of this type in a couple of years, it was fun catching up on the state of the art (amazingly, the top TV of all time was from way back in early 2009, and has just now been barely surpassed). I won’t be making any purchases based on this (I’m quite happy with my current portable but impressive setup) but like with the car mags it’s an industry I find fascinating.

 

 

I was recently thinking about where I would like to go the next chance I get to travel, and I think I’ve decided on Paris. After reading The Greater Journey I was sky high on France but I didn’t know if my fascination would last. Paris is really a no-brainer as far as travel destinations go; there is so much history and architecture and great food and wine. It has all the appeal of Rome when it comes to such things. Yet before this year I’ve never really thought about going there (technically I’ve been there , the airport at least, on the way to Athens). I think it all stems from my dislike of French class when I was in 7th-9th grades. I suppose I just didn’t like my teachers or was just into other things at the time (Dungeons & Dragons, basketball and computer programming) and French wasn’t useful in any of those. In hindsight, I wish I would have learned to speak it since it would be helpful in learning Spanish and Italian as well.

As for the photo, the Notre Dame de Paris (translates to Our Lady of Paris) is a beautiful gothic cathedral that was completed in 1345 (it was started nearly 200 years earlier). It features those dramatic flying buttresses, some of which were not in the original design but were added because the relatively thin walls were showing signs of structural stress (sometimes mistakes yield wonderful things). When I was reading about all the events that happened at the cathedral over the years, one stood out to me. In 1450 the Wolves of Paris were killed outside the cathedral. At first I thought this must have been the name of some rebellious group, but it turns out that it was an actual pack of wolves that found a way through the wall of the city in the winter and killed 40 people! What a different world it must have been back then.

Disaster Duel

September 20, 2011

When I was a kid I remember being very interested in two disastrous ships – the R.M.S. Titanic and the Hindenberg. Both were from “the olden days” since the footage of them was in black & white. But I was recently was telling a friend about the destruction of the great German airship and realized I didn’t remember all the facts. So here goes.

The Hindenberg was destroyed trying to land in New Jersey on May 6, 1937, just a couple of years before WWII and a full 25 years after the Titanic sunk. The Hinderberg actually has swastikas on both sides of the tail, a byproduct of needing Nazi funding for completion. It was designed for commercial transatlantic travel from Europe to NJ or Brazil, which took less than three days (much quicker than the fastest naval ships of the day). It could carry up to 75 passengers along with 50 or so crew members. Apparently, travel about such a ship was extremely comfortable, with some travelers failing to even notice the “takeoff” of the journey.

The Hindenberg was very big at just over 800 feet long and with a diameter of 135 feet (similar in size to the Titanic, which was 880 feet long, 175 feet tall and 92 feet wide). It used hydrogen gas to lift its weight, though interestingly it was designed for the heavier helium gas. It turns out that the U.S. had a near-monopoly on helium production at the time and refused to export it to Germany. It had four large engines that propelled it to speeds over 80 mph.

As you could tell from the video, the demise of the Hindenberg was swift, taking less than a minute (Titanic sunk in just under three hours). To this day the exact cause of the fire is unknown since there’s no footage of the start of the blaze, and the disaster marked the end of Zeppelin as a form of commercial travel (airplanes didn’t achieve this quantity of passengers until the 1950s). Amazingly, 62 of the 97 people on board somehow survived to tell the tale.