Omakase

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Obama:business::oil:water

One thing about the Obama administration that has torqued me up is the negative attitude towards business - in just 10 months, he's railed about the evil insurance industry and the horrible bankers, taken aim at credit card companies, promoted an anti-industry cap and trade policy, nationalized the car industry, and demonized the pharmaceutical and hospital industries while he tries to remake 1/6th of the US economy.

But now, it all makes sense to me after seeing some recent analysis from JP Morgan. Check out this graphic from JP Morgan showing the %age of cabinet officers with private sector experience since the Teddy Roosevelt administration.




(full explanation here. (American Enterprise blog.))

This is troublesome on 3 levels:

1) There's no business expertise around Obama to provide real world advice or context for the challenge of getting the economy going. (In fact, this may be why all of the White House rhetoric is around "jobs" and not "economic growth." While jobs and economic growth are often synonymous, the difference is that dictators and deficit-spending politicians can create jobs out of thin air by fiat, but can't make an economy grow without good ideas and expereinced managers to make them happen.)

Without real-world experience to advise Obama, count on more programs that are selected because they sound good politically or test well in focus groups, but don't do a darn net thing economically, like cash for clunkers or the proposed employee hiring tax credit.

2) You are who you surround yourself with. Seeing that only a fraction of people around Obama have ever held a real job makes me think that he's surrounded by sycophants, lifelong politicians, and issues-oriented hangers-on. Prior to their cabinet positions, these people specialized in 1 thing: getting elected. This is great if you're up for re-election in 2012, but truly terrible for the those of us who aren't. These aren't the folks who will make the best decisions for America, but will ultimately make decisions that are best for them and their political career, because it is what they have been doing for decades.

3) This is more evidence that Obama highly values the political elite ruling class, and undervalues the working class. Case in point: Obama made 3 different nominations for the Secretary of Commerce (Bill Richardson (fmr gov of NM), Sen Judd Gregg, and ultimately Gary Locke (fmr gov of WA). You'd think that the at least one of the three nominees for COMMERCE of all positions would come from the business world - either immediately, or recently, but no, all three are career politicians. Based on the composition of Obama's leadership team, when it comes time to talk about stimulus ideas, do you think he's going to hear the best ideas, or the best politically motivated ideas? Will we get the ideas that make our economy better, or the ones that get us in the best shape in late 2012, when Obama stands for re-election?


Since winning the election a year ago, I haven't posted anything critical of Obama. There's some things that Obama has done that I've liked and others that I haven't, but I fervently hope that he is generally successful. With the approach to date, and the roster of talent that we see, I don't think it likely - he'll be made vulnerable by plainly liberal policies and undone by a poor economy. I hope even the most strident Obama advocate would agree that the Obama administration would be more effective with more people on his team who have worked in the real world, and less reliance on career political class and unicorn chasers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More cool stuff.....

Check out these kitesurfers jumping over a huge pier during a storm off of England. It's absolutely crazy!






Next up: some mind-blowing statistics from Worldometers.info. Did you know that every day the world expands by ~220,000 people? (It's like adding another Dallas-Fort Worth to the world every month.) Or did you know that 3X as many people will die this year due to smoking as will die from HIV/AIDS?
(Hat tip to ScienceRoll for pointing out this site.)




Finally: 35 insanely cool pictures of the Martian landscape like the one below hosted at the incomparable "Big Picture" blog at Boston.com. (You should have this in your RSS reader or check their picture compilations at least twice a week.)





(when I first saw this, I couldn't tell if it was an ink stain, a person's tattoo, or shift desert sands, but it's really Mars.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Whither Facebook

I joined Facebook this week in order to receive some free iTunes music. Of course, EVERYBODY is already on Facebook, so in just a little while I was hooked up with about 40 friends, and have had the full Facebook experience for the last few days.


I thought that I had been missing out - that I was missing tons of fun, and that I would discover loads of long lost friends and contacts. So far, I just don't get it. Facebook seems to me to be an endless stream of 2 things - parents posting pictures of their kids, and people posting inane page updates like what they just ate, what their day has been like or this one: "I need one more Firebomb!! Does anyone have one that they can give me?" (someone playing a game called Mafia Wars).


(As an aside, can anyone tell me why it makes sense to make your profile photo a picture of your 5-year old, or your pet chihuahua?)


I'd also read in some industry journals that Facebook thinks there is much more to their business than simply hosting pictures and facilitating blog-type postings. Like competing against Google in search.


I really don't see it. Facebook isn't anything special, and unless something amazing happens in the next few weeks, I think Facebook - for me at least - will be a once-a-month check-in kind of thing.

Grab bag with more cool stuff.

Here's a quote worth reading and couple of great articles to make up for my Facebook-like natterings:


Quote:


"This is the issue...... Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.


You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age-old dream — the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order — or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, “The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.”


The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose."


Is that Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul or Jeff Flake critiquing the Obama governing philosophy? Nope, it's from 1964, also known as the beginning of the Great Society. This quote was delivered as part of a larger, very prominent speech written and delivered by none other than Ronald Reagan in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. As CATO points out, today is the 45th anniversary of the speech, and it is as relevant today, as it was then.





2 articles worth your time:


Everything You Know About China Is Wrong



and




If you're an Obama fan, this article tracks the evolution of the US Af-Pak strategy. If you're not an Obama fan, you'll read this as 7 months of dawdling, indecision, and confusion. 


At the least, it is clear at this stage that Obama is waiting for the US elections next week before announcing his decision on McChrystal's request. No matter which way he goes, he'll disappoint a large number of people. I just wonder if the the stalling ight be costing lives.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to pick your religion......

Check out this hilarious flow chart to help you select your next religion. Who knew the keys to finding spiritual bliss were your attitude towards hummus and bacon.




(Original found here: the Friendly Atheist.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cool stuff....

Stuff so cool I just had to share:


A map of every space mission in the last 50 years. National Geographic plotted every previous and current space exploration mission. My favorite part is the "mileage" gauge at the bottom of the graphic. (Hat tip to Instapundit and Popular Science for linking to Nat Geo.) http://www.flickr.com/photos/adamcrowe/4002050596/sizes/o/





The Geography of Jobs - a very cool graphic showing where job growth and decline occurred in the US from 2004-2009. If you mentally overlay local economic models, you can come to some cool conclusions For example. Texas grows and Michigan shrinks. I wonder if that might have something to do with low taxes vs. high, and right-to-work vs. high unionization. Or, draw your own conclusions.....


Finally, check out this SNL skit where Barack Obama transform into "Rock Obama," featuring Charlottesville resident Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson ripping off the arm of Senator Mitch McConnell, and throwing Sen Max Baucus out a White House window. It's good for a chuckle, but I think SNL missed out on a chance for an even funnier skit.



Monday, October 12, 2009

Triathlon results


Yesterday I ran my second triathlon, the Richmond Sprint Triathlon (quarter mile pool swim, 20K bike ride, and 5K run.) I'm very happy with my time, though I also see lots of room for improvement.

Overall, I finished 306th out of 529 finishers. This breaks down as:

(italics represent figures for the whole field)

Swim: 7:59, good for 156th overall out of 529 - i really screwed up my breathing by the second lap. I can take 30 to 45 seconds off this next time. (Median time: 8:57; best time: 5:09.)

Transition 1 (swim to bike): 4:57 seconds - it didn't seem that long, but the result is terrible - I was the 455th of 529) in transition. You can't imagine how hard it is to put a tight long sleeve shirt over a wet body! (Also, the transition included a quarter mile run from the pool to my bike, while wet, in low 50's temps, barefoot, and with only my trunks on. Not fun.) (Median time: 4:18; best time: 1:36.)

Bike: 41:29, good for 164th overall (of 529), in spite of the fact that I dropped my water bottle on an uphill climb, costing me at least a minute while I turned around, picked it up, and regained momentum. (Median time: 44:41; best time 29:48).

Through the bike stage, I was 179th of 529 - the top third of all competitors.

Transition 2 (bike to run): 2:29 (470th of 529)- again, really stinky, considering all I had to do was rack my bike, take off my helmet, and put on my running shoes. I did decide to stretch briefly. (Median time: 1:33; best time: 0:41.)

Run: 34:47 (436 of 529). Good news, bad news here. My legs felt soooo heavy coming off the bike. With additional training, I know I can take at least five minutes off this time. Good news is that I took about 2.5 minutes off of my 5K time in my first triathlon. (Median time: 28:41; best time: 17:45)

(So, if I just did the median transition times, didn't drop my water bottle on the bike, and ran at my potential (~29 mins), I'd cut 8:22 off my time, which would have been good for 184th lace (of 529.))

But considering how the triathlon field skews towards younger competitors (average age is probably 26 or 27 - I'm 39), and considering how I don't exactly have a triathlete's body, I'm much happier when looking at my results in my competition category - "Clydesdales," which is for anybody over 200 pounds (I'm ~235.)

My ranks in the Clydesdale grouping:

Overall: 12th of 23
Swim: 3rd of 23
Bike: 9th of 23 (shoulda been 6th without the water bottle drop)
Run: 19th of 23


So look for me next year finishing in the top 35% overall. I'm definitely going to do this race again next year, and incorporate all of the improvements listed above.

Colorado picture highlights are up



I've posted the ~20 or so best pictures from my recent trip to Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado. You can't help but take good pictures with scenery this nice.




Here's my earlier sumary of the weekend that explains the bellydancing that spawned this picture.....


Friday, October 09, 2009

Best of Montenegro pictures

Here's ~25 highlight pics from my 3 days in Montenegro last month.

Here's my previous posts on Montenegro.

Up until 3 months ago, if you'd asked me about the country of Montenegro, I would have said it was the name of a fictitious country on some TV show, like the place where Jack Bauer's enemies come from. The country popped up on my radar screen because I was aiming to visit Croatia, and Dubrovnik was definitely a must-stop. Seeing another country just 30 miles south*, I thought it might be cool to pick up one more passport stamp, and inflate my "countries visited" total by one.

(* 30 miles = about a 3 hour bus ride each way.)

But the more research I did, the more appealing Montenegro became. Dramatic mountain views. Ancient fortress cities. Fantastic beaches.




So I was intrigued to the point where I traded a few days potentially on Croatian islands for 3 days/2 nights in Montenegro. While I know the extra Croatian days would have been spectacular, I definitely made the right move in visiting Montenegro.



My base for Montenegro was the town of Budva, which is at the center of a 20-mile stretch of coast called the Budva Riviera (BR). The BR had something like 10 different beaches each connected by walking trails and regular buses. Each beach had it's own personality - crowded or not, sandy or rocky, secluded or busy, quiet or noisy - from power boats or disco music, etc.



The one constant no matter which beach I was on was that the setting was unbelievable - clear blue waters, big mountains, and interesting coves, castles, and islands to look out onto.

Also constant through my time in Montenegro was the feeling that I was an outsider. During my 3 days in country, I never heard another American or British voice, and while I could occasionally order food in English, the dominant language and culture was definitely Eastern European - mainly Serbian and Russian. (Russian investors have been buying up Montenegro properties including the entire island of Sveti Stefan. Probably half of all expensive cars that I saw had Russian license plates.) The result is that  Montenegro is now a package tour destination for well-off Muscovites, and most commercial signs have both Latin and Cyrillic characters. (I'd typically see hand-written chalk menus written firstly in Latin-ized Serbian and secondly in Cyrillic Serbian or Russian, with no English available.)



But for all of the tourism and inward investment, Montenegro still has many aspects of a 3rd world country, though I suspect this won't last long. All roads are 2-lane roads in the entire country, and journeys that look on a map like 10 minutes are actually 40. There's also a lot of reliance on buses, and they don't behave like Greyhounds here in the USA.



I took a bus trip from Budva to Kotor, a walled city at the end of a bay surrounded by fjords. Total distance was about 18 miles, but the ride took an hour, as we picked up and dropped off randomly along the way. This route went right past the airport, so I decided to take the same bus to the airport the next day, even though the airport wasn't a scheduled stop. (My cab from the airport cost 30 Euros, so the 2 Euro bus fare was a big reason to try.)

I got on the bus (a shortened bus, or mini-bus) at the scheduled time and took a seat on the left side to get some great views as we traveled northwest along the coast then inland. Each bus in Eastern Europe has a staff of 2: a driver and a person collecting fares. You meet the driver when you put your bag in the bus' cargo area, as he personally pockets 1 or 2 Euros. Neither wear any kind of uniform, so it was a surprise a few minutes later when a regularly dressed woman walked up to me and asked me to pay her.

I'd prepared for this, so I busted out my best Serbian and said "Bilini aerodromo" - "near airport." She nodded, took my 2 Euros, and we were off.

I'd ridden the route before, so I had a good idea of when the airport was coming up, so I was really surprised, and ready to go into shock when we drove right past it!

I had plenty of time for my flight, and I always had the contingency of getting to the bus' destination (Kotor) and taxiing to the airport (or even walking - it would have been about 2 miles, though no fun with a backpack), so I wasn't panic'ed so much as disappointed that my communication skills stunk.

Luckily, though, the bus skidded to a stop at the first intersection past the airport at a dirt road about a half-mile past the airport. I hopped off, and within 20 minutes was in the terminal where I saw this quintessential Eastern European scene - 5 clocks, none of which was accurate!




Clocks and transportation aside, Montenegro far exceeded my expectations and I'd recommend to anybody heading to Dubrovnik to add a multiple day visit to their agenda.

Link to my Montenegro photo gallery.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Colorado weekend: Kevin & Kristen get married with bellydancers, while Tim falls in love too.

I’m just back from three days in Colorado for a good buddy’s wedding.  Here’s some highlights:

The wedding was in Colorado Springs, but I wanted to see Denver for the first time and wanted to fly direct, so I booked a non-stop from Washington to Denver, but United had other plans: my non-stop had a ~2 hour layover in Chicago (mechanical difficulties). It all worked out for the better though, as we were all given $250 vouchers towards a future United flight (my ticket only cost $244, so I technically made a profit!)

I was worried that this layover might be a bad omen, but it was the only wrinkle in the entire trip.

Colorado in the fall is fantastic, though with weather that can only be described as “variable.” This was really hammered home when we met for the wedding rehearsal Saturday late afternoon, outdoors, at the Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs, where Kevin and Kristen picked out a truly awesome setting for their wedding. The airtemp was 50 degrees for the rehearsal, but winds probably chopped that down to 40….and then the sun dipped behind the mountains. This made for a very quick rehearsal.

With the wedding the next morning @ 10am, I thought the vows would be drowned out by chattering teeth, but the wind was non-existent, and the sun was shining (though clouds covered the park an hour earlier.) The end result was this fantastic scene:


(Though the weather was fine for those of us wearing a suit, I can’t help but wonder if Kristen’s arms got frostbitten.)

A reception followed, which was lots of fun, and included something that I had never seen at a wedding before: bellydancers! (See below for photographic proof.) (Kristen has bellydanced for years, and asked a friend/colleague to put on a show during the reception. I’m no bellydancing expert, but I was really impressed when she started balancing a sword on her forehead while dancing. I was so inspired that I tried the same thing with a steak knife and was lucky I didn't accidentally carve my up my lips.)




When not involved with wedding stuff, I set out to see and experience Colorado.  One stop was the US Olympic Training Center, where I found a sale on “Chicago 2016” Olympic merchandise. I wonder why……

Next priority was to find some good Mexican food. (Didn’t you know that Colorado has a huge Mexican presence?) I looked up a highly-rated Mexican restaurant a few miles out of town, and rolled up to find it closed. At this point, I was about a third of the way to Pueblo, CO, so I decided to go the distance, motivated by the chance to see ancient Indian pueblos (ancient Indian homes carved into the side of the mountains), and because I was told that the land turned to desert just 30 miles south of Colorado Springs.

Funny enough, there are no pueblos in Pueblo, Colorado, and the one pueblo in Colorado Springs was built about 60 years ago, so it’s Williamsburg-fake. But I did manage to find something truly amazing: green chile!

I was still on my quest for Mexican food when I arrived in Pueblo. Using my iPhone I found a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant (Rita's Mexican food), and took a chance and went in. Visually, the restaurant wasn’t much, but it was exactly what I was looking for – a restaurant run by a single family for 25 years, with Mom behind the cash register, son in the kitchen, and daughter taking orders. The signs – hand written – included “Cash only – no credit cards,” which is a sure sign that you’ve found a hole in the wall.

I ordered the special of the day off the chalkboard – a bean burrito/chicken enchilada combo with green chile. Not that I knew what green chile was, but when you’re exploring a hole-in-the-wall, you go with the special of the day.

I also ordered a side of chicarons – something that I’d never heard of, so I decided to try. Turns out chicarons are thum-sized deep-fried hardened bacon fat, or something like that. I tried about 3 bites and pushed it aside.

When my combo arrived, I didn’t see any food, but instead my plate was a lake of slime green gravy. I waited for a minute to see if another plate was coming, or if they’d gotten the order wrong.
No help arrived, so I dipped my fork in tentatively, and hit burrito.  The first bite was 1/3 burrito and 2/3rds sauce. I braced myself for super spiciness or a foul taste. Instead, I tasted something amazing, - smooth, mildly spiced, very warm, lightly pork-flavored sauce that wasn’t quite gravy, and wasn’t quite soup. It was a like a party in my mouth (as Ken Griffey would say) and I was instantly in love.

I could have easily pushed aside the food and just lapped up the green chile – it was that good. It turns out that green chile is a specialty of the Pueblo area (and New Mexico). The green chiles are farmed in Pueblo, CO and New Mexico, and stewed with a variety of other spices to make something that is pure heaven. I’m hooked, and will be on the lookout for “New Mexico style” Mexican food, and green chile.


Anybody else ever have green chile, and can recommend a good source (restaurant or recipe?)

Monday, October 05, 2009

U2 in Charlottesville!

NOW UPDATED WITH EVEN BETTER VIDEO (SEE BELOW)


I'd love to write some high-brow (i.e. overly intelligent), wordy review of the U2 show in Charlottesville. You know, something that you'd read in Rolling Stone - someone writing 1000 words to make something sound bigger and better than it really is or was.





But I can't, because there is no adequate way to describe how amazing U2 was in concert. Instead, I'm  so blown away that I'm reduced to short words, like "Wow." Just wow.


It was practically a religious experience.

The music sounded great, the band's showmanship and energy were strong, and the stage, lightshow, and video accompaniment was just incredible.



The show was one of the best that I've ever seen. Which got me to thinking about the top shows that I've seen. Without ranking these shows, I'd say that these shows were in the same class as U2:


Red Hot Chilli Peppers/Pearl Jam (doublebill, around 1998)- unbelievable energy and showmanship by both bands.


The Police (2008) - as they say in Scotland, pure dead brilliant.


Bruce Springsteen (2007) - I can't believe I waited this long to see Bruce.


Midnight Oil (1994) - one of their songs is "Power and the Passion," which I'd say just about sums up the band that night. 


Fighting Gravity (1989-1992 - any night they played in my fraternity basement.)


Live (1995) - whatever happened to these guys?


(I think I might need to broaden my musical horizons - all of my top bands are from the 80's and 90's.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I went to Serbia so you don't have to!

Serbia highlights are up (click this).

As a refresher, here's the best of my posts from Serbia:
Belgrade: a balmy 97 degrees.
It's 1979 here in Belgrade! (or why Belgrade=Pittsburgh)
Belgrade bomb damage....
Which makes this picture understandable
Belgrade wrap-up


First stop on my tour of the Balkans was Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, the former capital of the former Yugoslavia, and center of all things Serbdom. (Just to show you how life is determined by perspective, before this trip I wouldn't have listed Serbs as a dedicated identity group when compared to groups with great scale, like the Chinese, or greater historical impact, like the Scots. But the Serbs think they're the big deal of the neighborhood, which partly explains why chunks of their city had been obliterated by airstrikes by real big deals- the USA and NATO.)


Visiting Belgrade on a trip to Europe is a bit like coming to the USA and visiting Roanoke, VA - notable, but far exceed by other destinations in interest and attraction. My time in Belgrade, Serbia was limited to ~24 hours, which was just about the right amount of time. Belgrade wasn't a bad place, but compared to my beach destinations, I wouldn't have wanted to spend more time in Serbia. 


Belgrade has 1 impressive site to see for any traveler in the area - the Kalemegdan, a large, almost 1,200 year old fortress overlooking where the Danube and Sava rivers. Not only is the fortress impressive when viewed and toured, it also provides some dramatic views. There's also some quirks - the fortress also hosts a local basketball club ("KK Partizan") and a tennis club who's clay courts are located in the fortress' now unused moats.












Besides the Kalemegdan, my other recollections of Belgrade are war damage (covered in an earlier post), and impressions of the people.


My friend Scott H has posited that the Koreans are the toughest people on Earth. He might be right, but I'd also nominate the Serbs as toughest, and they might edge the Koreans with their advantage in meanness. Perhaps it is the fact that life in Serb is hard - it's a poor country after all. Or perhaps it was the fact that most Serbs still seemed to wear the war on their faces, or perhaps because of the anti-NATO protest, I got the distinct impression that most Serbs still consider themselves superior to the other Balkan inhabitants, and that it would make most Serbs very happy to be at conflict again, against the Catholic Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, the Kosovars, the Albanians, the Bulgarians, or perhaps the Turks. (This is especially true compared to the people I saw and met in Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro.) The Serbs definitely all carry around a chip on their shoulder, but this isn't crazy, since the country has purportedly never, ever been at peace for 50 continuous years since the dawn of civilization.


At this point, though, Serb aggression is cultural, as is evident while tripping around town. In Belgrade, I didn't see any statues to great statesmen, but rather people with swords or guns drawn, as you can see here and here.


Click here to see the picture highlights of Belgrade, Serbia.
.

U2 in Charlottesville!

U2 plays at UVA's football stadium tomorrow night (cuz, you know, Charlottesville has a lot in common with other U2 stops like Paris, London, and New York.) Reports about the U2 show have described the set-up as massive, so I drove by the stadium today, and they're right, even understating things. 

The picture below doesn't do the set-up justice. The stage is about 40% of the total area of the field, and taller than the stadium. The light and sound looks to be amazing (notice the multi-colored stripes in the middle of the picture? It's a massive circular video board that descends from the "roof" of the stage.)


Reviews from earlier stops are very positive. It should be a good time - I can't wait to see the show!









Here's what the full-on set-up looked like at a previous show.....







Thursday, September 24, 2009

Best of Bosnia pics now up!

I've collected my favorite photos from Bosnia & Hercegovina (including Sarajevo and Mostar.) You can see them in my gallery here. (And click "My Gallery" to access all of the other pictures that I have published online.)

Bosnia is a mess. There's no other way about it.


There are constant reminders of the war - damaged buildings, and damaged people. There's a lot of money being spent by the EU to return life to normal, but modern weapons can create a lot of damage with not much effort, and with something like 5,000 mortar rounds hitting Sarajevo alone, you begin to understand why the place is still a mess 14 years later. (You see "Paid for by the EU" signs on every new building, but as I mentioned before, I think this is guilt money trying to make up for the fact that the EU and its' members just sat around while Yugoslavia imploded and genocide followed.)

(Btw: one other takeaway from Sarajevo is that the city is probably the single worst place on the planet to be caught in during a siege due to the city's topography. The city is long and thin, and paralleled by mountain ranges that meet at one end enclosing the city. (Imagine a canoe. Sarajevo runs along the canoe floor, with the "bad guys" positioned above the canoe walls.) There wasn't a single point in the city that wasn't reachable by snipers, and for much of the war, there was only one source of fresh water, making daily life like living in a shooting gallery.)

But, the country has some positives that made me glad to have visited:

- the people were very friendly, both to me, and to each other. I can't tell you how many times I saw a car stop so that the driver could pop out to loudly say hello to someone walking on the sidewalk. It was amazing how these dour, gray, scruffy folks would light up when they saw a friend or acquaintance.

-the cafe culture in Bosnia is unbelievable, especially in Sarajevo. In Sarajevo, there's a street in the center of the town (Branilaca Sarajeva) that is just one cafe after another, up and down every alley, in every variety possible, full at almost every hour of the day. There were Turkish coffee cafes, Viennese cafes, small cafes, large cafes, even a cafe named after Bill Gates (see the pic in the gallery).

-there's a very relaxed attitude in Bosnia. The vibe was something combining a deep tradition of cafe culture combined with a healthy appreciation for being alive after the civil war, twisted with a lazy work ethic from the communist era.

I think that vibe was responsible for a crazy scene that I saw around a chess board.

It was about 1pm on a Wednesday in the center of Sarajevo, and aside from the wait-staff at the cafes, I don't think a single person was actually at work. I wandered into a farmer's market in a city square, whereupon I heard lots of shouting. Expecting some demonstration, or even one ethnic group screaming at another, I headed towards the crowd, and found.....a chess match.

There was a roughly 20x20 chess board painted on the concrete, with chess pieces about knee high. Two guys in their late 40's were playing by walking from piece to piece around the board.

The chess board was surrounded on all sides by between 60-75 spectators, all men and tending towards retirees, but still with 15-20 guys who you would think would ordinarily be at work. None of the participants or spectators looked anything like a Chess Master.

What was most amzing about the scene though, was the intensity of the crowd. Roughly half were intensely quiet, with a hand under their chin thinking about the last or next move.

The other half of the audience was just as engaged by the match, but much, much more vocal. I don't know exactly what they were saying, but it appeared to be a mix of criticism and suggestions for chess moves.

Either way, I'll always remember this scene from Sarajevo.


One other favorite Bosnia scene occurred back home in Charlottesville. We are fortunate to have in Charlottesville a bakery/cafe run by a Bosnian family (the "Balkan Bakery.") On Saturdays, the family sells Bosnian food at the farmer's market. (The market has similar booths for Hungarian, French, Mexican, and Salvadoran foods. I'm a HUGE fan of the taco stand, with the tortillas made right in front of you.)

In general, Yugoslavian food is pretty basic, and not something you hunger for, but after Saturday morning's 30 mile bike ride, I would have even eaten cevapcici again.

So, I walked past the Bosnian bakery stand Saturday AM and my eyes lock in on the burek (imagine the combination of a flaky pastry like philo with a pot pie and you get the idea.) Just for fun, I ordered in Bosnian "Zelim jeden burek, molim."

The woman behind the table lit up like I saw other people do all over Sarajevo, and for a few minutes, I was back in Bosnia.

Link to best of Bosnia pictures.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Best of Munich

I finished sorting and editing my pictures from Europe this weekend and cut ~160 pictures out of 700. I'll be rolling out the highlights on a stop-by-stop basis, starting today with Munich, Germany. You can see the Munich Highlights here. (Besides the regular Munich highlights, you can also see the Munich Michael Jackson memorial.)


Munich was not only a fun place to visit, but also an opportunity to catch up with my sister Kathy and her husband Dave (vacationing in southern Germany and Austria), and a fraternity brother, Tom "Woody" Day, that I hadn't seen since about 1998.

Tom is originally from Nebraska, and was tagged with the nickname Woody about 10 seconds after arriving at W&L. (Remember the Woody Harrelson character on cheers?) Woody has been living in Munich since graduating from UVA's law school, and was an outstanding tour guide, delivering all of the essentials for touring Munich: interesting sights, local culture, and the best biergartens, like where the picture below was shot, in a biergarten connected to the Bavarian parliament.




We were less than three weeks early for Oktoberfest, so we missed it, but now I've got a reason to go back. Until then, these pictures of Oktoberfest from the Boston Globe's "Big Picture" column will have to do.

Funny enough, I just caught up with Tom this weekend, making it two meetings in 3 weeks after non in 10 years. Tom and his Ukrainian girlfriend Lena flew into Virginia to watch his Nebraska Cornhuskers play Virginia Tech. The game didn't turn out well for the Huskers, but we had a very fun night in Lexington, reliving out college days, and ending up drinking cheap beer in our fraternity house at 1:30 in the morning.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First slug of picture highlights from Yugoslavia

I'm about a third of the way through evaluating and editing my pics, which isn't as fast as I thought, but 700 pics x 1 minute editing each = 11 hours of work.


But HERE is the fruits of the effort to date - my best 20 shots out of about 300 pictures examined at that point. The pics look good so far. 


Also....it's not quite travel oriented, since I live in this town, but here's 16 Things to Love about Charlottesville in Fall. All I have to say is "Amen!"


Finally, here's one more picture from he Yugoslavia/Germany trip......(click for larger image)


Friday, September 11, 2009

Thanks! (and more to come)

I'm back from my rambles, with more stories and >700 pictures. I'll be sorting through the best over the weekend and will post a gallery of these with stories as soon as I can, as well as some thoughts from the trip, and personal takeaways.

(I'll also be spending this weekend fighting jet lag, watching UVA get their butt kicked by TCU on the football field, as well as some biking and prepping for the last triathlon of the year in what should be perfect weather.)

In the meantime, I'd like to thank you for following my adventures and keeping me company with emails and blog comments.

Cheers,

Tim

Almost home: Philly!

So, you're in Philadelphia, just off of a 9 hour transatlantic flight across 6 times zones, you've got a raging head cold, and are sluggish from the time change. You have a 4 hour layover before finally making it home, 22 hours after waking up, so what would you do?

A) straggle to your connecting gate and rest
B) mindlessly wander the terminal looking for a legit cheesesteak.
C) do a 2-hour power-tour of the City of Brotherly Love.

I went with option "C" of course, and capped my mini-visit with a trip up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, Rocky-style. The film recap is below.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Surfing in Munich!?!

Munich, Germany is >500 miles away from the ocean, but that doesn't mean you can't go surfing, right in the heart of the city.

Check out this vid of surfers on a river running thru the Englischer
Gartens, Munich's version of Central Park.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1wHO2d0NP0

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Munich street music

Here's the first of 2 vids of Munich street performers I saw on my
way back to my hotel from the bier halle. Both groups drew about 40
spectators, played some great, and made we wonder if this is street
music, how good is the club music?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fi5TTAi6F1o

Pan of Munich skyline from top of St. Peter church at the Marienplatz

Back in the USA, home of the brave and the free bandwidth, it's time
to post some vids from the last few days....
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZS0WCMqkW8

Greetings from Munich!


Here's an appearance In the Augustiner Bier Halle in the Munich Alstadt with my sister Kathy and her husband Dave DeWitt.

I also had the good fortune while in Munich to reconnect with Tom Day, a college buddy living in Munich (and Garmisch-Partikirchen, and Jersey City, and NYC, and Nebraska....)

Munich Marienplatz


Ground level view.....outstanding city

Sunday, September 06, 2009

"Cold Drinks" in Dubrovnik

Here's a view into the legendary cafe/bar "Cold Drinks," in Dubrovnik.
Cold Drinks is cool and memorable for several reasons:
-it is located on a cliff OUTSIDE the city wall on the SEA side.
-it has the most unbelievable views
-it is low key and relaxed
-it has no advertising in any city maps or handouts. The only thing
distinguishing the business is the small wooden sign "Cold Drinks"
that you see in the firs few seconds of the vid
-it is literally a hole in the wall!
You may not appreciate it from the video, but the seating area
literally drops off into the sea. I guess they have different
liability laws for bars in Croatia!
I wouldn't have known about it unless told by a friend (thx, Dana!)
and some Chicagoans that I met in Korcula 2 days earlier.
You have to see the place to believe it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeowrMA1pgU

One last view of Dubrovnik

Amazing city.......(click to enlarge)

Better version of a prior picture

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Another Kodak moment!

View of island of Lokrum from high above Dubrovnik's walls.

Stuck in rain in DBV

In the midst of walking the city walls, the rain that has been
threatening all day has arrived. The weather canceled sea kayaking
this morning as well, which was a bummer, but once I saw the sea
today, completely the right call.
Walking the walls of the city is the highlight of the trip so far (and
that's saying alot.) I snapped the shot below at the beginning of the
walk, pre-rain. It's a view into the city from the high walls, down
the main street of the city, or Stradun.
Am hoping the weather breaks soon....

Quick pan of Dubrovnik from above at Sunset

Panoramic view of Dubrovnik on YouTube shot yesterday at sunset......

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOnaSkb-dNc

Inside Dubrovnik

View of cafe-lined Stradun

Quick scene inside Dubrovnik

While waiting for my tour to start in 20 minutes.....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZ-LB6YoptA

Friday, September 04, 2009

Catching up from Bosnia & Croatia

A couple of stories:
I was on my way from Sarajevo to the Croatian coast, with a quick
stopover in Mostar. Before hopping the bus, I had to visit the
bathroom-usually not a challenge, especially since most WCs have
pictographs of a man or a woman to help you choose no matter what.
Well, this being Bosnia, where there are still faded signs in
prominent places for the 1984 Winter Olympics (meaning signage isn't a
high priority for Sarajevo), all I had to go on were signs for
"muski," (on the left) or "zenski" (for the room on the right.)
Before I finish the story, which would you guess was the Men's room?
Why did you guess that one?

I tentatively moved towards muski, on the simple notion that muski
began with the same letter as "Men's." never mind how this approach
wouldn't work in say France (garcons). I lightly pushed open the door
half expecting a Bosnian women to start screaming. I lucked out - the
room was empty. Still this was no sign that I made the right choice,
so I stepped in. My "muski" guess turned out to be right, so now I
know at least one extra word of Serbo-Croatian.
Sarajevo & Mostar: fascinating, depressing, and hopelessly screwed up
(that's the summary for the cities AND my travel plans!)
Had planned on a third of a day in Sarajevo, one third in Mostar, and
the rest being spend traveling and at the coast in Croatia, however,
things didn't go according to plan.
I saw Sarajevo-interesting, but not enough to justify much more than
~3hrs, then Mostar, worth about half that, but unfortunately my host
town for 15 hours more than that.
Upon arrivng in Mostar, after a breathtaking ride through the Dinaric
Alps (mtns), our bus was swarmed with elderly ladies offerings rooms.
Though not interested, I ended up speaking with Nina, mostly because
she wouldn't take no for an answer.
I broke away from Nina, toured the city, and ~2hrs later went back to
the station (shared by buses & trains). The first person who saw me
was Nina, who said the train was 2 hours late, and asked if i wanted
her room yet. 2 hrs? (btw: there is only 2 trains per day each way) I
could wait that delay out with some more touring, though at that point
i had seen enough shot-up buildings. (reminder why so much
destruction: though a strategically unimportant town, all 3 armies
wanted to prove a point on this town, stretched over 3 yrs.)
I came back an hour or so later (10pm). No Nina, and only 2 people in
the whole station - a really, really old lady waiting to take the
train, and the starion master, who I quickly established didn't speak
any English. We pantomimed a bit, and established that the train was
100 minutes late.
An hour later, same routine with the stationmaster. He says "no news,"
or at least I think that's what he said. At this point, i'm starting
to weigh my options. Then, help arrives.
Sanel, a Bosniak (Muslim) was waiting for people to arrive on my
train. He heard the train MIGHT be in at 1am, but he was giving up,
and oh, by the way, did I happen to want to rent a room for the night?
I quickly weighed the options (1. Night in trainstation, 2. 3am
arrival in Croatia, 3. Find a room on my own, or 4. Take a chance on
Sanel).
Less than 2 minutes after meeting him, was on my way to his car, and
this paid off just like the last time I took a random chance on a
boarding situation (remember that, Jason H?(Munich))
Sanel spoke good English, and we chatted for what must have been an
hour. Got all kinds of stories about the War (he was 7yrs old at the
start), and all kinds of stories about how Mostar functions or doesn't
function.
Like those bombed out houses. The EU has made available a ton of
reconstruction $$$$ - the EU's way of cleansing guilt by saying "sorry
we didn't do anything to stop the genocide. How about some new storm
windows to make you feel better?"
Problem is, the owners of the bombed out buildings fled town during
the war, and refuse to return. (Can you blame them, especially if
their old neighborhood has changed ethnicities?(= living among the
'enemy')). The EU refuses to let any $$$ be spent on buildings not
owner-occupied, so the result is a half-bombed out town, and a
continuing cycle of depression. (btw: Sanel's place had been burned to
a shell during the war. Except for one area that he kept like that as
a reminder, you'd never know.
So the next morning Sanel drove me to the station, where the morning
train was on-time, and I was on my way to Croatia, though half a day
late, thus costing me a shot at visiting Hvar Island. Still, my next 2
stops, Orebic and Korcula were well worth it.

Notes from DBV

While i wait for my washing machine to finish.....
In Dubrovnik (DBV) today....amazing, amazing city....will start the
morning off sea-kayaking around the city walls. No Ms. Universe, which
would have been a good story, but this tour is better....am staying in
a sobe (private room) with huge views, 100yds from the water. Would
love to claim credit for this, but it was the luck of the draw. By
this I mean when our bus pulled in today, we were swarmed by 40-50
grandmas, each offering a room in their house. It was like being
swarmed by munchkins. I paired off with one, asked a few questions (of
which only location was the only intelligent thing that I asked), and
struck a deal. I did this mostly for the fun of it, because I had
planned to splurge on a hotel in DBV.
Walked around the Old City tonite. Must confess it was good to be back
in a mainstream world, with lots of English spoken. (General rule: in
the popular, touristy areas, conditions are almost like America, while
some places (like Ploce, or Mostar) were pretty much 3rd world. Most
of my trip so far has been 'in between' those 2 poles.
Still can't get a cold drink, though. For some reason, this continent
doesn't serve drinks at anything but room temps, and without ice. I
can't tell you how many times I've taken a break from the 95 degree
temps, only to have an 80 degree beverage. Hopefully the solution is a
bar here in DBV called "Cold Drinks." I hope to catch it tomorrow
afternoon.

Ah, Dubrovnik!

View leaving Korcula

Breakfast: 23 kuna ($4), view: priceless!

I got up early today to walk the fortress of Korcula (built about 700
years ago, and birthplace of Marco Polo (this was then Italian
territory.)
I wandered by a grocery store and picked up this feast: a bottle of
blood orange juice, cherry yogurt, and fresh cherry struedel (cherries
(visinj) are a local speciality).
2 minutes later I was at the fortress wall, and feasted. The struedel
was amazing, as was the view across to Orebic, though as you can see
the weather wasn't great.
Cloud ceiling was about 1,000 feet, which is great weather if you are
a grape in one of the local vineyards scaling the mountains, but I'm
not, so I am changing plans.
Today would have been a day split among biking the vineyards,
snorkeling, and the beach, but instead I am heading to Dubrovnik a
little ahead of schedule. Talking with some other tourists and friends
(thanks, Dana!), though, I'm certain that I'll enjoy the extra time in
Dubrovnik.
Should have plenty of time on the trip to Dubrovnik to write a big
update with some good stories- more coming soon.

T

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Orebic at sunset

I'm onboard the ferry to Korcula and had time to take this quick shot
of the fishing village of Orebic while the boat was loading.
I originally planned to quickly pass thru Orebic, but I liked it so
much I stayed for the day. As you can tell from the photo (remember to
click on the pic for a bigger shot) Orebic is stunning. It is also
friendly, and low-key, yet with loads to do - i wish i had had the
time to rent a bike to see more. I'm definitely marking Orebic down
for a repeat visit.
Next: a 15 minute ferry crossing at sunset to the ancient walled city
of Korcula.
D

My lunch time view

Quick view from the only restaurant near the beach at Trstenica (on the Adriatic sea, town of Orebic, just across the channel from Korcula.)

Quote from waiter: "we haf pivo (beer) and hamburgers. Which you like?"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZw10H1j2jU

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Mostar

Here's the famous Stari Most ("Old Bridge"). For almost 500 years the
bridge was the longest & highest single arch bridge, and was widely
known for uniting the Bosnian Muslims who lived on one side of the
river, with the Catholic Croats who lived on the other side.
You can probably guess where this is going: the bridge was destroyed
by the Croats in the civil war in the 90's.
Mostar is both scenic and depressing. The Old Town surrounding the
bridge is a sight to see. However, the rest of Mostar is still war
ravaged. I'd estimate that 1 in 4 buildings have war scars, and about
1 in 8 totally destroyed. The tourist maps show the location of the
front lines, but you really don't need a map to tell.
Next up: I hop a train to the coast in an hour. Tomoorow should be
beachy, with some snorkeling too.
One funny thing: as I sit here in a cafe under the bridge, the cafe
stereo is playing American country music. (a welcome respite from the
Michael Jackson-athon prior to this.)

Here's where World War I started

On this bridge in 1914, Serb Gavrilo Princip assasinated an Austrian-
Hungarian Archduke, thus starting WWI.
The Archduke had already had one attempt on his life made earlier that
day, yet he continued to ride in an open-top car when Princip got him
and his wife.
Incidentally, Princip is accorded hero status here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Sarajevo

When planning my trip, I almost skipped Sarajevo - what could be
special about a city the same size as Richmond, VA, but every guidebook
said that Sarajevo was special and shouldn't be skipped.
So with that in mind, i arrived today at 9:45 at night. Everyone that
I saw on my flight and in the airport looked worse for wear and that
they had had a hard life.
Within 2 minutes from the airport I saw the first war-damaged building
(though that building was the exception.)
After checking in, I wandered around the Bascarija (Old Town-imagine
Georgetown x 2) for an hour to wind down and within 2 minutes saw 2
mosques and my first group of women wearing burqas (head to toe
Islamic dress, with only eyes showing).
But here's the amazing thing that changed my impression of Sarajevo:
for every burqa-clad or head scarf-wearing woman there was a Paris
Hilton-look-alike, and they were hanging out together (Paris + burqa), chatting and
laughing.
I'd describe the mood in Bascarija as festive, bordering on jubilant,
quite a surprise for a Tuesday night. I'd guess there was about 50
packed cafes and bars in just a few square blocks (mostly cafes). I
was too tired to partake, but enjoyed the brief view into what makes
Sarajevo special.

Outside my room in Sarajevo

Montenegro wrap-up

So my outbound plane is here, so I feel safe that i'm on my way out of
Montenegro tonight, which almost too bad since I really enjoyed
Montenegro.
The physical beauty of this place can't be fully appreciated in the
pics - you can't believe the views in every direction. If i get back,
I'll be sure to rent a car to see more of the country.
The highlight for me were the beaches. For 2 days i beach-hopped
spending an hour or two on a beach or in the water, the hiking for 10
minutes to the next beach and doing it again. Each afternoon I would
stop roaming, pick one beach and spend the rest of the day in a lounge
chair under an umbrella.
In contrast to back home, the beaches are very thin - no more than 100
ft from the water to the end of the beach. There are no waves, so the
beach activities are much like a lake's (jet skis, paddleboats, and
for the first time that i've ever seen, water polo.) Not much else is
different, except the safety regulations are more lax. I never heard a
llfeguard's whistle, and the jet skis were so fast that I think they
weren't speed governed, like in the US. We're way too safety conscious
in the US. We could learn from the Montenegrins on this.
The people were nice, but in most cases, not exactly customer-
oriented. I had a few intersting conversations, though, such as with
Juras the cabbie, who's first question was what religion I am. (I'm
inferring here, but I suspect this is still a central question in this
very mixed and very conflicted land.) Luckily we had the same answer,
so I didn't get dumped alongside the road.
I chatted with Nick, the Australian who owns the Kangaroo hotel.
According to him, much of the travel to Budva is Russian package
vacation trippers. I'd also add that I saw alot of expensive cars with
Russian license plates in Budva.
So, I was in the great minority, but still managed to get along,
partly because the beach experience is universal. Budva had a long
paved "boardwalk," or riva (not to be confused with what they have in
Richmond, the Rivah.) On the riva was a summer scene repeated
everywhere, families withkids wandering from amusement rides to games
to food stands. The only difference, besides he accents was some
obvious substitutions - Italian gelato instead ofice cream, for example.
All in all, as you might guess from the pictures, Montenegro was
spectacular, and well worth the trip.
Speaking of trip, I'm making it to Sarajevo tonight - boarding just
started, so I gotta go.

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

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Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous