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:


"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


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.)

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!


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.)

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

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