Monthly Archives: March 2005

Where's the Johnson?

All the flights to La Paz were full so I got stranded in Los Angeles. I had a reservation at the Howard Johnson because our original route back (via Cabo) required an overnight stop-over. I'd just missed the shuttle bus to the hotel so I decided just to hop in a cab and get there quickly so I could rest after sixteen hours of traveling.

Where to?
To the Howard Johnson please.
You want a cheap hotel?
Yeah, the Howard Johnson is a pretty cheap hotel.
So I take you to a cheap hotel?
You can take me to the Howard Johnson.
Johnson? I don't know that hotel.
You've never heard of the Howard Johnson?
I don't know this Johnson. What is the address?
I have no idea. It's the Howard Johnson, here by the airport.
I take you to a cheap hotel? I recommend one.
No, I'm going to the Howard Johnson. I have a reservation.
I have never heard of this Johnson hotel.
No. Howard Johnson. You know, HoJo?
You should really write down the address of this Johnson hotel.
Look, just let me out and I'm going to take the shuttle bus instead.
Wait, wait, I call.

At this point he calls his dispatch, and they speak intermittently in English and in Russian. The dispatch is eventually able to explain to him that the Howard Johnson does in fact exist and provided the address, although I think even he was unable to transform it from simply “The Johnson”. Am I assuming to much that an airport cabbie should know the major hotels around the airport? It's not as if it's an unusual or unheard of hotel. It's one thing to not know the exact address, but not knowing it exists?

I was going to go out for dinner, but time shift caught up to me and I didn't wake up until about 3 AM. Since direct flights to La Paz appear to be full, in a few hours I'll be headed off to a very brief stop in beautiful Mazatlan and then take a second flight into La Paz via Aero California.

I still have lots and lots of photos that I haven't posted, but I wanted to include a couple more from the stop-over in Amsterdam. I think if I moved to Amsterdam, I'd like to live on a houseboat, but I don't think I'd enjoy it for more than six months or so. They're fairly expensive too… the ones I've seen online are sitting in the quarter-million Euro range, which makes them more expensive than many apartments!

One of the things that's always funny to me is all the half-sunk little boats that line the canals. I'm not sure if it's just temporary swamping from the wake of many tour-boats, or if they're truly derelict and abandoned. In either case, the ducks prefer them.

I already miss Africa… That said, I miss working as well, and while I did work on this trip, I wasn't putting in my usual hours — and given the backlog that has developed, I'll certainly have that wish fulfilled for probably a little longer than I can handle.

Heading back home

I'm on my way back now (writing this from the Admiral's Club at Heathrow). I was thinking about all the places I've been and lived over the last decade and decided to list them in order of favorite to least favorite, in terms of whether I'd like to go back and whether I'd like to live there. While it does change from day to day as my mood shifts, here's my list right now

Maui, Hawaii, USA
Jost van Dyke, BVI
Tweed, ON, Canada
Tortolla, BVI
La Paz, BCS, Mexico
Big Island, ON, Canada
La Have, NS, Canada
Toronto, ON, Canada
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Durban, South Africa
Chicago, IL, USA
Miramichi, NB, Canada
Windhoek, Namibia
London, UK
Johannesburg, South Africa
Basel, Switzerland
Liel, Germany

What's your favorite place? (42)

I may be forgetting a few places. Maui is at the top of the list because it's got an ideal mix of size (great connectivity for a tropical island), climate, people and politics, beautiful sunsets, and ocean (and it generally smells nice there). But I'm too poor to buy a nice house there. The Caribbean is up there for me as well, and I still want to buy the little house on Jost van Dyke… One day…

In Canada I really liked living in Tweed — it just needs better connectivity. I'm not a city person at all, and get depressed after a few days in one. That said, Canada is artificially inflated because I like the politics a lot, but given my lifestyle and the nature of the projects I'm involved in, it's favorable politics that have kept me out of prison (and continue to). No moving to China for me!

Africa was amazing, but its politics are deeply messed up and need to grow up before I'd move there (that said, I'm sure it's a hell of an investment). I don't just mean race relations and foreign meddling — I include just the bureaucracy of doing business, and the penalties that I could face as a fringe publisher.

Anyway, I'll be back in La Paz either this evening or tomorrow morning depending on if I can catch the right connecting flight in time… and then I've got mountains of work to get caught up on (and I'll have an article for BME on the whole experience as well written in the next week).

Geoinformatics and spellcasting

Keith wrote recently on geoinformatics (essentially the inclusion of location information in a data set, and the subsequent use of that data). I wrote a script a while ago that I'd intended to use as the basis for a short film that (not so seriously) declared that the real power of geo-informatics is in sacred geometry and magic. I may have mentioned it here before but I can't remember. I even partially built it into IAM as a proof-of-concept (or at least to generate real-world screen shots).

If you take a look at satellite maps of Europe and many other regions of this world, you'll see that it's far from “my” idea — the Knights Templar arranged their churches to appear as holy symbols (most often the five pointed star) from orbit, and landscape geometry permeate many cultures, and as David Miller points out, it's not that uncommon in most data sets and the analysis is a little dubious.

I've been working with geolocation data since the early 90s when it was relevant to phone dating systems (which I used to develop), so as you know it's always been an integral part of IAM as well. Below is a world map of all users online on IAM as I currently write this entry.

Anyway, the core of the story was writing software to identify moments in time when sacred symbols existed based on these location points (and the routes between them). Because each of these computers (and their human users) were accessing the same website, what the user was viewing — and thinking — could be controlled… by simultaneously displaying holy symbols in what they were viewing, spells were cast by involving individuals laid out over huge distances, all fixated on the same symbol, all located on the symbol itself, and all being electrically bombarded by the symbol as well.

Above is a zoom of this morning's map as well.

Don't worry if you're one of the datapoints, no spell was cast. ;-)

But seriously, I suspect that the power of advertising and capitalism — another area that geoinformatics shines — easily outdoes the magic. But really, what is advertising and capitalism if not a way to consolidate power and control into the hands of the minority? What is it but a way of taking the work of a group and ensuring that only a small number collect its blessings? Perhaps capitalism, born and nurtured with the help of major religions, is simply the next step in a multi-millennium long spell.

If you want to really see something scary, plot a map of all the Wal-Mart stores… you'll see that they've all been carefully placed in accordance to the laws of sacred geometry — immense Maltese crosses hundreds of miles across, Pentagrams spanning continents, and more. As to why or what it means or the power it's given them, I'll leave that up to you.

African Wild Dogs Video (w/sound)

I mentioned last week about the bizarre bird-like yipping bark sounds that African wild dogs make, both to confuse their prey as they hunt and to communicate over long distances. Anyway, I thought people might be amused to hear for themselves. This is a 2.5 meg WMV video from the De Wildt-Shingwedzi Africa wild dog pack. Make sure your sound is on… right-click+save:

Out of Africa

Driving back from Sun City we passed through a rural region that was a mix of what appeared to be largely subsistence farming (tiny farms well under an acre, next to houses ranging from tin shacks to concrete homes similar to what we have in Mexico) and platinum mining, with the mines immediately surrounded by the nicest homes in the area. I assume they were supplied by the corporation for management. Here's what the mines looked like:

I mentioned the turtle-dealer earlier this week… At every major intersection were a variety of umbrellaed drink and souvenir vendors — mostly beautiful wood carvings and bowls at a fraction of the cost of what they'd price at post-exportation. Occasionally a sign would warn not to patronize them, but it didn't seem to discourage them (or the tourists).

As much as nicer homes had been built inside the mining compounds and around the resorts, the vast majority of people here live in shantytowns built from tin and other found materials, with the occasional burned out car chassis in the middle, supported by bricks, apparently being given a valiant attempt to one day make it run again. But I fear this dreams will no more come true than I am to walk into a funeral home and have a Lazarus moment.

After an afternoon in Johannesburg, it was off to Zurich (left photo below) on an overnight flight, and then a short hour and a half hop north to Amsterdam (right photo).

It's really nice being back in Amsterdam. Yes, it's a little dirty, and there are a few too many twitchy fellows wandering the streets, but I always like it here. Maybe it's the drug addiction, maybe it's the sex and pornography addiction, but more likely I'm just a sucker for freedom and multi-culturalism. Rachel and I have talked on more than one occasion about getting an apartment here.

Before you say anything about the right photo, remember, when in Rome…

Anyway, I think my connection here is OK, so I'm going to try and post at least a thousand or so new images to BME later tonight. That is if I don't succumb totally to my adherence to local customs.