Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Top 50 Places I Want To Visit #44: Edinburgh, Scotland

Not many cities combine the ancient and the modern better than Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Often referred to as "the Athens of the North," Edinburgh is a pleasant combination of modern architecture, gothic churches, hopping nightlife, and thriving cultural festivals.

Edinburgh Castle
The Edinburgh castle is one of the more recognizable landmarks. It was used by David I in the 12th century as a royal castle but by the 17th century it had lost its residential role and served primarily as a military base.

Arthur's Seat
For those looking to get out of the city and experience some of the natural beauty Edinburgh has to offer, Arthur's seat, a huge rock formation located a mile east of the Edinburgh castle, provides a panoramic view of the surrounding city and hills.

Hogmanay Celebrations
Edinburgh is also widely known for Hogmanay, a New Year celebration that kicks off a whole season of cultural festivals. Complete with dancing, parades, concerts, and copious amounts of haggis, this seems like my kind of party and an excellent reason to set aside some time for travel during a future winter break...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bear in the Backyard (Pic of the Week)

I took this last saturday up at the lake. It was rainy and windy, so the picture isn't as clear as I'd like, but this guy was rustling around for nuts and stuff in the back for hours. Watching him was very entertaining.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ambient Awareness - Why is Everyone So Obsessed With Social Media?

Now that I'm back in town and starting to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the good ol' high school days (kinda fun to say it like that even though I just graduated last spring), I'm trying to stay in contact with people via social networking sites - mainly Facebook. I'm finding it difficult, though, to keep up with it all. Am I really that lazy? Perhaps. But, it got me thinking about what it is that makes social networking so attractive.

After some research, I ran across a New York Times article from 2008 that explains it pretty well. "Ambient awareness" is a term that social scientists coined to describe the constant virtual contact that social media users experience. Essentially, social tools such as Facebook's news feed or Twitter's timeline have the same effect as being in the same room with a large group of people and picking up in your peripheral vision the gestures, habits, and body language that communicates people's mood.

Here's a quick excerpt from the article that narrates the experience of a skeptic that was convinced to sign up for twitter:
"Each day, Haley logged on to his account, and his friends’ updates would appear as a long page of one- or two-line notes. He would check and recheck the account several times a day, or even several times an hour. The updates were indeed pretty banal. One friend would post about starting to feel sick; one posted random thoughts like “I really hate it when people clip their nails on the bus”; another Twittered whenever she made a sandwich — and she made a sandwich every day. Each so-called tweet was so brief as to be virtually meaningless.
But as the days went by, something changed. Haley discovered that he was beginning to sense the rhythms of his friends’ lives in a way he never had before. When one friend got sick with a virulent fever, he could tell by her Twitter updates when she was getting worse and the instant she finally turned the corner. He could see when friends were heading into hellish days at work or when they’d scored a big success. Even the daily catalog of sandwiches became oddly mesmerizing, a sort of metronomic click that he grew accustomed to seeing pop up in the middle of each day."
Kinda neat and kinda creepy. While I understand the concept, I can't help but shed the feeling that interaction via these sites is a bit superficial. (Even though it is thanks to twitter that large-scale uprisings have been taking place in Africa and the Middle East.) I guess that these sites are effective when interacting with a collective - users feel that they are a part of a community. When it comes to interaction on an individual basis, however, it just ain't the real thing.

10 Days...

10 days without a post. Okay, that's pretty bad. I have plenty of things to write about, but I get lazy (and I am quite an accomplished procrastinator.) After a gruesome 18-hour drive from Minnesota, I'm back in Nashville and trying to get out of lake-bum mode and figure out what I'm going to do with myself for the next month. The problem is that when I have a lot of free time, I tend to get nothing done.

What's especially difficult is that, since I'm the only person from my high school (and possibly in all of Nashville...) taking a gap year. So everyone I used to hang out with is in college. Which is... weird. It never occurred to me how strange it would be to see all my high school buds get a year ahead of me in college.

I'll post later today to get back in the habit. As for now, enjoy this mini-satire of those Brits that go on gap years just because they have money to spend. Funny stuff.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Top Places I Want To Visit #44: Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Located on the western portion of New Zealand's South Island, Fiordland National Park spans 1.2 million hectacres, making it one of the largest national parks in the world. It's size contributes to its rather mysterious qualities -- because it is so unexplored (New Zealand was the last major land mass to be discovered), a number of scientists suggest that there are animal species living in the park that have never been discovered. Additionally, a number of species (including the Kakapo, a funny-looking flightless bird and the only flightless parrot in the world) that were though to have gone extinct have been found in some of the more remote areas the park. Here's a somewhat comical video of the Kakapo:

Based on what I've spent most of today reading, there's a lot to do in the park aside from being shagged by rare parrots. Too much, in fact, for me to muster up the energy to put in this post.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Does it even say "cheese" on this package...?

Nope. It doesn't. My grandpa picked this up at the grocery the other day. "Pasteurized Processed Sandwich Slices?" No wonder it wouldn't melt on my hot dog. (Yes, I put cheese - well, in this case sandwich slices - on my hot dogs. As a matter of fact that's what i'm eating right now. That and Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Mmmmmm....)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Top 50 Places I Want To Visit #45: Vegas, Baby

Thats right- Las Vegas. If you plan to leave Vegas with a small fortune, go there with a large one. At least that's what I've heard. This city of sin in many ways is the epitome of extravagance, and I don't know how to start talking about what all it has to offer.

The Strip
Vegas is, of course, most famous for The Strip -- home to endless gambling, entertainment, and fine dining. Cirque du soleil, magic shows, hypnotists, impersonators -- the entertainment opportunities are endless.

Where did this tradition of gambling come from? Surprisingly, Vegas is one of the newest cities in the USA, established in 1905. The building of the Hoover Dam attracted workers and The Strip developed as a place for those workers to eat and entertain themselves. Gambling was legalized in 1931 and a rapid growth after WWII and the efficient running of casinos by organized crime bosses such as Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel made the city what it is today.

There is more to Vegas than just gambling and live entertainment. Shooting automatic rifles indoors, taking high speed sports cars such as ferraris for joyrides on an indoor track, visiting the pinball hall of fame, helicopter tours, and indoor skydiving are all options. 

Here's a vid of the indoor skydiving. Cool, huh? (Not quite as cool as that Angel Falls base jumping from my Angel Falls post, though.)

Pics of the week

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Of Thee I Sing -- My Thoughts On American Superpatriotism

In a post about Jimi Hendrix that I wrote about a week ago, I had a short little reflection on the reaction to Hendrix's rendition of the National anthem, and in that reflection I said that I would expand on my feelings about American patriotism in a future post. Well, this is that future post. (By the way the pics along the side and at the bottom are all from one I took the other day then tweaked a bunch on my computer. )

It seemed to me that a borderline racist version of patriotism pulsed  through the veins of the majority of my high school's all-male student body. My approach started out as laughing along with what I though to be a joke then developed into ignoring the bigotry and hoping I could just close my    ears to it until I graduated. Eventually, however, I found myself red-faced with rage and yelling at five other guys in the library when they made the statement that Mexicans (a term used by a lot of guys I went to high school with to describe anyone from Central and South America) should be shot if they try to illegally enter the United States and, later on in my senior year, confronting another student on the platform of school-wide mass emails in response to his call for a "USA" chant after Bin Laden was killed. Needless to say, I developed somewhat of a bitter approach toward any type of patriotism.

I understand that oppressed populations need to rally behind an idea in order to achieve liberty, and that idea in most cases is a country. But that, ladies and gentlemen, is nationalism, not patriotism. Patriotism is pride in one's country. The USA gained independence more than two hundred years ago. So... pride? Pride in what? Pride in the fact that the average american is overweight, uses more than his/her share of the world's natural resources, and has more money than the average citizen of most other countries? No one applies to be born in the United States. It just happens. Unfortunately, thanks to the idiots that scream "Go America" into the cameras, i'll have to carry that fat, rich, and greedy stereotype with me while I travel in Central America, just as I did last summer in Costa Rica.

I know, I know- this country was founded on principles of yadda yadda yadda. Jeez if I had a buck for every time I heard that line. Yeah, all that stuff is great. But it doesn't make me proud. I'm pretty damn happy that I happen to live in a country that enforces freedom and liberty, but that doesn't mean that I'll walk around wearing a God Bless America T-shirt. If anything, I'm humbled to be an American.

Maybe it's time to take patriotism out of politics altogether. I'd like to see a leader that holds the attitude of "lets see what we can do to benefit everyone that lives here" rather than "lets see what we can do and what sacrifices we can make to advance the country." That was one of the main problems with communism, by the way. They postponed the good of the people for the sake of the country. But I don't want to get into that. I'm rambling on enough as it is.

Friday, September 2, 2011


This is why its called lake Vermilion:

Top 50 Places I Want To Visit #46: Casablanca, Morocco

Best known as the setting for one of the best movies ever, Casablanca is the heart of the country Morocco. Simply put, it is a city of mixed extremes- it boasts great wealth as home to the world's largest artificial port, yet many parts of the city have high crime rates and poverty due to drought. It is in many ways one of the most westernized, liberal cities in all of Africa- women in bikinis grace the beaches on the coast where young, educated men converse solely in French, yet south of the city strict islamism is predominant. These extremes make this city a mixed bag of cultures, languages, and ideologies that serve  as a microcosm of the clash between east and west.

That it is such a diverse city comes as no surprise, considering the wide array of different civilizations that stretched their influence into the region. Established in the 10th century BCE by fishermen, the city has been home to Phoenicians, Romans, Merenids, Portuguese, Spanish, and Arabs, and was occupied at different times by the French and the Germans during the early 20th century. The Portuguese gave it the name Casa Branca and the name was adapted to Casablanca by the Spanish. The city gained its independence from the French in 1956, and it is now the largest city in Morocco with a population of almost 4 million.

An eclectic range of restaurants, cafés, and bars provide nearly endless entertainment for tourists. Most don't open until around 7 PM and most people don't eat until much later, so one should expect to stay out very, very late. Also, there are a number of Hummam Turkish baths that are part of a program to provide work for single mothers and that can serve as relaxing evening and a nice way to support local social projects.

Hummam Bath
To sum up, this would be an awesome place to spend a week or two... or five.

And, for your viewing pleasure, here's the best scene in all of movies. (My use of this clip may or may not be legal, so if it you can't see it and/or the thought police come pick me up in the middle of the night, click here to see it. And if you didn't catch that reference, go read a few more books. And, just to make this the longest parenthetical insertion in the history of my blog, how about giving me some kudos for figuring out this whole HTML thing so I can get this stupid video on my blog. Seriously. It took me like an hour. I even figured out how to make the play/pause button work. Okay, if you are still reading this then just watch the clip.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

If You Have 8 Minutes of Free Time...

Top 50 Places I Want To Visit #47: Teotihuacan, Mexico

When most people think if Mexico, the first thing that comes to mind is usually not pyramids. Probably tacos. But definitely not pyramids. Well, you'll find a lot more than tacos in Mexico. And in that non-taco category falls Teotihuacan.

Teotihuacan, according to archeologists, was established around 100 BCE and, at its peak, was the largest city in pre-columbian America. The origins of the city remain mostly a mystery, as does its purpose and political significance in Central America.

Despite lack of information, it has been determined that Teotihuacán had far-reaching influence in Nahuatyl, Aztec, and Mayan civilizations. Some historians believe that Teotihuacan had sent inhabitants to conquer regions reaching all the way into Honduras.

After 450 CE, the city began its decline. Archeological evidence shows that an internal uprising led to the burning of most of the city.

What amazes me most about this place is the intricate architecture and city structure that was constructed using such primitive technology. Recent discoveries show that a system of tunnels and caves under the Pyramid of the Sun is entirely man-made.

I almost was able to include this in my gap year travels, but had to cut the country of Mexico out because of safety regions. Still, this is a place I definitely want to visit.