Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Istanbul Virtual

When I was in Istanbul a couple of weeks ago, I didn't expect to do any geocaching. First, there aren't any "normal" caches within 10 miles of the city center. Second, Turkey wasn't a country where I felt super-comfortable rummaging around for hidden containers.

The only two caches near where I was staying were virtual caches, which as I've mentioned before is a now-obsolete form of a cache that contains no physical container. I had no expectation of finding either one -- one was on the Asian side of Istanbul, and the other was at a bridge connecting the two sides. Since I had no plans to go to Asia, how could I find them?

As it turns out, our conference excursion included a cruise on the Bosphorous. I turned on my GPS, and was wondering how close we'd get to the cache at the bridge. After all, it was a one-hour cruise, and I knew we had to turn around at some point.

As you can see from the tracking, I got pretty darn close! In fact, by the standards of virtual caches, that counts as a find! It's kind of neat that the cache essentially was our turn-around point.

I snapped this picture of myself at the cache location.

This find does nice things for my countries-cached-in map. (Click for the full-size version, where you can see I get credit for Singapore and Puerto Rico.)

Unfortunately, finding a virtual cache means I don't have a chance to drop off any geocoins. I plan to take care of that next month in Canada.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Do You Think...

Here in Prince George's County, we're watching the opening of the huge new National Harbor development. Prince George's County tends to have a bit of a chip on its shoulder about the lack of high-end development. National Harbor, across the Potomac from Alexandria, is supposed to change all this, with its giant convention center, hotels, restaurants, etc.

Unfortunately, one of the first things that happened after they opened is a bunch of people got sick with norovirus. Not good PR.

The next thing that happened was repeated sightings of mice in the rooms and hallways. Yesterday USA Today posted this gem from a National Harbor spokeswoman:
She says potential guests worried about mice should book a room close to the river (because most complaints involved rooms near the back where mice apparently got in through holes unwittingly left during construction). And she says that on request "a team will go into a room" before a guest's arrival and inspect it, down to the heating and air conditioning ducts, to make sure no pesky mice are there.
Hey, not every hotel offers to check the room for mice before you check in. "Would you like a no mice room?"

It was in this context I read a Washington Post article this morning on "how the deal was done". It mentioned none of the above problems. About ten paragraphs in, however, I got to the part that almost made me spit out my tea:
The history of the site, once an Indian burial ground, made the land even richer.
Seriously? They built it on an Indian burial ground, and they thought that was a good thing? Is anybody going to be surprised if National Harbor is next visited by a plague of frogs?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Give Up Already!

No, not Hillary. I'm talking about the media. As the Democratic nominating process drags on (and on and on...), it becomes more and more clear that the media is looking for a way to keep alive the idea that Hillary might win. Why? Entertainment value? I'm not sure.

Consider the following passage from today's Washington Post:
Clinton expects victories in West Virginia, Kentucky and Puerto Rico. Obama's team expects to win Oregon, North Carolina, Montana, South Dakota and Guam. That makes Indiana the critical battleground.

No, it doesn't. Looking at Wikipedia, WV, KY and PR combine to offer 134 pledged delegates. Let's assume Hillary wins those primaries by 10% and wins the delegates by a similar proportion. The latter is a reasonable assumption, but the delegate selection rules are a little bit wacky. Obama has been a little bit better about figuring them out, but it probably won't matter here. That would give her a 74-60 advantage (rounding in her favor). Similarly, let's give Obama a 10% advantage in "his" primaries, which are worth a total of 202 delegates. That's fairly generous to Hillary, since he has racked up bigger margins of victory, on average, so far. That puts him ahead with those delegates 111-91 (again rounding in her favor).

So we come to Indiana. Let's again give her the "decisive" 9% victory she got in Pennsylvania. (You may have thought it was 10%, but the media don't understand rounding.) This time we'll round in Obama's favor, which means she ends up winning the Indiana delegates 39-33.

So if Hillary wins the one remaining "battleground", then she'll end up with 204 delegates. Obama, on the other hand, would get...204 delegates. Wow, that just shows how close the race is, doesn't it?

Except it's not. Obama has a lead of about 130 delegates even including Hillary's slight edge in superdelegates. These figures would get him about 100 delegates away from the nomination, with about 300 superdelegates left to endorse. Who thinks more than two-thirds of the superdelegates would be willing to ignore Obama's lead in pledged delegates? Who thinks more than two-thirds of the superdelegates would vote for Hillary even if everything else was tied?

The Washington Post isn't the only offender. Time calls Indiana the "next stop". What about North Carolina, which votes the same day? Well, it's a smaller state, right? Uh, no. Well, it has fewer delegates because of wacky rules, right? Uh, no. It has 43 more. Well, it doesn't count because it's not going to vote for the Democrats in the fall. Hmm, according to the same Time article, "[Indiana]'s a state that hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964..." North Carolina at least voted for Carter in '76.

So basically Indiana matters because it has the most dramatic tension. Just remember: none of this coverage is about who is going to be the nominee (it's Obama). All of it is about giving the news media something to talk about for the next two weeks.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Stuck in my hotel...

...and enjoying every minute of it.

I got in to my hotel in Istanbul about 7pm yesterday after an interminable taxi ride through pollution and traffic. Since I have today free, I called the concierge to see about arranging some sort of tour. I figured I'd be happier in a bus (hopefully air-conditioned) than walking around and breathing pollution.

No luck. The "Tour of Turkey" bicycle race is starting today, so the roads around the hotel are closed. They could put me on a Bosphorus cruise at 1, but since the conference tour includes a Bosphorus cruise, I think I'll pass. I've spent the past 7 days working, traveling, or both. The conference opening reception is tonight, so I will technically be working tonight, but otherwise a day to relax doesn't sound too bad.

My hotel room is very nice. The desk clerk apologized for not being able to upgrade me to the executive floor, so they gave me a corner room (and free breakfasts). One window has a view of some allegedly fashionable neighborhood of Istanbul, and the other looks out on the Bosphorus. I slept very soundly, despite an excessively firm bed and dragged myself downstairs before the breakfast buffet closed at 11. I plan to spend the rest of the day ensconced in the room enjoying the Internet connection.
Hilton Istanbul

Friday, April 11, 2008

Off to China

No, not me. It's another one of my geocoins. I released Free State Generic #1 and #2 just to have something to release. Free State Generic #1 is, appropriately, trekking around Maryland. Free State Generic #2, for some reason, I released in Virginia. Then, for some reason, someone grabbed it and took it to just outside of Beijing. Oh, well. I hope they love Maryland over in China.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Merchant of Venice


Today eight of us headed to Stratford-upon-Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform The Merchant of Venice. We had dinner in a pub first and then went to the play. I had never seen or read the play. Beforehand, one of my colleagues commented that it was anti-Semitic. I promised to explain afterwards why it wasn't.

Of course, afterwards, I realized it was. I had a fairly tenuous argument that I decided not to push. Nevertheless, I'm sure someone has retold the story from the standpoint of Shylock; I think that could be a fairly sympathetic story about how the Venetians subverted the justice system to deprive him of his property and force him to convert to Christianity. It would, at least, be historically accurate.

The play was good. Not great, but good. Some of the actors seemed sub-par, but others were excellent. Still, it was hard to beat as a way to spend an evening in this part of the UK.

I took a few pictures; please enjoy.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Driving around the Czech Republic...

No, I'm not the one driving around the Czech Republic. My geocoin is.

Yes, despite my instruction that the coin wants to return to America (instructions I'm happy to see made it into the picture), the coin is still bouncing around Bohemia seven months later, as you can see from the picture below. (Note that the lines leading east are from its brief trip to Kazakhstan). Maybe I overestimated the frequency with which geocachers cross borders.

Despite being in Europe currently myself, I have no plans to drop off any more coins. Based on a brief search, the caches near my hotel here in the UK are either too small or annoying to find. There are very few caches in Istanbul, and I don't feel comfortable digging them up.