Friday, December 31, 2010

World Heritage: 2010 in Review


Last year, I said
"I don't anticipate a big haul next year, but one conference near an iconic World Heritage Site (on the level of Stonehenge) intrigues me. Stay tuned..."
Well, the conference originally was supposed to be near the Pyramids, then got moved thousands of miles away. To top it off, it didn't look interesting enough to go, and it was too close to the boys' birth for me to travel.

So the lack of a big haul was prescient. My two trips out of the country, to Montreal and Singapore, were not sufficiently close to the locations of any World Heritage Site. So I didn't visit any new sites this year.

But that doesn't leave me empty handed. On further review, the inscription of Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes in 2007 appears more interesting. It consists of three sites: Geomunoreum, Seongsan and Mount Halla. Digging through my photos from my first trip to Jeju, in 2001, turns up one labeled, "Me, on top of Sunrise Peak". A little searching leads me to the discovery that "Sunrise Peak" is the English name for Seongsan.

With the new sites inscribed this past summer (none of which I've visited), my total is now 47 out of 911, or 5.2%. It's a rounding error away from last year's percentage (which should have included Jeju, but didn't).

What does 2011 hold? The most promising item is a return trip to Korea, where two World Heritage sites look to be within public transportation of the conference site.  There's also the possibility of picking up one in Hungary, if a conference there turns out to be worth the trip.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Where's Jon? Singapore Edition

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It's time for the slightly less exciting version of "Where's Waldo?" in which I try to find myself in pictures that people have posted of conferences I've attended. (I've labeled similar posts so you can view all of them here.)  The clearest shot (reproduced above) is here.  I'm also on the right in this picture from the rump session.

I have no idea who any of these other people are.  Also, I don't like fisheye lenses because they make people (in particular me) look like they have hunchbacks.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Maybe There's a Third of a Century Club I Could Aim for?

In 2003, I posted about the Traveler's Century Club (and updated in 2006).  Basically, it's an organization of people who have visited at least 100 countries (and have a pretty loose definition of what constitutes a country).  Since 2006, I have visited 8 more:

  1. Bahamas
  2. Estonia
  3. Japan 
  4. Netherlands
  5. Sarawak
  6. Singapore
  7. Spain
  8. Turkey in Europe (Istanbul)

Also,  Jeju Island (South Korea) was added to the list this year, so I have a total of 31.

My pace of two a year was helped by the fact that I attend two particular conferences every year, one of which rotates around Europe and the other around Asia. Each, however, rotates entirely among countries I've already visited for the next two years. This year, though I missed the European one, it repeated also, so I visited no new countries this year for the first time since 1999. I might go to one in Hungary next year, so there's always the chance to add to the total through other conferences.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

930 Places Left to See

 In 2004, I posted a list of the 49 places from the book 1000 Places to See Before you Die that I had seen.

Here are the places I've seen since then:
That's 21 more, for a total of 70.

What prompted me to revisit the list?  I wrote a review of this book for the site Goodreads.  Goodreads offered to let me post the review to my blog.  In order to have the content in a more open place (and to provide more content for this blog), I've decided to start doing that with some of the reviews.  (I'm also posting some to Amazon.)

1000 Places to See Before you Die by Patricia Schultz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's an intriguing concept, and kinda fun to page through, but way too heavy on $300/night hotels, spas, etc. Let's say I'm going to Dublin (to open to a section at random). She recommends a festival, the Book of Kells and the pubs (possibly in conjunction with St. Patrick's Day). All good. But she also recommends a $65/plate restaurant and a $300/night hotel. I could forgive the restaurant if there was less of that kind of stuff.

I prefer to use the almost-1000-long World Heritage List. Maybe it's just as arbitrary in its own way, but at least it's the product of a consensus, and it's heavier on cultural and natural must-sees.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pictures from Singapore

Perhaps you can view this as a sequel to this post and this one from 2007.  Then I had two layovers comprising about 30 hours in Singapore.  This time Singapore was my actual destination, and I had about 80 hours total.  Of course, this time much of that was taken up by the conference, so I feel like I didn't do as much, oddly enough.

I did throw back a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, visit the National Museum of Singapore, and enjoy some chili crab at a place called Gluttons Bay.  Pictures of these and more are shown in the album below.

Singapore 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two More Geocaches

I've found two more geocaches this month, bringing my total for the year to 3.  Not too impressive, but it matches my total from 2009.  (Of course, last year, I did them in three consecutive days in two countries, which was a bit cooler.)

On Veterans Day, I took a bike ride around my usual 8.5-mile loop of the immediate area.  There are at least 4 geocaches on that loop, one of which was the first of my 2009 finds.  With the aid of a USB charger that takes AA batteries, I powered my phone for the drive and took off after one of these caches.  It was a nice combination of having my Garmin GPS receiver loaded with the coordinates and being able to use the Android phone app to get details once I got to the cache.  As much as I'd like an "all-in-one" solution, this method works pretty darn well.

Spoiler alert: the cache was located just off the trail in the tree stump pictured.  I dropped off Free State Generic #3, my latest geocoin and picked up Montana Plata, a similarly state-themed trackable.

Yesterday, while on my way to pick up our Thanksgiving Turkey from a Frederick County farm, I had a rare opportunity to add a new Maryland county to my list.  There is a virtual geocache in Mount Airy, based around the town 9/11 memorial.  Below is a picture of the memorial plaque, cropped to remove the information needed to log the cache. 

Mount Airy is in Carroll County, which gives me my 9th Maryland county, as shown on the map below.  In July 2008, I noted that I had 122 virtuals (and similar) within 70 miles of home left to find.  Mainly due to the addition of earthcaches, that number is now up to 137.  I may have to reconsider my goal, given my reduced time for traveling up to 70 miles and the news that virtual geocaches may be reintroduced in some form.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Slicing and Dicing the Geocaching Numbers

Well, now that I'm back geocaching, I wanted to return to one of my favorite secondary activities -- slicing and dicing the statistics about the geocaches I've found.  I had previously sung the praises of the "It's Not About the Numbers" web site.  Here's a county-by-county map of Maryland I generated in June 2008 using that site.

Unfortunately, INATN shut down in June of 2010.  So with my renewed interest in geocaching, I had to find a new way of getting my map/stats fix.

After reading the geocaching forums, my best option seemed to be downloading the GSAK (Geocaching Swiss Army Knife) program.  Someone even posted the approximate INATN color scheme, which I plugged in to get a similar map.

I don't think the map looks as nice (and I'm irritated by the labeling of St. Mary's County as "Mary's"), but it'll have to do. I'll probably pay to register the program, since I was willing to contribute a few bucks to keep INATN alive a few years ago.

The difference in the two maps from a content perspective is the second cache I found in Frederick County in July 2008.

I have to amend my praise for the geocaching Android application a little bit since the last post. While on a break during a conference in North Carolina last weekend, I attempted to find a cache that would allow me to color in NC on the national map. The GPS receiver on the phone wasn't all that accurate, and it killed my battery. The one I found it Maryland was great because looking at the satellite view in Google Maps was good enough. For future use, though, I think I'll carry my Garmin receiver in addition to the phone, so I can punch in the coordinates for more accuracy (and battery life).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Return to Geocaching

My last post inspired me to get ready to do some more geocaching, so I could release more geocoins into the world.  I found the time to activate the Free State Generic #3 coin.  (#4 and #5 are sitting right next to it, but I haven't gotten good pictures of them yet.)

I decided to see what was new in the world of geocaching. First of all, there is now a geocaching app for Android phones. Awesome. Previously there was a lot of prep work to do in deciding what caches to look for, downloading them to my GPS receiver, and downloading descriptions to my smart phone.  The descriptions could get out of date, and didn't have the full logs of others who had found the cache.

With the Android application, as long as I have mobile service or access to WiFi, I can get cache information -- which I can download for offline use, if necessary.  I get to see photos people have posted, and I can plot the cache location on Google Maps.  Definitely worth the $9.99 if I'm planning to do some caching.

Christina and I took the boys on a walk to get some dinner (for us), and on the way back, I got to test it out.  I found my first cache in almost a year and a half.  Granted, it was hidden in a lamppost, which is generally regarded as the lamest type of cache.  Also, it was too small for me to put a geocoin in.  But, still  -- I'm back in the game!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Another Geocoin Update

After April's update, I did in fact send e-mails to the last known possessor of all of my geocoins (except Free State Generic #1, pictured above, which was moving along at a healthy clip).  Not only did I not hear back from anyone (either via e-mail or by having them loosen their grip on the coins), Free State Generic #1, after being placed in Alabama and picked up, also went off the grid.

Until last Sunday.  At that point, someone retroactively recorded that they had dropped it off on July 22...0.85 miles from its previous location.  Ah, well.  At least it's still "alive".

This just makes me want to dig out the ones I have upstairs and launch some new coins.  Now that the weather has cooled down, I know a nice place where there's a cache near a bike trail.  As soon as the kids give us a moment of rest, maybe I'll try to find the time to get them set up and dropped off.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Biking into DC

I had taken this approximate route as far as Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park before. This time, I decided to keep going and hop on the Metro when I was done. I took the path as far as the Potomac, and I was prepared to finish at the Foggy Bottom Metro. But, hey, I was in DC by the monuments, why not ride around? So I headed up Constitution, past everybody who had gotten into town early for Rolling Thunder, and then to the Archives/Navy Memorial Station. That allowed more sight-seeing, a delicious frozen mango treat, and a straight shot home on the Green Line. A version of this trip is also available at Everytrail.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bike to Work Day

Yesterday was Bike to Work Day, and I achieved a goal I've had for the past year of actually biking to work.  I ended up biking 20 miles in about 2.5 hours.  If you don't count the stops, I averaged 9.5 mph, which is pretty good.

(Note: a version of this post with cooler maps is available at the Everytrail site.  I am, however, trying to make sure that I have versions of things I carry about on my blog, since Blogger makes it easy for me to download a backup of my entire blog.  With other sites (I'm looking at you, Facebook), I feel like my history is out of my control.)

I left home around 7:30 and swung by the College Park Bike to Work pit stop.  I got my free t-shirt, and I won some arm warmers in a raffle.  Well, I won a choice of items, and I already had the other items.  I think there's a reason I didn't already have arm warmers -- it's called a long-sleeved shirt.  I munched on a free bagel, and then I had the guy from REI check out my bike (it was fine) while I digested the bagel.

I cut back to the Trolley Trail to Paint Branch Parkway, which became Good Luck Road.  I was on Good Luck Road for a large portion of the total trip.  I passed a bunch of NASA test facilities, which I think finally revealed to me the origins of the name of the road.  I didn't have too much trouble finding my way on the part of the trip that I hadn't done before, but I got in a little bit of trouble trying to find a shortcut from Old Town Bowie to 197...I ended up by some very nice horse farms with a "No Tresspassing" sign that seemed to block my way to the WB&A Trail.  The total distance for the detour wasn't too bad, but the hill was.

After a couple of miles on 197, I was on the mean streets of Bowie, which provided a very pleasant ride on suburban residential streets.  It was exhilarating knowing how close I was to my goal.  Finally, I pulled up to work, loaded my bike on my pre-positioned car, then went into my office, grabbed the clothes I had left there, showered, and did some work.  Can't wait 'til next year!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nebula Update

The Nebula awards were announced last night.  I actually had taken it upon myself to start reading the best novel nominees.  Life is somewhat hectic these days, but I managed to get through 3 of the 6.  They were
  • The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi 
  • Flesh and Fire, Laura Anne Gilman  
  • The City & The City, China MiĆ©ville 
Of the three, I preferred that The Windup Girl win.  Flesh and Fire was a good book, but it was pretty much standard fantasy fare, with the unique characteristic that spells were cast using wine.  A nice theme, but not spectacular enough to win the genre's top award.  The City & The City was a very interesting book, but it was barely science fiction.  Kudos to MiĆ©ville for creating something that defies categorization, but I feel like the award should be for a book more clearly in the genre.  The Windup Girl was not entirely to my tastes -- I found some of the dystopian aspects of it weird and unrealistic -- but I felt like it contained enough good writing and interesting ideas to beat out the other two.

I'm pleased to say that The Windup Girl won.  Partially because it means I don't have to read the other three. 

I haven't read any of the older ones since my last update, so I've now read 30 out of 45.  I have not yet read last year's winner.  Since I like to read all of the preceding books in the series, I now have a trilogy on my hands.  Since it's Ursula K. LeGuin, I'm looking forward to it.  First I have to finish Connie Willis' Blackout, which I suspect will be one of the 2010 nominees.

Once I get to the LeGuin book, I'll have read all of the winners 1992-2009, so I can start working my way back again.  (Or forward, if I don't have enough time to get to that trilogy in the next year...)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Waymarking Bingo Update

Last February, I mentioned my goal of getting a waymarking bingo, defined as 20 categories of waymarks in a row on the grid.  At the time I had 6 in a row (up from 4 in a row in 2008).  Today I made it to...8.

From H9 diagonally to O2, you see 8 icons fulfilled.  They are:
  1. H9: Curling Clubs - Potomac Curling Club in Laurel, MD, visited 9/27/2008.
  2. I8: Peace Poles - Standley Park Peace Pole in San Diego, MD, visited 7/20/2008. (And 4 others.)
  3. J7: Butterfly Houses - Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in Santa Barbara, CA, visited 8/18/2008.
  4. K6: Octagon Buildings - "Circus House" Antique Shop in Homer, NY, visited 4/11/2010.
  5. L5: Minor League Baseball Stadiums - Prince George's Stadium in Bowie, MD, visited 8/22/2008.
  6. M4: Time Capsules - Bicentennial Time Capsule in Cornwall, ON, visited 4/17/2010.
  7. N3: Pubs and Inns - The Hole in the Wall in Bristol, UK, visited 9/19/2008.
  8. O2: Insect Sculptures - Beetle in Bristol, UK, visited 9/15/2008.
Here are some of the images from these visits.  (I didn't save two of the less memorable images.)

Unfortunately, this doesn't hold out much hope for expansion. P1 is "Free Overnight RV Parking Locations". There are 40 existing waymarks in that category, and since you don't actually need an RV, it probably wouldn't be too hard to create another. On the other hand, I10 is "Remote Backcountry Shelters", which would require me to go to the remote backcountry. Moreover, even if I broke through that barrier, because of the placement of the diagonal, I could only expand this run to 16, not to the 20 required for a full-fledged bingo. Still, it's progress, and other runs will start coming together soon.

How am I doing on other counts? Last February, I had 202/874 categories, now I have 289/940. My rate has climbed from 23.1% to 30.7%. My number of missing categories has dropped from 672 to 651, even as they add categories.

I have at least three more categories I'm planning to add in the next few days, but those require me to create the waymarks, so it will take a little more time.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Geocoin Update

 A visitor to my blog yesterday commented that it had been a while since my last update.  When I started this blog 10+ years ago, it was my primary means of inflicting my thoughts on the World Wide Web.  Now, there are too many places for me to share my musings -- Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Google Buzz...  This blog has suffered from a little bit of neglect.  So what can I mention here that wouldn't be more appropriate somewhere else?

It's been almost two years since I last updated the status of my geocoins.  To recap, geocoins are trackable items you place in geocaches, which are hidden all over the world.  You then leave some instructions with them (or available on-line).  I thought it would be neat to drop some of them around the world and see if I could get people to return them to Maryland.  I did that with three of them.  I also dropped off a couple of Maryland-themed ones and let them roam.

I figured even if I got bored with geocaching (I did), I could still continue to enjoy tracking the coins around the world.  What I didn't count on was other people picking up the coins and then getting bored with geocaching themselves.  All of my coins are in other people's hands (as opposed to inside of a geocache), and only one of them has been logged this year.  Here is a recap, from longest-missing, to most-recently-moved.
  • Free State Mover #2. I dropped it off in Vienna in September 2007.  A few days later, it got moved north to Slovakia, where it has stayed, except when it took a brief excursion to Kazakhstan.   In June 2008, someone took this picture: In June 2008, "glottis512" picked it up, and it hasn't been seen since.
  • Free State Mover #1. I also dropped it off in September 2007, this time in Bristol, England. It spent the next year or so traveling around south-west England and Wales before heading to Florida in September 2008. In October, it headed to Georgia, but returned to Florida in January 2009 where "thedubmaster" grabbed it, and it hasn't been seen since.
  • Free State Generic #2.  I dropped this guy off in Virginia in February 2008.  In April, it ended up in China, then went on to Barcelona.  A guy there picked it up and carried around Europe until November, when I sent him a message asking him to give someone else a chance.  In April 2009, it arrived in Germany.  "Widowmaker7th" got in in July, and it hasn't been seen since.  "Widowmaker7th" is the only one who has one of my coins and hasn't logged in this year, so there may be the least amount of hope to see this one again.
  • Free State Mover #3.  I released this one in Banff, Canada in May 2008.  By June it was in Sweden, by July Germany, and then in September it made it back to western Canada (British Columbia).  Later that month, it made it into the states (Washington state).  In February 2009, it got to Washington, then Utah in March.  In April, it appears from the notes it made it to Virginia, although nobody logged it into a geocache after this point.  The last it was seen was in September, when "toxikgumbo" picked it up and promised "Will move along soon !"
  • Free State Generic #1. My success story! I dropped it off in Maryland on my birthday in January 2008 (while waiting for the MVA to call my number). A year later (after spending 9 months in one person's hands), it made it to Virginia, then Tennessee in February 2009. By April it was back in Virginia, then it returned to Tennessee in May before heading to Florida. In August, it reached the beaches of South Carolina, where it stayed until a week ago. At that point, it moved to an Interstate 10 rest stop, where "TeamCarraway" picked it up yesterday with the note "Will be traveling to Alabama on Thursday." I look forward to following this guy in the coming months.

Putting together this post has inspired me to contact the people who have had my coins (for more than a day) and ask them if they still have them. Maybe it'll inspire me to release the ones I have at home in a box so I can track them in the coming years...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Still Not Irish

Last year, after noting the lack of Irish ancestry in my family tree, I noted:
None of this is too important, but if I find any Irish ancestry by next St. Patrick's Day, I promise to put on a silly leprechaun hat and celebrate to make up for previous days gone unobserved.

Well as I sit here a year later sans leprechaun hat, what have I learned?

 First, we have my great6-grandfather, Martin DeLong.  (For any relatives reading this, it's my Grandpa Cairns' ancestor.)  Based on his mother, Anna Wiltsie, and his paternal grandparents, Jan De Lange and Martjie Van Schaick, I'm going to count him as Dutch.  That bumps me up to about 2.7% known Dutch ancestry.

Next, we have my great4-grandmother, Martha Salley (again, Grandpa Cairns' ancestor, but this time on his mother's side). I had previously only known that she had gotten married in 1819 in Kentucky. In the past year, however, I discovered that she came from a family of Huguenots who settled in Virginia.  So, yep, that gives me around 1.6% known French ancestry.  (So, you see, my use of the word sans was foreshadowing...)

So I'm still not celebrating St. Patrick's Day (though I probably won't wear an orange t-shirt this year).  I would start celebrating Bastille Day, but I'm pretty sure the Salles, Perraults, Givaudans and the rest of my Huguenot ancestors left France about 100 years before the Bastille was stormed.  Hmm, wonder if there are any good Dutch holidays...  Guess that orange t-shirt will come in handy after all...

Saturday, March 06, 2010

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

Snow plow panic

I'm having trouble following the news here without Internet access, but I just read our town e-mail list. Someone was asking if the whole town was without power. Thankfully, I knew that we're not, but apparently a tree fell down on a nearby street, taking out a power line and trapping the town snow plow.
In other news, I dug out far enough to see the giant block of ice hanging from our cable TV line -- that probably explains why the Internet is out.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My radio appearance

Here's the audio file from my appearance today on the Colin McEnroe Show. (You can go to the public radio website to hear the whole show.)

Radio Days

What do I have in common with two Connecticut TV weathermen? The three of us will be guests on Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show today -- me in my capacity as Dr. Snowpanic. The producer told me that my segment will appear around 1:40 PM EST.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How I Became Mayor of Noodles & Company

I like playing with new web concepts when I come across them. Sometimes they take off -- Blogger, Facebook. Sometimes they don't -- Movielens and Wikitravel Extra are two that come to mind.

I read an article about Foursquare and decided to give it a try. It's sort of...I don't know, a cross between Facebook and Waymarking? When you travel to actual locations (for example, bars and restaurants), you use your smartphone to "check in", and Foursquare will tell you which of your friends are nearby. Furthermore, you earn "points" for checking in, and you earn "badges" for certain types of check-ins. Also, if you're the person who checks in the most at a particular location, you are declared "mayor" of that location.

Fortunately, this impulse to try Foursquare coincided with our kitchen renovation, so I have lots of reasons to go out to get food and "check in".

So what are my impressions?

  • Advantage 1: It's social networking that involves getting off your butt and in front of the computer. Instead of sitting at home and posting Facebook updates, Foursquare actually encourages you to get out of the house and do things.
  • Disadvantage 1: Advantage 1 is completely negated, if, like me, none of your friends are on Foursquare.
  • Disadvantage 2: Even if they were, none of us are in the "Hey, let's head out on the town and see who we run into" phase of our lives. I could see this being pretty neat 15 years ago in grad school. But then again, none of us would probably have been able to afford smartphones.
  • Advantage 2: It's a game, but one that rewards you for getting out of the house. If I'm willing to sit at home and click away to earn virtual achievements in Farmville and Mafia Wars, why wouldn't I be willing to "check in" four days in a row to earn the "Bender" badge? (How far I fall from the target demographic is summarized by the message: "Bender That's 4+ nights in a row for you! Unlocked by Jon G. on Sun Jan 17, 2010 at 10:54 AM @ Bagel Place - College Park in College Park.")
  • Disadvantage 3: It's not a particularly well-developed game. As far as I tell, you can achieve three things in the game. First, you can get the aforementioned badges (apparently, there are some more specialized ones, such as "gym rat" for visiting gyms a lot). Second, you can become mayor. (The only place I've "checked in" more than once is Noodles & Co., hence my possession of the mayoralty there.) Finally, you get "points" every week. There's a leaderboard, which I seem only to access from the mobile web site. I am #1 among my friends (since nobody else uses foursquare), and not in the top #100 in the DC metro area. Yay?
  • Disadvantage 4: It's pretty easy to cheat. While I appreciate the fact that I can check in via the web from my 2007 vintage, non-location-aware smartphone, foursquare should probably eventually move towards something better locked down. Why would someone want to cheat at foursquare? I don't know, but sadly, every pointless web-based game I've ever seen has drawn some people who want to cheat for whatever reason.

In conclusion, the game is sort of interesting, but they probably need to spruce it up a little bit if it's going to have any staying power. The interaction of the virtual world and the real world is promising, but I'm not sure if they're poised to take advantage of it. Maybe someone else will do a better job and create something that's a better fit.

I'll probably keep "playing" at least until I earn the superuser badge -- that's 30 checkins in one month. At that point, I'll be able to point out duplicate listings -- it's kind of driving me crazy that one neighborhood restaurant appears four times. I'm not sure that's enough incentive to keep me sticking with it a month from now.