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|Sunday, January 12th, 2014|
|Happy New Year
Just a quick note that, I’m once again spending a winter in Thailand. This time I’m doing most of my teaching at Kaw Tha Blay. While I’ve taught here before, that was only 1 day a week. This is quite a bit more remote than my previous school Has Tho Lei, in Mae Sot. As a result we work over a satellite connection. It’s a smaller school, with ~65 students spread over 2 years. Most are roughly 17 years old, and quite a few are touching a computer for the first time. So far I’ve focused on Excel, Email, Wikipedia, and the use of a USB 16GB USB stick onto which I’ve preloaded 10G. The contents are intended to serve as a library for students who return to Karen State, and have occasional access to computers, but no access to internet. It includes offline copies of wikipedia in English, Simple English, and Burmese viewable through kiwix. There are books such as ‘Where There is No Doctor’ in English and Burmese, and similar books for Dentistry, Childbirth and Women’s Health topics. Audio and written English lessons, Aesop’s Fables written in Karen, Libre Office, Portable Apps, Burmese and Karen Fonts, Typing skills practice, Lesson Plans developed by Curriculum Project and much much more. All of the second year students will be given one of these USBs before graduation, but now we spend class time learning how to use it effectively.
|Sunday, December 1st, 2013|
|More Travel, More Protests
"The blog goes quiet when I'm stable in one location" well there is no excuse, because I'm definitely not in a stable location.
Tuesday afternoon I moved out of my Rockville, MD apartment, then Suhyeon and I drove her new car down to Hickory, NC for Thanksgiving with my folks. Friday morning we drove back to DC and I flew out of Dulles and into Abu Dhabi, en route to Suvarnabhumi Airport Bangkok, Thailand. I was supposed to catch a flight from the other airport (Don Mueang) to Maesot, but I couldn't get to that airport in time. Instead I was standing at the checkin counter while my plane was taking off. Originally that would have been a big problem, but shortly after I booked the travel, the wedding of Min Min Soe was postponed a few days, so I've got some time. Min Min Soe was one of my students the first time I taught here, back in 2005. I'll be seeing him, and Chitlay/Kpaw Htoo, for the first time in many years, along with many old friends and students. Rather than pay top dollar for the next flight, Instead I've taken the A1 bus to Mochit bus station, where I'm killing 11 hours waiting for the bus to maesot. As usual
there is a political crisis timed for my arrival. As usual it is about Shinawatra, with a few deaths and mass protests of the red shirts vs the yellow shirts. Last time this was happening, I was sitting in the same bus station, watching video of tanks rolling into the city. No tanks yet, but otherwise, Same old same old. At least there is no flooding this time.
Whenever I finally get to Maesot, I'll work my way a bit further north, to Mae Tam to begin 3 months of computer teaching at Kaw Tha Blay
. I've taught here before, but it has never been my permanent base. Cathy and David who founded the school have had a satellite internet connection, and with it I feel I can finally focus on the material I want to teach, internet literacy, and perhaps computer programming, while maintaining sufficient connectivity to maintain my work for Keygene
.Google reader bogosipeo
|Tuesday, April 16th, 2013|
|thuis, thuis nog eens
There are many reasons why I should try to put one more post out there, before google reader shuts down. But more interesting perhaps, is the reason I shouldn't. The blog goes quiet when I'm stable in one location, because the blog has a way of altering life, not just documenting it. This isn't anonymous, so that isn't really surprising. But it is part of the calculus. When I'm traveling, tomorrow's life is disconnected from today's, so the effect is minimized. And so now, as I'm about to depart, it's worthwhile to ... 'splain.
When we last saw Mike, it was -45 degrees (Celsius and Farenheit agree) and he was in Harbin
. Not the nudist hot spring commune in California, but the Bangor, Maine of China, during their Ice and Snow festival (awesome pics
). From there I skiied into Korea, and re-met some old friends Hong
, Dong, and Nicole
. She and I have maintained a long distance relationship since then, but by June she'll be moving here to join the NHGRI Myung Lab
doing RNASeq studies of genome instability.
During that time, I've settled into a nice little routine. I still work for KeyGene
and now live just a minute walk from their Rockville, Maryland office. We're a small office, but it's given me a nice opportunity to steer us into the cloud
and do some interesting science. The best evidence of that is being one of the coauthors on the Tomato Genome
paper, but as usual in corporate ... (hmm I was going to say Corporate America, but I guess that doesn't apply with my Dutch employer) ... science, interesting work is not always visible from the outside.
Most evenings I'm tapping away at SNPedia
. These are my long term side projects to help people understand what is in their DNA. $99
+ some spit = a surprisingly detailed, but far from perfect, look inside you. We got a nice mention in the New York Times
a few weeks ago, and it continues to be a interesting hobby for me.
On Thursday I'll return to the Netherlands for 3.5 weeks. The timing allows me to enjoy my birthday with some wonderful friends who I've not seen in almost 18 months. At the same time, I'll catch Liberation Day
in my old home, the transition to a new monarch during Koninginnedag, and Keukenhof
in full bloom. I split my time between the old home of Wageningen, and the client site at Enkhuizen. First and foremost, this is a work trip, but I think it promises to be a very enjoyable one.
At the end of this year, I'll again go traveling for a few months. I expect to begin in Kosovo
, and then back to teach computers at at Kaw Tha Blay
So now, with the universe happily under control and some quiet before my departure, I've stopped to pause and reflect, and catch up with you, my few dear readers. People who take 10 minutes from their own lives to wonder about mine.
Before I left the Netherlands, I recall Saskia asking me, why? Was it something I missed about America, or perhaps something I disliked about the Netherlands. I did miss some of the convenience of America. Which is not to say it is so convenient for everyone, but it does treat me kindly. Unquestionably, the Netherlands does a better job of treating everyone one that well. But for me, I did miss the convenience and it was a factor. What I wanted was not the destination of America, but the everything in between even with its substantial inconveniences.
It's a Tuesday night. That means 'cheap chicken' tuesday at Dawson's Market. The locally sourced organic friendly don't-call-us-super market across the square. For $5.99 I get a whole roasted chicken, really nicely done. Returning 2 milk bottles, bringing my own bag, and walking gets me some store credit, so I leave with a head of lettuce and a very ripe tomato for $6.66. I've enjoyed it with some wine, and a few sips of Wageningse Bitters. This is similar to Jaegermeister, but easier and more pleasant. It is served in a clever Japanese sake bottle, with a pocket that keeps the melting ice water separate from the liquor. My laundry is tumbling, and I've switched to these little premeasured packets of soap you toss into the machine. Those didn't exist when I last lived here. For my dishwasher they defintely improved the results. This is very convenient. Time for Daily Show and Colbert. Life is grand. Tot ziens.
|Saturday, January 14th, 2012|
|Heat Stress and Chillin in China
About a year ago, I did some data analysis on how Brassica uses microRNA
to respond to heat stress. The data was produced by Prof He Yuke's group here at the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences. My analysis work was enough to earn me a spot as a co-author on the published paper
, but I'd never actually communicated with any of my Chinese contributors. This week, we've been making up for
that. In particular, lead author Yu Xiang picked me up at the airport, took me to a few restaurants, joined me for the Urban Planning museum
and generally made life pleasant. I've returned the favors in the only way I know how, hacking perl
and playing linux administrator. WeiLi Zhong isn't on the paper, but she's booked my train tickets, and helped me locate then haggle for warm clothes to replace the Thailand attire that just won't cut it for the rest of this trip.
On Sunday I'll take a train to Wuhan, to spend a few days visiting a human genomics company still in 'stealth mode
'. You will forgive me if I don't say much more. Tuesday of the following week is Chinese New Year. I've seen the San Francisco version of the holiday, with lion dances
, lanterns, and enough firecrackers to remove all 10 Billion fingers here. I expect the mother country version to actually be a bit more subdued, but only time will tell. On the 24th I head to Harbin
, for the Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival
. Feb 1 sends me to Seoul for the Korean Genomics Organization's Winter Symposium a mix of Next Generation Sequencing and Skiiing. By March 1, I'm back in Washington DC to resume work for KeyGene INC.
|Monday, January 9th, 2012|
|Pack it up, Pack it in, Let me begin
In 24h I'll be in China. This means I've left the schools sooner than I expected. At the moment I'm in Khon Kaen, Thailand here to attend the wedding of my friends from Wageningen, NL, Jeab and Gunnar. Being here has long been a plan, but it was expected to be only a brief diversion before returning to the schools for my final 2-3 weeks. Instead I learned 2 old colleagues from Gene Logic would be in China. This gave me the opportunity to visit one of the few countries in this region which I had so far missed, and to do it with locals who knew the language and shared my professional interests. It cost precious time with the students, but I felt it was an acceptable trade.
My interest in the schools (and work for that matter) is not particularly focused on long term face to face relationships. I want enough of that to build some personal relationships, but virtual work is more scalable over the long term. To that end I've got one more school connected to the internet. The Science and Technology Training Center
teaches employable skills, with an emphasis on electrical and mechanical. There I've setup 5 new computers, and the students know how to use a set of CDs to restore them to a clean stable state. This gives them more freedom to experiment and occasionally break things, which is perhaps the only way to learn. I've gotten most of them email addresses, and intend to offer some ongoing support that way. For a few of them I already am. But leaving them early absolutely breaks my heart. I feel like I'm riding a motorboat through the wreckage of the Titanic, smiling and waving to those struggling in the water, as I call out "Sorry no room, I must hurry off".
Real programming has remained a Bridge On the River Kwai Too Far
, due more to my over-extended schedule, than any lack of abilities in the students. To help get us there, I've got a few students signed up for Stanford's Intro to Computers
class in mid-February. I've signed up as well, to follow the lessons to act as a supplemental teacher. Hopefully the idea of virtual learning, the prestige of a real university, and the benefits of well structured class will catch on. Time will tell.
|Tuesday, December 27th, 2011|
|Not even close to a white christmas
Open these 3 links to see thumbnails of all of the photos
Most of my students are Karen
and they celebrate the new year according to a lunar schedule. This year that was on the evening of Dec 24/25, better known as Christmas to most of my readers. Out here Christmas is celebrated on a different day, apparently the 29th this year. That may seem strange, but the Dutch celebrate it on the 5th, so I've come to accept the confusion.
Karen new year is a celebration of Karen culture. Each week I drive to Kaw Tha Blay
to teach computers, and on the 100km drive I pass Mae La Refugee Camp
, a guarded city of bamboo and leaves with ~50,000 residents. This year it was hosting some of the Karen New Year celebration so I was (more or less) allowed in to watch the students sing
. ( Read moreCollapse )
|Sunday, December 25th, 2011|
|Peace on earth, goodwill toward men
I spent xmas-eve inside Mae La Refugee Camp
to watch some of my Kaw Tha Blay students perform traditional dances. This morning I wandered through the camp with a santa hat on, passing out candy to the kids I saw. Quite a few of the recipients were novice monks. I'm now back in Mae Sot, sitting in a restaurant which is playing the Bob Dylan christmas album
. Life is pleasant, and certainly not boring. I hope your christmas was very merry too.
Lots of photos up shortly.
|Wednesday, November 30th, 2011|
|Just a good ol Bo, never meaning no harm. ขอให้ไปสู่สุขคติ
The last post was a month ago and it said I was on a mission. The mission is going well, but rarely smoothly. During my last visit I slept a few doors away from another teacher, an orphaned native Thai of about 25 years, named Bo (โบ). In addition to teaching Thai, he drove a schoolbus and installed a water heater I'd bought. On quite a few evenings we sat around, drank a beer and talked while I'd fixup an old laptop he owned. When I returned on this trip, it was nice to see his familiar face with enough English, Thai, and electronics skills to be very handy.
About 2 weeks ago I was with some of the Canadian donors who noticed a neighbor dog struggling for air, after it had gotten it's chain tangled. I jumped the fence to move a table to where he could stand on it and breathe easily, but was bitten when I got too close. The bite wasn't bad, but it certainly drew blood. Dogs here are much less likely to be vaccinated, so I had some concerns about the need for rabies shots. I asked Bo to speak with the owners and inquire about whether I would be wise to go for rabies shots. There wasn't a huge urgency, but it couldn't be too much delayed either. When I finally saw him again 3 days later, he said he'd not had a chance, and I shuffled off a bit grumpily thinking "I could die from this".
Yesterday while crossbow fishing he became trapped underwater and drowned. This afternoon I learned the news when someone asked me "did you hear about Bo?" as they handed me their camera with photos of his bloodied and stiffened body.
This school, Hsa Thoo Lei, will be closed for 2 days, but it will slow me down only a bit. Only the 6h of my week which go formal classroom teaching of the 50 students in the 2 oldest grades will be affected. Using our 14 classroom computers I try to emphasize Internet (gmail, facebook, wikipedia, youtube, khan academy, wikihow, URLs and HTML) so far. This week they've been working on maintaining a blog and posting how-tos
. Some students are fresh from camp
with limited english, and negligible typing. Others have access to a computer at home and turn in high quality assignments at late hours.
There are 3 other schools [STTC, Kaw Tha Blay
, and (unnamed - I go there for the 1st time tomorrow)], where I have a more irregular or emerging schedule. I may be able to say more about them in a future blog post. But as in the past, I try to ignore organizational boundaries, adapt to geographic ones, and focus on students who show talent and the ability to teach to others in native language.
More of my time goes to being a network administrator. Our network has grown from 4 machines and 80 students during my trip in 2005 to ~60 machines and 800+ students. We've kept the internet quite accessible (never enough for my taste, even facebook is a learning experience out here) but students with limited english are easy prey for viruses, trojans, and malware. Much of the last 2 weeks were an attempt at building a virtual machine environment which quickly cleans itself after each class. This would allow students to learn from the freedom to play with the control panel and install programs, without messing it up for whoever comes next. Sadly, as of this morning I'm writing off the whole effort as a wash. The standard tool for typing in Burmese relies on a ctrl-shift keyboard combination, which is silently dropped by Microsoft Virtual PC. I'm not willing to sacrifice their ability to use their own language, to make the admin job easier. So this job takes my time, but not my heart.
My heart and my evenings are reserved for teaching programming (the new Latin
). Not because I'm the sort of person who compares programming languages and idioms to poetry, but because most of these students are poor, stateless, and legally forbidden from most local travel, education and careers. This time
I'm trying with a new book
and a new IDE
. There have been setbacks and disappointments, but the successes glow like 1000 suns. And so each day we will try again. Wish us โชคดี.
PS. Checkout the pics from Thanksgiving
and Loi Krathong
|Tuesday, November 8th, 2011|
|Swimming to Maesot
The reason I've come here is not to lay in a hammock counting sunsets, but to volunteer. I'm a fundamentalist missionary from the church of the internet, proselytizing with a fire in my belly that cannot be stopped by Hell or high water. The high water
did however force a longer route.
The bow waves of trucks splashed over the top of my windshield.
After driving several sections which got progressively deeper, Nonthaburi
was finally too deep. I had to turn back, burning hours navigating a new route.
North of Chai Nat it wasn't standing water, this one flowed like a river.
At the origins of the Chao Phraya river nearly the entire 1st level of this building was submerged.
Outside the flood zone, supply lines had been cut. Here was a 7-11 which had almost nothing to sell.
Undeterred, the car and I made it, crossing 2850km together as I arrived in Maesot (map
) my home for the next 3 months.
I didn't come for the pretty scenery, the generous accommodations, the sporting events, fine dining, spas or nightlife.
I've returned for the 4th time, to Hsa Thoo Lei, a school of 800 refugees from Burma. I teach computers, internet and programming, install networks, remove viruses and do whatever other vaguely related tasks seem possibly helpful.
|Thursday, November 3rd, 2011|
|Malaysia to Krabi
Malacca was historically interesting, but lacked the local interactions I enjoy when traveling. Moving onto Penang, the first thing a local said to me was "chinese girl? vietnamese girl?" and this was not the sort of local interaction I was hoping for. I made the best of my time, which meant sampling the local foods, for which Penang is justifiably famous, and enjoyed every bite. The car got better use, and fewer parking tickets, as I explored at an improptu pace. Monkey beach
earned it's name. But when the opportunity to move on came, I took it with no regrets.
Thailand is a bit cheaper, and I like the food a bit better. (Regrettably it does lack the wonderful indian breads). Cultural stuff can wait so I headed for a beach with a nice vibe
. Tonsai lacks the perfect white sands of the panorama above, but at low tide, it's a 10 minute walk away, and the atmosphere is far nicer than that posh end of town. Here reggae bars keep going until the last customers decide to call it a morning. A dreadlocked alaskan named Shane plays drums during a spontaneous and amazing tap dance routine, then later fields guitar requests and sustains the mood while I talk to an Iranian guy and the two pretty girls (Rianne - Dutch, Lucia - Viennese) who are all doing this for the first time. I'm a grizzled old veteran of the road, able to speak some helpful thai, offer wanted band-aids (plasters is the non-USA name) for sandal blisters, and probably too much unwanted advice. It's a merry mix until near sunrise, when those who came to do some of the world's finest rock climbing start by climbing out of bed. Due in part to a sprained thumb, and some world class apathy, my own climbing is only into and out of the hammock which finally gets some glorious use, on the beach in an overhanging rock directly below some climbers on a 6 route.
|Friday, October 21st, 2011|
|Onward to Malaysia
After Ushguli I spent a few more days wandering Tbilisi, Georgia. It's a beautiful city, with a high density of sights right by the river and the old town. The slightly decrepit curvy streets, and the balconies above them are filled with real people going about their lives. Old men play dominos, young couples dance a mix of modern and traditional styles at a restaurant, and a young girl does a little graffiti on the steps declaring her love for Justin Bieber. My flight through Almaty, Kazakhstan
was as uneventful as you'd imagine, except to note that the air quality was really awful.
Kuala Lumpur is humid, lush and green, reminding me of my first time back in South Florida after moving away. This provides my first taste of street food in a long time, with the fusions of Malay, Chinese, Portugese and Indian which make eating here such a joy. My plan was to head to Indonesia and try some surfing on Nias, but while setting my wakeup alarm I failed to reset my timezone, and missed the flight.
Plan B went from inspiration to realization in about 12hours. When traveling in this part of the world, I've always been at the mercy of busses, trains, and their schedules and routes. Now I've instead bought a car. It's a 1997 Perodua Kancil
with 145k km on it. It's almost certain to give me trouble, and with luck a few stories to go with it, but I'm prepared for that. The flight I missed was early monday morning. By 6pm I owned the car, and by midnight I was in a riverside guesthouse in Melacca
smelling the salt air of the straights.
Malacca may be familiar to those who's studied Dutch history, with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_Church,_Melaka
as particularly notable. In the evenings here I often wander on Heeren street, which shares it's name with the road behind my old Wageningen apartment. The walls of the old city are in the same shape as the walls of every dutch city. And in connection with my last stop, the Church here uses old headstones as flooring (apparently this is not disrespectful) and includes one from an Armenian.
I, Jacob, grandson of Shamier, an Armenian of a respectable family whose name I keep, was born in Persia near Inefa, where my parents now forever sleep. Fortune brought me to distant Malacca, which my remains in bondage to keep. Separated from the world on 7th July 1774 A.D. at the age of twenty-nine, my mortal remains were deposited in this spot of the ground which I purchased.
|Thursday, October 13th, 2011|
|Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia
Tbilisi to Zugdidi in a marshrutka should probably cost 10 Lari, but I was paying 20
= $17 for the 5 hour ride. On the upside, I had the backseat, and had it alone for the second half of the trip. This meant I was able to lay down and get some actual sleep. During a flat tire, I talked with David who works in a Tbilisi call center. Importantly, he taught me 'Thank You' as 'mad-loh-bah' and the names of a few regional foods.
From Zugdidi I'd hoped to take another Marshrutka, but with no apparent options agreed to a 'taxi', which was a green Mercedes-Benz 4x4 jeep. My driver didn't speak any english, so he called his brother, who showed up after about 20 minutes in a black Mercedes-Benz SUV with a priest riding shotgun. Via the driver's German and my little Dutch, he translated a few key details of the planned route. I finished our talk with 'mad-loh-bah' and this seemed to be appreciated. The drive begins, but ends after 2 minutes. The priest comes over, and swaps cars with me, with the apparent idea that my little english+dutch will do better in this car. There is family of 4 in the backseat. The grandmother Katarina looks about 45, her 25 year old son has a name I never did quite get the but it seemed to be somewhere between Zorro and Sauron so I'll call him Zorron. also squeezed in, his sister Salomeh and her daughter (perhaps age 7) is named Angela. Salomeh actually speaks quite good english, but was too shy to mention that during the 1st hour of the trip. The driver is Rostom Girguliani (geer-goo-lee-ahn-nee).
I'm now being driven shotgun in a black Mercedes-Benz SUV along the river. Both cars stop for the local dish, a cheese filled bread Khachapuri
and it's meat filled equivalent. Zorron climbs an apple tree, and knocks a few loose. We grab handfulls, while a big pig and small dog fight over what we've missed. We're outside a restaurant, overlooking the Inguri Dam
. The accordion player at the resturant over the lake comes out to serenade us (and the priest (Dmitry)) before we have 2 kinds (red + white) of homebrew wine from gas cans. We drive on a gorgeous and twisty 1 year old road towards the home of the other driver, just to the west of Mestia. Rostom is now acting as if we're new best friends, and offering a tour of my final destination, Ushguli, a ride back to the capital, and places to stay all for no charge. I'm a bit skeptical, but I've got nothing else and perhaps this really is just wonderful hospitality. During dinner the men sit and eat, while the women serve us and stay out of the way. They all drink drink WAY HARDER than I can, while serving breads, bread+cheese, bread+meat, cucumber, salt+pepper, tomatos, fried chicken. The oldest guy is Galaction 80 years. Tomorrow we will spend 1 day in Ushgali for photos. I would have preferred 24h there, to allow photos at sunrise and sunset, but I'm literally unable to say no, since it would be 24h before I learned that word ("Ara") and I'm not fully certain of what little I think I understand.
After a satisfying dinner, mixed with many rounds of drinking the homebrew ChaCha
. I turn into bed and write a bit of this journal, before the alcohol purges the memories. Words won't do the trip to Ushguli justice. 3D high def IMAX also wouldn't. You'll need to go there yourself, but there seems to be no great rush, time is frozen here from roughly the year 1200. Until you make the journey, take a look at these photos to help you prepare.http://www.flickr.com/photos/cariaso/sets/72157627879084144/slideshow
On the way back from Ushguli we picked up 2 hitchhikers who crammed themselves between the luggage in the back. Peter is Hungarian, 31 and speaks German well enough to communicate better than I with Rostom. Kenneth is Norwegian, vegetarian, and as tall as the trees he cuts for a living. We speak very little at first, and by the half hour mark have exchanged only 4 sentences. For the 5th sentence they ask how my liver is doing, I laugh as we share an understanding. In the coming 24hours I learn that their previous 3 nights of homestays simply would not take no for an answer, either at dinner (uncountable) or breakfast, which was 5 shots of ChaCha. Father Dmitry was also a bit of a lightweight, and his emphasis on red wine instead of ChaCha had been my savior so far. Peter and Kenneth are truer travelers than I, with Peter on year 3 of travel and a steady budget of $10 a day. You should follow their travel blog at kepesita.org
. They'd planned to take the $75 flight out of Mestia in hopes of seeing more of the Caucauses from above, but take up Rostom's offer to join us for the evening at his brother's house and the next day's journey back to Tbilisi. Dinner is similar to the night before, with pleasant additions of beef soup, watermelon, tomato+onion+vinegar salad, and an aubergine+chili tapenade. A few other men from the village join us at dinner, one in particular drinks unbelievably hard and enthusiastically tops off the glasses every 5minutes, mainly so he can refill his own. Afterwards Peter and Kenneth take the beds I'd used the previous night, while my sleeping bag gets the first use of the trip. To pass the time while drinking enough water that tomorrow morning won't be too painful, we talk in the darkness, and they show a a genuine interest in and understanding of my genetics work. Or maybe it was the ChaCha.
At dinner Father Dmitry had made it clear he didn't want to wake at the crack of dawn today, so at about 8:30 we wander downstairs and are promptly put to work by the brother cleaning out the barn/garage. Mainly this means moving the woodpile from A to B in what seems like confused busy work. All the while we can hear Father Dmitry inside, wearing full vestments, as he blesses each room, and the icons which adorn them. After an hour a few other faces from the previous dinner have returned to join us for breakfast. 80% of the meal is lastnight's leftovers, but some oatmeal and other other items are new. The table is set, with candles attached to the plastic coke bottles filled with ChaCha. After a few ceremonial minutes Dmitry takes the candles away (without setting his beard on fire) and the breakfast shifts into the hard drinking phase. We three westerners exchange terrified looks, but give it our best shots. The same over-enthusiastic booze hound pours each glass, the speeches begin, and we prepare for 'the burn'. Peter is the first to jump in, and shouts with a pleasant surprise "it's water", we laugh, and throw this round back with gusto. Our hosts discover their error, and with a genuine horror toss the water from their glasses out the window, then remove the incorrect bottle from the table. This is the funniest thing I've seen in a decade, and Peter and Kenneth share my delight. We celebrate like condemned men who have a power failure in the moment before electrocution. We know our fate is still sealed, but the gods have offered the best comfort they can.
With the correct bottle, we resume. Peter manages better than I, and Kenneth better still. His viking ancestors would be proud, but still no match for these men from Svaneti
. I point out "we're doing shots with the driver. again." and later learn they found this worthy of a tweet. It was the only time I lost any respect for these two, yet they have plenty to spare. The drive was pleasantly uneventful. We stopped only twice for more Khachapuri and ChaCha. I finally managed to get Rostom to take 50 Lari during one of the meals, but this seems to have done more harm then good. Later during a refueling, he asked Peter for something which sounded close to "samen betalen" and seemed to be german for "you pay half?". He agreed, and got out to do so. But when we drove away explained he'd just paid the full amount, which was 150 Lari = $90, and was hoping that they would settle up before the trip was done. I knew quite well, that once the money was out of your hands, it was unlikely to come back. In hindsight the obvious solution was for me to offer money and even that up, but somehow with Peter as the one outside of the car, and I having paid about that much just an hour earlier the thought didn't occur until later that night. Instead Peter's attempt when exiting the car was not well received, and I was glad it happened outside the car where I could feign ignorance of the whole affair.
From Rostom's side I'm sure it seemed like a reasonable thing, but for Peter and Kenneth's hitchhiking budget it was a huge impact. I hope to meetup with them again before I leave the city, and try to put things right, but it did happen and I record it here as part of the story. It left me wondering if Rostom's hospitality had an ulterior motive, but he continued to reject my attempts to give him money even the next day. That night he put me up in his Tbilisi apartment, and in the morning rejected my attempts to again hand him cash before I left, with sincere statements about freundschaft. But he was expecting me to stay for more days, and trying to offer me the key to his apartment expecting me to stay until my saturday flight. That is a generous offer, but I travel solo and was not prepared to have anyone control that much of my remaining time. I'm back at a centrally located hostel, and free to come and go, without the need to struggle through 2 broken languages or hurt feelings and confused expectations.
|Saturday, October 8th, 2011|
|հրաժեշտ . საქართველოში ჩემი აზრით
Last night in Armenia was watching the national team beat "the former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
" 4:1. If only they hadn't scored the extra time goal, Kreidler would have won a whole $16. It was a great chance to see 15,000 Armenians side by side, cheering for something the could really feel proud of. There seems to not be enough opportunities for that spirit in this country. I wish them much success in the next and final game against my own motherland
This morning I rode a marshrutka 4 hours north into Georgia. The capital Tbilisi is notably different than Yervan. A mighty river divides this city. It's residents are notably more ethnically diverse. The old town has incredibly diverse architecture and a real charm. Drinking on the street was unheard of in Yerevan, here it took me about 30seconds to walk from my hostel, to join a group of old men playing dominoes and drinking beers. We had no words in common, but part of the reason I love the game, is that you don't need words. We managed just fine. The biggest difference from the Miami version of the game Ikam's grandfather taught me was the use of an abacus to keep score. One of them was from the small village
where I will try to get to tomorrow. I say try, because getting there will require 12h of marshrutkas. I'm a bit sick at the moment (down to just a runny nose, after a few days of a bit worse, but I'll spare you those details) so rather than being out enjoying a apparently delightfully raucus evening, I'm about to turn in for some needed rest.
<rant>I would like to be raped by T-mobile, to pay $45 for 10MB of data over the next 7 days, but they suck too much to actually be able to do that, despite their promises. This may be the last post for a few days</rant>
|Friday, October 7th, 2011|
I decided to explore solo for a few days. For me this meant taking a series of Marshrutkas to Lake Sevan
and it's centerpiece the Sevanavank
The first day was rainy, and I spent about 20 minutes walking from the dropoff point to my hotel. I confess, this was a Best Western, which meant western prices in exchange for (not actually working) wifi. The staff spoke perfect english, but where is the fun in that. The weather did create some beautiful skies as you can see to the right. The other pleasant surprise was an email from an old friend. Josh Vroman and I went to kindergarden together, and several other times along the way we had classes, or cub scouts
together. I don't think I've seen him since I was about 12, but here he was via email. The storm had helped to clear the air, and the next day I was rewarded with very clear blue skies, and visibility to the snow capped mountains which ring the lake. As usual, the photos show well, but the experience was what I enjoyed. The picture at left was taken by an Iranian, and in the USA we don't meet so many of them. The ones we do meet usually identify as Persians instead. He spoke quite a bit of English, and asked where I was from. The answer to that question is always a bit complicated given my semi-nomadic
life, but since so many Armenians have a connection to Glendale, California I've learned to give "Born in LA" as a response. His reaction was immediate --- "Ah, Arnold Schwartenegger". I laughed, and continued to marvel at what a positive and global icon that man has become. There was no need to point out that Jerry Brown
was the new Govinator instead.
By early afternoon I decided to journey onward to the Armenian Switzerland, Dilijan
), about an hour away. It's hard to believe that an hours drive, could so radically change the scenery, but click on the picture at right and you won't have to take my word for it.
. I stayed at Dili Villa
a fantastic house maintained by the currator of a really impressive museum. The house is equally filled with paintings, but at the museum I was given a tour of the not-yet-opened basement exhibit with more of the history of the area. This wasn't your usual, 'look but don't touch' experience, instead I was invited to flip through old photos, handle a bronze age axe head, and even pose with a few weapons.
Since then I've returned to Yerevan. Last night we ate at a fish restaurant where you pick your sturgeon and trout from one of the pools, then watch while they bash it's brains in. Fresh fish has to come from somewhere... I've also bought tickets for an upcoming segment of the trip. In a few days I'll move on to Georgia. On Oct 15th I fly through Kazhakstan, en route to Kuala Lumpur. I've got a few ideas what may come next, but writing them down here seems the best way to ensure the plans change.
|Sunday, October 2nd, 2011|
|The locals, the diaspora, and the embassy circuit
Yesterday was a nice Armenian lunch of stuffed peppers and roasted aubergine. I overheard English from a table nearby and asked the gentlemen if they could point me towards the museum/home of Sergei Parajanov
a Soviet film director. They were happy to offer directions, but with a light rain coming down insisted that I join for 1 beer before I left. Two of them were around 35 years old, and the third was their Father / Father-in-Law. He was part of the diaspora living in Glendale, Los Angeles and visiting for a few weeks. When I mentioned I'd visited the Genocide Museum
the previous day, the father was happy to explain to me his personal experiences with the after-effects, while the sons seemed to have a "oh there he goes again" reaction to a conflict which was not their own. This seems a natural and healthy process, but gave me my first real interaction with some of the true culture of this place.
In the evening I joined my host at his office, the US Embassy. After surrendering my cell phone and passport I was admitted into a brief and rather lifeless office party, followed by a paper airplane contest mostly for the kids. A bit later, some of the guys in the office had brought in their amps, guitars, and drum kit, and they were practicing for a show at the office christmas party. Songs included Tom Petty, Blind Melon, and a few other rock covers from my high school years. Afterwards we headed over to the onsite bar where the Marines relax and pour the drinks. We swapped travel stories and let the whole evening slide into a very pleasant Vodka-Redbull fueled blur.
Today was some code and some downtime, with a rooftop Octoberfest at sundown. The atmosphere was great, the beers were homebrewed in 3 styles, and even the sausages were handmade. One of the guys I met, and his Palestinian wife, are 2 weeks away from his next assignment, in Thailand doing aid work for Burma. He doesn't yet know much about the place, while after 10 years of following what's going on there I perhaps know a bit too much. Tomorrow we'll probably do brunch and continue to talk and plan.
Wageningen, the Netherlands had nothing open on Sunday, and therefore there was no way to do a brunch. I really missed that familiar pace of wandering to a favorite restaurant, eating a big meal with coffee refills, bacon and eggs, and skimming the paper while planning the day. Tomorrow will be the first time in many years with that particularly American tradition.
|Sunday, September 25th, 2011|
|Europe, you're up. Yerevan, yer on.
Rolling east from NL into Germany my very first impression is that on the NL side the plants around the railroad tracks are neatly manicured, while in Germany they grow wild. By Hannover the skies are clear and blue, framing the tall modern windmillls which have replaced the smaller wood and stone Dutch icons. This is my 3rd time in Berlin, and I've got a reasonable sense of how the trains work, and how to reach my destination -- Comebackpackers
in Kottibusser Tor. The neighborhood is ethnic, open late, full of cheap döner
kebab shops, bars and clubs. Turkish, German, and English are only the most common tongues I hear from passersby, many of whom are riding bicycles on the sidewalks causing me to occasionally jump a bit as they swerve past me. So Bike lanes become the first thing I miss from NL. Over a fence I see a lively bar with someone twirling fire, and another bar appears to be a white schoolbus hopeless mired at the bottom of a deep ditch. The streets are dimly lit, lined with trees, greenspaces, and people. All night long they'll linger at tables outside restaurants finishing one more beer, one more smoke, and one more joke.
I'm sharing my room with Jeroen De Dauw
, and Samuel Lampa
. They're also here to attend the Semantic MediaWiki conference
. Jeroen in particular is just 20, with nearly that many popular Mediawiki extesions to his name, while Samuel is a student under Egon Willighagen a prolific science blogger
. The conference was enjoyable, if perhaps a bit less crowded than I might have hoped for. Each day of the conference ends at a restaurant, and then smaller groups wander off to the bars of the choice. My favorites were a large punk bar
named after 'The Clash
' which was new to me, and c-base
the bar/clubhouse/garage which I'd previously visited after a Chaos Computer Congress over xmas 2 years ago. Even 2 years later, that first visit to Berlin and c-base standout as one of the great memories of my life. This trip was nice, but cannot hope to compare. More work than pleasure, it's merely the familiar front porch as I leave home. The adventure is just beyond.
To get to the other side. Why did the neutrino cross the road?
|Wednesday, August 24th, 2011|
|computing in the amorphous (non amazon) cloud
Old friends leave comments and ask if I'll be blogging this trip. I have no idea. Blogging is a way for me to talk to everyone, but it doesn't work so well if I'm regularly talking to anyone. Blogging about life, changes that life. It's a Heisenbug. When living at normal speed, the blog energy spills and becomes disruptive. When in motion can I release that energy without damaging what is close at hand. maybe.James Diggans
recently moved to my favorite old home SF, (and hasn't yet committed to a job
) you want to hire him
. He follows synbio
pretty closely and back in June I asked him this:
this is the most advanced thing I've seen and understood. Do you know of anything else related? Can you help me to understand what methods a biobricks related python library might actually provide?
I'd muddled though a few more links and papers, and even downloaded and but not yet installed something which looked interesting called Proto
But life kept moving, and late last night I sent my KeyGene colleagues the announcement of my departure and the date for my farewell borrel
Just before the end of the day I learned Drew Endy
will be visiting our little company before I leave. His work is a big part of what brought me to KeyGene NV. To explore the edge where reading genomes becomes writing them. My work on that front is small scale, usually just few plant SNP
s. Endy has instead worked across the entire bacterial genome, creating and cataloging various biological parts. He teaches high school students how to engineer new strains of bacteria which can light up, or make smells to when exposed to a stimulus. Just like they might have done in a wood, metal, or electrical shop class.
It stirs my own interest in engineering. Of understanding every single piece. Of knowing nothing further can be removed. Of building ever more elaborate devices from these BioBricks
until Life becomes Lego.
But deep down, I'm a software guy, not a hardware one. And this my excuse to finally pickup Proto. The results have been very satisfying, and while it's still fresh I wanted to share a bit of what I think I now know. Jonathan Bachrach
and Jacob Beal
have done most of this work, and documented it clearly. Their paper Cells Are Plausible Targets for High-Level Spatial Languages
- Proto is a functional language with a Scheme like syntax
- familiar operators like AND, OR, NOT, Greater-Than, Less-Than, Equal-To, Min, Max.
- a few new methods, such as 'diffuse'
- programs written in this high level language can be compiled down to a form suitable for use in real cells
- standard compiler optimization improvements apply and more can be expected
What's different here is the computer is in a very
Beal says: An amorphous medium is a manifold where every point is a device that knows its neighbors’ recent past state.
Mike says: Its a squishy bag filled with 1000s of computers. The bag might be as big as the ocean, or as small as a single cell.
Imagine throwing 1000 little computers out of a plane (2D) or over the side of a boat (3D). Each can pass messages to computers near by, but their radios are not strong enough for every computer to talk to all of the others. They must all be given the same program, and establish enough communication to coordinate tasks and roles among themselves. This is similar to aspects of SIMD parallel programming, but with a much more challenging network. No useful sized multibit adders. Iteration and other and familiar tools are absent. Floating point numbers are ... chemicals floating in other chemicals ... Stack Overflow indeed.
There is a nice little quick start guide
and instead of printing "Hello World", you're rendering into a 3d space where you can position the camera, and control the scene.
I've skimmed, but not yet really done the real thinking in proto tutorial
but once I do, the next milestone would be setting up this pymorphous
which seems like a very appealing top level interface.
Its an interesting little corner of programming, which should become important in the years to come.
|Monday, August 8th, 2011|
|On a world tour
The Netherlands has been wonderful and treated me very kindly. With a with a heavy heart, nimble feet
, and a head full of good memories -- I'm off.
Sept 20, train from NL to Berlin for the SMW conf
Sept 25, fly to Minsk, Belarus, 3h of airport, then off to Yerevan, Armenia
If you've read my blog, and live somewhere in Eurasia maybe you're on my way, drop me an email
I'm on a world tour to visit Kreidler, my man
Going each and every place, with Mike right at hand
|Friday, April 22nd, 2011|