Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Vanity of Would-Be Authors.

I've always been interested in who reads my blog. A few years ago when I was backpacking through South America, I started emailing stories back to some friends and to the office. It took a while, but eventually I heard that people enjoyed them and were passing them on to others. Of course none of the people who just hit delete told me about it, but I figured they can just mark me as spam and let their mail client deal with it automatically.

(I admit - the pictures in this post have nothing to do with the content. But the maps at the bottom do. Can you guess what this picture is? answer below this post.)

Then I switched to blogging since it was the 'in' thing to do. Actually the real reason was that it was a new gadget that I haven't tried yet but it was better for me since it kept a permanent record of what I published and let people comment publically on what I was blathering about.

But I quickly found out it's not easy to get people to respond. They tell me they like to read my blogs if we happen to be talking. At least, the ones I caught up against the wall and asked if they've read it tended to say that "yes yes we enjoyed it now please let go we can't breaggggghhhhhh". But people were still uncomfortable commenting on the site, and would seldom send personal responses back.

(Beach in Yucatan, Mexico)

But with all the effort I put into these blogs (ok ok - mostly becuase of my vanity), I decided to use modern technology and high tech to add a page counter and see how many people were actually hitting this site. Lo and behold, thechnology has advanced so much that by paying no money and adding a few lines to my blog, I could get a lot of information on who was visiting the blog and sometimes on where they were coming from.

Check it out: This is a map of the world with all the places from which people came to visit my site over the period of roughly a week:

To name a few of the locations: US, Israel and Russia I could understand. Estonia (Estonia! I don't know anyone in Estonia), Italy, Spain, UK, Northern Ireland AND the Republic of Ireland.
There were a few more, including some places in South Carolina and Georgia I'm pretty sure I know no one from.

But the resolution of the tracking services is much higher than this. Ever wonder how online ads seem to know exactly where you live? Take a look at this Northern California blow up of the map:

Big brother (and his little brother and their wife and everyone else) can track you to the nearest ISP connection to the net. If you're at home, the town or county will be identified. If at work, the company. I didn't think I knew anyone at Fairfield or Folsom but there they are.

Naturally many of the readers came from Sun, but there was even a Microsoft one. I wonder who that was. I did figure out that some people were just blog surfing and hit the "next blog" button on blogspot and accidently got mine.

Trying to understand technology even more, I searched through Technorati and found that some other blog points to mine. I don't know who she is and she didn't explain why she added my blog to her "Detours" list on the side of the page but I'm honored. Here's to her! I hope she fnished writing her paper.

(The Dogs' Respite - Neve Zedek neighborhood in Tel Aviv)

To summarize: us authors (ok ok I know I'm stepping a bit above my station here) love to get feedback. We write for the masses and want your adoration and all that BS. And we'd love to see it on the blog site (though I'm still trying to understand who the anonymous person who posted "Great as usual! love reading you!" on the Swedish post is. thank you!).

And if you still don't, well, I've got my little map and I know where you live :)

Thanks for reading!


(Answer - it's the side of the pyramid in Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula; photo taken tilted)

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Improvisations without Color

August 18

I'm doing some experimentation with photography. The pictures here were made B&W in Photoshop and edited for light / dark balance.

I drove up to The City on Saturday to walk around and find some interesting material to use. For those who don't live here, "The City" is San Francisco and Driving Up means going north. Yes – I'm localizing to the environment.

There aren't too many stories in this entry. It's mostly photos that I wanted to share.

I was walking around with my backpack and a camera hanging by a strap from my neck and looking the tourist. A homeless guy selling the "Street Sheet" stopped me and started talking, telling me that my success only depends on what's between my ears (he acted this up pointing at his to make the point). I'm not sure what prompted this. Whether he thought I was an art student trying to find pictures to take, or maybe he made some other connection. All I could think about was his job and wonder how he got there.

Walking up Geary street I found this hole-in-the-wall shoe shiner's stall. The guy let me take a picture of it and I kicked myself later for not taking his. If the spray bottles in the front weren't in the picture, would you be able to tell which year this pictures was from?

The Sun reflected off the sidewalk making it shining-white while everything stayed dark. I really liked the effect. Don't they look like they're walking on air?

The Miles hotel is making it into my collection of interesting hotel fronts, along with the Green Tortoise Hostel from Seattle. Yes, it's a collection of 2.

This bouquet was full of yellow, red, blue, violet and pink flowers. I was interested in what I could do with it in B&W. Doing it digitally at home gives you so many more options then selecting the right filter when you shoot B&W film. Especially if, like me, you have no instincts for B&W.

If this was an old style car the scene would be perfect. As it is, it's still an interesting one. What you don't see is the driver using his Bluetooth earpiece to talk on the phone.

This following picture requires no comments.

And now for a burst of color to bring you all back to the future.

Some more pics, including some in the original color, at:

San Francisco B&W Cruise
Aug 19, 2006 - 13 Photos

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Swedish Grand Hotels.
June 19th

To get to the city of Lund in Sweden you fly to Denmark. Yes, Denmark. While there's a sea separating the two countries, it's still the best way to go. You land in Copenhagen, board the airport train, watch the view as the train gets on the 16km bridge that crosses the sea and 30 minutes later you're in Lund. Welcome.

A quick Internet search about the bridge shows it's a bridge-tunnel combination. The bridge dives under water at a certain point to leave space for ships to pass. I don't remember that, but then I was probably in travel-stupor, a state similar to the hibernation of laptops when they're not needed. Or maybe after the first kilometer of sea I decided it all looks the same and went back to reading my book.

Lund is a university town with lots of students, some industry and not much else. We did a quick tour of the town center, some restaurants and shops, and a quick jaunt through the old city - the city is almost 1000 years old. But since my brain was still in travel stupor and my camera was at the hotel, you'll have to go there yourselves to see it.

We were booked at the Grand Hotel, a fancy old hotel from 1899. The building is shaped like a castle with minarets and towers rising up. Some of my colleagues had round rooms since they were located inside the tower. When I checked in, I got "upgraded". You don't say "no" to an upgrade, but sometimes you should check the small print. The upgraded room is indeed bigger, and also includes a sort of terrace. I was level with the top of the towers and so when my stupor finally wore off I was able to get a few nice pictures of Lund-skyline-at-sunnet.

What they don't tell you is that while your room is number 505, the elevator only reaches the 4th floor. And oh yes - the stairs climbing up to room 505 were built to allow archers to quickly climb to their firing holes at the top of the castle while not taking up any space from the actual building fortifications. It was amazing that my suitcase fit the stairs. Of course it's not a real castle so I'm not sure what they were thinking.

But I was lucky! After climbing those stairs, I found out that people staying in 515 had another floor to climb. I guess I was only partially "upgraded" :)

The other interesting thing about the hotel was the mattresses. A poll at breakfast showed that all of us had the same mattress type. Apparently purchased in 1899 as well, the mattresses at the Grand Hotel have a tendency to sag in the middle. You lie on them and your head and toes are suddenly a few heads and toes higher than your middle. Quite an interesting position to sleep in. Add to that a slight list to port (my apologies for the nautical term but it seems appropriate for someone trying to navigate the deep waters of sleep in a foreign country) and you get the added risk of falling out of bed at night.

Lying there, I noticed that the bed stand had a sharp corner that is "optimally positioned" to catch my head if I fall off. I pushed it away, just in case. In the morning, we heard someone from a different breakfast table telling his friends how he fell off. Maybe it's time for the Grand hotel to open up donate to the historical mattress museum and get some new stock.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Seattle's Best. Story.
August 8th

I still have a few pictures from my European trip, but for now, here's a quick entry about Seattle. I was there for 1.5 days (yes - shorter than my London to Tel Aviv trip) but it was enough to go to a conference and take a few quick pictures.

Seattle is well known for a few things:
  • Rainiest city in the US (if I remember correctly)
  • Grunge music
  • Microsoft. Ok, so it's in Redmond and not in Seattle but Google maps claims it's only 16 miles; yes - GOOGLE maps
  • For giving Starbucks to (or inflicting it on, depending on where you're coming from) the world. Some people (I'm trYing hArd to not namE names in this bLog) claim their coffee just sucks. For me personally, when I was still drinking coffee, Starbucks was a blessing. It saved me from having to sample that thing Americans (and I heartily apologize to my American readers but it's time someone told you this) call "coffee". Taking what's left of the coffee once a good espresso is made with it, freeze-drying it and selling it in cans labeled "gourmet coffee" doesn't make it so. Running hot water through it just gets you sludge. Really.
But a fact known to only a select few, mostly management book aficionados and all tourist who get to Seattle, is the Pike Place Fish Market. I heard about this place reading Fish Tales. In this book the author comes across the market while on her lunch break. One of the people working at the market, playing the mysterious knowledgeable stranger, mentors her in how to run teams in an office environment. Apparently it's very similar to running a fish stall.
Assuming he's real and not some fictitious character, and assuming he was at the market the day I was there, I'd say it's this guy. You be the judge if he can be a mentor or not.

The fish stall is located at the tourist-ridden but fun Pike Place Market. The stall seems to be always surrounded by a lot of people waiting for something to happen.

To give you a feel for what is sold at the stall, look at the following picture. Here is Mentor giving a girl a fish to hold.

She must be writing a script for a movie called Bigger Fish. It's a management movie.

The place is famous for their team work. From time to time, someone shouts, then a fish comes flying at the guy in the center of the stall. The guy always, ALWAYS, snatches the slippery fish from the air. I'm basing this on a statistical study of the 3 times I've seen it done.

The flying fish moves pretty, fast. Here's a picture of a fish flying:

Did you see that? Yes - it moves fast and is smeared across the picture.

Ok ok. So it's a very small fish they throw. But the ceremony around it is fun. Someone yells, the guy pops his head up, then catches the fish as it comes flying towards him. Here's the whole scenario. For extra credit, find the flying fish in the picture:

The answer is in the online album linked at the bottom of this entry.

I got a few more nice pictures there. One of the ones I like was of a bunch of chilly peppers hanging near a vegetable stall.

Another I really liked is the Green Tortoise Hostel. I'm not sure why - something about the combination of the name and the old brick building surrounded by modern concrete structures. It's a great name - a great title. I only need to figure out what the blog entry would be.

You can see the rest of the pictures at

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Northern Italy - Ivrea / Torino / Milano Whirlwind Tour
June 16-18 2006
Day 1 - Ivrea
Ivrea sits on a river in north western Italy, roughly where the alps start gaining altitude in their rush towards Switzerland. Had you opened up google maps a couple of months ago and asked for a view of Europe, you'd have discovered a very interesting fact. The only area that had roads was around Torino. Nowadays, a whole month later, there are roads all over Europe. There are two commonly held theories about this:
  • Europe is coming out of the middle ages very very quickly. After a quick pilot of roads in northern Italy, they decided to go and buy the premium package, complete with highways, traffic jams and everything else you need to compete in this modern world.
  • The other theory is that google originally only had maps for people going to the olympics. Where else would Americans who use google go in those far away lands where strange people speak even stranger languages and don't understand proper English? Apparently the business case for mapping the rest of Europe finally went through, or else some engineer in google spent his or her 20% work-on-your-own-project-idea time to draw roads across the rest of Europe and voila! Instant maps.
In any case, we spent the first couple of nights walking around Ivrea itself. The center of town has some very old buildings, this being a historical pilgrimage site for people on their way from Canterbury to Rome. The river is filled with the descendants of the historical mosquitoes that used to make pilgrimage to the pilgrims and you can get your own authentic mosquito bite or maybe two or maybe 50 unless you brought some repellent with you.

Of the three cities we managed to see, this one had the best atmosphere, possibly because it's less of a tourist destination. A nice promenade with some restaurants and stores was mostly filled with locals on Thursday night, though on Friday it was suspiciosly empty and we couldn't figure out if everyone's at home or if they all went out to Torino.

Looking at one of the stores, we noticed this guard-cat keeping an eye on the scary knife store.

Day 2 - Torino
Torino lies south of Ivrea, about a 2 hours train ride away. When we exited the train into Torino's center, we found out it was international Vespa day there.

There were Vespas of all sizes and colors, including this RGB set. By mixing these three Vespas you can get a Vespa of any other color:

The main gathering was in the square in front of Torino's royal palace. Torino was the first capital of modern Italy when the Savoys became kings of Italy. Here you can see examples of historical modes of transportation, as well as a man on a horse for contrast:

Torino is famous for its cloisters, the covered area of stores that the king built so that he can walk around without getting rained on. The arches of the cloisters influence the whole city's architecture and I had fun catching different arches throughout.

There's more in the web album for this trip linked at the bottom of this entry.

Day 3 - Milano

On day 3, we took the train to Milano. I decided to only carry one of the guidebooks we had with us and so selected the big one focusing on northern Italy only. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
On the train, I opened up the guide and went through the Milano section. The guide I usually prefer is the Lonely Planet and I know which section to look for and what to read. I also like the way they make the place you're going to sound colorful and exciting. The guide we actually had was a little different. It talked about the main square in Milano and the different buildings around it. From it, we learned about the Duomo, one of the largest churches in Europe.
(unfortunately it is being restored, hence the big advertisement at the front)

Since Milano was where the Roman Emperor finally converted to Catholicism, the city was a center for Christianity for a long time. The Duomo is an impressive building, decorated with statues and gargoyles (I'm sure there's a scientific name) all around, while inside it's a huge open space with pictures hanging from the ceiling, colored-glass windows and benches for the congregation.

A pretty big area for lighting candles is also provided.

After describing the church and all its art pieces, the guidebook goes on to talk about the outside stairs (lots of them) that let you climb up to the top of the church and walk along an extremely well statued roof to see the city from high up.
I also found these 3 holy man waiting to catch a ride on the crane up there:

Then the guidebook went on to talk about all the building around that main square in Milano. For the museum and the old palace, it went into details about each room and which art pieces can be found there, including a floor map. Then it extended to the rest of Milano, talking about other buildings, statues, pictures, floor plans for museums, etc.
Then it talked about art some more. Then it went on to talk about art in the next town.

I was very disappointed. No color, no excitement, no pizzazz. I couldn't figure out why Milano was so boring the book had nothing else to talk about. In fact, it turns out all of Northern Italy is full of art and nothing else. Closing the book, I looked at the cover again. It was the, yes, you guessed it, guidebook for fine art of Northern Italy. :( The fun stuff stayed at the hotel, waiting for us to return.
Lesson of the day: READ the guide before going there. Not because of where you're going, just to make sure you've got the right guide with you.

We walked around Milano for a few hours. It's a beautiful city with lots of art to see :)
On the way, we came to an antique market that had various pieces for sale. One of the stalls had a set of interesting artifacts, including a book in a language I've not seen before. The african-NOT-american (african-italian? african-milanoan?) quickly came over to explain that it's written in Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. I asked if it's from right-to-left and he said yes, it's like Hebrew. And I said yes, I know Hebrew. And he switched to Hebrew and said - are you from Israel? And we had a great old time talking about how he was part of the 10 lost tribes, specifically the one that ended up in Ethiopia; How he came to Israel for a few years; How eventually he moved to Italy. Not really African-anything after all :)

You can see the some more pictures from all 3 days at

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