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December 2010 Archives
From the "I wish someone had told me this before we left" file. While you're on the road, your computer will crash. Someday I'll tell the epic farce that has been my interaction with ASUS tech support, but suffice it to say that I left them with a computer that booted into Windows, and they gave me back one that blue-screens. Reinstalling Windows looks to be the only solution.
I can back up the data, but reinstalling Windows will delete all of our installed programs. We don't have that many that we use regularly, given that most of our computing is in the cloud these days. But it's hard to collaborate with anyone without Microsoft Windows , and I keep track of finances on Quicken.  I won't be able to get those back. The disks are... well, somewhere in Texas or New York, who can tell?
So here's my advice, if you're taking a long term trip and leaving key software behind: copy the disks (or ISOs) to a USB key, and bring a file with the relevant software keys (those lengthy strings of numbers and letters that you need to install the program). Because over a year, your computer will die, and you'll probably need them.
 Yes, there are alternatives like OpenOffice. I have it, and I like it. But many collaborators don't.
 Though it strikes me that I could start the new year with Mint and abandon Intuit forever.
I meet him on every continent, in every country. Hong Kong is no different.
Pallavi wanted to hit the 8th Annual Hong Kong Food Festival at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, but since that isn't really my cup of tea (or steamed dumpling, wine sample, fried won ton etc.), I ventured up a few escalators to Asia Game Show 2010. I'd never actually been to a games exhibition, and I don't think this was a great one. Sony dominated the event, taking up over half the floor space, mostly to advertise GT5 and the Playstation Move.  What wasn't taken up by Playstation had been taken over by cosplayers representing video game icons that I could not begin to identify.
Then he sauntered around the corner, and I almost didn't recognize him:
Behold MiniChe, stamped on just about every product from youth-oriented BSX. This cuddly little brand character, based on everybody's favorite executioner for the Castro regime, wandered the aisles waving at children, posing for cameras and stroking his cartoon stubble. His image could be purchased on hoodies, jeans, tote bags... just about anything. A plastic piggy bank was my favorite, as it allowed the hero of the revolution to be used to store up one's filthy lucre. I'll admit, I bought someone an impromptu late Christmas present.
 Basically Sony's answer to the Wii's motion controls.
I would like to apologize to readers who came to this site yesterday and saw a warning from Google stating that the site had been infected with malware. It seems that my webhost was hacked and our files altered. I'm not very happy with their solution to the problem (which has taken days and not really fixed the issue), but I have removed the offensive code by hand. Although I suspect that the warning will remain until Google reevaluates the site, I believe I have made the necessary repairs. If you discover otherwise, please comment or send me an email. And keep your antivirus up to date!
Update: Google's webmaster tools appear to be giving my sites a clean bill of health now, although the malware warnings may persist for a few days.
Update 2: One problem with trying to troubleshoot from this distance is that it's hard to identify problems. I'm getting a lot of 403 errors ("You do not have permission to access this site"), but it's difficult for me to tell whether this is because my host's servers are falling over as they try to remove traces of this hacking attack, because they have reset my file permissions, or because I am on a flaky connection in Jakarta. Is anyone else seeing this?
Starting on Wednesday we're in Hong Kong, a city that both of us have visited and another expensive destination. We're only there for a week, and we intend to spend a lot of time catching up on the blog and other items on the to-do list.
In the meantime, here's an word in favor of a handy travel app useful to anyone who takes a lot of trips: TripIt. The core concept is easy. Every time you book a hotel, flight, or other travel plan, forward the confirmation email to TripIt, and the application automatically compiles it into an itinerary.  Your flight times, record locator number, hotel address and phone, and other information are (mostly) automatically at your fingertips. If you don't get an email, you can add information the old-fashioned way: by hand.
While this system isn't foolproof -- we've had a few hotel reservations missing the hotel name -- it takes very little effort to correct any errors, and I've been surprised at how few there are to begin with. All in all, it's the easiest way to get all our plans in one place on the web. Typical of such systems, there are mobile apps that synchronize with your mobile for offline access.
There are many other bells and whistles (e.g., the ability to share trips with friends, keep track of frequent flier miles, and a map showing your travels) but TripIt's ability to keep track of our schedule with a minimum of fuss is what has turned it into an indispensible tool in our kit.
 You can even give TripIt access to your Gmail so that it scans for travel plans automatically. That said, I'm not comfortable giving anyone that much access to my email.
The process by which we generated Pallavi's last post left me briefly awed by the miracles, and apparent absurdity, of modern technology. Not that we did anything particularly special.
While she was drafting, Pallavi decided that it would be nice to post a picture along with her entry. She used my iPhone to snap the photo, and then the only question was how to get it to her computer so that she could add it to her entry.
Now that I give the matter considerably more thought than I did at the time, there were several ways we could have accomplished this: miniSD cards or a shared network, for example. But I chose the easiest and most thoughtless way, which actually involved a number of complex international transactions:
I transferred the image to my computer and attached it to an email. Because my SMTP server is based in England, this means that the image was probably uploaded to a machine outside Oxford.
It was then sent to Pallavi's Gmail address, to a server that may be located anywhere in the world. I'd guess that it was in the United States.
Pallavi then downloaded it from Gmail's far-flung servers to her machine, which I could have reached out and touched without stretching too hard.
In a real sense, the image had traveled much of the way across, if not around, the globe. In a practical sense, I had shifted it across the table.
I've done something like this hundreds of times. It only occurred to me now because I've been reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. These sort-of-sci-fi novels are perfect for a round-the-world trip: first, because their sheer length and complexity demand a significant amount of time to complete them; and second, because their scope spans decades and the entire breadth of the world.  Much of the plot revolves around problems in communication, and how events on the other side of the globe will eventually affect the flow of money within Europe when they become known. I realized that one character spends much of the second book, and a decade of his life, to go a distance around the world that is actually somewhat shorter than Pallavi's photograph took this morning.
As I said, I've done something like this a hundred times, and it no longer seems magical. That alone is worth noting.
 It should also be noted that while these are historical novels, Stephenson does not always get his history precisely correct. For instance, there is a point where a Japanese character relates the story of how Dutch were allowed to trade in Nagasaki that gets certain historical events a bit out of order. Of course, it could simply be that the character relating these events had his history, handed down to him by his father, somewhat misremembered.
After a quick flight from Jakarta to Bali, we spent a couple days at The Island hostel, then took a slightly hair-raising boat ride to Gili Trawangan, one of three tiny islands off the coast of Lombok. Here we've been reading novels, giving Tony time to recover from his chest infection/cold, and contemplating the clear, warm waters as a good place for our next dive.
The view from the bar at Hotel Vila Ombak, where we've gotten our first cocktails on this island that taste like they have alcohol. Well-suggested, John.
In New Zealand, we learned a new word for our kind of traveller: flashpacker . I'm not sure that it's an entirely complimentary term: "flash" can be somewhat derogatory in British slang. But the general idea seems to be that flashpackers are long-term travellers with a slightly higher budget (and often a few more grey hairs) than backpackers.
That describes us pretty well. We stay in budget hotels and hostels, but we try to find private rooms. If we can, we get a private bath. We could probably get by paying considerably less for accomodation, but our budget allows for some comfort. We have a few gadgets with us, and in a pinch I could muster together a decent interview outfit. (Here's an entertainingly written blog on flashpacking, though I don't endorse everything in it.)
Then again, occasionally we'll splurge and go for something more than comfort, especially when a new experience is on offer. For our first two days in Indonesia, which I suspect will otherwise be filled with budget hotels and hostels, we luxuriated (surprisingly affordably) at the Dharmawangsa.
A bit more than a budget bed.
The three movies I watched in-flight from Sydney to Jakarta:
- Inception: I had high expectations for this film given its reviews, but it just didn't live up. The concept was good, but it felt like the writer was making up things halfway through just to maintain suspense, without worrying about consistency. Adding the concept of "limbo" forty-five minutes in just crushed my ability to believe in the storyline. Great CGI, and decent acting, but sci-fi is all about the idea for me.
- The Expendables: So full of action movie cliches that it somehow managed to invent new ones. That sentence doesn't make sense, but neither does the plot, dialogue, or characterization of this movie. Also, of all of these action film icons, how did they miss out Jessie Ventura (which would have made this the second film to have two American governors in it)? If you really want to punish yourself, watch it as part of a double-feature with the new A-Team.
- Tomorrow, When the War Began: Based on the first in a series of children's books, this is apparently Australia's answer to Red Dawn. Much like the American popcorn classic, the invading aggressors are a tactical and logistical mess, although instead of an identified red menace, Australia is partially conquered by an unnamed Asian "coalition" force. It makes for a fun romp if you don't think too hard.
I'm writing this from the Dharmawangsa Hotel in Jakarta, where we arrived last night after a 6-hour Qantas flight from Sydney. Tony will be posting more on this hotel, with pictures, but let me just say that this is by far the nicest place we have stayed on this trip -- without being the most expensive. If you want to party like a rockstar while on a symphony-violinist budget, Indonesia seems to be the place to do it, so long as you're not a rockstar who requires bacon in his Old Fashioned.
- The Magnum Temptation chocolate ice cream bar heavily promoted in Australia and New Zealand, including a commercial featuring Benecio del Toro, nearly lives up to the hype. They even figured out how to keep the brownie chunks from being too hard despite being in a frozen dessert. Go Unilever!
- Speaking of Unilever ice cream, the one "foodie" experience we had in Sydney was at the Food & Wine festival, where you buy tickets that entitle you to try some of the offerings from various restaurants and producers. The only free items I spotted were Ben & Jerry's and Yellowtail wine. In the entire time we spent in this region, I never saw a single drinks menu that featured either Yellowtail wine or Forster's beer. I suspect that whole "Australian for beer" slogan is a hoax perpetrated on the rest of the planet.