Homer's Travels: June 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


This year we seem to have a lot of critters in our backyard.  We have an infernal rabbit who munches on many of our plants.  We have turtle doves, or something similar, nesting in our evergreen - two small white eggs.  We have robins under our deck - two baby birds.

We also have chipmunks.  The wife named it Charlie but, after seeing a smaller one (Buddy Jr.) roaming around the yard, we decided that Charlie was probably Charlene.  I found their hole a week or so ago and by a weird coincidence ... well, you'll just have to look at the picture:

The wife caught Buddy Jr. staring at her.  He kind of looked like this:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I Did Not Know That

When I was at the camera store, the guy asked me if I formatted my cards.  I told him I formatted them in the camera before I first used them.  He then asked me if I formatted after each download.  The question caught me by surprise as I'd never heard that you should reformat after each download.  Frankly I thought he was a little crazy but I googled around a bit and it seems that people recommend you reformat "regularly", whatever that means.

So, After my little vacation photo disaster, I think I will start following the camera store guy's advice and start reformatting the card after each download.  I don't think it can hurt and, who knows, it may prevent future photo disasters.

Monday, June 28, 2010

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Vacation Posts To Bring You ...

I was planning to post my second installment of our Jordan vacation but I am altering my plans based on what happen this weekend.  What happened?  A lot but only a small bit concerns my vacation posting.  I think I'll tell you about a pretty enjoyable weekend with family.

On Friday we rented an SUV (a Ford Exploder) to drive to Minnesota.  We went there so that the Wife could attend a wedding shower and we could pick up a grandfather clock that the Wife had inherited from her Aunt D - hence the need for an SUV with a large cargo space.  I want to state right now that I like the environment and, while not a loony tree hugger, I try to take environmentally friendly steps in my day to day life and, frankly, driving the SUV made me feel a little dirty.

We arrived at the Matron of Honor (MoH) and Best Man's (BM) place just in time to get rained on.  We exchanged hellos and started talking about our Jordan vacation when the storm stepped up a notch, began hailing, and the sirens started going off.  The rest of the Jordan story was told huddled in the master bathroom until the weather calmed down a bit.

On Saturday we were joined by the Altar Boy (AB), his Wife (ABW), their unborn bundle of joy (no name publicly shared ... yet), and the GodSon (GS) (who may have to be re-pseudonymed to GodFather later this year once the AB's child is born).  The Wife, MoH, and ABW left for the shower being held for the GodSon's fiancée.  The GodSon's fiancée has told me that she doesn't read blogs so I'm free to say anything I want about her (I had an evil look as I typed this line but now I realize I really don't have anything bad to say about her - the GodSon got himself a winner).  The BM, GS, AB, and I went out to do our own form of geek shower by going to Dave & Buster's to play arcade games (mostly racing which, I discovered, I suck at), followed by a camera store, and Best Buy.  The trip to Best Buy was to look at the iPad.  I think I'll wait for the larger version, the Max-iPad.

We all returned to the BM/MoH's place at about the same time.  We were joined by the GodSon's fiancée and we all got to look at the loot she (they, actually) got at the shower.  We watched videos of Aunt D, talked about politics, talked about family, guessed baby names and birth dates, ate, drank, and were generally merry.  It's always fun when the family gets together.  The only downer was I downed a whole bowl of dark chocolate M&Ms - a self inflicted pain ... in the stomach.

Sunday started off with finding out that the Wife had left her purse at the shower.  This must be a purse weekend as the GS's fiancée forgot her purse in a public restroom before the shower.  We got directions to the house, said our goodbyes, and headed out.  On the way I decided to stop and say hello to the pleasant police officer.  I'd invited her over by doing 45 in a 30 zone.  She was nice and let me go with a warning.

We picked up the Wife's purse and then went to her cousin's place to pick up the grandfather clock.  As we left with the clock we thought we might go insane as the clock chimes ching-chinged constantly from the road vibration.  It turned out that ching-ching is much better than rattle-rattle and squeak-squeak.  As a matter of fact, when we turned the radio on, we were surprised to find the ching-ching seemed to fit amazingly well with the classic rock we were listening to.

We stopped at the lake to say hi to the In-Laws and to make some measurements for the boat parade next week (The theme is Pirates).

We got home after six and the day felt like it would go on forever.  It felt like the longest driving day ever ... not sure why.  Of course it might have been the fact that I never went over the speed limit ... well, not over by much that is.

What does any of this have to do with delaying my Jordan posts?  The trip to the camera store with the guys  is why I'm postponing my Jordan posts.  While there I discovered it would cost only $20.00 (plus costs of DVDs) to have them recover my Jordan pictures.  While I'm not 100% optimistic, I still have hope so I will hold off posting until I find out the results.  Hopefully I'll hear something later this week.  Fingers are crossed.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

2010 Vacation: Jordan - Day Zero - Getting There

Day zero ... actually two days, Saturday and Sunday ... was travel day.  We had a flight scheduled to leave in the late afternoon and we were at the airport the requested two hours before our flight time.  When we checked in we discovered that the flight was delayed.  Instead of 4:55 PM our departure was tentatively scheduled for around 8:00 PM.  This was a little distressing as our layover in Chicago was only two and a half hours and a three hour delay guaranteed us missing our Royal Jordanian flight.

We went through security and headed for our gate and waited.  I couldn't sit much so I had some dinner (a BBQ pork sandwich - the last pork I would eat before returning home) and stocked up in bottled water (four bottles - the first water related mistake of many on this trip).

At time went by the news got better as the estimated time of departure slowly creeped earlier.  We boarded our plane at 6:45 PM and our flight made record time arriving at 8:00 PM - an hour before our connecting flight was scheduled to depart.  We hopped on the train and went to the international terminal where we discovered that we had to go through security once again.  Four unopened bottles of water and an unopened bottle of Diet Dew, all bought at inflated airport prices, pulled from our bags and dumped into the trash.

We hurried to our connecting gate, buying more expensive airport water along the way, arriving as they were boarding the flight.  The flight ended up leaving an hour late.  To our relief, we'd had plenty of time.

Our seats turned out to be in the center row, not the best for a 12 hour flight.  Looking around It felt odd being the only Caucasian-Americans.  Everyone else were middle eastern or Arab-American.  Our row mate to my left was a Kurdish gentleman with family in Syria.  He worked for the U.S. Customs office in San Diego.  I have met a few middle eastern people and they all tend to be talkative and very social and our seat mate did not disappoint.  Actually he talked a little too much for my taste.  I was a little relieved, after taking off and pulling out our books and magazines, that he left us to our reading.

Actually very little reading was done.  Probably less than a half hour into the flight the Wife and I both closed our eyes and tried our best to sleep.  I never sleep well on planes but I managed to get some sleep, a fact confirmed by our Kurdish friend when he informed me that I snore.

Twelve hours later we arrived in Amman, Jordan.  I hadn't moved from my seat.  Didn't even need to use the facilities.  So much for that concern.  We got off the plane and were met by a gentleman from the tour agency holding a sign with our name on it - a first for me I think.  We grabbed our bags and headed for immigration.  Our passports and 20 JD ($28.24)  were handed over and he ran off. Before you could ask "where did he go", he was back with our passports with visas stamped inside.  He took us to a private car that took us to our hotel.

At the hotel things got a little weird.  We expected to have our hello - hi there dinner but were told we were on our own and that we would meet our fellow tour mates in the morning.  It kind of felt like we were being dumped off.  It would become obvious the next day why we didn't have the dinner.

We ended up eating alone in the hotel restaurant (Dinners were included with our tour).  The food, a buffet, was a lot of lamb, beef, and chicken along with a lot of stuff I didn't recognize.  It was spiced a little different from what I'm used to - spiced taste not spiced hot.  It was okay and my worries about food were eased a bit.  This first night I skipped the dessert table, an oversight that I corrected on subsequent meals.

We spent the rest of the night in our room checking out the satellite TV (i.e World Cup Futball).  Not the most imaginative way to spend our time but our hotel was not really in a very walkable area and we were a little unsure about what was prudent.  Looking out our window we could see a lot of new construction and at least one of the ubiquitous Mosques (The dark dome is just left of center and the minarets are near the center of the panorama below but are hard to see.)

Hotel View Panorama.
Some observations mostly from the drive to the hotel from the airport:
  • Amman is a rather monochrome city.  All of the buildings are roughly the same color - a sandy beige to pale sandy rose.  Very few buildings are painted.
  • Most housing is multistory apartment/condos.  The buildings are boxy, with regularly space windows, stark, and utilitarian.  I saw very little exterior decoration of residential buildings.  I can only assume that most decoration is on the inside.
  • While there are camels, donkeys are more common.
  • I would not like to drive in Amman where you have to be pretty aggressive to get about.
  • On the plane, between movies, they showed a map showing the progress of the plane.  One of the alternating maps was a compass rose indicating the direction of Mecca.

Monday, June 21, 2010

2010 Vacation: Jordan - Recovery

We got back home late last night from vacation.  Jordan was great and I will post about it over the next three or six weeks.  Today, Monday, was reserved for recovery.

In the case of this vacation, recovery pertains to two different issues.  The first is the one familiar to almost anyone who has taken a vacation - you often need a vacation to recover from the vacation.  Jordan was no different.  For me this recovery is more difficult than usual because of the eight hour time difference and the resulting jet lag that I have never experienced to this magnitude.  I think I am recovering better than I expected but I still feel like I'm in a fog.  I'm sure it will take a day or two to get everything back on rhythm.

The second issue that I'm recovering from was unexpected and very disappointing and ate up most of my day.  I took some 636 pictures in the six days we were in Jordan.  When I got back I discovered that 284 of these were corrupt and unviewable.  Yep, 44% of my pictures went *poof* into the ether.  Now, I suspected that something was wrong when I was taking pictures, and I'll talk about it in future posts, so I wasn't totally surprised today but I did have some hope that I was wrong.  I wasn't.  The files are corrupt.  Damn.

I spent most of the day downloading photo/file recovery programs in the futile attempt to recover some of the lost pictures.  Fortunately most of the programs are free to try out (you only have to pay to save the files) so when they didn't work I was out nothing.  I tried out three and had the same results.  The files are of varying sizes and appear 'normal' but they are not recognized as an image.  I suspect that the problem is with the memory card I was using.  If any of you have any suggestions for a utility/program that may help me recover my pictures, please share in the comments.

To top it off when I plugged the card into the computer to copy off the files, my virus scanner lit up like a Christmas tree.  After I first suspected a problem, I'd gone down to the hotel business center to see if I could view my pictures (I couldn't - no RAW viewer).  Apparently I infected the camera card and my USB thumbdrive with four viruses/trojans.  Fortunately my virus scanner caught them and disposed of them for me.

As I said, I will post more over the next few weeks.  For now I'll say that I had an awesome time, experienced a lot of firsts, and saw a lot of interesting things.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup Memories

When I was a little kid in Guatemala I remember the 1974 World Cup.  Kids walked around with transistor radios stuck in their ears.  Our Phys. Ed. teacher, instead of making up do some sport or run laps or stuff like that, brought us all into his office to watch the soccer matches.  The office was in the schools swimming complex.  It was made of concrete block and was half buried in the ground.  It was always dark and damp.  I always thought it felt like a bunker.

The office wasn't that big so with all us kids in there it felt a little claustrophobic. made worse when they turned off the lights so we could better see the tiny little television screen.  I just remember sitting in the dark, uncomfortable, and bored out of my skull.

I'm not much of a sports fan and soccer (futball) never was an interest, so I don't know why this memory has survived the ravages of time so well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Anticipation ... Planning ... Worries ... Vacation Planning

Make a list.  Check it twice. That's what I've been doing for the past week or so.  Preparing for our Jordan trip.
  • Scan passports and copy them to a thumb drive.  Oh yeah and e-mail a copy to yourself just in case.
  • Frequent flier numbers.  Where are they?  Write them down and don't forget to apply them to the tickets at check-in.
  • Turn off half.com and amazon seller accounts.  Can't fill them orders when you are out of the country.
  • Hold the mail.  The snail mail, that is.
  • Can I trust the foreign computers?  Copy Portable Chrome and KeePass to the thumb drive as well ... oh and an antivirus thingamajig too.
  • Replace the camera screen protector.  The old one has started to curl.
  • Charge the camera batteries ... both of them.
  • Are there any geocaches in Jordan?  38?!?  Copy them to the GPS.  Oh yeah, batteries for the GPS - pack 'em.
  • Send the itinerary to the families.  Don't forget the emergency number.
  • Speaking of numbers, what are the lost credit card phone numbers?  (Hope I don't need them.)
  • Call the credit card companies and tell them I'm traveling.  This always reduces the amount of hassle when using the card overseas.
  • Do I need a packing list?  Damn, I don't have one yet.  What's taking me so long?
  • Jordanian Dinars ( $1.00 = 0.7077 JD) to buy the visa with.
  • US Dollars to buy the Wife's new Bedouin jewelry.  Do I have enough?
  • Who will water our plants?  Oh yeah, that's taken care of.
  • How do we get to the airport?  Right, that's taken care of as well.
  • What am I missing?  So much,  I'm sure.
That's what my mind has been going through.  Too many nit picking little details that have to be taken care of before we leave.  Obfuscating all of these preparation ruminations are the niggling worries that are spinning in my head.
  • Will I like the food?  Fear of food has been a lifelong companion and the food of other cultures ... *shiver*
  • Will I forget something important in all the chaos?  I have to remember to consult the list.
  • Will I be able to sleep on the airplane?  We have thirteen and a half hours of flight time and I need to sleep.  I don't sleep very well on planes.  I don't want to be a zombie on the first day of the tour.
  • I hate airplane bathrooms.  Silly, I know.  I think I've used bathrooms on airplanes three or four times in my 46 years of life.  I hate interrupting the person beside me to get out.
  • Will I be overwhelmed by the exotic nature of it all?  The strange language?  The strange customs?  Okay, I doubt this will be a problem but ...
  • Will I accidentally eat with my left hand?  The left hand is considered unclean to Muslims and using it to eat or to hand something to someone is offensive to Islam.  I am right handed and it shouldn't be a problem but ... one careless moment is all it takes for awkward to make its appearance.
  • Will I sweat my guts out (90+ everyday).
All of these plans and worries will soon fade away, forced aside by all the cool stuff and new experiences.  Jordan, for a Muslim country, is pretty liberal and we will probably be prepared well by our tour guides.  Our Peru vacation was similar ... except I knew the language.

I am soooo ready ... I think.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

What Is That Noise!?!

A thunderstorm rolled through early this morning.  I mean really early.  I was sleeping quite soundly when there was a really loud clap of thunder followed by a high pitch, tooth rattling alarm.  I was out of bed heading for the weather radio figuring it was a tornado warning or something when the Wife said "It's the smoke alarm."  Ten seconds or less later the alarm stopped.  No fire.  No tornado.  Just a large clap of thunder.

I got back in bed and speculated out loud that smoke detectors use ionization and maybe a close lightning strike could interfere with the detector.  Not sure when our smoke detectors became lightning detectors but at least I now know that the alarms will wake me up in an emergency.

This morning when I got up I looked around the house - everything was in order - and I looked outside to see if lightning had struck the dead tree behind our house - no.

Talking with the Wife later this morning, she says : "Don't talk to me about ionization in the middle of the night again."  She's not an engineer.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Illinois Central Swing Bridge - Best In Black & White

I took my first walk since the Steamboat Trace hike today.  I decided to keep it local and short, crossing the pedestrian bridge into Iowa and going north on the Iowa Riverfront Trail.  My goal was an old train swing bridge  crossing the Missouri River and a nearby geocache which would result in a 5.22 mile round trip walk.

The weather was nice for a walk but it was a bit hot and there wan't any shade along this bike/hike trail.  I reached the geocache first and located R.R. over the Mo. with little difficulty.

After signing the cache log and dropping of the geocoin I'd picked up on the Steamboat trace I headed for the swing bridge.  I was expected to run into a fence and/or No Trespass signs but to my surprise you could walk right up to the bridge.  The bridge is in two parts.  The Nebraska side is fixed and extends just over half way across the river.  The other part is pivoted so that it is parallel to the Iowa side of the river.

Nebraska side of the swing bridge.
I started taking pictures but ran into problems because the bridge was so big it was hard to take it all in.  I tried to make a mosaic but the final result was not satisfactory.  I decide to take closeups of the mechanisms instead.  As I was processing the raw images I found myself converting most of the pictures to black & white. Black & white brings something out of old structures and give them depth and interest.

Bridge Gear.
I could have climbed up the bridge if I'd wanted to.  There was a metal frame someone had leaned against the stone bridge pedestal that could have been used as a makeshift ladder.  As I contemplated this I realized it would be easier to climb up than climb down so I kept my feet planted firmly on the sandy beach under the bridge.

The wheels of the bridge go round and round ...
I'll have to come back, possibly on the Nebraska side to see if I can get more pictures of this fascinating  100+ year old bridge.   The rest of the pictures can be found here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Why Are You Giving Me The Bird?

Last week we received our Jordan tour package from our tour group.  It reminded me that we are leaving the country in less than two weeks, something I'd almost forgotten ... out of sight, out of mind.

The Wife and I are really looking forward to this trip.  I'm going to experience several firsts.  First trip over the Atlantic (The Wife has been to Europe several times).  Longest air flight - 12 hours non-stop from Chicago to Amman.  First country with a non-Latin/non-English language and a non-English alphabet (All my travels have been either English or Spanish speaking countries).  First non-Christian country - I'm not religious but it will be outside my normal experience.  I'm sure there will be several more firsts before this vacation is over.

I think the language will be the toughest.  I'm used to being able to read signs and stuff.  The tour package has a couple of pages of useful words and phrases as well as pronunciation aids.  I like one line:
"As for the stress pattern, a good rule of thumb is to place stress exactly where you would not expect to in English."
That  clears things up, doesn't it?

Another good example is with the words Hamam and Hammam.  They look similar but one will get you a pigeon and the other will get you a bathroom.  I will have to be careful.