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Archive for August, 2010

A place you probably don’t want to visit Aug 30

And Sumatra is such a beautiful country, too. Land of green countryside, lovely beaches, exotic people, extinct volcanoes—oops. Maybe not so extinct. To everyone’s surprise, Mt. Sinabung erupted yesterday. Two minutes past midnight. One person dies of a heart attack, another suffocated in the smoke. Everybody else evacuated the slopes, which had been pretty friendly since the year Tycho Brahe & Johannes Kepler met for the first time (that was 1600, in case you didn’t know). 410 years is a long time for a volcano not to erupt, then change its mind.

Doesn't look too violent, but you don't want to be in that smoke

Thousands have evacuated, and agencies are bring in rice and face masks. Unless you’re a relief worker, you should probably not get in the way.

I’ll pick a nice volcano for the next post.

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How about China? Aug 27

China likes American Dollars, so the place is getting easier to visit. When you get there, you have lots of choices to choose from. Here’s one I recommend.

In the center of China, back in the 300′s AD, the back wall of a cave high in a mountain collapsed, leaving an arch. They call it the gate of heaven (Don’t google ‘gate of heaven’—you’ll get a lot of church buildings. Google “tianmenshah’ instead.). It’s hard to find a good picture of it—if you step back to get the surrounding mountain, it looks small. If you get close to see how big it is, you can’t see the mountain. It has a road leading up to it. You can take a bus, or ride a cable car. But everybody has to walk the steps at the very top. The view, I’m told, is worth it. Here’s a shot from a distance:

It's that little white spot near the top.

Not very good, but that’s okay. Because here’s a link to a powerpoint presentation with some pretty impressive pictures. It’s definitely worth the look. At the end of the presentation is another link to a youtube video of airplanes flying through it.

My thanks to a friend in my motorcycle club for sending me this link. I think he wants to ride his bike up the road.

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Yet another place you might or might not want to visit Aug 25

This country has some of the most beautiful, wild places on the planet, and it has a horrible history, and it hosts the location of an extremely dangerous event that hasn’t happened yet. Rwanda, central Africa. Pronounced roo-wanda.

The country experienced some horrible genocide back in the mid 90′s, but that’s over now, and the tourist industry is justifiably growing by leaps and bounds. For the adventuresome.

Normal adventurers

This is the place to go to see gorillas, hippos (the largest hippo-oriented national park in the world), volcanoes (see a couple posts back about a trip to a volcano in nearby Congo), jungle, elephants, and more. Not to mention local culture and art.

Typical art, typical smile.

Almost ready to call your Serenity agent, right? Maybe not a bad idea, but there’s this one lake you might want to stay away from. Lake Kivu.

Looks innocent, doesn't it?

This lake is dangerous. Here’s a quote from a limnologist (lake scientist)

Lake Kivu is a meromictic lake with a relatively shallow euphotic layer (~18m) usually smaller than its oxic mixolimnion (20-60 m), and with a weak thermal gradient in the mixolimnion.

There’s more where that came from, but what’s going on is that this lake has a lot of dissolved carbon dioxide and methane in it, and tons and tons of these gasses are trapped down at the bottom of the lake. Something might make all that gas escape, all at once. The valley would fill with unbreathable gas, and everybody would suffocate. Maybe in their sleep. You might have heard of another lake that experienced a limnic eruption, killing a couple thousand people. This lake is 2,000 times larger and the area is more densely populated. ‘Nuff said.

On the optimistic side, scientists are working at extracting the methane peacefully and converting it into electricity. It could supply power to the region for a century. I’d rather have that happen.

Have you ever been to Rwanda? We’d like to hear about it.

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Proof that vacations are good for you Aug 23

This is going to sound corny, but a bunch of scientists went on a vacation to study the effects of the vacation on their brains. They wanted to study what would happen to their brains if they disconnected themselves from everything electronic—cell phones, the internet, computers, everything. One even forgot to put on his watch. Here they are. They look like normal humans, don’t they?

My thanks to Chang W. Lee of The New York Times for the photo

Guess what? They relaxed. They found out that with fewer distractions, their ability to concentrate improved.

Time seemed to slow down for them. They experienced what they called “the third day syndrome” when the exact time didn’t seem to matter any more. Hence forgetting to put on the watch.

They talked about how they were thinking and feeling. One thing they mentioned was a study done in Michigan that showed that taking a walk in the woods improves your ability to learn. (I already knew this—another book I read recently said that it’s because of chemicals given off by the trees and fungi.)

They decided that their senses were changing—getting sharper. They were noticing more things around them; they were becoming connected to their surroundings.

Apparently the experience improved their ability to be creative. Several came up with new approaches to projects they were working on.

They all ended up in slightly better shape, and I’ll bet they were closer friends when the trip was over.

So there you have it—scientific proof that you benefit from taking a vacation. Go do it. Now, before something distracts you.

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another comic-related vacation Aug 21

Hey, some people watch TV, I read the funnies. (Takes less time to read the funnies, so I have more time to do useful things, like write this blog.)

So anyway, one strip I read is called Rip Haywire (google it). It’s a lighthearted parody of an adventure comic, like Steve Canyon and Buzz Sawyer back when I was a kid. The art is not nearly as good, but then, Rip is not serious, either. A new story arc started on Aug 16, set “somewhere off the coast of Kaua’i Island.”

Kaua’i happens to be a real place, so let’s take a look at it.

Kaua’i is a little more than 500 miles square; it’s pretty much a big, dormant volcano, the northernmost island in Hawaii.  Still tropical, but everybody speaks English and you don’t need a passport. And they do dumb American things, like pie-eating contests. Coconut cream pie, of course. They call it the garden island, and it’s certainly green. Maybe the island is most famous for being the location of another dumb thing, Gilligan’s island—the pilot, anyway.

The cast

More than 70 other movies were shot there, too. Okay, maybe it’s more famous for Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jurassic Park movies. It really is a gorgeous place. And since we raise chickens, I have to mention that the island has lots of wild chickens.

This is about how many adult chicken we have at our place. Ours are pets that give us eggs; these are wild.

It’s easy to get your Serenity agent to fix you up with a nice vacation there. Maybe you’ll see Rip’s flame-throwing squid.

PS. Wouldn’t you know it—a day or so after I wrote this, National Geographic revealed their photo of the month. It’s a wave on the shore of Kawai’i.

click to enlarge

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