My commute

My commute these days is minimal. I wake up, cross the hall, sit down and get to work. I have had this commute for about a year on most days. Up until July 1, I had an office to go to in Hoofddorp, but that wasn’t a place I enjoyed going to so I tended to stay away as much as possible. Obviously when I had a class, I would go in but interest in training was dropping. Working from home is something that many people would die for, but I hate it.

I want to go somewhere. I want to see people. I want to shuffle through the crowds. Thats one of the many key factors involved in my upcoming move. My commute starting in 2 weeks is going to be great. On a good day, I’ll be able to wander up from my apartment near the Christian Science Center, through the Boston Common, to my office on Summer St in Boston. On a bad day I’ll take the T from Symphony. And I’ll be going to an office that I enjoy being in, with people I want to work around. I can’t wait.

But until then, and for the last few months, I have inserted a bit of a commute that I have come to love. I wander the streets of Amsterdam. Recently that commute involves a walk from my place near Jan Pieter Heijestraat up to Marnixstraat, zig-zagging through the canals to get to Lungoccino for a Lungoccino. Then through the Begijnhof for those late mornings. Up along the Kalverstraat and keep going to Centraal Station. Then take whichever ferry is leaving next. Then stay on the boat for the return and take the 1 tram home. Its a wonderful way to start the day and I may actually miss it.

Whats In The Bag

Every now and then I see one of those posts that shows what someone is carrying in their bag. I love those posts. I love seeing what people carry every day. I love comparing what they carry to what I carry every day. This is not one of those posts. This is the worst-case scenario, I don’t carry this every day. This is what I was carrying in my carry-on on a plane from San Antonio, Texas to where I live in Amsterdam. While the bulk of it was on a 777 from Chicago, the first few hours were on a Canadair jet which means I couldn’t carry any big bags for carry on, and yet this was all with me.

Whats In The Bag

So here is whats in the bag, this time:

Panasonic GH1 with Really Right Stuff L Bracket
Panasonic GH2 with Panasonic 20mm/1.7
Panasonic 14-40mm lens
Panasonic 7-14mm lens
Panasonic 100-300mm lens
Nikon 20mm/2.8 mounted on Novoflex Nikon to MFT adapter
Nikon 50mm/1.4 mounted on Lensbaby Tilt Adapter
Cokin Filter Holder and various filter step-up rings
3 Singh-Ray Graduated Filters
Singh-Ray Vari-ND, Singh-Ray Polarizer 
Hero GoPro HD with a few mounts
Really Right Stuff Rail and Panorama Head
Really Right Stuff BH-25
Extra GH1 battery (wish I could find the GH2 batteries)
2 96-LED lights
Zoom H1 Audio Recorder with Red Head Windscreen
Zoom H4n Audio Recorder with Red Head Windscreen
AudioTechnica Lavalier Microphone
Moleskine notebook
Gitzo 1541t Traveler Tripod
Manfrotto 428 Leveller
Weifang WF-717A Video Head
GorillaPod (the big one and the small one)
Pixel Intervalometer for GH1/2
Chargers for GH1 and GH2 batteries
3rd Gen Kindle
Akai LPD8
Akai LPK25 
Various drugs (all legal: Benadryl, Nytol, etc)
Various USB keys
15″ MacBook Pro
Mac SuperDrive DVD drive in external housing (since I have 2 internal drives)
2+ TB in various external drives
iPod Touch (used as remote for teleprompter for iPad, etc)
Zune 80 (since the iPod sucks for music)
HueyPro ColorMonitor
64G iPad
Various cables
Headphones (including DIY custom fit ear pieces) 
TideToGo cleaning stick

In case you are wondering, yes, this was way too heavy and yes, TSA made me take almost all of it out of my bags.

 

How Do I Decide Whether To Go Somewhere

Every now and then I am asked to go to places that are….um…questionable when it comes to safety and security. Or they are just countries I know nothing about. Some of those places I end up going to, others I have to decline the request. Thankfully my management understands that while I love traveling, there are some places that are too dangerous, and they trust my judgement. But even if I do decide to stay home for a good reason, I usually regret missing out on an adventure later on.

So how do I decide? Well, it all starts with a visit to two different websites:

  1. US State Department Travel Advisories – Choose the country in question from the drop down and read what they have to say. Now I realise that you have to read these carefully and not assume its all true. There is danger everywhere, even where I live in Amsterdam. If there is a single citizen killed in that country, there is risk of overemphasizing the risk here. But when they are full of doom and gloom, I have to pay attention.
  2. UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Travel Advice – This is pretty much the same information from a British perspective. Since I carry both a US and UK passport, I like to check both sites.

Sometimes one site says its a place to avoid, and the other says its fine. Other times they both agree. I use the info I find there to help me come up with a good decision.

One of the next steps that I take is to find out what airlines fly to the region. This is usually done with a search on Google for “What airlines fly to [city name here]”. If I see well known airlines listed, then I feel better. So I start looking to see how much the airfares cost. Again, all of these things add to my list of information to make a good decision.

After all those steps, I’ll search Flickr for photos of the region, as well as info from Google Maps. I’ll put a public query out on Twitter. All helping me understand the place.

I had to go through this process just today to decide whether or not to go to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. I am still not decided, but its not looking good. The sites up top had nothing good to say. In fact they warned of violent crimes and kidnappings where the weapon of choice is a machete. Having grown up in Miami, I know what a machete is and the damage that can be done with one. Twitter responses warned that its pretty dangerous. So I am pretty sure I won’t go, but I am still looking for more info to help me decide.

Another recent questionable place included Aksay, Kazakhstan. Both US State and UK FCO said to be alert but that they were mostly safe. A family friend said the capital was fine and could be fun since a friend of his lived there. Flickr didn’t make it look too nice, but I wasn’t going to let that dissuade me. It wasn’t until I got to the airline choices that I got worried. Getting to the capital, Astana, would be fine. But the flights to Aksay were only on airlines banned from European travel due to lack of safety records. Travel by train was measured in number of days. It was the travel options that made me think twice and eventually decline the invitation. I still think it was a good decision, though I do regret not going….would have been a great adventure.

There are plenty of other countries I go to that are questionable and I have had a great time in most of them. I think no matter where I go, there is a chance of coming to an untimely end. But I try to avoid throwing myself into really bad situations and the information I gather from resources like these help me find and avoid those bad situations.

I Now Live Just One Kilometer From A UNESCO World Heritage Site

 

About four years ago, I pointed to the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a way to pick some of the most amazing places to visit in the world. Back then I had visited 34 of the places on the list. I really should update that since I know I have seen a lot more in the last four years. And now I can add the fact that I live in the same town as one. In fact, I am just 1 Km away from it.

This past weekend, the Amsterdam city center was added to the list. Thats all the stuff inside the Singelgracht. Unfortunately, my apartment is just outside of that boundary. But my first apartment was inside…on the corner of Prinsengracht and Utrechtsestraat. If you aren’t sure where the Singelgracht is, I created this Google Map showing the border. Well, I did, then I realized that I didn’t know where the canal was either.

Its pretty exciting being this close to a UNESCO site. But I wonder what it means to those on the inside. Will property values go up? Will they try even harder to get rid of the last of the coffee shops and red light windows? Will the waiting list for a parking permit go above the current 7 year wait??? I wonder.

When Buying Global Tech, Warranty is King

In a couple months, I will be heading to Seattle for some internal meetings. I always love going back to Seattle since that’s where my parents live and I still have a bunch of friends in the area. Its also just a whole lot easier to do any technology-related shopping in the US than anywhere else in the world. Its easier and cheaper than anywhere in Europe because there are no decent gadget stores on this continent. While it might not be cheaper, its certainly easier in the US than anywhere in Hong Kong or Tokyo or anywhere else on the Asian continent. Brick and mortar stores like Frys and online retailers like NewEgg are non-existent outside of the US. So this means I need to plan out what I need to get while I am there.

Coming up with a plan for purchasing is not exactly easy. First, I am not made of money so I can’t just buy everything I see. Then I cannot buy anything big since I have to fly back. Plus anything that’s is very expensive is simply not worth buying outside of Europe. Although some might be scared of the customs officials catching them as they come in to the country, I am scared of additional costs of getting something repaired when it dies. If I save 100 euros getting a gadget in the US, but then have to pay 200 in shipping when it needs fixing, the savings is useless.

I found this out when I bought the Creative Zen Vision:M in Singapore. Within 10 days of returning home, the device was dead and needed repair. I had to ship the device at my own expense and deal with figuring out where to send it. The hassle ended up being such a pain that I decided its rarely worth buying expensive tech outside of my home region unless the tech comes with a world wide warranty.

That’s the main reason I travel with Swiss Army brand luggage. It’s the only suitcase I know of with global warranties and global repair centers. I don’t get that with Samsonite, or American Tourister, or Tumi, or pretty much anyone else. The bags last for ages and when there is a problem, a local repair center quickly fixes it and doesn’t charge me.

Apple also has an amazing global warranty. I haven’t had to test it yet, but supposedly AppleCare will take care of the repair where ever I am. Now the people who staff their help line are a bunch of morons, but I trust that the repairmen who will actually fix the laptop are competent.

Buying something like an expensive camera rarely makes sense outside of your region. Nikons and Canons in the US come with US warranties. If your camera dies and you need it fixed after you move to Amsterdam, then ship it back to the US (at your expense) to get it repaired…and good luck on getting customs to realize its not a new camera on the return shipment. When I got the D700, I bought it here in the Netherlands because the savings of getting it in the US just wasn’t enough.

So coming up with something I need in the US might be a bit tough. I already have all the luggage I need. I already have the MacBook and Kindle DX and other good, portable tech. I already have all the tech gadgets I think I need. I guess I’ll just have to go to Fry’s to see what tech I don’t yet know I need. 

 

Driving a Campervan Wasn’t Exactly What I Expected…

For the last week, I was supposed to have been taking it easy. It was a vacation after all. My plan was to drive up the Eastern coast of Australia and see stuff along the way. Rather than simply renting a car and doing the hotel thing, I figured I would try the camper van approach. The benefit would be that I could stop where I wanted or stay the night in a caravan park. It turned out to be exactly like and nothing like what I expected.

Its definitely true that one has, well, different choices when it comes to deciding where to sleep. I don’t want to say more choice because it turns out that that is not quite true. A lot of the places you would like to stay for the night have signs saying no overnight camping. So the main places you are left with are the rest areas along the Bruce Highway. But guess what? They are scary places.

In the day time, they are just fine. For a quick toilet break or even a brief nap, they do just the trick. But for an overnight sleep, they are downright terrifying. The problem is that when your camper’s curtains are closed, you have no idea what is going on right outside your window. Although its probably quiet and still, your mind (OK, my mind) is racing…thoughts of the many ways some crazed trucker is going to rape and mutilate me. When I stop and think about it, I realize thats just crazy talk, but when the eyelids start to close, all logic goes out the window. Thats the time of dreams, or in this case, nightmares.

Every cracking branch is a dingo about to rip me to shreds. Every rustling leaf is the bouncing step of a rabid kangaroo. Every truck leaving the rest area just dropped off an insane knife-wielding hitchhiker looking for his next free ride.

I survived the night and I am here to tell you about it. I only tried it the first night, and then used caravan parks every night afterwards. Now you might be thinking that I should have tried caravan parks from the beginning, and that was my intention. I ended up not having any choice about the matter that first night. You see, Australia likes the idea of roaming the country in a camper. But the people who run the caravan parks would rather you not bother them by using their services.

That first night I stopped at a reasonable time based on previous travels in other countries. I pulled into 3 different spots, big and small, but all were closed. It was 10PM and every hotel I passed still had a light on, but the camp sites were all shut. And its not like I just barely missed their closing time. They had been turning away new guests for at least FIVE hours. This had a significant impact on how I would be spending the days of my trip.

I had planned on doing tourist things during most of the daylight hours, then put in 5 or 6 hours of driving until about 10 each night. This plan would have worked perfectly had I been in a car and stayed in comfortable hotel beds each night. But because I was carrying my bed with me, I had to blow the best hours of the day on covering the miles to get to my ultimate destination.

I ended up seeing much less of the country than originally planned. If you are thinking about doing the same thing, stop and think about what you are going to do. Think about how much time it would take to relaxingly cover that amount of distance. Now because Australia is so against the touring camper, you are going to double, or even better, quadruple the amount of time it will take. The added benefit of taking that much time is that the camper van approach might actually make financial sense compared with driving to hotels because if you have only a week, its definitely the more expensive route.