Monday, October 1, 2007

my australian hero

i spent most of today reading about great adventures of the non-motorised sort and the men and women who felt the need to accomplish long distance journeys in such a fashion.

no person impacted me as greatly as tim cope, a 28 year old from australia who just this very week finished a 6,000 mile trip from mongolia to hungary on horseback.

his goal was to follow in the footsteps of genghis khan who completed a similar route nearly 800 years ago. what tim had originally envisioned taking 18 months took well over three years, with stolen horses, lost gear, weather hazards, and cultural miscommunication taking place on a regular basis.

follow his travels here:

i'm certain there will be a book forthcoming.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

lunar module II

i'm going to divert from my routine a bit this week and rather than post about the country of my choice, i'm going to share with you what i do with my free time when i'm not researching the geography, topography, history, and contemporary statistics of any chosen land mass.

my time at the airport is divided up in neat little sections. i run much of my life this way, splicing it into chunks that fit a whole, well-rounded life that i like to call my own. on an aside, i think it's extremely important to fill each and every day with equal (or near equal) portions of the following: exercise, education, social time, and personal/reflective/alone time. i want to fall asleep exhausted, smarter, inspired by my friends, and self-confident, respectively. only then am i fulfilled. it took me twenty-seven years to value each of those components and i don't plan on losing sight of them anytime soon.

back to the airport. for the first two hours, i do alot of walking! i check out the terminals, find out which of the homeless people i've grown to know and love are hanging out with me on that particular day, and observe the sights and sounds of my surroundings. at some point, i eat the sandwich that i've packed and check out my igoogle account for the day's most interesting rss feeds. during the next two hours, i'm usually chilly (it's unexplainable) so i head to one of two of my favourite wings of the airport...both of which are slightly less air-conditioned than the remainder of the building and offer a good degree of warmth and comfort. they also both happen to look out over small flower gardens and it's nice to see what the pigeons, squirrels and mice are up to in the mid-afternoon.

by 3 or 4 pm, i'm ready for a caffeine fix so i head to the only coffee shop situated outside of the security checkpoints and treat myself to a $2.73 iced delight. this afternoon, the moment i had it in my hand i regreted not ordering the steamy hot version instead. this is one indication that i'm ready to welcome in fall; i switch from iced to hot coffee without a trace of regret.

for the remaining two hours, i'm on a mission to research whatever i determine worthy of researching for the day. for the past two weeks, that topic has been filled by countries in south america and asia. but yesterday and today i was much more interested in medical websites, conspiracy theories, equine health information, and magical realism as it relates to my favourite authors (m. kundera and s. rushdie). i also spent a good deal of time today exploring space from the confines of my computer, mostly due to this:

last night i went to a screening of the new ron howard documentary on the Apollo missions to the moon, In the Shadow of the Moon. it made me want to know more about neil armstrong [like exactly why he's become the recluse that he's known to be and how cool it is that the money he has won from every court case against someone who has used his name or voice (i'm referring to the soundclip of "that's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind")without permission has been donated to a charity of his choice] and all of the conspiracy theories that surround the NASA projects. want to debate the moon missions with me? i've got an open night ahead of me and lots of theories. let's go!


Monday, September 17, 2007

the big guns

g'afternoon, my lil' learners!

i'm pleased to announce that i was just offered two more full weeks of work in the airport bringing my 3-week job up to a whopping 5-week position. this means, obviously, more money for me and more blogspots for you.

due to the fact that last friday i had to skip my daily message due to an unexpected visitor who hung out with me for three of the six hours of my shift (hooray for friends! make sure you tell them you love them on a regular basis!), i'm going to cover the country which i had meant to cover at that point rather than move on to a different continent right away.

thus being said, i bring you....RUSSIA.

holy smokes. this is a big one to tackle! i honestly don't even know where to begin so i think i'm going to just focus on all the incredible facts i've found and leave out the really massive political/historical details. if you want to study Soviet through Post-Soviet Russia, by all means don't let me stop you. But if you want to continue reading short blogs that give you a little something interesting and not 20 page long dissertations on historical mumble-jumble, then i have no other choice.

ok, so first of all, it's the LARGEST country in the world (see, i wasn't kidding you!); it's nearly twice the size of the second-largest country (canada) and extends over both europe and asia. that's a lot of land!

once upon a time, it was a republic under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) but in 1991 the Soviet Union was dissolved and it just became Russia. here is a very brief summary of what happened:

lenin took control in 1917 and focused on a couple key agendas:
-modernising industry and agriculture
-providing free health care to all
-raising women's rights
-teaching everyone to read and write

some believe he failed; others believe he succeeded (to this day, russia has a 100% literacy rate with a free education system that is one of the strongest in the world).

when stalin took over as dictator in 1924, he focused on these agendas:
-industrialising as much of the country as possible
-making agriculture a collective project

generally speaking, he succeeded. the soviet union became a major industrial force. even now, it boasts the largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. unfortunately, in the process of changing so quickly from agriculture to industry, widespread famine, political repression, and poverty occurred. people were pissed, particularly the germans (who fought during WWII in the deadliest "theatre" of war known to man) and the british and US (who fought during the cold war, which led to gorbachev being thrown from power in 1991). yeltsin took over, declared communism over, and dissolved the USSR in december 1991. then in 2000, vladimir putin was elected and improved the russian standards of living to a point that is generally accepted throughout the country. he focused on its natural reserves to boost the economy and (CHRIS, pay attention!) that was a very wise decision because russia has:

1. the largest natural gas reserves ...
2. the largest forest reserves (it's often called the "lungs of europe" because of all the carbon dioxide it ingests)
3. the second largest coal reserves...
4. the eighth largest oil reserves...
............IN THE WORLD.

a bit about the topography:

the furthest points from east to west as the crow flies are over 5,000 miles apart. the furthest points from north to south as the crow flies are over 4,000 miles apart. the country is practically a HUGE SQUARE.

remember this lake: lake baikal.

it's impressive! it's the world's largest lake and contains over 1/5 of the world's fresh surface water. as if this isn't outstanding enough, it's big enough to attract nearly 1,700 species of plants and animals and 66% of them can't be found ANYWHERE ELSE ON THE PLANET. they must really dig that lake. maybe it's the name? it rolls off the tongue so smoothly and attracts me, too. road trip to lake baikal, anyone?

speaking of foreign tongues, the russian language is the most geographically widespread language in Eurasia and is the language of science which i think all of you would appreciate, but particularly tara. over 1/4 of the world's scientific literature is published in russian and between 60-70% of "all world information" is published in russian and english. that's a pretty vague phrase but it must be true if wikipedia says it. an interesting side note is that google's mission is similar to russia's achievement, i.e. to “organize all the world’s information and make it universally accessible”. google and russia must have a working partnership or something....

tomorrow not today,

Thursday, September 13, 2007

voyeurism is for the birds

adam (and Loverboy) put it best when he (they) wrote, "everybody's working for the weekend."

that's what we are *ALL* doing right now (minus tara because she's a school teacher and the last bell rings at 2:45pm...oh, and macchio's not doing it either because his "weekend" is thursday and friday). so aside from those mute points, what i wanted to say was:

i'm sooooooooooooo bored of sitting in this airport and typing about what's going on in terminals a-f. i'm at the point now where i can actually tell you the exact location and number of electrical outlets in each wing (b/c my laptop must be plugged in since its battery life blows).

speaking of boring, that brings me to the country i chose for today:

i spent an hour researching it and had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for anything worth noting.

for one, it's small and bordered by other middle-east countries that, quite simply, just have alot more going on. even wikipedia mentioned that oman "has seldom been in the public eye other than for the use of its military bases by US forces in recent years."

oman's biggest city, in which 50% of the population lives, is muscat which brings up a mental image of river otter creatures for me and not much else.



the country doesn't even have its own motto!! (tara: when i get home later tonite, can we invent one for it? if you're on the same train of thought as i am right now it would be something like: 'oman: the country no one cares about' or 'oman: best to go elsewhere')

it does, however, have alot of muslims. they make up 75% of the population and many of them practice a very rare religion called Ibadhism which is considered "moderately" conservative and i beg to differ since i brought the point up. it's REALLY conservative! women must wear hijab and abaya, which cover up nearly every portion of their body.

maybe the "moderate" part has something to do with the fact that thje Sultan has forbidden the covering of faces inside public office. how leniant of him!

hospitality is a major tenet in an omani's life. there are lots of little traditions but my favourite one is that when you're invited as a guest to dinner, you are greeted with a bowl of dates, fruit and qahwa which is really weak coffee flavoured with cardamon.

don't forget to shake the coffee cup after three servings to signal that you are finished!

as far as topography is concerned, the country is covered mostly by a desert although the coastline along the arabian sea is known for having beautiful beaches.

the design of oman's flag is the only other interesting piece of information i uncovered (aside from the fact that the country is one of only a handful that does NOT have a national red cross).

the flag is white, green, and red and the top corner of it depicts their national emblem which features two crossed swords, a dagger called a khanjar and a belt. the khanjar is uniquely sharpened on both edges and curved, so it looks really gnarley and brutal. check it out:

now, take a nap because that country just put me to sleep and i'm sure it did the same for you.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king

it's beginning to happen: i'm recognising the con artists of the airport. i've been asked three times now for leftover change from a well-dressed man carrying a cane and wearing a derby hat. he's just "trying to take the train home. it's been a long day of traveling..." the first time, he got nearly two dollars worth of quarters. the second time, he got about fifty cents and just a few minutes ago he got this response from me, "you took it all yesterday. my change is gone." he responded, "so you hang out here too, hm?"

maybe i should rephrase my opening sentence.

it's beginning to happen: airport regulars recognise me and i recognise them.

now, on to INDONESIA, republic of islands and opportunity.

i knew indonesia was comprised of islands, but i had no idea that it contains over 17,000 of them if you spent a year on each one of them, it would take you over 46 years to have covered the whole country. honestly, though, only about 6,000 of them are inhabited so much of your time during those years would be spent in solitary confinement.

indonesia is this world's fourth most populous country, with over 234 million people scattered across it. that's more than the population of all other South East Asian countries combined!

since i'm a big fan of dissecting words, i want to inform you that the country was named from the Latin "indus" (India) and the Greek "nesos" (island).

alot of people tried to claim the country as their own! the most successful groups were the dutch and japanese but by 1949, indonesia had officially claimed its independence. as of 2006, there are over 300 distinct native ethnicities and 742 different languages that are spoken throughout the islands. javanese is the official language. here is the javanese alphabet:

with all of the islands, it's no surprise that it ranks #2 as the most biodiverse country on the planet (brazil, covered last week, is numero uno). here are some of the "things" it has that you don't see everyday:
-35 cm miniature deer

-fish that climb trees to catch insects
-spiders that catch and eat small birds in their enormous webs

it also has over 400 active volcanos, which is pretty frightening when you think about it. apparently, there are about 3 earthquakes per day! i tried to find out how many active volcanos are located upon inhabited islands but i couldn't locate that statistic so if you come across it, let me know.

the most catastrophic volcanic eruption in history occurred in indonesia when the Toba supervolcano erupted over 70,000 years ago.

it changed world history forever according to most scientists who believe it directly shaped the path of human evolution. so, like, if the toba volcano hadn't erupted all of those years ago, i wouldn't be sitting here right now typing this. and you probably wouldn't be reading this.

and that, my friends, would be a shame.

goodbye and good gravy,

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

a giant fist is out to crush us...

the rain is beating down upon the windowpanes of Terminal C as i sit on my bench and look out at travelers being dropped off at the check-in area of US AIRWAYS. a lady in exceptionally high pink patent leather heels just took a serious spill and it was all i could do not to laugh aloud as three police officers ran to her aid. come on, lady. everyone knows heels above a quarter-inch high shouldn't be worn when it's raining. she fell for the attention; i'm sure of it.

but enough about her. let's move on to world news....

today, i'm interested in the country GEORGIA. i bet its name has fooled many a person seeking out the state. i bet 90% of americans don't even *know* it's a country.

here's what i dig about it:

-it's small and its motto is "strength is in unity" which is probably because it realised a long time ago that the only way it would remain independent is if it made friends with the big boys. namely, the UN (which it's a member of). georgia is also trying hard to get into NATO and the European Union but those aspirations are several years away.
-georgia is one of only a handful of transcontinental countries, which means that it is sandwiched between eastern europe and western asia. it's like a portal between the past and the present and i've been thinking about how many people travel through it just in the hopes of walking out the opposite end into another world from a different era.
-'georgia' means 'farming' in greek and agriculture is still one of its biggest economic sectors.

are you a spelunker? if so, go to georgia (once you're really good at it). it boasts the DEEPEST CAVE in the world which is called voronya cave and with each new expedition it seems another section of it is found which makes it even deeper than originally believed. right now, you can descend over 6,800 feet! like, whoa!

did you know that an agency called Transparency International (i think the name is intentionally vague) compiles a Corruption Perceptions Index every couple of years? georgia's ranking (90th out of 163) came up while i was researching it. the agency defines their work as assessing the "degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians." go georgia! way to be near the middle of the pack! the closer to 1, the least corrupt. it's no surprise that iceland is #1 and that the US didn't even place in the top 15. stay away from haiti. it's dead last.

but back to georgia....CHRIS THIS IS FOR YOU....the country is considered to have the largest undeveloped hydropower potential in the world (over 50,000 MW)...

the georgian government has even taken a serious pledge to expand hydropower generation over the course of the next 5 years. their plan includes replacing thermal electricity tenfold and exporting surplus power to neighbouring countries, in particular turkey which is, like, begging for it and willing to pay big bucks to import it.

and, finally (chris), most georgians consider themselves to be orthodox christians, JUST LIKE YOU.
the end,

Monday, September 10, 2007

fastest growing middleware

today i've decided to expand my scope. not only am i going to tell you a minimal bit of information about the continent ASIA, we are also going to delve right into the most fascinating (according to yours truly) country on that continent, mongolia.

first of all, how is everyone today?

macchio: i didn't want to bring speaker home with me today b/c that would mean he would have to sit in my car for the six hours that i'm at the airport which is, like, cruel and unusual punishment to cats and i'm pretty sure could result in a jail sentence for me even if i DID crack the windows.

tara: i miss you! i won't be home until 9:30 and i want to do something fun like...boggle?

everyone else: what up?? word!!

ahem. here we go:

there are lots of boundary disputes concerning asia/europe/africa, but generally speaking most scholars agree that asia is the most populated and largest continent in the world. over 60% of the human population lives there! that's over 4 billion people, which i can't even fathom!

i know i know. i covered ASIA really quickly but that's b/c i have so much interest in mongolia and i wanted to get to it as quickly as possible.

two adjectives to describe mongolia: barren and arrid. it's considered the least densely populated country in the world (which is funny b/c it's on a continent that is the MOST densely populated one so, like, they contradict each other). and it's full of deserts, including the Gobi, which takes up the entire southern portion of the country.

the gobi:

i bet you'll impress someone by knowing that mongolia is the second largest landlocked country in the world (kazakhstan is first) and its capital and largest city is Ulan Bator. over 1/3 of the population lives there. another 38% of the population is nomadic and the remaining one-third must live in the surburbs, if i read between the lines correctly.

here are two things i bet you already knew:

genghis khan was from mongolia AND many mongolians live in yurts.

genghis khan:

a yurt:

mr. khan was REALLY GOOD at fighting. he created the mongol empire which to this day remains the largest land empire in world history. of course, like all good things it came to an end. for awhile china controlled mongolia but it was eventually declared independent in 1911 and tied itself quickly to the soviet union (because they were big and bad ass and the chinese didn't take chances). when communism fell, it adopted a multi-party political system.

now, on to my favourite topic:

mongolia is home to the przewalski horse (aka the mongolian wild horse and/or takhi).

this is the OLDEST HORSE BREED in the world and the closest living wild horse to the domesticated horse we know today (of which, i now own *three*). these przewalkski horses have *never* been tamed. their total world population is only 1500 (a little over 200 of them run wild in mongolia; the rest are in zoos and other breeding reserve programs). the ONLY ones that live in the US are located in cumberland, ohio and guess who is going to make a road trip there within the next year? anyone want to join me?

til tomorrow,