Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

After the storm

TAGS: None

I recently returned from my travels. I always have my camera with me in case I see something worthwhile. I love this picture I took last week in Moravia, on a walk after a storm.

After the storm

This one is striking and symbolic for me in more ways than one… a road out of town.

Road out of town

Dana street roasting company or coffee golem den

TAGS: None

This is the story behind the cafe in Mountain View, CA I am about to walk and have decent coffee (please read the whole thing):

Hours curled up into days and days into months and Chaput found himself growing weary of his new title. The cosmos were a dry, corporate workplace. The coffee was crappy and his coworkers would never shut up about the stupid little things their babies did. He longed for the adventure of yore. Chaput called upon his old friend, the golem, for help. The golem agreed, but only on one condition: Chaput could never abandon him again. After a period of contract negotiation and hardcore brainstorming, the two agreed the best future for them both was to conquer the dark, trembling arts of the Qahwat al-Bunn (wine of the bean, or coffee, for our non-Arabic base).

And yes, you heard me right. Walk! :)

Thanks to Ben for introducing me to it.

OneWebDay in NYC

TAGS: None

On Saturday had brunch with Charles Hope and Grace Piper at one of my favourite hang outs in NYC – Les Halles.

Les Halles

They told me about OneWebDay party that night at For Your Imagination loft, which was round the corner from the hotel I was staying. The venue was good, a large room with groovy images projected on the wall. People were mingling in the gloom and ambiance of low lighting.

OneWebDay party in NYC

OneWebDay is a good and necessary meme. The last night’s party was one of the many ways to celebrate and share it. Glad I could be there.

It’s easy to take the web for granted. But it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what the web could mean to humankind in the future. That’s the purpose of OneWebDay, held each September 22.

The idea behind OneWebDay is to encourage people to think of themselves as responsible for the internet, and to take good and visible actions on Sept. 22 that (1) celebrate the positive impact of the internet on the world and (2) shed light on the problems of access and information flow.

The internet is made of people, not just machines. It’s up to us to protect it.

Ride through Cincinnati

TAGS: None

Last Saturday, two memorable things happened. It was Jackie’s 30th birthday and we were offered a ride in a 1930 Packard around Cincinnati. You can see Jackie and Tom (the landlord of her new flat), who is the proud owner of this amazing machine.

On the road

TAGS: None

I am in Cincinnati right now, visiting Jackie Danicki to celebrate her 30th birthday. There has been much to see, people to talk to. As a result I haven’t been online much. As I checked my RSS feeds after a couple of days offline, I was reminded of this little gem (old but still worth a chuckle) thanks to the trusty Tuscan Tony. A sure sign that recycling can be fun.

Security theatre

TAGS: None

Boing Boing has a great post about how to smuggle liquids onto an airplane.

All you need to do is surrender the bottle at the screening station, wait for the the TSA to throw it
away in an unguarded trash-barrel on the "secure" side, and then retrieve it from the trash.


The reason this "smuggling" technique works, of course, is that liquids aren’t dangerous.
Everyone knows this — even the TSA. That’s why they don’t guard the
barrel after they confiscate your wine, water, and salad-dressing. The
point of taking away your liquid isn’t to make airplanes safe, it’s to
simultaneously make you afraid (of terrorists with magic water-bombs)
and then make you feel safe (because the government is fighting off the
magic water-bombs). It’s what Bruce Schneier calls "security theater."

I fly to US every month and have become an expert on and a victim of all sorts of security theatre routines. One of the things that gives them away as theatre (apart from their obvious lack of common sense) is that they are inconsistent and vary from airport to airport and even from airline to airline – at one point Virgin suddenly introduced another security check at the gates. More delays and annoyance.

The only time I was ever impressed by a security check was when flying to Tel Aviv by El Al. They were polite but firm, questioning and a bit obstreperous. I had no problems as it was a straightforward business  trip and all was in order. I still remember how after the interview the security guy recommended that we see a Chagal exhibition in Jerusalem and reminded us that our client has an amazing modern art collection. Not a conversation you are likely to strike with Heathrow security people. Not saying it’s impossible but highly unlikely. :)

The difference is that El Al invests in security people and they are looking not for a terrorist, but for a weapon for a terrorist not for a weapon. Only if you turn this upside down, you can treat water as a deadly liquid that turns into explosives when it reaches an arbitrary size…

Note: last para corrected – that’ll teach me post late at night. Thanks for pointing out.

Driving in Addis Ababa

TAGS: None

This was filmed with my Panasonic Lumix, on a spur of a moment when in a taxi on the way to somewhere in Addis Ababa. A taste of local scenery…

On the road

TAGS: None

I am travelling back to London and should be back online by Monday 18th. Will post the rest of my notes then, with pictures and all. So far there are three Flickr sets from Ethiopia.

Third day in Ethiopia

TAGS: None

Tuesday 12 June, Perry’s birthday.. and my brother’s official birthday, his real one was a week ago. Decide it was also museum day. After breakfast got a taxi to Addis Ababa university – the Ethnographic museum is on its campus. Guards at the entrance, searched out bags and pockets but rather friendly about it. Exhibits in the museum arranged interestingly – following a literal lifecycle – birth, childhood, adulthood and death. Each stage reflected Ethiopia’s traditions and history… some more weird than others. The bull jumping ceremony as initiation to adulthood and lip plates belong in that category. Some things were indeed beautiful and arranged in meaningful way. But no matter how ingenious the leather garments, basket, tools and ornaments were, still couldn’t disguise the fact that one is looking at artefacts of a primitive and simple culture. Individuals entirely defined by family, clan, tribe…. providing support, yes, also limiting anything outside itself.

The museum used to be the Emperor Haile
Selassie’s
palace and the prize exhibit was the apartments of the imperial couple. It is rarely that I see a sight as depressing in a museum. Badly built bathroom of atrocious design but let’s overlook that as that is not uncommon in other parts of the world. The bedrooms were misplaced western décor full of presents from foreign plenipotentiaries, with no hint of personality or cosiness… and yes I know that many an emperor’s bedroom displayed in museum is devoid of the same but this is different. alas, no photos allowed.

One thing I noticed throughout the stay is that whenever we went somewhere local – a house, restaurant etc, there were almost no windows. No idea why, just noticing.

After the ethnographic museum, went for a fruit juice, very tasty and ubiquitous. Thought of going back to the shop to buy some more presents but realised that our (three) maps not up to it. Street names keep changing every now and then, and the local don’t use them anyway. Blundering around we hit on the Holy Trinity Cathedral – the second most important church in the country. A most extraordinary concoction of styles… from vaguely recognisable renaissance and baroque elements, to alien patterns and designs. Took copious amount of pictures. The experience was surreal and uplifting… brought down to earth by a priest making an international sign of ‘gimme me money’ after posing for a photograph… yes, yes, shouldn’t have been taking any and look like a damn tourist. Still hard to deal with such behaviour in a church with obvious Christian ‘trademarks’.

Tired and geographically confused set on a course to the hotel instead of shopping spree. Getting back home took us along a major road infested with ancient black-smoke belching Ladas.  Another experience of that rasping sensation at the back of one’s throat after being in close proximity to fumes… 

Back in the hotel, everyone fell asleep for a couple of hours – the altitude is high and acclimatisation slow.  Decided to try local Tex-Mex restaurant from the guide book… neither my brother nor I could face Ethiopian fare. On our way in a taxi when the lights go out on the road and surrounding neighbourhoods. The restaurant dark with candles lighting an exotic combination of Ethiopian and Tex-Mex. The food tasted authentic… half-way through the meal the lights came on. The evening was pleasant if subdued and will probably look a lot more
exciting filtered through memory in the future. All feeling rather weary, in need of good sleep.

Pictures of third day on Flickr.

 

Second day in Ethiopia

TAGS: None

Breakfast a good start, found my favourite food to start the day – fresh fruit, smoked salmon and fresh juice, with grand macchiato and croissant. How very spoiled western of me! Morning full of errands – working out the trip to Lalibela to see the rock-hewn churches, changing money, checking out hotel’s shops for what’s worth getting and how much it costs… surprising fair prices… checking emails at hotel’s business centre – fast but expensive. Bought tickets to Lalibela for Thursday, coming back Friday… surprisingly expensive $242 for return flight. Tour operator in the hotel quoted $174 per person(!) for transfers, guide and entrance fees to the churches. Worked out with my brother we can do it for $100 for all three… some mark-up! Going online at the hotel far less frustrating if considerably more expensive. 109 birr per hour at Hilton business centre compared to 10 birr per hour at a shed-like ‘internet cafe’… the hotel connection speed makes it seem a good deal. Discovered will miss being on CNN morning news show about the cult of the amateur – the book by a professional troll Andrew Keen who continues to make waves, no doubt to the great delight of his publishers… the whole thing couldn’t be more surreal from where I was standing today.

Didn’t get out of the hotel until after 3pm. A taxi for local rides just outside the hotel, used the technique my brother showed us… set the price at 20 birr (fair price for a short ride within town) and walk down the row of cabs until one agrees to the price. Went to a shop with fixed and fair prices – good way to find out what to negotiate at markets. Good quality items, silver jewellery, traditional clothing, icons, carved wood, baskets etc. On the way driver points out a row of corrugated iron stalls… apparently worth looking at too. The landmark was post office…just because couldn’t see anything resembling it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. :)

Seasonal rains have started, usually mid-afternoon, an hour or so. In the deluge the cab stalled mid-hill, in front of a minibus stop… well, not really a stop but a space where people cluster waiting for clapped-out blue and white mini-buses. No signs or timetables –  a guy leaning out of the window shouts the destination… passengers get on when heading their direction. Used to be three passengers allowed on a two-seat row, after oil prices increase, they pushed it to four. Government’s keeping quiet about it for now… this is the transport for the middle-classes. Much cheaper than taxis… not as cheap as buses – orange and red and bursting at seams – those are for the poor people.

Driver points at a Shell petrol station 100 yards up the hill…dashes out to the rain for petrol, the reason for car’s asthmatic halt. Managed to take pictures of the car and an amazing picture of people outside.

Outside the taxi

Drenched driver back, refills the petrol tank, opens the hood to hand-pump the petrol back into the engine… car starts fine and we are on our way. Have a pleasant conversation with him…as most Ethiopians he is friendly, intelligent and helpful… parks in front of the shop and settles down to wait for an hour. Then meeting my brother, going to his lecture about theory of international political systems at the technical and business college.. couldn’t miss my little brother lecturing on serious matters of international relations. Picked up by his friend… a taxi ride well out of the centre, past the (in)famous Merkato… the largest market in Africa. Same tagline as Harrods – you can buy anything and everything there, including kalashnikovs and camels. Unlike in Harrods, you are likely to be relieved of anything and everything you have with you, including your cash and contents of your pockets. Drove in a clapped out Lada… a car favoured – using the term loosely here – by most cab drivers in Addis Ababa. Five of us in a car…

Led to the college’s Vice-President’s office for a chat… turned out to be one of the most intelligent, educated and dedicated people I encounter. The President joined us shortly.. also very genuine. My brother tell me that president subsidises a third of the fees for poor students out of his pocket.  Sure he’s not rich himself… unbelievably moving and heartening.

Ivan’s lecture very good, interesting clash of an abstract international systems theory about hegemonic and non-hegemonic states and war as state formation etc and the audience’s desire to understand their own situation. Specific examples needed. An interesting discussion develops.. continue to a local place with our hosts for a round of juices and some sandwiches. Deep in conversation about state, society, individual and the nature of liberty. Was told Ethiopians too much defined by their families… not much room for individual self-determination.

Went to an Ethiopian household…Ivan’s friend Emishaw invited us to meet his family and witness a coffee ceremony. Refreshingly fluent in English with colloquialisms and sense of humour included… works full time at the Foreign ministry… also lectures part time at the college… seems more like labour of love and dedication… trying to get a scholarship abroad. Can’t blame him… he deserves it and would do very well…

Got to the house in a street… well, a crude stone-paved path with no street lighting. No street name or numbers…. getting out of the cab – the most clapped out so far – Emishaw used a tiny torch in his mobile phone. Got out facing a long wall of corrugated iron..  He knocks on a piece… opens to reveal a neat front yard with a tree, brazier, and welcoming frontdoor light… fragrance of freshly roasted and ground coffee overwhelms us… Led to a front room, three sofa arranged around a coffee table. A fridge in one corner, a TV in the other. A beautiful piece of furniture – an enormous cabinet with neatly stacked dishes, glasses and crockery behind glass doors. Emishaw’s mother started the coffee ceremony, a grass-like rug, a brazier with hot coal, a tall necked jar for boiling the coffee, a smaller brazier for the incense and a tray with a row of tiny coffee cups. Ceremony takes about 30 minutes, deliberate as it is a social occasion for the family. Normally performed 2-3 times a day. The coffee is excellent, not at all bitter or acidic… don’t drink coffee without milk unless it’s Lebanese but enjoyed mine very much. No doubt rather strong, which is why typing this at 2.20am.

Emishaw’s family don’t speak English…. but we notice his father grin knowingly when something amusing was said… suspected he understood more than he let on… A marvellous evening, feel privileged to have had the opportunity. Emishaw understands the world out beyond his wildest imagination… extravagant, opulent, wasteful and indifferent… his desire for education and knowledge is burning.. clichéd but true. His words about the internet were touching… “so painful to know that there is so much out there and not being able to reach it”. He is ‘privileged’ enough, has a Dell laptop and a dial up connection in his house. Tried to connect while there… alas, his  laptop disabled by a virus… his anti-virus subscription expired, can’t afford to renew it. Not aware that 5 minutes without a firewall, anti-virus protection his computer’s life expectancy equals that of a snowball in hell. Promised to ask around for a free anti-virus software – suggestions welcome. Recommended Open Office 2.0 to replace outdated and unstable dodgy copies of MS Office… so delighted to hear of free and functional software, here it can solve so many IT problems.

After an hour or so got the clapped out taxi to Taitu, my brother’s hotel. The driver not clear about Hilton but got us there in the end. Had a meal at the restaurant there… no food the whole day. A western imitation restaurant, food costing more than what locals spend in a week…. the first time their reality felt more real that this one. People make everything go further, hard for them to understand our way of life, extending their approach to life and its harsh realities to our life of variety, choice and redundancy can make their head hurt… also looks like an unnecessary excess and extravagance. Of course, there is virtue in making the most out of what you have but there is virtue in new possibilities created out of abundance or speed and stability out of redundancy. That virtue comes from the individual’s mind… regardless of the reality it faces… without the mind, there is only poverty and ignorance or surplus and indulgence.

Thanks to meeting those people tonight was reminded and reassured about individuals ability to transcend one’s environment. Their understanding is nothing short of astounding, given the limitations and obstacles in the way. They are also aware that improvement comes through individual people not top down changes.

Pictures of second day on Flickr.

First day in Ethiopia

TAGS: None

I will be posting diary-style blog posts for the first time ever… the following are my notes taken down at the end of each day while in Ethiopia. Unedited and disjointed, they are what they are, more a reminder for me than a treatise.

With a stop-over at Alexandria airport arrived in Addis Ababa after 2am. Hilton welcoming if drab. Local time 2 hours ahead of UK, getting up for breakfast not easy. The food unexceptional, western dishes mingling with local ones… baked beans and scrambled eggs on toast next to zil zil tibs and scrambled
injera. Surreal.

Already underwhelmed by the hotel – mediocre, stuck in a time warp. Reception nice enough but rooms with neon lights, horrid 70s pseudo-ethnic pattern on bedspread, curtains and carpet… run down, if clean, bathroom don’t do much to endear the place to a western traveller. Strange it has 4* rating. Expectations of higher quality justified by western pricing. In the days to follow my attitude adjusts, after time outside… turns into an oasis of luxury, indulgence and disturbing comfort… the power of relative comparisons.

Meeting my brother around noon, then hitting the town. It is Sunday – everything’s quieter. Walked past
large government building – foreign ministry and defence ministry. The rule never take picture of an armed guy in a uniform applies here… camera stays in my pocket. Prime Minister’s residence impressive
even by non-Ethiopian standards. 

Curious about the downtown… warned that Addis Ababa spread around with no real centre. Saw a large
square built
in the shape of an Ethiopian cross. A huge space on one side, with the road in front of it…told that at 6am every Sunday morning crowds of people jog and exercise there. Shudder at the ungodly hour…what makes this insane is the pollution in town… Addis Ababa easily the most polluted place have ever been to. Beats Istanbul by a wide margin… despite the memory of metallic taste in mouth after
walking around. Forget a carbon emission footprint, think more black-smoke-belching monster of a town choking its inhabitants slowly (or fast) to death. Never mind saving the planet for their
children… people living here now surely have life expectancy reduced by decades.

Went for fresh juice, coffee and cakes – delicious and cheap… tried to check emails in internet café
– frustratingly slow and mostly unsuccessful… seen the oldest hotel in Addis Ababa, Taitu – atmospheric and unhygienic… walked all the way down two main roads to book a popular restaurant – confusing and exhausting… went to a local kitfo place for dinner – non-touristy and interesting. Seen many sights, experienced many annoyances… some staggering, all driving home the point – this is Africa! The obvious daily crosses – pollution, erratic transport, lack of sanitation, corrugated iron housing, poverty, begging children and war cripples everywhere… a bigger theme runs through – what keeps people here going? The place is a shithole…. as Africa goes a much better one than most, Ethiopia has proper middle-class, uncommon in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa…people very friendly and helpful, the vibe is good. And yet, no denying it is a horrid existence.

We in the West aware of this, so no African epiphany for me… in any case, can’t afford one as not a celebrity. Physical remoteness controls the extent we learn and concern ourselves with the reality… being here it’s full blast, first hand, breathing the same air, eating the same food, walking the same muddy roads… one difference
I am sure of is how we perceive the same reality. No amount of documentaries or reading can prepare you for this…makes me realise how fragile progress is… improvement is not a given and things can get really bad without necessarily getting better as a result… the more
humankind discovers and develops, the more it has to deprive itself of… it seems as having barely crawled out of one horror, we stampede towards another progress-choking episode (see 20th century and now the climate change toxic do-gooders). Despite that am an optimist about innovation. Just not easy to accept its glacial pace.

Pictures of first day on Flickr.

 

Off to Africa

TAGS: None

Tomorrow (Saturday) I am flying to Addis Ababa and will be travelling in Ethiopia for a week. I hope to have sporadic internet connection. I will be taking pictures and will attempt to post them to Flickr. I might Twitter as well. All depends on the quality and cost of connectivity in Ethiopia. Once back, I’ll blog to heart’s content. :-)

© 2009 Media Influencer. All Rights Reserved.

This blog is powered by Wordpress and Magatheme by Bryan Helmig.