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No, seriously – don’t go there

No, seriously – don’t go there

Just for fun, I was looking at exotic places to travel. In looking at UNESCO heritage sites, the ancient and fascinating city of Timbuktu came up. But in looking at travel advisories to Mali, uhhhh – yeah.

The US State Department Travel has a great website with travel advisories for every country around the world. They have a rating system from 1-4. Right now, Mali (where Timbuktu is located) is a 4 due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping. But I mean, how bad can it really be? I bet they’re over-exaggerating. Let’s read the description

Terrorist and armed groups continue plotting kidnappings and attacks in Mali. They may attack with little or no warning, targeting locations frequented by foreigners. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens throughout much of Mali as U.S. government employee travel outside Bamako is restricted due to security concerns.

Well, that’s not encouraging. But I’ve traveled abroad a lot and get along with just about everyone by being cool, respectful, and staying low-key. How bad could it be right? Let’s continue reading the advisory…

If you decide to travel to Mali:

  • Draft a will and designate appropriate insurance beneficiaries and/or power of attorney.
  • Discuss a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, belongings, non-liquid assets (collections, artwork, etc.), funeral wishes, etc.
  • Share important documents, login information, and points of contact with loved ones so that they can manage your affairs if you are unable to return as planned to the United States. 
  • Establish your own personal security plan in coordination with your employer or host organization, or consider consulting with a professional security organization.
  • Develop a communication plan with family and/or your employer or host organization so that they can monitor your safety and location as you travel through high-risk areas. This plan should specify whom you would contact first and how they should share the information.
  • Identify key sources of possible assistance for you and your family in case of emergency, such as the local U.S. embassy or consulate, FBI, the State Department, your employer (if traveling on business), and local friends/family in the high-risk area. 
  • Be sure to appoint one family member to serve as the point of contact with hostage-takers, media, U.S. and host country government agencies, and Members of Congress if you are taken hostage or detained.
  • Establish a proof of life protocol with your loved ones so that, if you are taken hostage, your loved ones will know specific questions and answers to ask the hostage-takers to be sure you are alive and to rule out a hoax.
  • Leave DNA samples with your medical provider in case it is necessary for your family to access them.

Uhhhhh – yeah. Not traveling to Mali anytime soon.

Rent your own private island

Rent your own private island

Oh – you think you’re cool because you stayed at a luxury hotel in Dubai or comped to a suite in Vegas?

For the ultra rich, there are experiences that are far beyond the pale like David Copperfield’s Musha Cay. Renting for $50,000/night, you get the whole island. Multiple luxury residential buildings for up to 12 with high end catered food, their own mystery game to play, movies on the beach, and even custom fireworks show.

Or maybe try out Richard Branson’s Necker Island for a little over $107,500 a night (up to 40 guests), or $128,000/night for up to 48 guests. The buildings and island was almost completely destroyed in 2017 by hurricane Irma, but seems to have re-opened in 2022.

I find it interesting that even billionaires need to AirBnB their properties.

If renting a billionaire’s island is too pedestrian, perhaps just buy your own island.

Safe 2023 annual solar eclipse viewing

Safe 2023 annual solar eclipse viewing

Solar viewing or watching one of the upcoming solar or annular eclipses requires knowing what you’re doing and getting the right eye protection from reputable sources.

I recommend using the NASA information page, which links to a page with reputable sources to buy viewing glasses and lens protection.

Oregon Eclipse events and locations

It’s getting quite late for scheduling and finding accommodations, but you might still find some events for the upcoming October annular eclipse.

Oregon 2023 annular eclipse events

Jidai Matsuri

Jidai Matsuri

I was lucky enough to catch one of the top three festivals in all of Kyoto, the Heian Shrine’s Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages). Held on October 22nd at noon each year, the festival is primarily composed of a two kilometer, five hour long procession of countless volunteers dressed in historical garb representing Japanese cultural history from the Meiji era all the way back to the Enryaku era in the 780’s.

Everything is painstakingly recreated and researched, going so far as to even make and dye the fabric using the same techniques as they used a thousand years ago. The procession is more like watching a living history museum march by. Not only do famous historical figures and princesses make appearance, but warriors, priests, politicians, merchants, and commoners are all represented.

I wonder how cool this would be if other cultures did a kind of living parade of their heritages as well.

The Corner office – is an elevator

The Corner office – is an elevator

This is a cool building. Besides all the most modern conveniences, far ahead of the technology of 1939, it has the usual boss’s corner office. What makes that office unique is that the entire room is an elevator. Complete with two working telephones and a working hot and cold sink!

Meet the Baťa Skyscraper in Zlín, Czechia. The office belonged to Jan Antonín Baťa and the room was built by Otis elevator company. Sadly, he never actually got to use the elevator office – but that’s a story for another time. Bonus points for the office still having paternoster elevators.

PAX West parties

PAX West parties

PAX West is not just a fun gamer conference, there are also a lot of parties as well. You can find the more public ones on the PAX west parties website and Facebook group.

Finding the not-so-public ones requires being in the know and having some insider friends. 🙂

BART: An Unauthorized documentary

BART: An Unauthorized documentary

Tunnel Vision: An Unauthorized BART Ride is a documentary film by local timelapse photographer Vincent Woo. He secretly attached a camera to a BART train and rode through the arteries of the Bay Area while inserting interesting facts and tidbits.

It became something of a local hit – selling out several movie theaters. The good news is you don’t need to go to a theater, he put it up on YouTube for free.

The Grand Tour turns into the horrors of Overtourism

The Grand Tour turns into the horrors of Overtourism

“Over-tourism is turning the world’s most perfect destinations into the opposite of what they once were”

Lord Byron contemplates the Colosseum in Rome

It’s interesting to see how tourism has evolved in the last 400 years. Tourism started in the 16th century for younger upper-class aristocrats and wasn’t designed for fun. Travel in those days was expensive, arduous, and dangerous. It was the natural progression of those aristocrats who had a thorough grounding in classic Greek and Latin literature that was the root of modern culture (until the 1900’s anyway). The goal was to become more well rounded and enlightened gentlemen, scientists, writers, philosophers, artists, speakers, and leaders by exposing themselves to the best art and cultures of the world. This idea even had a name: The Grand Tour.

You can still see the shadows of that in travel today. Have you ever wondered why there is an unwritten rule that travelers to Europe spend a lot of time visiting museums, famous churches/buildings, and arts of all kinds (plays, music, paintings, architecture)? It’s because the idea of travel comes from the idea of becoming more cultured and seeking truth.

As anyone trained in classical education will tell you, in the past we had a much better understanding of the universal artistic language in these famous works of art and buildings. A lot of classical works are largely lost and unintelligible to modern generations that have very little classical education. Even when read, the great majority of in-jokes, cultural digs, and people are unknown and themes completely missed.

It’s a terrible shame that even I was guilty of as a computer scientist. Why should I read a bunch of old dead people that seem irrelevant? I can’t even tell what they’re talking about half the time. Oh what a world was opened to me when I took some classical literature and Latin classes. Unfortunately, we have traded a millennium of thought and experience for a much more utilitarian and entertainment focus in education these days – and hence so is our travel.

Where our philosophy goes, so we go.

Roman Colosseum today

It makes sense how we’ve gotten to where we are today in modern travel. Without a grounding in the culture that created these great works, many people are largely ignorant of what these monuments and artworks mean. One might argue the reason we’re seeing the destruction of famous historical/artistic works is that younger people experience them as just as foreign to them as cultures they’ve never encountered in other parts of the world. It’s nearly the same level of cultural destruction as an invader who has a whole different value, ethical, and political system – except it’s their own history they are destroying. Our modern society can be seen as culturally insensitive, or downright hostile, to our very historical selves. Not the first time this has happened in history – to disastrous consequences.

It’s great that travel is now open to just about everyone with safer and cheaper travel than any time in history – but this also comes at a social, economic, and historical price. Europe, and other places, are struggling with not only record, sweltering heat this summer but also destruction of famous historical/artistic works, local livability/culture, and economic destruction by crushing numbers of people. This has now caused numerous destinations around the world to close in recent years. The trend is accelerating as tourism is rapidly destroying once pristine and amazing places.

Now Europe, and other places, are starting to do the unthinkable – actively dissuading tourists.

Even I have started to rethink my own reasons for travel in an era where you can tour just about any major world location, museum, or event in 4k. While videos do not give you the cultural or personal interactions and friendships you develop from travel – you can still experience great works of art or festivals.

But now we have Twitch streamers that broadcast their daily interactions in foreign lands, live webcast tours of most famous places, and with VR travel becoming more of a thing, we may even be able to tear down those barriers as well.

It’s not like we haven’t thought about solutions to broadcasting live experiences before. Who knew the screaming, brash, over-the-top streamer was predicted almost 2 decades before it happened…