Avatar - Astounding...Breathtaking

First off, I did NOT want to see this movie. I saw the trailer and thought "the movie industry is definitely clutching at straws...what is the world coming to...". But after hearing mention of the movie again and again, people telling me how great it was my attitude towards it started to change to "...am I missing something here? Was I to judgmental? After all, unlike a book, you are meant to judge a movie by it's trailer...right?" So after receiving an invite to go see the 3D version, I took it.

The story was so-so to good, but the movie absolutely blew me away. Was I emotionally invested in the story? You bet! The storytelling in this movie was unprecedented, James Cameron used every trick in the book and probably added a few chapters of his own. This movie is 40% real life and 60% photo-realistic CGI and what I loved was that the boundary between the two is so blurred that it becomes invisible. The story is so well told that everything seems real and time flies by. It might help that the two worlds that get depicted never really mix for long periods of time, but the universe that is shown is massive, believable, beautiful and detailed. The movie should have been made following Titanic in 1999 but the technology was not quite where it needed to be and no studio was willing to foot the $400 000 000 CGI bill.

Did the fact that I watched the movie in 3D immerse me deeper into the story? Quite possibly, but the fact is that this is one of the best told stories I have seen in a long time. I did not know what to expect of it, but I am excited for movies coming out in the future as this one definitely raises the bar.

Official Site
Flickr Photos

Red Dog – Culinary Highlight

Red Fish/Blue Fish - Red DogJust had a “Red Dog” which is sold in a tiny harbor front store here in Victoria BC. A local would probably be able to point it out to you. They sell locally caught fried fish (it is only fried after it is caught) and the red dog is a hot dog shaped fish burger made with fried salmon. It was amazing and it is quite cheap, definite must taste here in Victoria! Oh yeah before I forget, the store is called Red Fish/Blue Fish.

Transformer On Toronto “Times Square”

Bumblebee - Front

I had my first walk around Toronto last evening and came across Bumblebee, the yellow Camero from Transformers in what I like to call Toronto’s little Times Square. I got out my coat hanger and tried to “organize” a ride but the only transformation that occurred is a slight scratch on the driver side door ;)


Without any further ado, here are the pictures.

Bumblebee - RightBumblebee - Back

Quebec - Quaint And Touristy

Central Station
Sitting in Ottawa thinking about my time in Quebec or should I say Quebec City because people get annoyed when they think that you are speaking about the province. And I am not sure exactly what to say, but the hostel I stayed in (HI Quebec City) was quite nice and while you were in the room you could hear the clip-clop of horse-drawn-carriages go by outside. The city was also very clean and unlike any other which I had come across in northern America. At times it seemed like I was in France. But it was VERY touristy, the streets were filled with them, especially school groups of which there were at least two whichever street you turned down. And being touristy things were a bit more expensive and the shops were filled trashy souvenirs.

Parliament BuildingHaving said that, I only spent time in the old town, Quebec City is the fourth oldest city in Canada having recently celebrated its 400th year of existence and it has some amazing history and buildings. It was founded on July 3 1608 by Samuel de Champlain (champlain was also the wifi password and I thought they had misspelled champagne until I walked the streets :)). The city walls apparently are the last remaining city walls in America north of Mexico, and for this the old town was declared a world heritage site in 1985. I walked along the city walls which are lined with cannons and the whole trip takes just over an hour to complete. Most of my photos were taken from the walls. The walk also takes you past the Chateau Frontenac which is a hotel "the most photographed hotel in the world", it dominates the Quebecan skyline. It is quite pleasant walking around, the only thing that spoils it is that the entire city was built on a hill and going along the streets often times means going up and down a hill. This was only really a problem (or proper workout) when I was carrying all my luggage to the top, a 15 minute uphill walk.

The only other thing I tried while I was there, was poutine which is basically a bowl of chips served with cheese curd and gravy. I was told that it was traditional (this seems to be the excuse for quite a few things) and I absolutely had to try it. Well the cheese squeaks when you chew it, but other than that, it is not the most revolting thing I have eaten. It looks quite horrible and i must confess that I did not complete mine as it had way to much gravy on for my liking and I could feel my arteries constricting,so I only ate the chips that had survived the drowning. Incidentally my meal looked almost identical to the Wikipedia picture.

So in summary, I think Quebec City is worth a visit but I would not spend more than a few days (max 4) there.

Here are some photos, again I did not take enough.

P.S. Still can't get used to the surprise tax, it always feels like you are getting a raw deal.

Hostel Shock

The HI hostel (Hostelling International, kind of a franchise I have been staying at) was fully booked tonight, so I decided to stay in the next one on the list (www.hostelworld.com) and booked into "Ottawa Backpackers Inn". And I am proud to announce that I am in my very first hostel hostel, its quite a shock actually, i should give it more time but i am moving out tomorrow morning.

You have to leave your shoes at the door...which is strange but i can go with that. Next up I do not have an assigned bed, "pick one that is free". I think (hope) they count the beds and the number of people coming and after some rudimentary maths decide whether or not they should let more people in :) It says Kilimanjaro on my bed, so I feel a little bit closer to home tonight :) The sheets they gave me are pretty random black fitted sheet(just cotton before the questions start coming) and a blue one to sleep under although I have seen some Transformers and Micky Mouse sheets around... pretty eclectic ohh and there is this guy in my room Shaneesh (or something like that) after complementing me on my room choice because of its airiness he told me that he came here (from Uganda/West Africa) for a wedding 8 months ago, found some work and is still here.

Since it is pouring outside and they have no maps to hand out, i think i will be getting an early night tonight. Gotta keep one eye open, gotta watch those "locals" :)

Oh and for the techies among us, a 15ms ping to www.google.com even from this "interesting" hostel.

First Hostel-cooked meal...

Well after trying a little fast food here and there, two minute noodles and subway sandwiches I have finally decided to give the hostel kitchen a go. Went to a grocery store and tried to find the necessary ingredients (saved $3 by signing up for a Safeway Club Card). I decided to give couscous a try since it seemed so easy to make, you do not even need a pot! So I had tomato, onion, mince (not the fruity kind), various spices cooked up with some couscous. Now I would not call it a run-away success but it was not bad for a first attempt :) filling and not burnt. And the reason that there is not a photo, is that presentation is definitely something I need to work on:)

The EEE has landed...

EEE PCI just got my new EEE PC 901 this morning from reception. I am glad that the order went well in light of it being shipped to the reception of the hostel :)
It is tiny, slightly smaller than I thought it would be which is good... but obviously also means that the keyboard is smaller than I thought it would be and I suspect that it will take some getting used to. Aside from the tiny keyboard the only other gripe I have, is that the left mouse button does not seem to work. Maybe this is a driver issue, if it still has not clicked by July I will call tech support. Just wanted to say that it is finally here, so I will be able to update this blog slightly more easily so look forward to some more news and at least one more travel tip :)

Week 1 - Munich

Just arrived in London and I have a moment to access the Internet, so I thought that I would write up what I can remember of the last week and by clicking on the links you can join me virtually. :)

On Monday the 11th I arrived very drowsily in Munich international airport after having spent the previous 12 hours on a plane to cramped to sleep a wink (the amount of flying I will be doing, I better work on that...). Just a quick note, I might get the days a little confused Munich was a blur, to much happening at once, I had a great time and have Sonja, my little sister, to thank for that ;)

It was great to see my sister again, after not having seen her for 4 months. My parents' plane arrived an hour later and we set out, little did I know what plans had been made.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (not entirely sure what happened when but I might straighten it out once things become clearer again :)):

Rented car, drove to Schloss Neuschwanstein. An amazing place, in the most picturesque setting. Not only did Ludwig II have the first telephone in Bavaria, he also had a flushing toilet, air based central heating and an battery powered reading lamp!! Unfortunately I was not allowed to take photos inside the castle because of copyright reasons. Needless to say everything inside is very ornate decorated in carved wood panels or wall-sized paintings depicting scenes from Wagner's operas (Ludwig II was a big fan :)). We missed out on Linderhof palace because of confused misleading "Navi" (read GPS). It lead us north almost back to Munich instead of through the Austria which would have been quick. Alas, I will have to go back :) While returning the car to the rental place in Munich I went through two orange lights which might result in me being ticketed. In South Africa orange means "go faster", I guess in Germany it means "stop".Oh well, still a pretty good average, one day two tickets. At night we went to go see Angels and Demons in an english cinema and although the movie was probably good, I did not enjoy it all that much. Significant parts also seem to have been changed to make it fit onto the big-screen.

Wright Brothers PlaneSaturday:
The German Museum is an enormous and magnificent museum, if only we had been able to go there during school a lot more people would have enjoyed physics :) There are tons of experiments to every conceivable field of study beautifully laid out. I was amazed; huge models of ships planes and actual satellites. It is definitely worth a visit but would require more than a day to do it justice. I will visit the science museum here in London to see how the two compare :) The museum was followed by dinner at Hofbräuhaus, then relaxing evening at home watching mentalist.

Train ride to Garmisch-Partenkirchen to meet the mother of an old school friend. Lunch at a cafeteria at Lautersee near Mittenwald with a fantastic view of the Alps. Then train ride back to an excellent home cooked meal. (My sister will make someone very happy one day :)) Getting ready for the next mornings flight and watching Dollhouse.

That's all for now, I must be more diligent in jotting down all the things that I do when I actually do them. And I need to take more photos. Oh and #1 traveller tip, keep some plasters in your hand-luggage :)

Why I will get detained at the airport...

I have been preparing for my journey and one of the things that has annoyed me about flying is that you can never use your own headphones in the plane. I recently bought a pair of Sennheiser CX300 and they are fantastic, if you do not want to hear your environment (they do have an annoying thump when you touch the cords...but that might be the topic of another post...) and would really like to use them in the plane. So I soldered myself a airline-to-stereo mini jack and because the headphones are soooo sensitive, an in-line volume control. I fear that I will get detained at the airport. I hope not, but I will keep you informed. :)

Update: I made it through the security check without a problem, I guess they are used to seeing the inside of electronics. Whats more, they let me through with my SwissCard. :)

Trip Becoming a Reality

"I'm leaving on a jet plane, my bags are packed and I don't know when I will be back again." - OK, so none of that is true :) not sure 747s etc qualify as jet planes, my bags are not packed and I do know when I will be back again.

I finally booked my trip. It has been a long process and the trip has been significantly shortened and changed but I think the essence is still there. I am leaving on the 10th of May, and getting back on the 27th of September.

My "RTW" trip will cover these countries;
  • Germany (11 - 18 May)
  • UK (18 - 24 May)
  • USA (24 May - 14 August
  • Canada (see time in States)
  • Japan (15 - 29 August)
  • Australia (30 August - 17 September)
  • Egypt (18 - 27 September)

In Japan I will be doing an Imaginative Traveller tour starting on the 15th of August and in Egypt I will be doing a Contiki tour starting on the 19th of September. If you are keen on any of them, please join me. :)

Oh yes, and I finally found the perfect travel backpack. It is made by a German company called Deuter and has all sorts of little pockets and features. Specifically it is the Traveller 80 + 10 and what I like about it, is that the zip opens most the way around so you can get at things like you would in a suitcase, it has a detachable day-pack, fold-away shoulder straps... and the list goes on. I can not wait to get started. :)

If you have comments or suggestions please get in touch. That's all for now.:)

Lost in Translation

I am just busy trying to work out my daily expenses in order to get an estimate of how much foreign exchange I will require. And in doing so I somehow got to the homepage of the first hotel I will be staying in. Have a look at the pages below, I think either English is a much more succinct language or they grew tiered of translating :)

English Page

Japanese Page

Currencies I will require on my trip:

  • Euro (EUR)
  • Pound Sterling (GBP)
  • US Dollar (USD)
  • Canadian Dollar (CAD)
  • Yen (JPY)
  • Australian Dollar (AUD)
  • Egyptian Pound (EGP)

(I have included ZAR price for the last 12 months as a link)

Obsession with Optimization

If not an obsession, then I have a passion or fixation for optimization. To get something as small or as fast as possible. I hate to see any kind of resource be squandered; money, water, space or even CPU cycles and it brings a smile to my face to see that someone has solved a particular problem efficiently.

To that effect I almost gagged when I got an email which had a 30k signature image of the companies logo in a bit of colour. The width and height of this image is indicated below.

As a comparison, the standard Google logo is only just over 7k and over three times the area.

This same wastefulness can be seen in web pages. The worst page that I have seen in a while is that of South African cellular services provider MTN. Their landing page weighs in at over 80k and has barely over one screens worth of content. I have listed a few pages and their respective sizes below.Now granted you should also take the images and other media into account when comparing the relative sizes of web pages, I have only looked at the HTML here. Also these pages vary in terms of their content and indeed their function, but the point I am trying to make is that when designing anything for mass consumption there are a lot of things that need careful consideration, not least of which the size of your content.

Why do I care about these things? Maybe it is because I come from a bandwidth starved country, maybe I am a little bit crazy, but to me it is like seeing bits drip out of a digital tap. Surely you would want to make sure you are not wasteful. Make sure all your designs work as efficiently as they possibly can while keeping in mind that a good solution today is often better than a perfect solution tomorrow.

This might be why I find some of the TED videos so inspiring, go and have a look here.

Me, a Domain Squatter?

Squatting in South Africa has always been a bit of a problem (still is) and you obviously also get squatters in the digital domain. People who buy domain names in the hopes of selling them to the big corporates for a pretty penny. Most times there are panels that you can approach to resolve the dispute over a domain name, but in some cases "first-come first-serve" rule is applied and you can only hope that you are the first.
Only two weeks into owning the blum.co.za domain I have been approached to sell it. I do not know to whom, but a hosting company in Munich has offered me $1 500 for the domain name. I suppose it is for hinge giant www.blum.com. In any event I have told them that I do not wish to sell it(for any less than $15 000) and I believe I have a legitimate claim on the domain since it is my name :)

Update: It has been a week since my ridiculous offer and no response. I must say I am glad to keep my domain, but I was warming to idea of making some quick cash :)

Community Overload

As you might have noticed I have recently started blogging and looking at all the other services people use to stay in touch. These are the community sites and services I currently have accounts for;

  • FaceBook - massively popular community site, I am here
  • Flickr - photography site, check my pics out here
  • Twitter - micro blogging site, follow me here
  • Blogger(of course) - you guessed it, you are already here:)
  • Gmail - the best free email solution :)
  • Skype - chat application that can make landline calls and send SMS messages, phone me here
  • Zyb - site that allows you to back up your phone contacts and attempts to create a community based on that information, find me here
  • Remember The Milk - site to manage todo lists and your calendar, looks to have a nice iPhone app as well
  • TripIt - I am still playing around with this, apparently this site will manage your travel itinerary, I am here
  • Digg - site to discover and share content from anywhere on the web, I am here
  • delicious - social bookmarking service, I am here
  • FriendFeed - site that aims to bring together all others to consolidate and sumarize them, find me here
  • XBox.com - official XBox-360 site, find me here
  • www.xbox-360.co.za - South African XBox-360 community site, their leaderboad can be found here
  • www.xbox360achievements.org - site listing helpful hints for XBox 360 achievements
  • iTunes - Apple's application to overcharge for music
  • Mozy - site that allows you to back up your data to the web
  • not to mention all the retail sites Amazon, eBay, Kalahari, Take2, ...

I hope they all have rock solid privacy policies :)

The Big Trip: Getting Ready

As some of you might know I am planning to go on a 6 to 9 month trip around the world. My lovely sister got me a great book for Christmas to get started. It is called "The Big Trip" and gives quite a few handy hints on what to look out for when planning a longer journey. Among the growing list of things I still need to plan are;

  • Forex
  • Vacinations
  • Luggage
  • Insurance
  • First Aid Course + Kit
  • Some Tickets
  • Some Accomodation
  • Basic Timelines
  • ...last but not least where I want to go :)

To blog or not to blog....

I would never have guessed that blogging is so much work. Well it is not like I have gotten around to do any actual posting yet, but I am talking about the setup.
  1. How do I make it looks good? What template do I choose? Do I have to make my own?
    Unfortunately I do not posess the greatest artistic ability, in fact my drawings have been likened to those made by those done by baby chimpanzees, the only difference being that you can identify what they have been drawing. So templates seemed like the best option. btemplates.com has one of the most comprehensive set I was able to find and some of them look truely astounding. I was looking for a template that looked clean and elegant and above all did not take 5 hours to load. I liked;

    But with all of them either images did not display properly or they took to long to load or they did not render properly and even with the template there was still a lot of manual setup work to get it going...so in the end I decided to go for a default template which I could replace when and where I found the time(most likely not for a while). Taking the engineering view of function above form.

  2. Content, where does it all come from?
    There are tons of tools that will help you publish your content onto blogger and other similar sites. Most notible or clean looking is Windows Live Writer, but there are tons of applications for every platform. A list of a few can be found here. But as with all things there is still real work to be done.

  3. Statistics and Services
    I have signed up with Google Analytics which is a free tool that can supply you with some pretty detailed statistics. And finally I added this blog to feedburner here.

That is about all I could manage, I still need to add some widgest, put up reading lists and blogs I enjoy so check in every now and again as things grow...

P.S. If I am missing anything vital/interesting in the setup of the blog, drop me a line or leave a comment. Thanks.

Setting up Email Domain Hosting

Call me crazy but I have always wanted to set up an name@surname.com email account for myself. So i checked the co.za to see if the correct domain name was available and had my good friend Greg register it for me.

What now? Who do I pay? How much? I just want to receive my emails. So I was looking for a host, and the big names that immediately popped up were Windows Live Domains and Google Hosted Services. I already had a GMail address and liked how Google ran things. Also I still had a bad taste in my mouth from using Hotmail way back in 1995 when it was not very user friendly. So I admit being biased towards using the Google system and the rest of this post will describe my experience setting up my email hosting there.

So, where were we? Oh yes, browsing around the Google Hosting site it looked like I would have to pay $50 a year per email account I was going to run on the domain for the Premier service. Then I found a link that compared it to the Standard service which met all the requirements I had for free, so I signed up.

The first thing you have to do is verify that you own the domain you are trying to receive mail on. This is done by registering a long name that looks something like google73981273.yourdomain.com to point to google.com. Google will verify this and tell you to point your domain MX records to the ones they supply and hey presto you are ready to receive mail.

I was amazed at how quickly the whole thing was up and running. Another great feature is that you can set up an easier address to access your webmail, something like mail.yourdomain.com which is very convenient for your users.

Apparently you can also retrieve your email vio POP using the following settings;

POP3 : pop.gmail.com / pop.googlemail.com
Username : your-username@your-domain
SMTP : smtp.gmail.com
Username : your-username@your-domain
Port : 587
Connection Type : TLS

...but I have not confired that yet. [Update: Yes it does work and instructions can be found here.]

I must thank Google for making their mail hosting solution so easy to set up, not to free :)

Its a Start

Seeing how easy blogging really is. Do I want to be doing this? Is this my diary?