Monthly Archives: July 2008

Sitting in a cafe…

Posted by on July 30, 2008

I’m writing this on my iPod in a cafe in Singapore. I just got back from the Asian cultural museum, which is one of the better museums I’ve been to on my trip. (oddly enough, japan and Korea weren’t mentioned).

I finally got a cell phone yesterday. I haven’t had one in over a year. It’s pretty cheap, but it gets the job done.

Typing is a pain on the iPod. The new WordPress app makes the process a bit easier.

I’m taking photos today and tomorrow I’ll shoot video. There is a high density of things to photograph here.


Posted by on July 29, 2008

I made it to Singapore and so far I’m enjoying it.

I’m staying at the apartment of my college roommate Dave, who is a professor at the University of Singapore.

Singapore is much as I remember it: clean, efficient, modern, and very green.

There are some changes which I’ve noticed, in particular there are more signs in Thai. I don’t recall seeing any signs written in Thai when I was here last time, but many of the signs are written in English, Chinese, Thai, and Bahasa Malaysian. I think there are many more foreign workers in Singapore also.

They’ve put in a large Ferris wheel like they have in London. I’ve already found several times the number of open wifi connections in than I found in almost six months in Australia.

The University of Singapore looked (as much as I can tell in an hour) as a pretty good school. It is exactly the sort of thing which the Singapore government would put money into. It is certainly the best university in South East Asia, and probably one of the best in all of Asia, certainly outside of Japan.

It is really humid here. The Changi Airport is really nice. I’d put it over the Hong Kong airport.

I’m going to search for a cell phone. I think I’ve reached the point where I need to get one. It is more a matter of figuring out what card/plan to get. I don’t need to make a lot of calls, but I would like to do international text messaging.

See Ya Later Aussie

Posted by on July 27, 2008

I’m bound for Singapore in a few hours. I’ll probably get to the airport a bit early just because they have free and fast internet access there. Much better than what I can get in Darwin.

I can’t believe I’ve been here for more than five months. I originally intended to be here for about 2-3 months. The size and vast emptiness of the country really is astounding. While it is approximate in size to the continental US, it is very different in how things are spread out. It would be like the US if everything outside of the east coast and Sand Diego was the Nevada desert.

I’ll have a lot to say about Australia in the coming months. There is too much to say in one post. If I can summarize it in a simple sentence however, it is that Australia (and Canada, US, New Zealand, UK) are more alike than they are different. When you visit a place like Australia, as an American, you notice the things which are different. When you visit Japan, you notice the things which are the same.

Singapore will be the second country on my trip which I’ve visited previously (technically third, but a 24 hour stop over in Japan really didn’t count). I was in Singapore for four days back in 1999 and fell in love with the place. I am really interested to see what has changed and how the city is different. I’ll probably be writing more about Singapore than I otherwise would for a country its size, just because I find the place so fascinating.

One thing which I’m looking forward to in Singapore is FREE WIRELESS INTERNET. During my entire stay in Australia, I’ve found it in one place outside of an airport. Australian internet has been disappointing to say the least. It is slow and expensive. Many things I’ve wanted to do on my site I’ve put on hold till I could get to Singapore, just because of state of the Internet. I hope some of the location based services on my iPod Touch will work in Singapore.

I’m also looking to the lower prices of South East Asia. Australia is expensive for someone using American Dollars (and in some items like Coke is expensive for everyone. $3.50 for a 600ml bottle, or about 20oz. Yet you can often buy 2, 2 liter bottles for $5). Even though Singapore is probably the most expensive place in SE Asia, it should still be cheaper than Australia. One Singapore dollar is worth about US$0.75. When I was there in 1999, five Singapore dollars was about US$2.

Expect a few podcasts in quick succession. One problem with doing a podcast like I do, is you are held hostage by what internet connection you can get. I have two I shot in Australia almost ready to go. I might not be able to post exactly one per week, but I think I can average one per week by putting up more to compensate for when I can’t post. I also might be going back and revisiting some places I went where I didn’t shoot video by doing the Ken Burns thing with still photos. We’ll see.

If anyone in Singapore is reading this, drop me an email (gary AT I always enjoy meeting people.

Back from the outback

Posted by on July 25, 2008

I’m back from my trip to Uluru. We slept under the stars (literally), and froze our asses off. The swing in temperature in the desert is really crazy. It went from -3C (30F) to 21C (70F) in a single day. It is a reoccuring theme with me, but I am not equipped to deal with cold weather. A sweatshirt and a long t-shirt isn’t really cold weather gear.

My legs are sore and when I got back to Alice, I had dirt in places dirt should never see, and had odors which could kill animals.

I leave for Darwin in a few hours, where I’ll finally be out of the “cold”. I’ve been wearing a stocking hat and long pants for the past month since I’ve been to Perth and Adelaide. I’ll be in Darwin only a day or two before I head to Singapore. I’ll write a more in-depth review of my time in the outback when I’m on the plane (I’m on a internet kiosk right now).

Going Outback

Posted by on July 22, 2008

Tomorrow morning I leave for three days in the bush. I’ll be sleeping outside under the stars. This three day trip was cheaper than a two day trip, so I figured “why not?” I get back on Friday and I hope to be in Singapore by Monday. As far as I can tell, flights to Darwin are about the same price as a bus trip. The train is cheaper, but it only leave Alice on Mondays and Thursdays.

I’ve just uploaded the last of my Western and South Australia photos. It took forever given the bandwidth in Alice Springs, but I managed to finish it. Most of the photos are from the Pinnacle Desert and Coober Pedy.

I’m also working on a Seven Wonders of Japan project with Neil Duckett, an Australian living in Tokyo. If you’ve been to Japan, take the time to vote. The results will be published here when the voting is done.

Also, if you haven’t, take a moment to check out my other website: Where On Google Earth. It is a game where you try to guess places on Earth from Google Earth images. Some are easy, some are hard.

Alice Springs

Posted by on July 18, 2008

I’ve made it to Alice Springs. From Coober Pedy to Alice Springs was about 850km (510 mi). In that distance there were zero towns, cities, villages or communities on the road. None. There were three road houses where you could buy fuel, but that’s it. North of Alice Springs it is pretty much the same. It is 1500km (900 mi) from Darwin, which is probably the closest real hospital.

I know I’ve spoke of this before during my drive through West Australia, but it is hard to fathom just how vast and empty the middle of Australia is. Between Alice Springs and the Indian Ocean there is probably only one or two paved roads, and that is about 1,300 miles away (2000km). Near Coober Pedy, there is a cattle station which is larger than the nation of Belgium, and yet it can only support 2000 head of cattle because the land is so dry and barren.

The Todd River in Alice Springs has no water in it. Zero. It is totally dry. (The locals joke the water is so clear, you can see the bottom of the river.)

Yet, Alice Springs really is sort of an oasis. There are trees here and while there isn’t much water, there is at least some water.

With only 25,000 people, the town may be small, but it is by far the largest in the outback. It is home to the Royal Flying Doctors, which services the outback, and the school of the air, which is a school for kids living in the outback. It used to use two-way radio, but now uses satellite internet connections.

Depending on what Uluru tour I take, I may take the train to Darwin.

Despite being so remote, I was able to see The Dark Knight last night in a theater here. I was sort of surprised they had it.

Cya Coober Pedy

Posted by on July 17, 2008

I’m off to Alice Springs tomorrow at 5:30am. The bus schedules out there are really odd.

I took a lot of photos and video the last few days and hope to be editing them over the next few days. Coober Pedy is a very unique place. I’m having a hard time trying to explain everything which is here, why it exists, and trying to capture the place.

Some fun facts which you’ll hear about in a future podcast:

  • 65% of the population here lives underground.
  • Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome as filmed here, as was Percilla Queen of the Desert and several other movies with a post apocalyptic theme. If you are looking for desolate waste land, Coober Pedy is your place.
  • I got to go out with an opal miner for an afternoon. All the mines here are operated by individuals, each staking out their own claim. It is one of the last spots in the world where people mine like this.
  • My knowledge of opals comes from one day in a lab for my mineralogy class. All I knew before coming here was that opals are technically not a mineral as they are amorphous. Opals might now be my favorite gemstone. I am particularly fond of Boulder opals from Queensland. If I had a girlfriend, she’d have a ton jewelry now. Not only Australian opals, but Tahitian Black Pearls, and Hawaiian Olivine (my favorite mineral).
  • The people in Coober Pedy are some of the most interesting characters you’ll ever find. Legend has it that Crocodile Dundee was modeled after Crocodile Harry, a croc hunter from NT who moved to Coober Pedy. They filmed some of the Mad Max scenes at his house.

All I have left on my Australian schedule is Uluru (Ayers Rock). I can’t believe my planned two months in Australia turned into six. Especially consider how expensive it is here.

Many readers of this site have probably only been reading since I’ve been in Australia. I may be sounding like a broken record, but I’m a really looking forward to South East Asia.

Wells Fargo Still Sucks

Posted by on July 16, 2008

Guess who’s favorite bank suspended his debit card again while he was out in the middle of the Australian outback??

Wells Fargo, I hate you with the hate of a thousand suns.

Coober Pedy

Posted by on July 14, 2008

I’ve left Adelaide and am now in Coober Pedy, South Australia.

This town is……unique. The place i’m stayin is 15 feet underground. Many of the buildings here are underground, built by miners looking for opal. The town sort of looks like Tatooine from Star Wars.

My bus arrived at 5am and I slept until 11am. It is easy to lose track of time when you can’t see the sun.

I’ll be here for two days shooting some podcast video, then I’m off to Uluru and Alice Springs.

Swiss Army Knife of Travel Gadgets: iPod Touch 2.0

Posted by on July 13, 2008

Hands down, without question, the handiest travel gadget I have is my iPod Touch. It isn’t just a music player. It is a host of useful things which fit into my pocket. Along with my wallet, it is the only thing which is on my person 24/7 whenever I’m not in the shower. I often make mental checks throughout the day on my wallet and my iPod.

I purchased my iPod Touch at the Ginza Apple Store in Tokyo. It was something I was a bit ambivalent about at first, but since then I haven’t regretted it once. It is basically an iPhone without the phone (or camera). For the most part, it runs the same software can do the same things, only you can’t call other people. Given all the border crossing I do, and the extreme lack of people who call me, an iPhone really doesn’t make sense, but the iPod Touch works well.

Me and my best friend

Me and my best friend

This weekend, my big adventure was getting the new 2.0 version of the software which came out with the new iPhone launch. Getting it was a bit of a pain, but I eventually was able to download it when most of North America was asleep.

What do I use it for?

  • An alarm clock. There is built in alarm clock software and the external speaker, while not good enough for music, is good enough for waking you up.
  • A watch. I don’t even wear a watch anymore. I just pull out my iPod and check the time. You can also keep a list of times around the world in the built-in clock application. That is handy when in bizarre half-hour time zones like Central Australia.
  • A wifi finder. When I started my trip, I had a tiny key fob thing which would tell me if there was a strong wireless internet signal around. The iPod is 100x better. Instead of a tiny green light, it will give me the names, signal strengths and tell me if a signal is open or closed. It is a lot easier to pull out an iPod than it is to pull out a laptop. It is also a lot safer as well.
  • Web browser. Several times on my trip (none in Australia however, but that is another post) I’ve been able to check email or do other important things right from my iPod. In Busan, South Korea, I was able to contact the owner of a hostel via an open wifi connection I found on a sidewalk. He was able to pick me up at the train station. It isn’t as good as a laptop, but it more than gets the job done considering its size.
  • A flashlight. There is an application written for the 2.0 software which will do nothing but make the screen display one solid color of light. Have you ever used your cellphone as a flashlight? The iPod has a bigger screen and can put out more light. It even has a strobe effect.
  • Remote control. The new 2.0 software has a remote control application which lets you control iTunes from your iPod? Why would you want to do this? I can lay on my bed and watch podcasts or TV shows on my laptop as if it were a TV, without getting up. Three cheers for laziness!
  • Calculator. The new 2.0 calculator software will now become a scientific calculator when you turn it horizontal. How freaking cool is that? Wait a few months for some new calculator apps and no one will ever purchase a dedicated graphing calculator again.
  • A notebook. I use the note application all the time. I am never at a loss for paper and pen now. I kept the mileage and gas usage during my entire drive from Darwin to Perth. I got 16gb of memory, so I never need to worry about running out.
  • A photo album. I keep about 100 photos I’ve taken on my trip on my iPod. (I really need to update them. I don’t think I have included any photos since Borneo.) If I meet someone, i can show them a map of my journey and photos I’ve taken instantly. They can “get” what I’m up to immediately. Girls especially like to browse the photos and swipe their finger across the screen :)

Oh yeah. I can also listen to music and watch video on it.

I have to believe they will come out with a new version of the iPod Touch before Christmas. Here is my wish list for how they could upgrade it:

  • Bigger battery. The iPod Touch is slightly thinner than the iPhone. I’d make it the same size, and increase the battery. Without having to power the 3G stuff, it should increase battery life significantly. The added size and weight would be trivial.
  • Put in the camera. Other than the phone, the biggest hardware difference between the iPod and the iPhone is the camera. From what I’ve been told, the iPhone camera isn’t so hot. Use the next version of the iPod Touch to upgrade the camera.
  • GPS GPS would kick ass. With the larger battery, you could use it as a real GPS and not has quite as many worries as you might with the iPhone. There are more than enough memory in the iPod to store maps locally. Even with no maps, I could still get good use from the GPS if I had it log my position and use that to geotag my photos.
  • Infrared Port. This isn’t on the iPhone, but given the power of the iTunes remote application, it shouldn’t be hard to put an IR port on it and put every programmable remote control manufacturer out of business. This 80s technology, so it shouldn’t be too hard to add or raise the cost too much.

If they put in half of my suggestions, I’d but the upgrade in a heartbeat. With the flood of new applications expected, the number of uses for my iPod will probably only increase.

I’ve had some people tell me “16gb isn’t enough storage”. Well, yes it is. You really don’t need to carry around every single bit of music you own. 16gb is a LOT of music. in fact, I haven’t come close to filling it. Your primary storage should be on a computer anyhow. Even if you think you need to carry around every song ever written, the added utility you’ll get from an iPod Touch will dwarf the benefits of carrying around music you never listen to.

If you are thinking of traveling (or not) and are looking a new gadget, put this on the top of your list.