Sunday, September 24, 2017

Montenegro - Morača Monastery

Morača Monastery near Kolašin, Montenegro. Founded in 1252, but destroyed by the Ottomans and rebuilt 1574- 1580. Like many monasteries, in the middle of nowhere.

The monks like their beer cold 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Albania - One of the 173,000 concrete bunkers

Between 1967 and 1986 the Peoples's Socialist Republic of Albania build thousands of concrete bunkers in the belief they would supply protection against Yugoslavia, NATO, and the Warsaw Pact.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Tirana - More Pictures

The Albanians, mosaic over the National Historical Museum, which has no cooling, and was sweltering early in the morning. It does have a section on "Communist Terror."

The Cloud Pavilion

Skanderbeg Monument 

Many buildings are painted many colors, this is a tame example, inspired by the current major, Edi Rama, who even has a TED talk "Take back your city with paint." 

Kapllan Pasha Tomb, built early 19C 

Tagged community animal, just as you see in Turkey, perhaps a custom from the Ottoman Empire? 

The Rogner Hotel has a 3 hectare garden

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tirana - Museum Bunk Art 2

Bordering the large square in the center of Tirana is an underground bunker, a Gendarmerie, built from 1913 to 1986, and used through the communist period. Only 4 Euros to enter it is a strange mix of the history under communism and art. In the area furthest from the entrance are decontamination rooms, which were never used, and a meeting room, bedroom, and bathroom for Minister of Internal Affairs and staff. It is furnished but also unused.

Information on the "Pastry Maker."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tirana - The Prime Minister's office

The Prime Minister's office is an imposing building next to the pyramid. It has a 50's communist style motif on one side with three levels of the proletariat. At nighttime it has programmed flashing lights. Not exactly 10 Downing Street.

The building at night

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tirana - A poor country but Mercedes everywhere

It is striking, you get to Albania and it hits you, there are Mercedes in abundance, old and new, small and large. This is a poor country.  It is said when communism collapsed in 1990 a large percentage of the population left to Western Europe and brought back an old Mercedes, it was a status symbol. The newer models maybe stolen but the Albanian government does care to check when registering cars.

Tirana - Wedding at a Mosque

This small mosque is on the main square. A very public ceremony. There was no restriction on women covering their head, the bride herself has no covering. There were visitors and "employees" everywhere in the small space, chattering and taking pictures.

Then the imam's cellphone rang and after a few seconds the bride and groom got up and left. I guess it was over.

Short video

Outside, the open arches now have glass inserts

And inside

Tirana - The Enver Hoxha Pyramid

Enver Hoxha was the brutal communist dictator of Albania from 1941 to 1985. Three years after his death, the Enver Hoxha Mausoleum was opened.  In 1991 when the communist government fell it become a conference center.  It sits on a prime location in the center of Tirana opposite the park. Because of its strong link to the dictator is has been vandalized, and its future is uncertain.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Balkans - A vacation that almost wasn't

We squeaked by. We got home Tuesday, the pet store opened Thursday to board our cat, the airport had limited opening after 16:00. Thursday, the driver to get us to the airport, confirmed Thursday evening. Our flight was early Friday.

The driver arrived on time, drove us to the airport in the dark. We got boarding passes and had breakfast. For us the world was finally back in equilibrium.

We flew to Newark, then to Vienna, and on to Tirana. Our guide picked us up and took us to the hotel.

Tirana, Albania

Shkoder, Albania - Why do just guys hang out together in cafes?

Kolasin, Montenegro - Hotel that would look good in Colorado

Kotor, Montenegra

Dubronik, Croatia, swamped with tourists

Split, Croatia

Plivice - Pictures do no show the wonder of these lakes

Opatija - A grey windy day, the summer is history

Postojna - Visiting the caves on a rainy day

Bled - a pretty idyllic glacial lake

Palmanova, Italy on the way to Venice airport. The characteristic high tables where Italians stand to have coffee.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Texas - The Long Way Home

We left town before Harvey hit the coast, on Thursday, to our inland country home. While we were there we had 31 inches, I kept emptying the 7 inch rain gauge. Five days later, on Tuesday, we planned the trip back, not knowing if our city house was flooded. Getting south of Interstate 10 was tricky as there were many flooded roads, and the rivers were still rising. We headed west to La Grange and then south to Schulenberg and Halletsville.

Finally we headed east, until we got to East Bernard. Google maps showed it open, but the East Barnard River was over the road.

I spoke to some local people and they directed us back to the traffic light and south to Hungerford. Here we picket up Interstate 69 the rest of the way home, crossing the Colorado river that was almost level with the bridge. It seemed to be a one way trip, we suspected the roads would close behind us.

We turned into the street where we live and our spirits rose, our home had survived 42 inches of rain over 3 days. A stress test if there every was one of the levees, pumps, and drainage systems.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Reality - A four minute movie, "We are Dead Stars"

Michelle Thaller explains in four minutes how every atom in our bodies was processed in the body of an ancient star.

Croatia - "Flowers do not bloom in our company"

I missed this event, held in Dubrovnik, a comedy by Milan Lane Gutović, a Serbian actor.  Only 80 Kuna, about 10 Euro. A steal if one could understand it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Texas - A virtual robbery

Thursday August 24

The home security monitoring company called me to say the backdoor was open. They also called the local police. I said I will go home and check.

As I approached the house there were no cars around and the gates were closed. I entered the front door, and the armed security beeped and I switched it off.  The TV was still there. So far so good.

The security company called me again to say the police had checked the house. The backdoor deadbolt was unlocked, but the handle lock was set, which one can do without a key as you exit.

I checked all the rooms, and all the doors leading to place a burglar could hide were open.  The changes to the house were not a sign of a burglar, but of the police, who had exited and locked the backdoor.  I guess the security people rearmed the house.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Art - The artist that dug caves for $15 and hour until the money run out

From Aeon, a very human story, the intersection of one man's passion, the perfect climate, and the perfect kind of rock that can be dug out and carved by hand.  If you need, skip the middle, but watch the final frames buried in the credits at the end.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Technology - Where do I stand with car automation?

I really want to call up a self driving car or truck to take me where I want to go.  Will it be available by the time the State decides I should no longer be driving? The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has 5 levels of automation:

Level 0: Basic - The driver (human) controls it all: steering, brakes, throttle, power. It's what you've been doing all along.

  • Since the dawn of time

Level 1: Minimal - This driver-assistance level means that most functions are still controlled by the driver, but a specific function (like steering or accelerating) can be done automatically by the car.

  • Many cars offer this recently

Level 2: At least one driver assistance system of "both steering and acceleration/ deceleration using information about the driving environment" is automated, like cruise control and lane-centering. It means that the "driver is disengaged from physically operating the vehicle by having his or her hands off the steering wheel AND foot off pedal at the same time," according to the SAE. The driver must still always be ready to take control of the vehicle, however.

  • Tesla and a few others  

Level 3: Drivers are still necessary in level 3 cars, but are able to completely shift "safety-critical functions" to the vehicle, under certain traffic or environmental conditions. It means that the driver is still present and will intervene if necessary, but is not required to monitor the situation in the same way it does for the previous levels. Jim McBride, autonomous vehicles expert at Ford, said this is "the biggest demarcation is between Levels 3 and 4." He's focused on getting Ford straight to Level 4, since Level 3, which involves transferring control from car to human, can often pose difficulties. "We're not going to ask the driver to instantaneously intervene—that's not a fair proposition," McBride said. Level 4: This is what is meant by "fully autonomous."

  • Maybe the 2018 Audi A8 when available

Level 4: Vehicles are "designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip." However, it's important to note that this is limited to the "operational design domain (ODD)" of the vehicle—meaning it does not cover every driving scenario, like snow and heavy rain.

  • Not yet

 Level 5: This refers to a fully-autonomous system that expects the vehicle's performance to equal that of a human driver, in every driving scenario—including extreme environments like dirt roads that are unlikely to be navigated by driverless vehicles in the near future.
  • Not yet

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Texas - Plan for brick paving

The area next to the driveway is dirt and covered in leaves, muddy when it rains, so we have decided to pave it with a mixture of bricks.  We already have enough bricks to cover 25%.  The space is irregular, 2 x 5 m, about 12 m2.

Does anyone have any old bricks?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

Culture - Abandoned creatures and despicable humans

Last Friday, we picked up a very young cat, on the way to the country, that had been to the vet to be fixed.  The vet said it looked as if it had had kittens, they can have kittens as early at 4 to 6 months. It had been found abandoned, outside our house earlier that day. It was a small tabby probably not a year old. It was very tame, a house cat, that knew people and houses.

Sunday evening four kittens appeared, they had survived two days without their mother.

Why do people choose our house to discard unwanted pets?  There are free no-kill animal shelters.

Link to last abandoned cat

Thursday, August 17, 2017

People - Robert Sapolsky - The uniqueness of humans

(Image credit: L.A. Cicero)
A Stanford professor, a neurobiologist and primatologist, who spends part of each year in East Africa studying Baboons. Studying includes using a blow dart to capture them for analysis.

"Basically, that the criminal justice system is staggeringly out of date in incorporating neuroscience into its thinking. As one flagrant example, the gold standard for determining whether someone is so organically impaired that they can’t be held responsible for their criminal actions – the “M’Naghten rule” concerning an inability to tell the difference between right and wrong – is based on the case of a man by that name, almost certainly a paranoid schizophrenic, from the 1840s. The 1840s!"

See his guest class day talk at Stanford

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Texas - Mary'z, Houston, or a 7 hour road trip from Tel Aviv?

This should be entitled "Greater Texas."

Wednesday we ate at Mary'z, a great Lebanese restaurant. We had eggplant, hummus, baked cauliflower, and pita bread, it was filling and delicious, and under $20 for two.  It reminded us of the late lunch we had on the beach in Tel-Aviv, just a 220 km south of Beirut.

If one had the inclination to compare the same cuisine in Israel and Lebanon, there is no direct road link between the two cities anymore, it takes 6 or 7 hours to drive via Damascus.

Maybe not.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Art - "Oh my cod, I love her, yes, I do"

This was inspired by a article in the Economist of how English and Chinese are very suited to puns and double entendres. You can buy the song for a $1 on iTunes.

I was a cook and she was a waitress
Down at the Salty Sam Seafood Café
and somewhere 'tween the clam juice and the seaweed salad
some little shrimp just lured her away

Oh, I lobster and never flounder
He wrapped his line around her
and they drove off in his carp
Oh, I lobster and never flounder
I octopus his face in
Eel only break her heart

I said, "Just squid and leave me
for that piano tuna
if you want to trout something new"
She was the bass I ever had
Now my life has no porpoise
Oh my cod, I love her, yes, I do

Oh, I lobster and never flounder
He wrapped his line around her
and they drove off in his carp
Oh, I lobster and never flounder
I octopus his face in
Eel only break her heart


"Boy, I swordfish she'd come back to me, Sandy. I shore'd a whale of a time." "Now, Richard, you know she'd just pull that 'Not tonight, I've got a haddock' routine." "You're probably right. But y'know, I've kelped her picture in my walleye just for the halibut. I wonder if she's still got mine in her perch?" "Did say 'perch'?" "Yeah, I'm afraid so." "That's good. For a moment there, I thought I was losing my herring." (audience groans) "Well, we bass squid all this seahorsing around before these people out here go into a state of shark." "Yeah, if we get out of here alive, it's going to be a...mackerel." "Frankly scallop, I don't give a clam."

(Stavro Arrgolus)

Culture - Eye Witnesses - never believe them

Here I was again, I was sure this woman was someone I knew at work, just in casual clothes and little makeup. Her name was L, but I thought she was D, someone I know at work, she was tall, had the same build, the same age, the same way of standing. I asked her if she had a sister called D, and she said no. D and L are strangers to each other but my mind merged the two.

Since I was a teenager I have always suspected eye-witnesses. I was a learning to drive with my father riding shotgun, and a car coming from the other way hit the motorcyclist who pulled into the road. The motorcyclist, wearing a helmet and leathers, came off the bike and tumbled head over heals on the grass.  He seemed dazed but unhurt.  The police came and many of the eye witnesses apportioned blame to the motorcyclist, I thought the car was to blame.

All these years later I do not know what is true. But it made me aware, at an early age, how perception and reality often do not agree.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Texas - Finally some honey from our ex-bees

We hosted beehives for two years, and finally, after they were moved five miles away to a friend's collection, we get honey. Why they are labeled "Mad" Bee Honey? I don't know.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Texas - Wanton damage?

Seen last night in Houston, outside Aranda's Tequila Bar, the owner of the car was not there, and more importantly the vehicle that did the damage was not there. It looks as if the car was reversed parked, and someone had hit it so hard to move it backwards so it bent the steel pole at the curb.

I did not have time to look closer to understand what happened, but it looks more like a deliberate, malicious act, rather than an accident. There is a story here, but we will never know.