RIP, Edgar Mitchell – Moonwalker #6 and change agent

Edward Mitchell, moonwalker and change agent

Astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, Apollo 14 lunar module pilot stands by the deployed U.S. flag on the lunar surface during the early moments of the mission’s first spacewalk. Photo: NASA, Caption: Boing Boing

RIP, Edgar Mitchell, 6th person to walk on the moon, and change agent. On the perspective granted by outer space:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

Kayaking Baja Sur

A few weeks back, as an early 40th birthday present of sorts, my good friend Spence and I took a 7 day kayaking trip from Loreto to La Paz along the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur. In short, it was spectacular—soaking up sun and crystal blue waters during the day, camping on pristine beaches every night, eating fresh seafood, totally unplugged and loving every minute. Here are some of my photos from the trip. Unfortunately, I was not able to capture the bioluminescent organisms lighting up the waves lapping at the shore at night, so you’ll just have to close your eyes and imagine that beautiful scene.


European Vacation and Lots of Change

The last two months have been a complete whirlwind. In that time, I’ve wrapped up my  3+ years of work at SF Environment (with the exception of the Regional Recycling Database project), spent two weeks exploring Holland and Italy, and started a brand new position at More on the latter later, but for now, I want to share some pics of my European Vacation.

The original impetus for the trip was to attend the wedding of my girlfriend’s Dutch cousin, which provided the perfect opportunity for some solid international travel. So, to start, we spent a gloriously cozy week with her family in Amsterdam, riding bikes, taking in art and architecture, cruising in canal boats, and drinking Heineken. Here are some of the Holland highlights:

Holland is beautiful, green, wet, and grey, so, after the overcast, we decided to hit up the Mediterranean for some much needed sun. Enter Italy, specifically Rome and the Amalfi Coast south of Naples. Incredible food, remarkable history and barely controlled chaos provided a surprisingly relaxing yet most romantic retreat for our second week out. Check out some of the memorable moments:

As I mentioned, the adventure continues at I’ll be capturing some of my initial thoughts after my first week on the job, so stay tuned!

Home from Ecuador, with Photos


a Marine Iguana’s perspective, originally uploaded by noveltimes.

It’s taken me a lot longer than I had hoped to post this, but I’m back from Ecuador and have plenty of thoughts and photos to share. Saskia and I returned on New Year’s Eve, but we were both sick with a stomach bug, and then I caught a nasty head cold that knocked me out for most of the next week. Well, I’m happy to report that I now have a clean bill of health and, more importantly, the trip to Ecuador, with the exception of the return home, was incredible. I’m planning on posting a run down of my trip, but in the meantime, here are some photos to whet your whistle. Enjoy!

Ecuador, Here I Come

It’s been three years since I’ve stepped foot outside the territory of these United States. A combination of work, music and general life distractions has kept my feet firmly planted here, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about traveling abroad once again. In fact, earlier this year I had been starting to think about a trip to Greece and Turkey. And then, after a short but sweet visit by my old friend Beana over the summer, I decided that I needed to visit her while she was still living in Hong Kong. I’m still hoping to make both of those trips in the near future, but, as it turns out, a new adventure has presented itself…

Come mid-December, I will be on a plane bound for Quito, Ecuador, to meet my girlfriend and two other friends who will be finishing up a delegation into Ecuador’s Oriente region and a few of the indigenous tribes therein. From there, we’ll head to the Galapagos for a boat tour of the islands Darwin visited over 150 years ago, in the process fomenting his ideas about evolution through natural selection. It looks like we might be doing this tour:













Our itinerary is still up in the air, but suffice to say there will be birds, cloud forests, long, winding bus rides, and a lot of fumbling around en Espanol. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Latin America, and I’m really looking forward to going back. Ecuador seems like an incredible country, brimming with beauty and life. Of course, Ecuadorians have had plenty of struggles against the forces of globalization over the past few decades, so it will be interesting to see that side, too. All told, I’m really excited and very ready for some time off from work with some good friends experiencing another culture and ecology. You know what this means — be prepared for the travel blogging that will ensue!

Japanese Convenience

7 Eleven / 7 & iHoldings, originally uploaded by noveltimes.

More from the Japan files: convenience, convenience, convenience! The Japanese are truly a tidy and efficient culture, at least that was a huge part of my experience there. Everything from the cleanest of streets to handy-dandy digital displays above the doors on trains, indicating which direction to head for whichever exit you may desire. Hand-in-hand with such fastidiousness comes a fascination with convenience. For yours I’ve tagged some of my pics as such — nori-to-go, vending machines of all stripes and, as the picture above suggests, many a corner convenience store.

Now, this particular chain has perhaps the worst name for a convenience store ever: “7 Eleven / 7 & iHoldings.” Which is it “7 Eleven” or “7 & iHoldings”? And what does “iHoldings” have to do with convenience? But, it turns out that this chain does have some special bragging rights — they have recently decided to start recycling their food waste on a national scale. Check it!

Convenience Store Chain Establishing a System to Recycle 100% of its Unsold Food

Seven & i Holdings Co., the parent company of the major convenience store chain Seven-Eleven Japan Co., started turning its food waste into animal feed on September 1, 2007, in cooperation with Agri Gaia System Co., a company specializing in food recycling. By the end of July 2007, Seven & i Holdings had already implemented the system of composting food waste from about 1,600 stores, or about 14 percent of all its stores.

Tales from the Re-Entry

Hard to believe I’ve been back now for 11 days. Heck, at this point it’s hard to believe I ever left! Such is the re-entry to life, work and all things habitual. I would add all things American to that list, but somewhat surprisingly, I experienced precious little “culture shock” upon my return to the States. I left Japan at 3:45 pm on January 3 and arrived at SF International Airport at 7:30 on January 3, in essence, traveling backwards in time with a little help from the International Date Line. The small amount of culture shock I did experience — that “why does this scene so dreadfully familiar when I left look so utterly strange now” feeling — hit me during my rush hour ride home on BART.  I think that my housemate’s gracious ride back from the BART station and intial presence at home really helped to smooth the transition.  Thanks, Chip!

I hadn’t slept at all on the 9 hour flight, so by this point I was ready for a serious nap. Of course, a nice warm shower, some food shopping and two delicious fish tacos from Taqueria La Familia down the street were tasks I had to complete before the big sleep. When it came, it came hard. Within my first 36 hours home I slept 16 and a half. Sweet, delicious sleep.  I woke up at 2pm the next day and quickly jumped into unpack and resettle mode. By the time Monday came around three scant days later, my life back home seemed familiar. Work was another story. I didn’t miss much while I was away other than a few important meetings and budget crunch politics — better I was absent for all that anyway. My first week felt more like a month, though, and I was quite relieved for Friday to roll around. And now, in week two of re-entry to work, it seems like I’ve been here all along.

Yes, I would say that I’ve been experiencing “lifestyle shock” much more than culture shock.  The many experiences of my trip come back in vivid flashes, but few remain present in my short term memory.  Sorting through my photos has been a welcome task to bring back that vacation mindset.  And I’m working on a slideshow to really share my trip with friends and co-workers.  Thankfully I’ve got a few other things going for me to help ease the pain and fight the tendency to fall back mindlessly into all my previous habits. Prime among them is my new home which offers plenty of opportunities for self-evaluation and to change things up for the better. Another is the new year and all the wonderful challenges it will bring and grand intentions for which I’ve set. A third is my new position at work, learning new skills and interacting with new colleagues which.

All in all I feel most fortunate, not only to have had the time and means to travel around the world for 7 weeks, but also to have so much waiting for me at home.  I’ve posted the rest of my Japan photos and I do plan on adding titles to my pics and writing a few more entries on some notable experiences in Japan, including the Hiroshima International Peace Museum and my geek indulgences in Tokyo (see picture above for a sneak peak!).  For the most part, though, I’m home and my trip is a wrap.  I’ve even finished distributing all the gifts I brought home…well, almost.  Mom, Dad, Grandma, don’t worry, the package is in the mail.  And so, with the acknowledged close to a incredible adventure, I must thank you, the reader, for tuning in and checking out my words and images.  It is always a pleasure to know that a few folks out there on the interwebs enjoy this here blog.  Happy New Year, Namaste and Sayanora for now.

Ready for the Return

The time for return has arrived.  Tomorrow I board a plane for the final leg of my ‘Round-the-World extravaganza — Tokyo to the San Francisco Bay.  Japan has been wonderful beyond my imagination.  The beauty and history of Kyoto constrasted with the hyper-modernity of Tokyo have offered vast insight into a completely unique culture.  From toys to temples, baths to bamboo, not to mention sushi, shrines, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Japan has stolen my heart and enflamed my mind.  Since I’ve been here, though, thoughts of resuming up my “normal” routine have begun to bubble to the surface, and, oddly, I haven’t tried to suppress them.  In fact, it was just a few days ago when I realized that I was ready to return to my life in California and the United States.  I must say, I miss that life.  This trip has been incredible, from start to finish, but my life back home is pretty darn incredible, too.  I have a lot to look forward to in 2008 and this trip has only reaffirmed that.  What’s more, I’ve begun to tire of being constantly on the move, of always eating out, of never really understanding what is being said to me, and never know how to say anything back.  Yes, I’m ready for home.   I have so much more to say and share about Japan, but it will have to wait until I am back at keys of my trusty Powerbook.  With what little time I have here, I’ve been focussing on photos, and concentrating on capturing all that I can, in my mind’s eye.  I figure I’ll have plenty of time to post back in Oakland. 

Happy New Year to you all!  I’ll see you in a few. 

Pod People in the Land of the Future

IMG_2685, originally uploaded by noveltimes.

My first night in Japan was everything I expected and more, but not without its fair share of difficulty. I arrived at Narita International Airport around 8:15 PM to a frighteningly long line at immigration. Normally I wouldn’t fret, but I was on a mission with a deadline — to redeem my Japan Rail Pass at the Narita Airport Train Station by 9:45 when the desk closed. Somehow, I was able to make it through immigration, retrieve my bag, pass through customs without my luggage ticket which I had forgotten on the plane, and make it to the station on time. That is, with enough time to get my Japan Rail Pass and catch the last train to Tokyo.

The last train to Tokyo, as it turns out, arrived at central Tokyo station at nearly 11:30 in the PM, from where I had to negotiate a huge rail network with little English signage. Thankfully, a kindly Australian couple living in Hong Kong and vacationing in Tokyo were able to guide me to the right train. A train which took me to the notorious Shinjuku district, replete with skycrapers alit with a taudry glow. Stepping out into the cold, rainy gloom at midnight, it was my mission to find a capsule hotel for my first night in Tokyo.

Seeing as I would be taking a train to Kyoto the next morning, I figured that a single night’s stopover in Tokyo would provide the perfect opportunity to experience accomodations uniquely Japanese. For those new to the term, capsule hotels are one night lodgings consisting of lockers for clothes, baths and saunas for cleanliness and compartments for sleep. Oftentimes such hotels can be found near entertainment districts and offer emergency lodging for businessmen too drunk to make their way home to hearth and family. Hence, many capsule hotels cater only to men and, I was to learn, nearly exclusively to Japanese men.

By the time I had tracked down the Green Plaza Shinjuku Hotel, it was 1:00 AM and I was wet, cold and tired of lugging my dampening gear around a maze of neon. Relieved to be near refuge, the challenges only began anew once I stepped onto the 6th floor and into the lobby of the hotel. Signs and words in a language unintelligible to me, along with a set of customs totally foreign in every sense of the word gave me pause. Were it not so late and I not so wet and chilled, I may have turned around and taken a room in one of the more expensive “normal” hotels I had passed in my search for this strange institution. However, summoning up my love for the unknown, I set down my bag, removed my shoes and stepped into the queue.

Standing in line, wearing what felt like alien garb — a baseball cap and rain gear, hiking boots in hand — I was keenly aware that all eyes were upon me. Being the only westerner in the hotel, I must have been quite a sight. The Japanese are quite a polite bunch, however, so rarely did I catch a stare and I heard not one whispered word behind my back. Nonetheless, if my appearance weren’t enough of a clue that I was well out of place, the boots in my hand were. When I made it to the check-in desk, I was instructed to place my boots in one of the shoe lockers near the door and bring back a key. This key was then placed in a slot bearing my number and another key for both my locker and capsule. Then came the question “Do you have tattoos?”, to which I prompted lied in reply, “No!”, for fear of being summarily rejected. Apparently, many establishments reject tattoos because of their association with Japan’s own Mafioso, the Yakuza, dreaded “Iron Fist” of the pacific rim (name that quote for some fugu!).

And so I jumped past the final hurdles. What remained was simply finding my locker, changing into a pair of night clothes provided by the establishment, locking up my gear, and retiring to my cubicle. A rinse in the public bath or a soak in the sauna were both out of the question due to my tattoo concerns, and taking in some televised sumo in the lounge with other guests required far too much interaction. Instead, I sought out my capsule and climbed up the steps and into a 4’x4’x6′ enclosure with utter amazement. To my surprise, the “capsule” actually was quite roomy. Being taller than the average Japanese male, the length of the unit was on the small side for my 6′ frame, but the width and height made up for it. The television embedded in molded fiberglass paneling and its concomitant control panel, complete with radio and digital alarm, all made me feel, for the first time, at home in my own space pod. I knew then and there that, no matter what else lie ahead in the next two weeks, a lifelong dream had been fulfilled and my trip to Japan was a success. For I had realized, to perhaps the furtherest extent possible, what life must be like upon a space ship, even it were only Spaceship Earth.

Vietnam, Come & Gone

IMG_2183, originally uploaded by noveltimes.

OK, so I’m in Japan now and have been for a while. Even though I spent a week between north and south Vietam, it feels like a blip on the radar screen. Saigon and Hanoi are both big cities that deserve mention (and props) in ther own right, but right now the only thing that comes to mind are scooters. Lots of scooters. Like imagine what you think are a lot of scooters and then double it.  Or quadruple it. Bangkok has nothing on Vietnam when it comes to scooters. Yeah, like that.

The picture above only begins to visually relay the experience of being on the streets of urban Vietnam. It was taken from the seat of a “cyclo,” a kind of reverse tricycle with a high seat in the back for the driver and a bench seat in front for the passenger. My driver was a totally cool guy who couldn’t speak much English. He was, however, able to say, over and over, something to the effect of: “many many scooters…very very bad”. I agreed up and down. Poor fella. I felt so bad for him that when he tried to rip me off at the end of the ride I didn’t argue as much as I would have otherwise. Hard work, cyclo driving in ‘Nam.

I’ve posted more photos from my time in Vietam but my head is so far into Japan that I don’t have much more to share about it at the moment. Suffice to say it is a beautiful and intriguing country, especially being a visiting American. Standing in the forests of what was once North Vietnam sent more than a few chills up my spine. Nothing close to visiting the International Peace Memorial at Hiroshima, but I’ll save that story and others of Japan for a future entry…