Three generations at the 18th tee. (Taken with instagram)


First time in the ocean on Flickr.

First time the boys have been in an ocean (even if it was only their feet this time). This was something of a scouting trip, taken at the end of a relaxing day around the resort.

PEBKAC: Staying Connected in Africa

This column originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of About This Particular Macintosh.

Greetings from Rwanda! As this issue goes to press, my wife and I are in the African republic finalizing the adoption of our third child. We’ve been here for two weeks, and have up to another week in Kenya to look forward to. (Procedural muckety-muck with US Immigration; not everything can be processed in Rwanda.)

Staying connected with back home and the larger world has been a challenge. We each brought our iPhones, but they’ve been locked in airplane mode since we boarded our initial flight out of Dallas. We checked with AT&T about using them internationally, but the costs of doing so were just too great. Thanks to a Facebook group devoted to adoption in Rwanda, we learned it was relatively cheap to buy a simple phone for texting and local calls. So we set our sights on doing that.

Our first full day in-country we performed our first currency exchange and immediately sought out one of the myriad cell phone sellers. And when I say myriad, that’s not an exaggeration. Take those half dozen or so cell phone kiosks you see at an average American mall and multiply it by a few hundred. Thousand. A few hundred thousand. (Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but it seems that every where you look there are booths or larger stores devoted to selling mobile phones.

Mobile is huge here, as it is in much of the developing world. A mobile infrastructure is much easier to build out than a wired one. Everyone here has a mobile phone. Not many people have a land line. Heck, even the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Children (under the Office of the Prime Minister) has her mobile number on her business card. And that’s all. (And yes, this means that we do, in fact, have a business card from the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Children.)

So, mobile phone acquired, along with two SIM cards, each with about nine US dollars worth of time and texting, total cost: US$35. Why two SIM cards? Turns out this no-name phone from China or Korea or wherever has two SIM slots. There are two mobile providers in Rwanda, the original MTN, and the relative newcomer, Tigo. It’s cheaper to call internationally, especially to the United States, on Tigo. Most everyone we’d be in contact with in Rwanda is on MTN. So the dual-SIM card capability would benefit us greatly. (An eight-minute phone call at 4 in the afternoon, Kigali, back to Dallas cost about 300 Rwandan francs, or 50 cents US.)

On every street corner, in every other empty space of a strip mall or building, there are men and women selling cards for time and data on MTN and Tigo, usually under yellow umbrellas of the former and purple umbrellas of the latter. They are fairly aggressive, but not obnoxiously so. They won’t hesitate to come up to ask if you need to buy, but back off quickly if you decline. It’s very cutthroat, however, as the percentage they receive from each card sold is their livelihood. They won’t hesitate, once a buyer has been identified, to try to sell over one another to earn that percentage. While we haven’t had to engage in an on-the-street purchase, our local attorney has, and it was interesting to watch.

So far as Internet access is concerned, we brought my 11-inch MacBook Air, plus an iPad 2, which has proven handy for watching US TV episodes previously downloaded when your only choices in the hotel room are Al Jazeera English and a sports channel that shows nothing but football (soccer, fellow Americans). Our hotel has Internet access in the room, usually served via wifi from a router mounted out in the hallway. Unfortunately, that wifi hasn’t worked since the day we moved in. Enter a wired connection and Mac OS X’s Internet Sharing feature.

Though I always carry a 25-foot Ethernet cable in my pack, I heartily accepted the hotel staff’s offer of a cable to plug in with. I consider the Apple Ethernet-to-USB adapter for the Air to be one of those “better to have and not need, than need and not have” pieces of kit, and it indeed saved our bacon. With the MacBook Air plugged in, it was off to the Sharing pane in System Preferences, and after turning on Internet Sharing, our iPad and iPhones could access the outside world over wifi. Problem solved!

Well, kind of.

Two days prior to the writing of this piece, our hotel’s connection went down about 8:00 PM local time. And has yet to resurface in our room, despite the tech sitting at the front desk, plugged in, forty-eight hours later. So while we were happily checking in on Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail in the mornings and evenings, that was no longer possible, wired connection or not.

So lunches and dinners have been spent at places with known free wifi, and the staff of two institutions now recognize us on sight. Just this evening, while eating steak kebabs and sambusas (local version of the meat-filled, deep-friend pastry), the Air was on the dining table, purchasing tickets through KLM’s web site for our flight to Kenya. (And zapping some spam from my e-mail inbox.)

So while staying in contact with our family back home, and with our friends around the world, hasn’t been as easy as back in Dallas, it has not been an insurmountable challenge, either. The people of Rwanda have been very friendly and accommodating, and we have, to a degree, fallen a little in love with our newest child’s homeland. We will certainly return in the years to come.

Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer? | Culture | Vanity Fair

Does Airport Security Really Make Us Safer? | Culture | Vanity Fair


American anti-smoking campaigns are too tame. on Flickr.

Shot in the duty-free shop of Kigali International Airport.

Fliers Still Must Turn Off Devices, but It's Not Clear Why -

Fliers Still Must Turn Off Devices, but It's Not Clear Why -

Redesigning the Boarding Pass - Journal - Boarding Pass / Fail

Redesigning the Boarding Pass - Journal - Boarding Pass / Fail


More fun with taxidermy! (Taken with picplz.)


Homemade donuts with chocolate, strawberry, & Bavarian cream dipping sauces. Oh. My. God. (Taken with picplz.)


Buffalo pot roast in a red wine sauce. Oh. My. God. (Taken with picplz.)


“Let our river run through your liver.” (Taken with picplz.)


Yep, we had waffles at the top of the mountain. (Taken with picplz.)


From atop Rendezvous Mountain (Taken with picplz.)


Outside our front door. (Taken with picplz.)


Sunset over the Grand Tetons (Taken with picplz.)

A boarding pass is not probable cause

Below is the letter I sent to our Congressional representative, Michael C. Burgess. I totally ripped it off from my friend Tom, tweaking it slightly. You are welcome to copy either of ours if you feel similarly about the TSA's new search policies.

* * *

To The Honorable Michael C. Burgess As Congress comes back into session, I encourage you to use your position on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to change the policy enacted concerning the Transportation Safety Administration’s use of millimeter wave technology in the screening of passengers. These devices represent an unnecessary invasion of privacy as part of security procedures, and aren’t making anyone safer. While I appreciate the need to try to make airports more secure, these scanners show images of a patron’s naked body to the TSA in order to do it. Worse, if you decide to opt out of the scanners for personal privacy reasons, or for concern over radiation exposure, you’re subject to a very intimate patdown that allows the TSA to touch the genital regions of a patron, out of nothing short of retaliation. This is patently unacceptable. The choices you have to make if you take your family traveling is that you can have their genitals leered at by TSA officers (one such example of bad behavior includes a pilot’s 18 year old daughter: ) or you can have them fondled. Or you can refuse both, and, even if volunteering to go through the normal metal detector, be escorted from the airport: Which would you choose? The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution, which you have sworn to uphold and defend against powers foreign and domestic, says that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” A boarding pass is not probable cause to have my person searched in such a fashion. This is a bridge too far. A functioning travel network is crucial to a free society, and to have to show one’s genitals to the TSA, or allow them to be groped, in order to travel is the sort of unnecessary restriction on one’s liberty, and in exchange for no increase in security (these devices, and these patdowns, do not show hidden packages that could be contained in body cavities, which is the next logical step in the progression of the terrorists) and only serve to inconvenience the travelers. Please enact legislation to stop the retaliatory patdowns and remove these intrusions into our personal privacy. Thank you, Christopher Turner

Start your day with a smile

Matt's Dancing 2008 footage. My favorites: the DMZ in Korea, the two from Tonga, and Nellis Airspace. [Wave of the phin to my sweet for passing it along.]

New hat

In preparation for the mission trip I'm going on next week to build houses in Juarez, Mexico, I picked up a Panama Jack cowboy hat at Wal-Mart earlier this evening for a mere ten dollars.

New hat
Click on the photo to see a larger version.

The Juarez trip can be tough on gear (the boots I wore last year won't be making a return trip), but I figure for ten bucks, I won't worry if the hat doesn't go another year. (And yes, a backup hat will be packed, just in case.)

An excerpt


Problem: You are stranded in the past without plutonium to provide the 1.21 jiggawatts necessary to power your De Lorean's flux capacitor.

Solution: We at TimeCorp cannot stress enough the differences between real and fictional time travel. Authentic time travel is an infinitely more complicated and intricate process than its whimsical cinematic counterpart. You will need at least 4.3 jiggawatts of power.

Hasta la semana proxima

Well, dear readers, after being gone for a week on a family vacation, I'm now leaving in the wee morning hours--in six hours, to be precise--on a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico. It's an annual thing our church does, and this year I decided to go as one of the adult volunteers. It's really a mission trip for the youth of the church, with something around a 65-35 breakdown of youth to adults. Normally the trip is to build simple homes for the poor of the area, but this year we've been asked by the mission sponsor, Amor Ministries, to build some duplex housing for attendees of the local Bible college. So you won't be seeing any updates from the phisch bowl for a bit, as we will have little power available, little running water (which we don't drink any way, we bring our own drinking water), and absolutely no Internet access of any kind. Mobile phone coverage is even spotty, and insanely expensive. It's going to be a blast. See you next week.

Visited States

So while browsing on Flickr, I came across a link to Douwe Osinga's Visited States. It's pretty simple: you click on the name of the state you've visited, and the state gets marked in red on the map. I've visited half the states in the Union:

create your own visited states map or check out these Google Hacks.

I have some personal criteria for what constitutes a "visit". For instance, I didn't count the layover in Salt Lake City as a visit to Utah. I don't think you can really call it a visit when you never leave the airport. Likewise, I didn't count the short time I spent in Newark, leaving from the airport to go in to Manhattan, as a visit to Jersey. I don't count the approximately two hours I spent at a friend's father-in-law's place in Oklahoma as a visit; we were there to pick up dad-in-law's old big-screen television, and it was right back across the border in to Texas. However, though we didn't spend a night in Maine, or Vermont, I count those as states visited, since we were there to see certain sites unique to the state, i.e., playing tourist. So you may feel otherwise as to what makes a "visit", but that's some of what I thought about when marking states. So how many have you visited?

"I love public transportation."

500 points to the member of the Stevenson family who can correctly identify the movie from which the above quote comes, and the character/actor who said it. I ususally don't go for Internet memes, and Tom didn't ping me with this one, but I thought it pretty cool nonetheless. How many public transportation systems have you ridden? Below are mine:

Got at!

Update, 11:00 PM: My wife notes that New Orleans' RTA isn't on the list. I thought maybe because RTA didn't include some form of light rail that it failed to qualify, but then she reminded me that it has the trolleys, like San Fran's MUNI. So even though there's no icon for it, you can add New Orleans to my list.

And I thought they wanted you to stay over on Saturday night

Earlier this evening, I booked a round-trip flight, on American Airlines, from Baton Rouge to DFW for my grandmother. It's for the first weekend in August, to celebrate my son's birthday. Initially, I was looking at mid-morning flights out of Baton Rouge on Saturday, August 5th, and a mid-afternoon return flight from DFW on Tuesday, August 8th. I found great times for each, but the total ticket, even with a supposed senior discount, was $361, after applicable taxes and fees. I changed the flight out of Baton Rouge to Friday, August 4th, same time of the day, and the price dropped to $260. So apparently the new savings comes in with the Friday stay-over...