Big Schwabian Bug

I saw this fellow in the Southern German town of Zwiefalten.  At over an inch long, he looks somewhat like a cross between a Jerusalem cricket and an earwig – maybe a Jerusalem earwig?  It on my to-do list to one day learn what kind of a bug he is.

In case you didn’t catch it, the town is named Zwiefalten, not Zweifalten. I’ve never understood why, but vowel shifts from /e/ to /i/ (Gleichfalls –> Gliichfaus) are a common feature of the Alemannisch language, which is spoken in that area.

Hungry seagull

Well, probably they are all hungry, all the time.

This fellow joined me for lunch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida:

I’m not making this up: this fellow was so used to humans that he not only ate out of my hand but ate WITH me, sitting next to me and taking whatever he wanted from my plate.  I wonder if this is how the race of dogs originally got their start?

Slow cooker

The process of slow cooking is so effective because some chemical reactions that occur during cooking, such as the elimination of the chemicals that cause meat to be tough, require time.


In the slow cooker:

Final result over pasta:

World’s highest tunnel ventilation shaft?

I don’t know if it is or it isn’t.  But this photograph was taken at the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland, at an elevation of 2106 m high in the Swiss Aps:

And hundreds of feet below this open shaft is the Gotthard Tunnel, a two lane road that lets automobiles and trucks pass underneath the Swiss Alps. It was build in 1882 and until recently one of the world’s longest tunnels.  Even from the point at where I am standing you can hear the roar of the traffic deep underground.

An amazing bit of trivia that goes directly to the heart of Swiss innovation: dynamite was invented in 1867, and this tunnel project was the first large scale industrial use of dynamite in the world.

Joshua trees and giant sloths

This is a picture of a Joshua tree that I took in the Mohave desert:

And this is an artist’s view of the giant sloth, which roamed the Mohave desert until their extinction about 11,000 years ago:

Joshua trees are an endangered species, and scientists now believe that the demise of the giant sloth had led to their endangerment. The sloths would eat the flowers of the tree, and the seeds would be disbursed in their dung. Without any more sloths, it is harder for the trees to reproduce.

Just imagine the giant sloth bending over to eat some flowers:

Swimming pool

That’s a swimming pool high in the sky, spanning these three towers in Singapore:

It’s called the Infinity Pool, and it belongs to the Marina Sands hotel. Coincidentally, I was visiting on the day that the hotel management was doing the handover from the building company, and I got to watch the “walk-thru.”  SCARY STUFF, talking about cracks, defects, etc.

Fish, chips, and mushy peas

Even though I am an American, I’ve long known about fish and chips. In fact, I can still sing the Arthur Treater’s (“the original fish and chips”) jingle – and what you might not know is that Arthur Treater’s is an Ohio establishment, from just a few miles from where I grew up!

So when a good friend of mine invited me to try some real fish and chips and mushy peas – in the part of Northern England where it’s most famous, no less! – I immediately thought: Peas? Mushy peas?  What do peas have to do with fish and chips? And are English cooks so bad they can’t cook up nice, firm peas – do they have to be mushy?

Well, here is what one of the best fish and chips restaurants in the seaside Yorkshire town of Whitby:

And those green things: that’s the mushy peas.  I would have never believed it until I tried it, but mushy peas do go well with the fish. And of course the fish itself – I can tell you, this batter fried fish is in a completely different category than anything I’ve ever tasted.

Oh, and that plastic bowl in the middle contains little pieces of batter that have dripped off into the oil. Not shown is the mash vinegar that the English love to pour over their fish.

(Correction:  Above I stated “one of the best fish and chips restaurants” but I have since learned that this was Hadley’s, which has been rated THE BEST fish and chips restaurant!)

Hidden canals #3: Vanishing near the Rivetoile

The nineteenth century saw an explosion of canal building, and with good cause: railroads were a monopoly, and trucks and automobiles had yet to be invented.

But today, many of these canals are disappearing fast – but not overnight. So they present a wonderful opportunity to watch how and where they slowly slip from reality into archaeology.  I’ve provided some examples here and here.

Below you’ll see a new landmark site in the middle of downtown Strasbourg, the Rivetoile “complex.” It’s a shopping center / underground parking garage / apartments / movie theater all rolled into one.  The old historic cranes are a reminder of the industrial past, and the water looks wonderful, filled with seagulls, swans, and an exploding community of muskrats:

(By the way, a few years ago it was rare to see a single muskrat, but now there are so many – including some really big, fat ones – and they are not shy about approaching visitors and begging for food. This is probably why the population has exploded.)

But this is about all the visitors and tourists will see. If you don’t mind the smell of urine and the occasional homeless person, you can explore further down the canal and you’ll find the original railroad tracks that were used to pull the boats down the canal:

Back in the day, even this would have been quite modern.  The earliest canals relied on horses to pull the barges along.

Stone sculptures in Sofia

When I was building an IT organization in Bulgaria, I’d often take long walks through the capital city of Sofia.  It’s a wonderful old city, whose intrinsic and ancient beauty was still visible underneath the more recent Communist neglect.  Anyway, in addition to the old stuff, there was plenty of new stuff there as well, such as stone sculptures like this:

and this:

and this:

I’m not sure if they are still there or who the artist was. As soon as I find out, I’ll update this blog!

Oldest building in Sofia

In Bulgaria you can see some of the oldest buildings and ruins and structures in all of Europe.

This is the Church of St. George, dating back to the year 400:

What’s just amazing is that you are free to enter the church, touch the old stone walls, and even walk on a real section of a real Roman road located outside!

The writing on this placque looks Russian, but be careful – it’s not!  The Cyrillic alphabet  was created by two Bulgarian brothers, which just adds to the wonders and great gifts that Bulgaria has to offer!

School discipline in Hainan

I took this photo of schoolchildren, lined up outside their school, in Hainan, China. The temperature was 35 C, and the children stood in this organized manner for 2 hours, without moving. Here’s what it looked like from my hotel room on the 55th floor:

And here is a blow-up of the children in the school yard – amazing.

Ash in Alsace

Ash – POTASH, that is.  I first learned about this after driving around the Alsacian countryside and discovering this abandoned mine:

To make matters more interesting, it is located in a small town called Pulversheim,

After a bit of Internet research, it turns out the history is very interesting. Potash was discovered here in 1904 – and at the time, the only other source of potash was in Germany, leading to the Germans having a monopoly on the market. So naturally it was a huge benefit to have a second source.  One good source for more information is this site, Les Mines.

Rambo’s adversary

This is an authentic Russian Mil Mi-24 attack helicopter, of precisely the sort that chased Rambo.

I took this picture just outside the National History Museum, in Sofia, Bulgaria.  Imagine a national history museum that greets visitors with this – how cool is that?!

(Believe it or not, Sylvestor Stallone visited Sofia just a few weeks after I took this picture, planning to film a new movie here.)

Incomprehensible Elephants

Recently I took a guided tour of the Zürich Zoo, and I had the chance to ask one of the zoo keepers why these elephants were sticking their trunks in strange places, as this one is here:

He told me that to keep the elephants happy, they hide individual peanuts in strange places, so the elephants will look for them.

WAIT!  STOP!  (This is exactly how I reacted when he told me this.)  How can it be that a five thousand pound animal will spend hours looking for a little peanut?  That’s like me spending hours looking for a single M&M.  Sadly, the zoo keeper could not answer my question; he said he did not know.

On that day, I don’t know if I lost respect for elephants (because they are more stupid than I thought) or gained respect for elephants (finding happiness in very simple pleasures).  Anyway, it reminds me of a blog that my mother recently wrote, entitled The Zen of Polished Chrome.

Red fishing boat on the Bosphorus Strait

This is one of my favorite pictures, which I took from the Asian side of the Bosphorous Strait in Turkey:

You can see the spires of mosques in the background. And I can only assume the strangely attached smaller boat that it’s pulling is evidence that the Bosphorus and the Black Sea don’t have the rough seas and huge swells you’d find in the Mediterranean Sea or on the ocean – but naturally I never got the chance to ask the Captain.

Lake Thun

This is a beautiful panoramic of Lake Thun, taken from a top secret vantage point that I often take visitors.

The tall mountain in the center is the active “Mount Niesen” volcano. Some scientists have speculated its eruption could destroy most of central Europe.

Interestingly, the castle shown here in the town of Oberhofen is one of seven castles that surround Lake Thun, and I remember somewhere that they were known in the Middle Ages as the “seven gateways to Jerusalem.”