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Labored

Posted on Monday, September 1st, 2014

Dave!I don't care that I had to work on Labor Day.

Because I can finally see a vacation on my monthly calendar...

Bad Monkey is a Belieber

   

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Categories: DaveToons 2014Click To It: Permalink  1 Comment: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Hero

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Dave!Without a doubt, one of the shittiest days on record.

Except Disney released a new clip for Big Hero 6, which is officially the movie I am most looking forward to seeing this year. November 7th can't get here soon enough...


   
And now I just want to hide under the covers and make the world go away.

   

SpamCop

Posted on Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Dave!For years now, all my email has been forwarded to a webmail account at SpamCop, a spam filtering service. While not a perfect solution, this drastically reduced the amount of spam I had to deal with, so I accepted it as a necessary evil.

But then SpamCop announced that they were discontinuing all their webmail accounts come September.

Since I had paid $30 for a year of service back in May, I was understandably upset. I had only received 1/3 of what I paid for. Under the terms I signed up with, I was entitled to a refund...

Bad Monkey is a Belieber

   

So I wrote to SpamCop Support and requested I get $20 of my payment returned.

Their reply? "I'm sorry but there are no refunds."

I've written back twice explaining that they shouldn't have promised refunds if there were no refunds, and I want my money back, but they've been ignoring me. None of my emails have been replied to.

Really?

Look, this is not about the $20.

This is entirely about living up to your promises... something that is increasingly rare now-a-days, and I'm just sick of it. Nobody seems to give a shit about living up to their word anymore. Integrity? Honesty? Ethics? Responsibility? Meh. Who cares? Yeah, I took your money with the promise of providing a service, but I don't feel like providing that service any more, so too bad! And no, I won't be giving you an explanation, And yes, I'm keeping your money.

Sorry!

My life would be so much easier if I could just abandon any sense of integrity, honesty, ethics, and responsibility. Sadly, I was raised better than that, so now I'm stuck in a world where possessing such qualities... and expecting such qualities in others... is a detriment.

To the tune of $20.

And my trust.

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Categories: Internets 2014Click To It: Permalink  2 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Duckies

Posted on Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Dave!I really needed a dose of happy today.

Fortunately, happy is just a click away on the internets.

I could watch ducky videos all day long...

   

   
   
   
   

Silly ducks.

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Categories: DaveLife 2014Click To It: Permalink  1 Comment: Click To Add Yours!  

   

SEA->SLC

Posted on Friday, September 5th, 2014

Dave!And I'm off to Salt Lake City.

A short flight that can have some interesting scenery, if you care to look out the window...


Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

While I like Salt Lake City quite a lot, transportation to and from the airport has always sucked because it's so expensive. Despite being just six miles away, a metered taxi to the airport is minimum $20... usually more like $25... not including tip. One time I ended up being booked in a car service I didn't ask for and had to pay $40. YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT... FORTY DOLLARS FOR A TEN MINUTE RIDE!

Fortunately, Salt Lake City's public transportation has extended the TRAX light rail service out to the airport now... so no more absurdly expensive rides...

Seattle to Salt Lake City Flight

Price? $5... round trip.

After checking in at my hotel... which was going to be the Hilton until I found out they're still charging for internet like it's 1994... I was off to the beautiful City Creek Shopping Center for dinner with Marty (of Banal Leakage fame) and his wife at Johnny Rockets.

And now...?

Sleep.

Assuming my next door neighbors stop screaming at each other.

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Erin Gray

Posted on Saturday, September 6th, 2014

Dave!Last night while I was at dinner with Marty and his wife (of Banal Leakage fame), their friends had an extra ticket to the comic convention that's in town. I gratefully accepted it for one reason and one reason only... Erin Gray.

Most people will remember her as Colonel Wilma Deering from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century a 1979-1981 sci-fi television series which featured Erin Gray in clothing so tight that she had to be sewn into them...

Me and Erin Gray

I was a mega-huge fan of the show... and Erin Gray was 98% of the reason for that. To have an opportunity to meet her in person? Not something I'm going to pass up!

Me and Erin Gray

Erin Gray Autograph

She was incredibly nice... taking time to talk with fans a bit as they got their autographs and photos... and as beautiful as ever!

I'm still reeling that I got to have my picture taken with Colonel Wilma Deering!

The convention is much larger than I thought... but just as overly-crowded as San Diego's famous Comic-Con. It's insane how many people were trudging through the dealer's floor. And there were hundreds more people standing in line outside waiting to get in...

Erin Gray Autograph

I didn't have any money to spend, so I was in-and-out for my Erin Gray meet-n-greet in under 30 minutes.

If I did have the money, it would have been cool to meet Barbara Eden of I Dream of Jeannie. along with Erin Gray and Lynda Carter, she completes the holy trifecta of my boyhood television crushes.

Not a bad way to spend a morning in Salt Lake City.

But the night is yet to come...

   

Bullet Sunday 397: Retro Futura Tour 2014

Posted on Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Dave!Put on that skinny tie and flip up that collar... because a Very Special Retro Futura Tour 2014 Edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Tom Bailey! I'm just going to cut to the chase here... as a diehard Thompson Twins fan, Tom Bailey's run through some of the band's greatest hits surpassed my every expectation. After 27 years you'd naturally assume that something would be lost. But it wasn't. Everything he sang was note-perfect and the arrangement of the songs, while freshened up a bit, was still respectful to the originals that everybody came to hear. I loved every minute that Tom was on stage, and nearly three decades of begging for a Thompson Twins tour was rewarded in every way I could have dreamed of (short of having Alannah and Joe show up, of course)...

Tom Bailey Retro Futura Tour 2014

Tom Bailey Retro Futura Tour 2014

Tom Bailey Retro Futura Tour 2014

Tom Bailey Retro Futura Tour 2014

The set-list was pretty much what you expect...

  • We Are Detective (instrumental). A short, playful, nickelodeon-style version of this classic song played while waiting for Tom and his Sisters of Mercy band to arrive. The crowd was already going a little nuts.
  • In The Name of Love. Tom takes the stage with a spotlight shining on the crowd while singing "Hey you! I've seen your face before!" and, just like that, an abbreviated version of the Thompson Twins were back as if they had never left. This was the song that broke the band wide open, was the first song of their's I had ever heard, and remains a favorite to this day. It's just as infectious now as it's always been.
  • Lies. Another early hit that was on MTV every ten minutes during those early days. If you had asked me before Retro Futura if it's held up over the years, I'd probably have said no, despite still loving the song. After seeing Tom breathe new life into it last night, I'm inclined to feel differently.
  • Sister of Mercy. Kind of the odd-man out in tonight's show, as I don't believe it charted here in the US and was only a minor hit in the UK. Still, it's a decidedly darker and more serious tone for the band, and I'm sure it was selected primarily to mix things up a bit. In that case, it succeeded. And it's a great song to boot.
  • You Take Me Up. I don't know that this is my favorite Thompson Twins song, but it's up there. It's subtle, but Tom's delivery of the title line in the song was quite different than in the original recording, making the song feel even more upbeat and uplifting than usual. In interviews, Tom has said that he re-recorded all the songs before heading out on tour... hearing this makes me really, really hopeful we get to hear those recordings one day. The lyrics-tracking video in the background during You Take Me Up was my favorite visual of the night
  • If You Were Here. This song wasn't a single or even a hit... until it appeared at the end of the classic John Hughes film Sixteen Candles. Haunting in a way that most songs can only aspire to, Tom's original breathless arrangement had to be beefed up vocally to translate to a live performance, but it's no less beautiful and timeless. In an interesting twist, a new verse was added to the song... but felt as if it should have been there all along.
  • Love on Your Side. This is one of those songs that translates perfectly to a live show because it feels as if it were designed as a performance piece from the get-go. And while Tom took as best advantage of this as he could by his lonesome (GIANT BLUE BALLOON TIME!), Joe and Alannah's on-stage theatrics were missed here more than anywhere else in the set.
  • Doctor! Doctor! An obvious pop-hit grab if there ever was one, this song more than made up for the cheesy lyrics with a beautiful musical arrangement. And that's exactly what we got... along with a surprising amount of audience participation.
  • King for a Day (Encore). I like this song quite a lot, but it's repetitive refrain wears thin after a while ("Love is all... Love is all... Love is all you need. Love is all you need! Love is all... Love is all... Love is all you need. Love is all you need! Love is all... Love is all... Love is all you need. I say love is all you need!). Of course, this opinion was formed before Howard Jones took the stage, but we'll get there soon enough.
  • Hold Me Now (Encore). The Thompson Twin's greatest and most memorable hit plays very well live, and this evening's performance was everything you could hope for. Letting the audience sing out the ending was a brilliant way of making people feel they were a part of the show, and there's no question everybody was left wanting more... much more... as Tom's set came to an end.

If time were permitting, I would have really liked to have seen Lay Your Hands on Me and Get That Love included. Maybe one day. And please. Please. Please one day let Tom Bailey take the trip back to Brit-Pop Land and give us a new album of Twins material. Please. If there's one thing his participation in Retro Futura has shown us, people are ready.

   
• Howard Jones! I'm a big HoJo fan. I love his incredible synth play and feel-good lyrics. His music is on regular rotation on my iTunes playlists. I've seen him perform live twice. Seeing him in concert should be one of life's highlights for me and, for the most part, it is. But good lord, man... does every tune you play in concert have to be the super-extended-disco-remix version of the song? Yes... I love it when a live performance brings a little something to the table that you can't get from the album... but you did that with the heavier pumping synth intros. There's no need to give us fifty refrains of WHAT IS LOOOOOOOOOVE, ANYWAY? DOES ANYBODY LOVE ANYBODY ANYWAY? All it does is serve to drive your beautiful song into the ground and make it run way, way too long.

Still... it was Howard Jones. And though the senseless, endless repetition was annoying, I still loved his performance...

Howard Jones Retro Futura Tour 2014

Howard Jones Retro Futura Tour 2014

And so did the rest of the crowd...

Howard Jones Retro Futura Tour 2014

By the way... Howard Jones has continued to release albums well after the 80's were dead and gone. His last release was in 2009. If you're a fan, it's well-worth checking out. Even so, for the sake of Retro Futura, Howard didn't stray from those early hits that made him famous... The Human Touch, Like to Get to Know You Well, Everlasting Love, No One Is to Blame, The Prisoner, What Is Love?, Things Can Only Get Better, and New Song.

   
• Katrina... sans The Waves! I should come clean here... I am most definitely not a fan of Walking on Sunshine, which is Katrina and The Waves' greatest hit (here in the US, anyway). I am, however, absolutely a fan of Katrina Leskanich's performance at Retro Futura last night. She worked her guts out to put on a good show and succeeded completely. And not just from her music, which was terrific, but from her conversations between songs... telling the story of how they came to be and how they impacted her career...

Katrina Retro Futura Tour 2014

My favorite track she performed was Going Down to Liverpool, a Katrina and the Waves track made famous by a cover by The Bangles. As Katrina explains it, the success of that song by another group led to her band getting signed. The rest is history.

It's worth noting that by opening the show, Katrina had to perform in full-on sun... which was blisteringly hot and relentless throughout her entire set. That she managed to get through her song list without fainting is pretty impressive. Even more impressive? The album she wrote and recorded in just five weeks before joining the tour. Take a listen here.

   
• China Crisis! This is a band that pretty much flew under my radar back in the day. The only song I remember latching onto was the beautiful Wishful Thinking which, thankfully, was performed in their set...

China Crisis Retro Futura Tour 2014

I don't know that Retro Futura turned me into a diehard fan of the group, but it did make me much more interested in taking a listen to their stuff.

   
• Midge Ure sans Ultravox! And here's where we get to the biggest surprise of the evening. I've played his album If I Was - The Very Best of Midge Ure and Ultravox so many times that the lyrics are burned into my memory. Every song on that album is absolute magic, and I was pretty excited to see Midge perform live, as I'd never had the opportunity before. Little did I know that he would blow the doors off the joint with a voice so powerful and pure that you could feel it to your very soul...

China Crisis Retro Futura Tour 2014

Absolutely amazing show. I think he took the breath away from every person in attendance.

When it comes to his track selection, any fan of Ultravox was bound to be disappointed because he only had time to perform five songs...

  • Hymn. A pretty track off of Quartet that played really well live. It was the perfect introduction to his set.
  • Fade to Grey. And speaking of surprises. Turns out Fade to Grey was not a song by Ultravox or Midge Ure's solo career... it's a song Midge wrote and produced for another band, Visage. A band I never knew existed, as I've always heard the song off of The Very Best Of... by Midge.
  • Vienna. To say that Midge did an amazing job on this song is under-selling it by a wide margin. He redefined the phrase "killing it" by blasting through the track with a vocal fury that exceeded even the astounding range he showed on the original recording... THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO! If there was anybody in the audience who wasn't already a fan when the show began... they are now.
  • If I Was. I love this song, obviously, but oh lord how I wish it could have been Reap The Wild Wind or Dear God or even Call of the Wild... all songs I love even more. What I wouldn't give to here those live (though, admittedly, Reap the Wild Wind would not be the easiest song to perform without a full band and backup).
  • Dancing With Tears in My Eyes. A great song I really like but, again, where was Dear God? After hearing how Ure belted out Vienna I was left dying to hear him tackle it. Still... this was a great track to close out his performance, and I'm happy I got to hear it live. I really shouldn't complain.

All in all... wow. Just wow. I would watch another show in a heartbeat.

   
• SHARK BITE EXTREME! Before heading to the Sandy Amphitheater, Marty (of Banal Leakage fame) and I headed to Joe's Crab Shack. They have a beverage called a "Shark Bite" that I really wanted to try (because it looks so cool), and the restaurant was fairly close to the venue. When the drink arrives, it's all vodka, rum, sweet and sour, plus Blue Curaçao... with a shark full of grenadine hanging off the side...

Joe's Crab Shack Shark Bite Drink

The idea is that you dump the grenadine into the blue "water" to make a bloody mess...

Joe's Crab Shack Shark Bite Drink

And it is cool... for a minute.

But what you ultimately end up with is a disgusting glass of purple stuff that's so sweet your teeth will ache afterwards.

You do get to keep your plastic shark though... and that's all I really cared about.

   

And there you have it. This afternoon I flew home from Salt Lake City without incident... walking on sunshine the entire way because I got to meet Erin Gray, hang out with one of my long-time blog friends, get a plastic shark... oh... and see one of my favorite bands of all time perform live after 27 years of waiting. A pretty great way to spend a weekend, I think.

   

Classroom

Posted on Monday, September 8th, 2014

Dave!I have watched every episode of The Tonight Show since Jimmy Fallon took over. I understand the criticism of his work there... he's not the greatest comedian and his interviews tend to wander... but that's not the point. The guy just knows how to have fun and get his guests to have fun with him. And because of that, it's easy to tune in and let Jimmy take you away from the troubles of the day. And for that I love the guy. He never fails to make me laugh, and having The Roots as his house band guarantees that you're going to hear some good music to boot... even if you don't like the musical guest.

Fallon has a number of bits that I enjoy, but sitting at the top of the list is where Jimmy and The Roots get a musician to perform one of their hits... accompanied by instruments from a kid's classroom.

The result is funny... but the song is always great too! In catching up on shows I missed while I was away, I ran across his best one yet. Meghan Trainor showed up to sing her track All About That Bass.

It's fantastic...

If you missed it, here's a few of my other favorites. Including Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines...

And Carly Rae Jepsen singing Call Me Maybe...

And, of course, the time Sesame Street visited to sing their theme song. How anybody can watch this and not smile is beyond me...

   
And then there's The Roots. Holy crap are they talented. They can do anything having to do with music. And I've seen Questlove fill in on drums more than a couple times for visiting musicians. Flawlessly. I have no idea how he does it. Just massively great at his job, I guess.

If you're not a fan, here's a video where The Roots backed Miley Cyrus acapella on We Can't Stop...

   
So people can criticize Jimmy Fallon all they want, but there have been times where watching him on The Tonight Show has been the best part of my day.

I can't offer a better endorsement than that.

   

Security!

Posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Dave!And so Apple released their long-rumored watch and long-leaked iPhone 6 today.

We'll get to that next entry. I've got bigger fish to fry first.

As you may have already heard, several celebrities... including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Kirsten Dunst... had their personal (and often revealing) photos stolen and posted publicly without their consent or knowledge. Despite what the assholes at FOX "News" say, victim blaming is not the way to respond to this. You should be able to take whatever the hell photos you want and not have to worry about some criminal violating your privacy by stealing and posting them. And while it's nice to think that these criminals can be tracked down and made to pay for their crimes, the global reach of the internet makes this unlikely or impractical. The criminal would have to be located here in the US for US law to really be of any use. Even then, cyber crimes are persecuted so wildly that there's no guarantee a criminal will get a suitable punishment.

So what to do? Let's see...

In a press release Apple says "Hey, don't blame us" because the theft wasn't caused by a breach of their network. Instead, it was a targeted attack on specific accounts where the criminal broke in by guessing passwords (probably with the help of brute-force hacking software). At the end of the release, apple closes with this...

To protect against this type of attack, we advise all users to always use a strong password and enable two-step verification. Both of these are addressed on our website at http://support.apple.com/kb/ht4232.

To which I say... bullshit.

Not because it's bad advice, but because Apple itself makes taking their advice far too difficult.

My Macintosh and my iPhone and my iPad are password protected. In order to get to any information on them, you have to get past the login screen first. I use a rather strong password that's a pain in the ass to type, but protecting my information makes it worthwhile. But here's the thing... once you've unlocked your device, Apple continues to pester you for passwords all the goddamn time. And, yes, I've checked "remember my password." It doesn't do any good. I am FOREVER having to enter my password. Just this morning I opened iTunes so I could listen to some tracks by The 1975. For reasons unknown, all my iTunes Match songs stored in the cloud were inaccessible. In order to play them, Apple wants my password...

iTunes Match NOT AVAILABLE!

ENTER YOUR FUCKING PASSWORD!

Now, I've already typed a password to unlock my machine, so having to type the password AGAIN makes no damn sense. But at least with my Mac I have a physical keyboard available. What about my iPhone? That damn thing asks for my password several times a day. Want to buy an app? Even a FREE app? Type your damn password. Then type it again. And again. And again. And again. And here's where having that strong password that Apple recommends falls apart. Who wants to type "&7pbik9jbkQos$HB" on the shitty, incomplete, tiny keyboard that's on your iPhone over and over? Anybody? No? That's what I thought.

Which is why people tend to create simple, easily-hackable passwords.

So when Apple says "It's your fault, Jennifer Lawrence, you should have had a stronger password!" I want to say "Bullshit, Apple, it's all YOUR fault for making stronger passwords too difficult to use by making people type them too many damn times!"

Apple's answer to that would probably be "You should buy a new iPhone that has Touch ID... then you don't have to type a password, you can just use your fingerprint!" Well, okay. But that's no help for the millions of people who can't afford to upgrade their phones every damn time Apple comes up with a new technology.

So, Apple, please... seriously please... stop being so clueless when it comes to security. It's one thing to offer the advice of using strong passwords... it's another thing entirely to make strong passwords practical to use. Which you absolutely do not. You need to allow the user an option to NOT require passwords once a device has been unlocked. Then, instead of forcing users to create easy-to-type/easy-to-hack passwords they have to enter constantly, you can instead get a strong, worthwhile password they only have to type once...

ENTER YOUR FUCKING PASSWORD!

Today Tim Cook said that Apple excels at solving problems like this.

Time to prove it, because your current "solution" isn't working.

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Categories: Apple Stuff 2014Click To It: Permalink  4 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Watch!

Posted on Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Dave!Three big announcements from Apple yesterday. All of which would have been surprising if it all hadn't been leaked to the internet weeks ago. If you haven't seen the keynote video, it's over at Apple's site for your viewing pleasure.

   
• iPhone 6... And so the inevitable happened... iPhone got bigger. But the user interface didn't get bigger with it. Meaning it's not any easier for people to navigate if they have poor eyesight (me), or older eyes (me), or vision problems (me). Nope... the tiny icons and text have just been moved further apart on the bigger screens of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus...

New iPhone Lineup

   

Except... Apple mentioned something called "Display Zoom" which sounds interesting. The iPhone 6 can apparently render the text and icons larger than previous models on command...

   

New iPhone Lineup

   

Huzzah! But... I can't find much detail as to how this works. Can you leave "Display Zoom" on all the time, or is it a temporary thing? Does it work everywhere, or only with apps that support it? However it works, it looks to be a step in the right direction for people like me who need an easier time of it when trying to use their phone. My fear is that this only works on the home screen, but I guess that's better than nothing.

Anyway...

The new seamless, ergonomic design of the iPhone 6 is just beautiful. Apple's mobile aesthetic has been looking dated for a while now compared to what the competition is doing, so this is a welcome sight...

   

New iPhone Design

   

A pity that you have to slap a case on that sexy design in order to keep it from smashing to bits if you happen to drop it. With this in mind, Apple is introducing both a leather and a silicone case to protect your investment. Hopefully this time they'll be available at launch so your iPhone is made safer from day one.

Screen resolutions are getting to be ridiculous... with some newer phones having pixels that are smaller than the eye can detect. Which means wasting precious battery life to power something that you probably won't even notice. Apple increased the density on their "Retina Display" screens, but didn't go too crazy (326 ppi on the 6 and 401 ppi on the 6 Plus). This should strike a good balance between getting a beautiful display while still being battery efficient.

Not surprisingly, Apple is using a new 64-bit A8 chip for the brains of their latest and greatest. If you watched the game demo during the keynote, you've seen what this kind of power is bringing to the table. But power, of course, comes at a price. Lucky for us Apple has made advances with the iPhone power cell as well, so you can still get decent battery life with the faster processor.

   

New iPhone Design

   

But what about the feature I use most on my iPhone? What about the camera? And I'm not talking about all the bells and whistles like "face detection" and "burst mode" and "HDR"... I'm talking about the actual camera element. The specs say that iPhone 6 is still stuck at 8 megapixels, which is a bit surprising. I mean sure, megapixels aren't the sole determining factor in getting great photos... but higher pixel counts do allow for more detail. So if not the megapixels, what has been improved?

Well, the lens has been bumped up to an f/2.2 aperture, which is a bit brighter than before. That's a good thing. Exposure control should make getting shots with wildly disparate lighting conditions a bit easier. Also a good thing. And Apple has come up with "auto stabilization" to reduce motion blur and shake. That's a very good thing. BUT, if you've been waiting for actual OPTICAL stabilization, you can get it at long last... but ONLY on the iPhone 6 Plus. That's a not-so-good thing for me, because I don't want to have to start carrying a purse so I have a place to put my iPhone.

The only bad thing I've noticed is that the camera lens now protrudes from the shell. Seems like that's an invitation for damage if you're not using a case on your iPhone... but superior camera features are going to have a trade-off, and this is what you have to pay...

   

New iPhone Design

   

If you shoot video, there's a slew of improvements on that front. Automated time-lapse. 240 frames per second slo-mo at 720p. And while there's no 4K option, you do get beautiful 1080p HD video running at 60 frames per second... all with cinematic video stabilization. Sold!

Of course Apple included Touch ID on the iPhone 6 models... which nicely addresses my bitching from yesterday about the shitty password security Apple is using on pre-Touch ID models. AND it dovetails nicely into another big announcement today...

   
• Apple Pay... And heeeeeere's Apple's new "digital wallet" functionality! Many others have tried to bring us this golden carrot of the modern age... but they've all failed. This October, we'll see if Apple has the muscle to get their version accepted by merchants around the globe. Something tells me they can. But... what about security? Well, it would seem that Apple has put some real thought into Apple Pay, because its security features are pretty well-rounded. First of all, you no longer have to disclose your credit card number, name, and security code like you do when you hand over your credit card. Instead, Apple Pay creates a Device Account Number that is stored on a new Security Element chip on your phone... not on Apple's servers... to conduct the transaction. Furthermore, Apple is actually adding privacy to the transaction by keeping them private. No details will be stored or transmitted, so your purchases can't be tracked back to you. Well, through the payment anyway. And since Apple Pay also has an online component, this should make it easy for Conservative lawmakers to get their gay porn fix anonymously.

I'm in love with the idea of not having credit cards bulk up my wallet. But that day isn't coming any time soon. So long as one retailer you deal with doesn't accept Apple Pay, you're going to have to hold on to your plastic. And while it's nice that you won't have to dig them out as often as this technology get adopted, it's not like using a physical credit card is such a huge burden that it's going to matter all that much in the end.

Verdict? Cautiously optimistic.

   
• Apple Watch... Praise be to Jobs that we seem to have escaped from the "i" branding that's dominated Apple for the past several years. By naming their wearable "Apple Watch" instead of "iWatch" I will be able to purchase one without screaming.

And, yes, you read that right... I am buying one.

The minute I saw this image hit the screen, the decision was made...

   

Apple Watch Mickey Mouse Face

   

Everything else is gravy, because I'd buy the watch if all it did was display the time using an animated Mickey Mouse (he taps his foot with the time!).

And about that gravy...

The health crap is nice, but probably not something I'm going to make use of. The whole "send your heartbeat" "tap a friend" and "send a sketch" stuff isn't very compelling to me. Heck, a lot of the features being touted aren't compelling to me. Yes, it will be nice to not have to go fishing for my iPhone every time I've got an alert or a message or whatever, but the defining feature to me? We're one step closer to Dick Tracy, baby...

Come in, Dick Tracy!

   
The day I can hold a FaceTime conversation on my Apple Watch will be one of the greatest days of my life.

In the meanwhile, I'll just have to settle for the dozens of things that Apple Watch can do right now.

All of which wouldn't mean shit if Apple Watch wasn't something I wanted to wear. Fortunately, that was never really a concern. I knew Apple would come up with something good-looking and wearable... and they did...

   

The Apple Watch Sport

   

...IN TWO FRICKIN' SIZES!!!

Which means that if the larger one is like a brick on my bony arm, I have another option available. Sadly, it doesn't look like it gets any thinner, which has always been the problem with so-called "smart watches." I mean, just look at this boat anchor...

   

The Apple Watch Thickness

   

To be honest, I really thought Apple's watch would be thinner than this. I thought they'd find a way to put the battery in the band... or make it run on nuclear fusion... or something to make it not be so obvious...

   

The Apple Watch Thickness

   

Maybe they're saving that for Apple Watch 2.0.

The one thing that did turn out as expected was the interface. Apple being Apple, they weren't content to force a Phone interface on their watch. That's what other companies do. No no... they started from scratch and came up with something more appropriate to the smaller size of the device. Using the "crown" for interactivity so it doesn't obscure the screen is genius. Using "deep presses" for touch selection is genius. Having the watch tap you for attention instead of jolting you with a buzz is genius. The MagSafe contact charger is genius. The customization options are genius. Everything about the Apple Watch is genius...

   

The Apple Watch Thickness
Battery life? Memory size? Durability? Water resistance? Who knows? Who cares?

   

Well, except the wait. "Early 2015" is pretty non-specific, and could mean as late as May.

Another sticking point could be the price. "Starting at $349" leaves a lot of latitude. The style/band you want could run much, much higher.

Not that it matters. If I have to sell a kidney to get my digital Mickey Mouse... that's definitely on the table.

   

So... a banner day for Apple and Apple Whores alike!

I guess.

It's hard to know for sure until I find out if I'm going to be down a kidney or not.

   

9/11

Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Dave!


   

   

World Trade Center from Empire State Building

On top of the World Trade Center

World Trade Center from the Statue of Liberty

   

   

   

   

   

Drag

Posted on Friday, September 12th, 2014

Dave!The time has ben dragging.

Dragging so bad.


Days to Vacation: FIVE!

   

Soon.

Very soon now.

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Packed

Posted on Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Dave!Look at me! I'm packing for vacation three whole days before I'm set to leave!

That almost never happens!

While there's no way I'm going to get everything done tonight, I will make serious headway so I can (hopefully) finish up tomorrow. And while it feels strange to be so far ahead of the game, it sure beats trying to pack everything the night before my flight like I usually do...

New iPhone 6

Here's hoping I know when to stop...

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Bullet Sunday 398

Posted on Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Dave!Don't let Summer's imminent demise get you down... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• New? You know that feeling when a new toy you ordered from Amazon shows up? Suddenly it's Christmas and your Birthday all rolled into one and it doesn't matter that you had to pay for it because it's something you really want and are just so thrilled to have it in your hot little hands at long last after an agonizing wait even though you just ordered it only yesterday. Great, isn't it?

You know what's not great? Getting your new toy then discovering that it's not "new" after all. Not only has the box been opened previously... but all the packages inside have been opened. As if that weren't bad enough... THERE IS DIRT ON YOUR "NEW" TOY! ... DIRT!!!!

Obviously, I received returned merchandise. Obviously, I won't be keeping it. Obviously, I have to return it and wait AGAIN for my NEW toy to arrive.

Life can be so hard.

Well, relatively speaking, of course.

   
• Palin! Last month Sarah Palin started her own online channel. And more amusing than the fact that there are people out there willing to pay $9.95 a month to listen to her bullshit is that Saturday Night Live predicted it...

But it wasn't until news of a drunken brawl involving The Palins broke out that I realized what serious entertainment potential "The Sarah Palin Channel" has. Reality is far better than anything Saturday Night Live could ever dream up. And while I seriously doubt Sarah will be airing footage from what really goes on in her life that's not been carefully orchestrated for public consumption... I am praying that somebody captured footage of Palin yelling "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!? while mixing it up with the locals. I would gladly pay $9.95 to see that.

   
• Fake! As somebody who has been accused of "faking" my travels on more than one occasion, I was intrigued by the story of a Dutch girl who actually did fake a trip to Southeast Asia. At first I was thinking "How lame could you be?"... but then I read the story...

Interesting. And yet another wake-up call to not trust everything you read on the internet.

   
• Mom! This is beyond sweet...

So very Japanese... but in a way I think anybody can relate to.

   
• Phone 6! I placed my pre-order early enough that I'll be getting my iPhone 6 on launch day. Except I'll be half-way around the world on vacation when it arrives, so actually I won't be getting it on launch day. I am both happy and sad about that.

New iPhone 6

ZOMG! JUST LOOK AT IT! I really need to start planning my vacations better.

   
• Phone 8! I would never give up my Apple iPhone for a Google Android Phone. I don't care for Android... at all... and would consider such a move to be a significant downgrade. But then there's Windows Phone 8. I wouldn't trade down to that platform either... but, if Apple closed up shop today, that would be the phone I'd buy. For one thing, Windows Phone 8 is the only OS with an interface that seems "new." Whereas Android is a shittier version of what Apple's already done, Windows 8 is a beautiful departure. It feels modern. It looks great. Some real thought went into it. I like most everything about it... once I got used to the "flippy tiles" interface, which gets annoying after a while...

Windows Phone 8

But there's a couple of serious problem for Microsoft: market share and apps available. Market share is probably the biggest problem because they don't have any. It's hovering just below 3% and dropping fast. And because of that, developers aren't writing apps for their dying platform. Including the three companies I work with. Two never even started... the third stopped all WinPhone development last Friday.

And so Microsoft is in catch-22 situation. Their market share won't grow if customers don't have a ton of compelling apps. Developers won't create a ton of compelling apps until there is significant market share. And I don't care how many billions of dollars that Microsoft throws at the problem, it's not going away any time soon. Which means Windows Phone 8 is probably not long for this earth. Eventually Microsoft is going to have to face the fact that they will never be able to compete with Apple and Google when it comes to smart phones. Their only chance now is to fork Android to create their own version of the OS so they can still do what they want to do while having access to the gazillions of apps available. Whether Microsoft decides to do the obvious or waste billions upon billions of dollars to no avail remains to be seen. As a fan of their UI, I hope they do something before WinPhone is forced to close shop permanently.

   
And, on that happy note... time to finish packing.

   

Dos

Posted on Monday, September 15th, 2014

Dave!And... finished packing.

Not having to rush around at the last minute trying to get a suitcase put together? Priceless.


New iPhone 6

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Uno

Posted on Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Dave!As I read through the news headlines tonight, I can honestly say that the thing I am looking forward to most is not being able to read the news headlines.

Oh to escape from this sick, sad world if only for a little while.


New iPhone 6

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Day One: SEA->AMS

Posted on Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Dave!Of course my internet went down last night.

Of course a last-minute work project dropped on my head like a pile of bricks last night.

Of course I got no sleep whatsoever last night.

Of course. Of course. Of course.

The good news is that the drive to Seattle this morning was without incident. And my flight to Amsterdam was equally drama-free.

Small victories in the grand scheme of things. But I'll take what I can get, I suppose.

Here's hoping my luck holds out.

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Day Two: AMS->JNB

Posted on Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Dave!A three-hour drive to Seattle.

A three-hour wait for my flight.

A nine-and-one-half hour flight to Amsterdam.

A two-hour layover at Schiphol.

A ten-and-one-half hour flight to Johannesburg (on which KLM had internet! Unbelievable!).

A half-hour wait to collect my suitcase and get through Passport Control.

A two-hour wait to catch the hotel shuttle, stand in line at reception, get checked-in, find out I have the wrong room, stand in line at reception again, get sent back to the room, wait for housekeeping, and a thirty-minute wait for them to make-up my room.

That's a thirty-and-one-half-hour day in two days.

I'm beat.

But I'm in South Africa.

At long last.

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Day Three: Johannesburg

Posted on Friday, September 19th, 2014

Dave!And so here I am in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I added a full day layover in the city to recover from the long-ass 30-1/2 hours of travel I put in yesterday. Originally I was going to fly into Cape Town, but they don't have a Hard Rock Cafe there anymore, so Johannesburg it was.

The property is of the new-style "hipster cafe" variety. Usually I hate the cold and impersonal approach of these Hard Rocks, but this one is not so bad. It has a nice assortment of memorabilia, at least (even if it's not as big as it could be)...

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

Hard Rock Cafe Johannesburg

The Hard Rock is located in the district of Sandton on Nelson Mandella Square, where they have a very nice statue of him...

Nelson Mandella Square in Johannesburg

And so... after posting this I'm off to bed with hopes of getting some sleep before a rather busy day tomorrow. Though I doubt I'll get to update my blog because the hotel internet is utter shit...

Crappy internet connection error

Good preparation for when I have no internet at all real soon now.

That'll be interesting.

   

Day Four: JNB->HRE

Posted on Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Dave!And... away we go...

BRB.


DaveToon: Lil' Dave and Bad Monkey going on a safari.

   

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Day Four: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Dave!My vacation was booked through a wonderful company called Ultimate Africa Safaris, an agency specializing in Africa travel. After examining a bunch of different options they came up with that fit my budget, I ended up booking with Wilderness Safaris. They operate a number of camps in Africa, and can provide door-to-door service via Wilderness Air, their internal airline.

After landing at Harare, I was met by the pilot and transferred to a 4-seater Cessna for the flight to Ruckomechi, my first camp stop at Mana Pools in northern Zimbabwe...

Flight from Harare to Mana Pools

There's not a lot to look at after you pass the outskirts of the city...

Flight from Harare to Mana Pools

After a noisy 1-hour 40-minute flight, we landed near Mana Pools for the drive to Ruckomechi Camp...

Drive to Mana Pools and Ruckomechi Camp

My adventure began before I even got to camp, as I saw impala, warthogs, and zebra along the way...

Mana Pools Zebra

Wilderness Safari camps are divided into Premiere, Classic, and Adventure categories. Ruckomechi is considered a "Classic Camp," which is surprisingly luxurious for not being one of the top-shelf properties. My tent was more like a nice hotel room than any tent I've ever stayed in...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ooh! A visitor wanders by...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

If you're traveling with somebody, prepare to get to know them a lot better. The shower and toilet are wide open into the main room with not so much as a curtain to separate them...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

The staff wastes no time in getting you started on your safari adventure. After a welcome drink and a run-through of the camp features and rules, A guide whisked me out to the grasslands to look for game as the sun started to set...

Mana Pools Game Drive

Minutes later I saw my first lion...

Mana Pools Game Drive

And then another...

Mana Pools Game Drive

The animals are fairly close to your jeep, but it helps to have a long lens so you can zoom in on the action. This young male is just starting to have his mane grow in...

Mana Pools Game Drive

Across the Zambezi River is Zambia, which apparently sets half the country on fire every year before the wet season to clear out dead brush. This really sucks ass, because all that smoke drifts into Zimbabwe and fills the sky with smoke. On the up-side, this makes for beautiful sunsets...

Zimbabwe Sunset

On evening game drives, your guide will set up a "sundowner" where you get assorted drinks and snacks. Tonight was home-made potato chips with honey-pepper dip (amazing) and cheese & olive spears...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Ruckomechi is known as "the elephants' favourite camp" because they hang around the place all the time. A big reason for that is the albida trees that drop tasty seed pods that elephants just love...

Zimbabwe Sunset

After the sun went down, it was time to return to camp for dinner...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Which is an impressive affair. Dinner tonight was served buffet-style with fantastic vegetarian options since there were a couple of us staying at Ruckomechi...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Shortly after dinner was concluding, word came that the lions had made a kill just minutes away. Everybody poured into jeeps to go take a look. At night the guides use red spotlights to find animals because it doesn't hurt their eyes...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Sure enough, the lions had gotten a zebra. Unfortunately I only had my pocket camera with me, so I didn't get very good shots of the carnage that ensued...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Delicious zebra rump roast!

And, just like that, my first day of safari was over.

   

Day Five: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Dave!Attempting to sleep while baboons, hippos, and all manner of other creatures are screeching, howling, grunting, chirping, and making a racket is no easy trick. I certainly hope I get used to it over the next week, because this is going to be a really interesting vacation if I'm sleep-impaired the whole time. I'd use earplugs, but I'm worried about missing the 5:30am wake-up for breakfast and our morning game drive.

One thing adding to the pain of my inability to sleep is having to get up for a bathroom break in the middle of the night. For reasons completely unknown, the tents at Ruckomechi have stone imbedded in the floor and, while they look pretty, they hurt like hell to walk on with bare feet. I stubbed my toe on one last night and it is still throbbing...

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

WTF?!?

Ruckomechi has a nice bar area where you can help yourself to drinks or sit and relax any time you want to escape from your room for a bit...

Ruckomechi Lounge

The tents don't have electricity outlets, but there's a power generator you can tap into in the dining room if you need to charge camera batteries and such...

Ruckomechi Recharging

After a nice continental breakfast, it was time to hit the grasslands for a game drive.

I considered myself lucky to have seen two lions on my first day, as there were people ahead of me that stayed for four nights and never saw one. Today I was even luckier, getting to see a lioness and her three young ones enjoying the sunrise right off the bat...

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

After watching the lions wander around a bit, we came across a flock of helmeted guineafowl, well-known in Zimbabwe for their spotted bodies and bright blue heads...

Helmeted Guineafowl

Followed by a baboon on a termite mound...

Baboon in Zimbabwe

And... inexplicably... yet another lion sighting. This time a beautiful young male with his mane growing in pretty good...

Lion in Zimbabwe

It's rare to see hippos out of the water during daylight hours, but we managed to catch one as it made its way from a marshy refuge to the Zambezi River...

Hippo in Zimbabwe

A member of the antelope family, impalas have a rigid social structure where all the boys of the heard battle it out to determine who gets to be the dominate male each season. The winner gets to breed with the females and has the important job of managing the herd. The male is the one with horns...

Impala in Zimbabwe

Impala in Zimbabwe

The losing males form their own herd where they will practice fighting and growing stronger so they can (hopefully) be victorious the next season.

CRAAAAAANE!!!

Spooky Crane

As if I wasn't already lucky enough, we happened across a pack of wild dogs. Our guide said a group of people were in a while ago specifically to see them, but never did after a week of searching. They had just made a kill, so all thirty-two of them were sleeping in a big pile...

Wild Dogs!

Every once in a while a pup would stand up and look around, so we sat around waiting. All of them have interesting calico-type coats that must do a good job of camouflaging them in the bush...

Wild Dogs!

Wild Dogs!

The Mana Pools are home to all kinds of wildlife, and it's all fairly close to camp...

Antelope!

After four hours of wandering around the concession, it was time to head back to camp. When we got there, I was ready to go back to my tent and take a nap, but an elephant was on the path...

Elephant of Ruckomechi

I tried to go around, but another elephant was lounging by my tent...

After five minutes or so, he moved on... but not before staring me down first.

Elephant of Ruckomechi

One of the features of Ruckomechi is an outdoor bath. I haven't taken a bath in over ten years, but it was an opportunity too good to pass up...

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Our evening game drive began where the lions made their kill last night. They left a heck of a mess...

Zebra Kill

A few of the lions were still in the neighborhood, which meant the vultures and hyenas were kept away...

Lions

As we drove around looking for a place to have our sundown snack, we saw some really cool birds goofing around. So many of the birds here are colorful, but these were on another level...

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Eventually we found a spot next to a troop of baboons...

Baboons

Africa Sunset

Africa Sundowner Snack

The drive back to camp was fairly uneventful, but it was hard to complain given all the cool stuff I got to see today.

One more day left in Ruckomechi...

   

Day Six: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Dave!Last night was much quieter so I actually managed to get some sleep, which was nice.

On this morning's game drive, our guide decided to head out to a giant tree that has a massive hole in it. I fully admit that this didn't seem like much of a destination-worthy sight, but if there's one thing I've been learning over the years, it's to trust the local guides.

And so off we went to see a hole.

But before we could get there...

We spotted some elephants destroying a tree. Usually, for a tree this size, they'll just strip the bark off the thing... but this time they decided to knock it over for some reason. Our guide said that this is unusual but, now that it's down, the elephants will keep eating it until there is nothing left...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

And I believed it. The elephants just kept ripping off these huge strips of tree with their trunks and chowing down...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

Maybe they knocked it down so the baby in their group could have some. He was munching away just like the adults...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

After watching the tree carnage for a while, we headed to the tree with the hole in it... but ended up driving right on by because our guide got a call that three male lions were in the area! A quick five minutes later and one of the others in the jeep spotted them trying to escape from the sun under a bush...

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Even doing nothing, these are beautiful, beautiful animals. And how insane is it that I've been lucky enough to see them three days in a row when there are people who come and see none at all?

After staring at lions for a while, our guide decided to head back to the tree with the hole in it.

Until one of the other jeeps that showed up just as we were leaving reported that an elephant had showed up and was CHASING THE LIONS OUT OF THEIR BUSH! Insane! We pull up just in time to see the last lion get chased off...

Elephant Chasing Lions!

Then the elephant was all like "Yeah, I just made three lions my bitch! as he turned towards the jeep and gave us a sideways glance before trumpeting and wandering off... assumably to take on a heard of rhinos or something...

Elephant Chasing Lions!

Anyway... we finally made it to that tree with the hole in it...

Lions in the Shade

Kind of anti-climactic after the stuff we had just witnessed, but okay.

Then we drove around a corner and saw... CROCODILES!

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

This guy decided to be all fancy and make himself a jacket with water hyacinths...

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

He seems happy about it too!

With all the cool animals around, it's easy to overlook the amazing birds hanging around Mana Pools but, luckily, we have a great guide to point them out...

Bird in Zimbabwe

Warthogs are everywhere, though they tend to be a bit shy so I haven't gotten many photos. This guy decided to strike a pose for me before running off, which was nice...

Bird in Zimbabwe

When they run, warthogs stick their tails straight up in the air. It looks pretty funny, so I'm definitely going to try and get a picture of that.

Today I learned that the beautiful red and blue birds we keep seeing are called "Carmine Bee-Eaters." Apparently they only show up in this area once a year to mate, so I consider myself lucky to have seen so many of them...

Carmine Bee-Eater in Zimbabwe

Carmine Bee-Eater in Zimbabwe

And now, for no reason at all, a baboon running with impalas while eating leaves...

A Baboon Running with Impalas While Eating Leaves

And here's the male of the group, who decided to stop and stare us down as we drove by. Isn't he beautiful?

Impala Alpha Male

AFRICAN WATER BUCK!

Impala Alpha Male

Not cool that they've evolved to have a target painted on their butt. Not cool at all.

And... we're done.

Since it's too early to take a shower when I get up at 5:00am, I've gotten in the habit of taking one when I get back to camp after the morning game drive. Today I decided to try my outdoor shower, which is attached to each tent in the camp. Not that I'm any kind of exhibitionist, but it seemed like it might be a unique experience.

So there I was, towel and shampoo in-hand, walking around the corner of my tent when... BLAM! There's an elephant in my shower.

After nearly dropping a load in my pants, I backed away slowly so I could get my camera. Who would believe it otherwise?

There's an Elephant in my Shower

After he cleared out, I was able to take a shower. If you ever have a chance to experience an outdoor shower, I highly recommend it. Not just because your dick gets to air-dry in the wind, but because of the feeling you get of becoming one with nature. Or something like that.

After a nice nap, I headed back to the dining room for lunch and the evening game drive.

You would think that the constant presence of elephants in the camp would be something you get used to... but I assure you that you do not. Especially when the babies are around, as they are one of the most adorable things you'll ever see. This little guy was walking on the path back to camp, so I patiently waited for him to wander off...

There's an Elephant in my Shower

After he left, I came across another baby almost immediately. And even though I kept my distance, momma showed up to let me know that her baby was hands-off. They are very protective that way...

There's an Elephant in my Shower

Tonight I decided to take my game drive via boat, which is a nice option to shake things up a bit.

My adventure started before I even climbed onboard, because there were some zebra, warthogs, and baboons hanging around the dock...

River Cruise Wildlife

As we headed out onto the Zambezi River, we noticed crimson bee-eaters everywhere...

Carmine Bee-Eaters

Turns out that they nest in tiny caves they carve out of the river banks...

Carmine Bee-Eaters Nesting

Carmine Bee-Eaters Nesting

HIPPO ENCOUNTER!

Hippos in the Zambezi

Hippos in the Zambezi

Hippos in the Zambezi

The river cruise was nice, as it allowed you to see animals in a different context. Elephants, for example, aren't scrubbing around the ground looking for seed pods... they're ripping up grass in big clumps to eat. What's fascinating about this is that they wash the dirt off the grass before eating it by dunking it in the water several times before slapping it on the ground to dry it off...

Elephants in the Zambezi

There were two elephants teaching a baby how to wash grass. The poor little guy was having a tough time of it, as most of the grass got washed away because he wasn't that skilled at gripping stuff yet. Still adorable...

Elephants in the Zambezi

The sunset was, as expected, glorious...

Zambezi Sunset

Not a bad way to spend my last night in Ruckomechi!

   

Day Seven: Hwange, Zimbabwe

Posted on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Dave!And so the time I had been dreading since the minute I stepped foot in Ruckomechi has come... it's time to leave. All morning I've been fretting over needing just one more day here to make sure I've gotten the most from my visit to Mana Pools National Park.

Just one. More. Day... that's all I need.

Which is pure fantasy, of course. If I had stayed four nights I would have wanted a fifth. If I had stayed five nights I would have wanted a sixth. The truth is that my visit would always be too short, because the magic here is something you just can't get enough of.

I debated over going on a morning game drive, but ultimately decided against it. Being able to sleep for another hour... being able to pack without being in a rush... and having time to look around the campsite a bit... it was all too compelling.

Besides, I could have a game drive without leaving my tent because I had an elephant out my front window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And my back window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And my side window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And even more elephants on the path to the dining room for breakfast...

Elephants at my Tent!

I had already tried the "Bath with a View" yesterday... Ruckomechi also has a "Loo with a View"...

Loo with a View!

When I went back to my tent to pack, a troop of baboons were wandering around my porch... including a mother and baby, which is always an entertaining sight...

Baboons!

How the babies have the strength to hold on like that all day long I don't know. But they somehow manage, even with their mother is in a full run.

After saying goodbye to the amazing Ruckomechi staff, I was off to the airstrip for a flight to the next camp. This time I got to be the co-pilot, which was pretty awesome...

Flight Cockpit

We didn't have enough fuel for the entire flight, so we ended up stopping in Kariba. I always try to take photos of airports I visit, but the pilot warned me not to take a picture of the control tower, as they get pretty upset when people do that. So I zoomed in on the passenger terminal sign in the hopes I wouldn't get shot or or have my camera confiscated or whatever. Kariba's airport, while small, is actually kind of nice. They planted a flower garden out front to look at and the staff was friendly, so I had no complaints...

Kariba Airport

The city of Kariba sits on the shore of beautiful Lake Kariba and is very near Kariba Dam, which is said to be in danger of collapsing...

Kariba

I noticed that some of the small islands in the lake were inhabited, which makes me wonder what would happen to them if the dam breaks and the lake drains...

Spurwing Island

I'm guessing this really cool splotchy island would no longer be an island. At the very least, the size of their beach would increase dramatically.

UPDATE: Now that I'm back, I used Google Maps to find out this is called "Spurwing Island," and looks to be home to a very nice resort property.

The final hop of my flight wasn't very exciting... but there was an occasional watering hole to break the monotony. Like this one, where a heard of elephants was just leaving. You can spot a jeep on the opposite side of the hole, so there must be civilization around here somewhere...

Zimbabwe Watering Hole

After landing at the Linkwasha airstrip in Hwange National Park, it was time to take the hour drive to Davison's Camp (named for the first park warden at Hwange, Ted Davison). At first the drive looked like it was going to be pretty boring...

Hwange Grasslands

But looks can be deceiving. Within five minutes, our guide spotter some really pretty antelope...

Hwange Antelope

Then zebra just minutes after that...

Hwange Zebra

Turns out there were all kinds of animals to look at on the drive, and it ended up being anything but boring.

One of the species we spotted was lions, which means I have been lucky enough to see them every day I've been in Zimbabwe. That's pretty amazing...

Hwange Lion

And then there was this guy, who was rolling around in the grass like a kitten...

Hwange Lion

As I mentioned when arriving at Ruckomechi, Wilderness Safari camps are divided into Premiere, Classic, and Adventure categories. Ruckomechi was a "Classic" property... whereas Davison's Camp is a notch lower, and considered to be an "Adventure" property. I had prepared myself for a drastic step down in quality, so you can imagine my surprise when I was shown to my "tent"...

Hwange Lion

Hwange Lion

Absolutely amazing.

What's nice is that the toilet/shower area offers a bit more privacy than the wide-open spaces in the tent I had at Ruckomechi...

Hwange Lion

As if that weren't enough... NO PAINFUL ROCKS IMBEDDED ON THE FLOOR! and... ZOMG... ELECTRICAL OUTLETS IN THE ROOMS! No more running to the dining room to charge my camera batteries!

It took me all of ten seconds to fall in love with my new home.

Since I arrived late in the day, everybody else at the camp was out on a safari game drive. This meant I got to explore the site a bit and visit with the wonderful staff at the camp. As dinner time approached, we could see the jeeps returning to Davison's, their night-red spotlights ablaze in the distance. But they all stopped short of arriving back at camp because a pride of lions showed up just a short distance away. You could kinda see the animals with your naked eye from where I was standing, but my zoom lens wasn't bright enough to photograph them...

Hwange Lion

The lion-sighting pushed dinner way, way back and I was exhausted, so I grabbed a snack and returned to my tent.

My 5:30am game-drive wake-up will be here all too soon.

   

Day Eight: Hwange, Zimbabwe

Posted on Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Dave!The biggest difference between the Ruckomechi camp I was at previously and the Davison's camp I'm at now is the size. The concession granted by Hwange National Park here is massive. And it kind of has to be, because the animals are much more spread out. At Ruckomechi, you were just five minutes away from all kinds of animals, and would routinely see bunches of animals quite near to each other. At Davison's, you can dive for 30 minutes or more and not see a thing.

But when you do...

Ooh. I'm getting ahead of myself here.

After breakfast a group of us headed out into the grasslands to see what we could see. At the far end of the concession, there's a grassy plain where herds of animals are usually hanging out, so off we went.

Along the way I saw my first jackal, which is an animal I love...

Hwange Black-Backed Jackal

This black-backed jackal, which, according to Wikipedia is "the most lightly built jackal and is considered to be the oldest living member of the genus Canis. It is the most aggressive of the jackals, being known to attack animal prey many times its own weight, and it has more quarrelsome intrapack relationships." Jackals are fascinating creatures in that they form monogamous pairs. The male and female will mark out a territory where they'll live, hunt, and raise pups together. Once the pups are old enough, they'll head out to find their mates and establish their own territory.

Thirty minutes after our jackal sighting, we arrived at the plains... which were pretty much empty. There were small herds of animals way, way off in the distance that I could kinda spot at maximum zoom, but that was it...

Hwange Plains

A bit disappointing, so we turned into the forrest where we had a little better luck...

Hwange Animals

Hwange Animals

And then... just as I was accepting that we wouldn't be seeing any lions today, vultures were spotted circling low nearby. As we headed in their direction, we started noticing that all the trees were filled with vultures. Dozens and dozens of them...

Hwange Vultures

Hwange Vultures

And then, sure enough, a downed water buffalo was spotted. The vultures were already there in full force, which meant the predator(s) which killed it were long gone...

Hwange Vultures on a Water Buffalo

After a bit of searching, bingo, three lions were found nearby, chillin in the shade after their lunch...

Hwange Lions

When I zoomed in, I noticed their faces were stained pink and flies were piled on... apparently attracted to the blood...

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

After that bit of excitement, it was time to head back to camp for lunch and an afternoon siesta. Not far from the lions was a lone buffalo, probably looking for his missing friend...

Hwange Giraffe

I also got to see my first giraffes since arriving in Africa...

Hwange Giraffe

Hwange Giraffe

As they age, giraffes lose their color. Our guide mentioned that this giraffe must be getting quite old because its sides are nearly white...

Hwange Giraffe

And then it was time for my favorite shot I got of the day...

Hwange Giraffe

Isn't she amazing?

Back through the plains...

Hwange Plains

Testing the limits of my telephoto lens with this beautiful green bird here. I was running out of space on my memory card, and ended up shooting the last twenty shots of the drive in JPEG. This would have been a much cleaner image when cropped at 100% if I had gone RAW, but oh well...

Hwange Bird

After a nice long shower followed by a restless nap amidst the screeching baboons outside my door, it was time for the evening game drive...

Room with a View

Like Ruckomechi, Davison's also features a "Loo with a View" that I had to check out...

Loo with a View

Loo with a View

There were some guests that didn't get to see the lions, so I was asked if I minded heading back to the spot we found them this morning. Naturally, I didn't mind at all, so off we went.

The lions had moved, but were still in the vicinity of their kill...

Hwange Lions

Game was a lot more scarce this time around, but we did get to see more jackals, zebras, giraffes, and some warthogs.

Our sundowner snack was at a watering hole our guide liked, providing one of the most amazing sunsets I've seen yet...

Hwange Sunset

That's right out of my Sony A7s when set to "sunset" scene mode! Beautiful, isn't it?

Once the sun had disappeared, it was time to head back to camp. just like the previous night's drive, we ran across some lions... this time with cubs!

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Not a bad way to end the day.

Not bad at all.

   

Day Nine: Hwange, Zimbabwe (Part One)

Posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Dave!Last night's happy encounter with lion cubs had me really, really, wanting to see them in daylight. I was prepared to do some heavy begging for our guide to track them down, but it wasn't necessary. He was on the case, heading out towards their last known location. Which happened to be the railroad tracks.

This being my last day of safari, I was hoping that my record of seeing lions every day would not be broken. Yes, I know that some people make it to Africa and see no lions in the wild at all... so this sounds a bit greedy... but I just don't care. Getting to see lion cubs in the wild is something worth being greedy for.

So there we were, bombing along a road so bumpy that I thought my teeth would fall out... when our guide slams on the brakes, skidding to a stop. Everybody in the jeep was trying to figure out if there was a warthog in the road or something, but that wasn't it at all...

Hwange Lion Tracks

Lion tracks!

And we were off.

It didn't take long.

The lions like high ground so they can better spot their prey. Since the railroad tracks are built up above the grasslands, they like to hang out there a lot...

Hwange Lioness

The lioness was very clever, walking from railroad tie to railroad tie (or railroad sleeper to railroad sleeper, for those of you outside the US) so she wasn't having to walk on crushed rocks...

Hwange Lioness

Once this lion had wandered off the tracks to investigate a tiny antelope (morning snack?), another lioness took her place. This one with a notched ear... and a drooling problem...

Hwange Lioness

She kept looking behind her, which was curious. But then a third lioness joined them and decided to lay down on the tracks to rest...

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Our guide explained that the lioness with a notch in her ear must have eaten something the disagreed with her, because she climbed down off the tracks and started eating grass...

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Three lions first thing in the morning? Pretty sweet!

But no cubs.

Until...

Hwange Lion Cubs

Hwange Lion Cubs

Hwange Lion Cubs

Four. Four cubs!

It was a good time for everyone laying on those warm metal tracks until...

Hwange Lion Cubs

TRAAAAIIIINNNNN!

Must be time for a bath from mom...

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Once the train rumbled onto the scene, everybody headed out into the grasslands, disappearing like baseball players into the cornfield in Field of Dreams...

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

Yeah. I could pretty much go home now. This was everything I was here to see.

When the most amazing thing you've seen in Africa just happened, it's kind of hard to get your mind out of it. I hate to admit it, but all I was hearing was blah blah blah... monkey in a tree...

Hwange Monkey

Blah blah blah... kori bustard, Zimbabwe's largest flying bird...

Hwange Kori Bustard

Blah blah blah... zebras with little birds on them...

Hwange Zebras

Hwange Zebras

Blah blah blah... antelope...

Hwange Antelope

Blah blah blah... weird birds...

Hwange Birds

Blah blah blah... cute baby elephant playing in the mud...

Hwange Baby Elephant

Blah blah blah... pregnant elephant leaving a watering hole...

Hwange Pregnant Elephant

Blah blah blah... sleepy owl in a tree...

Hwange Sleepy Owl

Blah blah... blah blah... blah blah.

And I really feel terrible about being so blasé about these wonderful things... but lions with cubs were still stuck in my head...

Hwange Sleepy Owl

As I sit here pouring over all my photos, I can't imagine a better morning in Africa.

Well, it would have been nice to see a cheetah attacking a rhino or something... but this was pretty amazing.

I'll be back tonight with Part 2.

   

Day Nine: Hwange, Zimbabwe (Part Two)

Posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Dave!Short of an alien invasion, it would have been tough to top this morning's game drive.

So our guide didn't even try.

Instead he decided some rest and relaxation was in order, so he drove us out to a viewing platform where we could watch elephants come down to a watering hole for an evening drink...

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

After that we drove to a nice spot for our sundowner snack to watch yet another glorious Africa sunset...

Hwange Sunset Zimbabwe

Once it got dark, the moon appeared. It looks kinda like an alien planet hanging overhead...

Hwange Sunset Zimbabwe

A leisurely drive back to camp for dinner, and it would seem my day was over.

But not quite.

If you've been keeping up with my trip, a couple nights ago I posted a crappy, blurry photo of some guests out on a night safari looking at lions...

Hwange Lion

It was remarkably unremarkable... except for one thing.

Do you see the stars in the sky?

My new Sony A7s full-frame, high-ISO sensor camera did a really good job of picking them up... even in a blur. I chalked it up to the lack of light pollution out in the grasslands of Zimbabwe.

So... I wonder what would happen if I pointed my camera upwards?

A little experimentation and... holy crap...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

That's really encouraging. I wonder what happens if I tweak the settings on my camera to try and get a better read of the Milky Way?

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Well, damn. Guess I'm interested in astral photography now! That is some seriously cool stuff right there!

It was tough to tear myself away from my camera long enough for dinner but, as usual, the camp chef made it all worthwhile. I am really, really going to miss this place...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Good night from my last night on safari.

   

Day Ten: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014

Dave!My flight out of Hwange didn't leave a lot of safari time this morning, so last night I asked our guide if I could skip it and just take "the long way" to the airport in the morning. He was fine with that... probably because it meant he got to sleep in a bit late as well... so my day was set.

When it was time to leave, the entire staff was there to see me off. Just like Ruckomechi before them, everybody at Davison's was amazing throughout my entire stay. I can't possibly say enough great things about the people at Wilderness Safaris, and give them my highest possible recommendation.

Anyway...

when driving "the long way" to the airport for my flight, we happened upon something I hadn't seen yet in Africa... ostriches!

Hwange Ostriches

Just as the pair went tearing off into the grasslands, the radio came to life. I couldn't understand a word because the person was speaking Shona or some other language I couldn't recognize, but it was clear that something important was happening.

Turns out it was lions. They were at the camp watering hole.

Knowing how much I love these animals, the guide floored it back to camp. I was more than a little excited at seeing lions again, as that would mean I had lucked out in seeing them every day I was on safari. Alas, they were no longer at the watering hole, so off we went to track them down.

Fifteen minutes later and... heeeeeere's Simba! Apparently looking for his mom...

Hwange Lion Cub

Hwange Lion Cub

And here she comes...

Hwange Lionness

The cub was nice enough to look back one last time as we drove off to the airport. Goodbye there, little fella...

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

And I finally got that running warthog photo I've been trying for...

Hwange Warthog

And a last look at a jackal...

Hwange Warthog

Then the time had finally come... we arrived at Linkwasha Airstrip and it was time to go...

Hwange Warthog

Hwange Warthog

I got to play co-pilot again, which is fun... despite all the bodily injury or death...

Hwange Warthog

Next stop? Victoria Falls. And their nice, big landing strip...

Hwange Warthog

Hwange Warthog

I ended up staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel, which is the hotel to stay at in the area. It has a long, illustrious history and has been host to a slew of famous people... from kings and queens to movie stars and socialites. As you would expect, it's quite the nice place to stay...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Though I usually loathe to eat at hotel properties... the price is always high and the quality mostly sucks... I was too hungry to venture out into town. So I ate at the Victoria Falls Hotel "Stanley's Terrace" restaurant, which ended up being very, very nice. The tomato gnocchi with asparagus and parmesan shavings I had was delicious...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

The grounds are meticulously cared for. And not only does the hotel have an exclusive path to Victoria Falls, it also has a view of the canyon bridge at the end of the falls...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

The only fault I have with the hotel so far is that some of the decor is a bit gruesome. I know game hunting is a part of the history here, but it's still sad to see these beautiful animals slaughtered for the sake of wall ornaments...

Victoria Falls Hotel

The rest of the decor, however, is amazing. There are old posters, photos, and memorabilia from throughout the hotel's history... all of it fascinating...

Victoria Falls Hotel

The evening was capped by a Zambezi River cocktail cruise.

Anybody who knows me knows that this is definitely not my thing. But it was something to do, so sign me up.

I have to admit, it was actually quite nice. It also topped-out at two hours, so it was just the right length of time...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

As you pull into dock, the entire crew comes out and sings to you. It's pretty wonderful...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Not a bad way to end the evening, really. If you ever find yourself in Victoria Falls and want to take a river cruise, I'm happy to recommend Nash and his crew of the Zambezi Explorer Cruise Company...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

And that was that. Back to the Victoria Falls Hotel...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Where I noticed a wonderful mural in the lobby entrance...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

It commemorates the old BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) route that flew from Southampton, UK to Johannesburg, South Africa via Augusta, Sicily; Alexandria, Egypt; Khartoum, Sudan; Port Bell, Uganda; and (of course) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It was a mail/passenger route that began in 1948. The plaque below the mural says the flight was serviced nearby, permitting an overnight stay at this hotel for passengers. The stop was affectionately known as "Jungle Junction" (which now happens to be the name of one of the restaurants at the hotel).

And... that's a wrap. For tonight anyways.

All that's left for me here is a visit to the actual Victoria Falls...

   

Day Eleven: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Posted on Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Dave!I woke up confused this morning because everything was silent... no hippos grunting or baboons screeching. That should have made me happy, but I felt quite sad about it. My vacation is pretty much over now, and this is my last day. Guess I should probably try to make the most of it.

I was not going to go all the way to Zimbabwe without visiting Mosi-oa-Tunya, better known as "Victoria Falls." As the largest waterfall in the world, you pretty much have to, right?

From Wikipedia...

While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls is classified as the largest, based on its width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water. Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America's Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls. In height and width Victoria Falls is rivaled only by Argentina and Brazil's Iguazu Falls.

Of course, all those facts and figures only apply to Victoria Falls in the wet season when the falls are at their peak volume, whereas I'm visiting during the dry season when the falls are at their weakest. At first I was worried that it wouldn't be worth the trip because the water would be dried up to a trickle, but I was assured this is actually the best time to see the falls... if you're here in the wet season, you can barely see them because everything is shrouded in mist.

So off I went on my guided tour.

Which starts off with a statue of David Livingstone (I presume!)... who discovered the falls. And by "discovered" I mean "was the first European to see them"...

Victoria Falls Livingstone Statue

Just like America being "discovered" by Columbus and Angkor being "discovered" by Mouhot, it doesn't count as a discovery unless you're the one writing the history books, I suppose.

Turns out the falls are so huge that you can't actually see the whole thing on the ground. Instead you have to view it in sections.

First up... the Devil's Cataract...

Victoria Falls

This section of the falls is active all year and is the most impressive spot during the dry season. If you walk around the end of the chasm, there's a lookout where you can see the Main Falls starting off in the distance...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Looking back at the Devil's Cataract, I spotted my first rainbow of the day...

Victoria Falls

Next up... the Main Falls, which are also active all year. If it were the wet season, you wouldn't be able to see any rock at all, just gushing water and mist...

Victoria Falls

Continuing on along Main Falls...

Victoria Falls

And here's where things get interesting. If you look at the top of the falls in the middle of the photo above, you'll see people standing on a rock outlook. They are there to take a dip in The Devil's Pool, which is a spot at the top of the falls where the rock formation creates a naturally-occurring dead spot in the current. When I tried to photograph these insane people, all I could see was mist... but after a few minutes in Photoshop...

Victoria Falls

Though it's actually more impressive if you pull back a bit...

Victoria Falls

WTF?!? There have been people who have gone over the falls and died attempting this, so... yikes.

Anyway...

Here is my attempt to capture as big a chunk of the Main Falls as possible...

Victoria Falls

And that's about it for the falls, as everything else is pretty much dried up this time of year. Here's Horseshoe Falls...

Victoria Falls

Just a "trickle" (comparatively speaking) at the end...

Victoria Falls

Rainbow Falls is also mostly dried up, but still pretty...

Victoria Falls

Once you get to the end of the falls, you can walk around a corner and get a terrific view of the Victoria Falls Bridge which links Zimbabwe and Zambia. It looks like it's in the middle of being painted just now...

Victoria Falls

Despite my best efforts, I wasn't very happy with my photos of the falls. Even with Photoshop magic, the mist was always messing with the images by making them look faded and blurry. And this is the dry season! I can only guess how impossible they must be to photograph in the wet season!

That's when my guide said that the only way to truly photograph the falls was from the air. And, lucky me, she just happened to know where I could book a helicopter ride and reservations were made.

While I waited for my arial view of the falls, I walked downtown and had some lunch...

Pizza Inn at Victoria Falls

After that? Helicopter time!

Helicopter Tour at Victoria Falls

SHOTGUN!

Helicopter Tour at Victoria Falls

At $140 it was definitely more than I wanted to pay, but I have to say it was totally worth it...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

So... bucket list item accomplished? Not quite.

After visiting the falls, you have to go for high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

The price is $30 for up to four people, and the scones are among the best I have ever had... subtlely sweet and with just the right amount of crumble...

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

Except... ultimately I was disappointed with my experience. The service, which was so amazing yesterday at lunch, was severely lacking. The tea was dumped off at the table with absolutely no explanation or even so much as a hint as to what you're being served. At most places I've gone for high tea, they will happily tell you what you're drinking (usually it's a custom, exclusive tea blend from some exotic location or something).. and they'll also let you know how much longer you should wait for the tea to steep so you can enjoy it at its best. Today? Nothing. And then I had to wait for my sandwiches and sweets, which took FOREVER to arrive (maybe they bake them to order?) and my table was never checked on even once while I waited for my waiter to bring them. This was inexplicable because there were maybe four other tables occupied in the entire restaurant, and I think my waiter was only responsible for two of them. And speaking of my waiter, after he dumped off the food service, that's the last I ever saw of him... at least voluntarily. After waiting way, way too long for somebody to refill my water glass, I finally got up and went to the bar to see if they could help me. The hostess chased me down to find out why I was at the bar and, once I told her, asked me to please take a seat and she would have my waiter bring me more water. Which he did... five minutes later. Same thing for trying to pay the check. I finally begged the hostess to chase down my waiter again so I could pay and leave. I swear... no exaggeration... it took yet another ten minutes for him to show up. I have no frickin' clue what in the hell my waiter was doing today, but it sure wasn't waiting on my table. Sorry... but for THIRTY FRICKIN' DOLLARS FOR TEA at a FIVE STAR PROPERTY with the reputation of the VICTORIA FALLS HOTEL I expected better.

If the service was worth a shit, I'd say high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel is a must-experience event when you're in town. As it is? Well, despite the terrific tea and a delicious snack tray I liked very much... you've been warned. Bring your patience.

After tea I was considering heading back to the falls for a dusk viewing. But the entrance fee I paid this morning is one-time only, and going back would mean another $30 admission fee so I skipped it. Instead I wandered through the hotel looking at the vast amount of history displayed on the walls, then went back to my room to pack.

And now I'm trying to deal with the trauma in knowing that my vacation is over...

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

So far as vacations go, however, this was a great one.

   

Day Twelve: VFA->JNB->AMS

Posted on Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Dave!And so begins my long, long journey home. Starting with my flight from Victoria Falls back to Johannesburg, then continuing on to Amsterdam later this evening.

But for now? A eight-hour layover in Johannesburg. Which, I must say, has to be one of the nicest airports I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. It's well-organized, clean, and has one of the best airport shopping arcades I've seen yet. But, most importantly, they have an international transit hotel on-site... the Protea Hotel O.R. Tambo Airport.

Six hours for a room costs about $130. Pricey, yes, but it's a lot better option than sitting at the gate for eight hours. Besides, it's a pretty nice hotel (all things considered) and they have complimentary internet!

Which helps me take my mind off the 11-hour flight ahead of me.

=shudder=

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Day Thirteen: AMS->SEA

Posted on Monday, September 29th, 2014

Dave!The KLM flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg had internet onboard. The flight back? Not so much. And I have no idea why. Different plane, I suppose. Since the flight left at 11:15pm, I should have just used this as an opportunity to sleep, but that's an impossibility for me. So I watched a bunch of movies I've already seen as the time dragged on. For eleven frickin' hours.

And now here I am at Schiphol, awaiting my flight back to Seattle.

Unfortunately for me, major sections of the airport are undergoing remodeling... including the upper food court and many of the gift shops... but that didn't stop me from tracking down my favorite food on earth, PATATJES MET!!!

PATATJES MET!!!

Not the best I've ever had... but, hey, when in the Netherlands...

And now please excuse me while I mentally prepare for another TEN AND A HALF HOURS trapped in a metal tube without internet... followed by a long drive back over the mountains to home once I arrive.

Next time I'm vacationing in Spokane.

   

Bullet Sunday 399

Posted on Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Dave!Don't let post-vacation blues get you down... because a very special Bullet Sunday on Tuesday starts... now...

I have two... two... Bullet Sundays to make up for this week, so let's get this party started with THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT A SAFARI VACATION IN AFRICA!

   
• Find a Travel Specialist! Going on safari is unlike most trips you've ever taken, and having an expert in your corner is critical. I have been planning a safari trip to Africa for years. But every time I'd sit down to start planning one, I'd get bogged down by the complications and end up vacationing somewhere else. This year a friend recommended a travel agency that specializes in doing all the planning for you. So I half-heartedly called up Ultimate Africa Safaris to hear their ideas, never really thinking it would amount to anything...

Ultimate Africa Safaris Logo

I could not have been more wrong. It couldn't have possibly been easier. Lorna at Ultimate Africa (who has lived on the continent and traveled there many, many times) asked me questions about what I was looking to see and do... what experiences were critical, negotiable, or skippable... and how much I was looking to spend. The next day I had two detailed itineraries to choose from with options to customize either one to suit my tastes. And that was it. Ultimate Africa took care of booking all the lodging, all the flights, all the insurance... everything. No headache. No surprises. And, once I had booked and dropped my down-payment, I got detailed information on everything from visa requirements and a suggested packing list to local customs and money matters for everything on my itinerary. Anything not in the information packet was quickly answered via phone or email, and always in a friendly and professional manner. They even provided me with approved luggage for the trip so I didn't have to hunt for it! There is simply no substitute for this kind of expert advice and exemplary service when trying to plan for a safari vacation in Africa. None.

   
• Don't Penny-Pinch! There's no escaping it... my trip to Zimbabwe is one of the most expensive vacations I've ever had. Sure I could have done it for less by booking inexpensive lodging, locations, and transportation... but Africa is one of those places where you really don't want to go on the cheap. To do a safari right, you're going to be hundreds of miles from civilization in an unforgiving environment where your safety and security are of prime importance. Even putting that aside, do you really want to spend the time and money flying half-way around the world to have a cheap, crappy experience that doesn't live up to your expectations? Ultimate Africa bills themselves as "high-end" safari planners, but they can work with a budget as little as $5000 per person (double occupancy) + International Airfare. Yeah, I know, that's a lot of money... my vacations are usually a fraction of that price (and Zimbabwe was even higher than $5000!)... but you get what you pay for. I look back through my photos and blog entries and know that the years I spent saving for my African safari were worth the wait because my every expectation was exceeded.

Still want an African safari but can't swing a "high-end" price? I'd suggest skipping the more exotic locations (Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe, etc.) and focusing on South Africa only. The amazing Kruger National Park can offer much of what people want in a safari at a greatly reduced cost because it's not as remote as other regions. They have plenty of options for lodging... from basic tent camps to luxury lodges... so you're more likely to find something that fits your budget and travel style as well. Some research at Trip Advisor will probably point you in the right direction.

Still want an African safari, but even South Africa is out of reach? Bear with me here, because this is probably a controversial notion... but book a trip to Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. They offer a "behind the scenes" safari tour called Wild Africa Trek that's about as close as you can get without stepping foot in Africa. And, yes, I'm being serious here. And I didn't know how serious I was until I went to Zimbabwe and experienced for myself just how amazing a job Disney did of capturing what it's like to be on an African safari. The sights... the smells... the bumpy roads... the wildlife... it's all there. It's been "Disneyfied" but it's there. I've written about my Wild Africa Trek previously on Blogography. And if you want to complete the experience, stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which I've also written about. No, it's most definitely not Africa... but it's a taste of Africa that's considerably more affordable than actually going... and probably a better, safer experience than trying to do a "real" safari on the cheap.

   
• Make Time! If I were forced to name a single regret about my trip, it would be that it was over with too quickly. Of my thirteen days vacationing in Africa, four of them were spent just getting there and back. So, not counting time on airplanes, my trip was just nine days long. Yes, I packed a heck of a lot into those nine days and made the most of the time I had... but I really needed more. I should have stayed four nights at each camp instead of three. Sure, that would add another thousand dollars or so to the price tag, but the added value would have been priceless. That being said, I fully realize that some people may not be cut out for that much safari. You're basically doing the same thing day after day and hoping for different results. And yet... there were people who visited Ruckomechi Camp before me that didn't see a single lion. The longer you stay, the better your chances of having that special experience that will make your vacation. At both camps I visited, the guides tried to make each game drive unique... luckily both Ruckomechi and Davison's sit on huge properties to make that possible, and it's all the more reason to spend the money to have the best experience possible.

   
• Schedule a Travel Break! One of the things I did right was give myself two nights in Johannesburg to recover from the absurd amount of travel it takes to get to Southern Africa. Nights in Johannesburg are comparatively super-cheap compared to nights at a high-end safari camp. Going directly from 20+ hours of flying to your safari is pretty much guaranteeing that your jet-lagged ass is not going to be able to appreciate the wonders you're there to experience. So don't do it. Take a day or two to get your strength back and then head out into the bush. Likewise, adding a post-safari stop to decompress is also a great idea (Victoria Falls was an easy add-on for my trip) and will give you time to recover before the long journey home.

   
• Don't Over-Pack! After years of constant travel, I've become a light packer. At least I thought I was. The small aircraft you'll be using to get to the camps out in the bush are really, really small. Because of that, your luggage also has to be kept small. For my trip, there was a limit of 44 pounds in two bags that are no bigger than 10"x12"x24" long. Since my camera bag counted as one piece, that left me with the lone duffle that Ultimate Africa gave me for booking through them...

Ultimate Africa Safaris Duffle Bag

Now, at first, it seemed an impossible challenge. 13 days of clothing in such a small bag? But the camps I stayed at provide complimentary washing service every day (and give you washing powder so you can wash your own underwear), so it's not a big deal. Three pairs of safari pants that can convert to shorts and three safari shirts that can roll up to be short-sleeve shirts is (believe it or not) more than enough. I could have easily gotten away with only two of each. So heed your information packet and leave your wardrobe at home. You just won't need it. As for everything else? I went a little overboard...

  • Camera Monopod. Since a tripod would take up too much space, the camera forum I frequented said to bring a monopod. I tried to use it the first day I went out on a game drive. It proved to be so unwieldily and impractical that it was never opened again. Even with the rather large aperture on my long lens, the bright skies of Africa during the dry season made hand-held shooting a piece of cake. Unless you've got a lens too heavy to be hand-held, just skip it.
  • Excessive Medical Kit. I took my own medical kit and packed it with double-everything and even bought a syringe and suture kit in case I needed them for serious care. Well, one of the benefits of staying in a "high-end" camp is that they already have that stuff... both in-camp and on every vehicle.
  • Pharmaceutical Bag. I always travel with an assortment of over-the-counter medications, which is a smart idea because you just never know. For going to Africa, I went above and beyond, brining a huge bag of medications that were completely unnecessary (I never opened mine even once). Stick to a small assortment of necessities you'd use for domestic travel (aspirin, Imodium, antibiotic cream, etc.) and trust that spending the money for a "high-end" camp will provide you with the safe environment for food and activities.
  • Jeans. I brought them because I didn't want to wear kahkis on the plane. This was really stupid, because you'll never use them while on safari... they're way too heavy and take too long to dry.
  • Water Bottle. A big waste of time and space considering that my camp provided bottles and each jeep had plenty of beverages onboard for a snack stop.
  • GameBoy. Never opened it once. The planes have movies and Mario can't compete with what you'll see on safari.

   
• What to Take? Okay, what about the stuff you should take? Here were my most important take-alongs...

  • Permethrin Clothing. I never saw a single mosquito or tick. I never got a single bite. Apparently they are not a major concern in the dry season. Even so, getting malaria is seriously no fun, and you should do absolutely everything you can to avoid getting it (above taking an anti-malaria drug, see below). You can buy Permethrin at many sporting good stores (or order it from Amazon) to treat your own clothing... or purchase pre-treated garments (I got mine from ExOfficio's BugsAway Collection). Can be expensive, but your health and safety is worth it, and this stuff really works).
  • Insect Repellant. The permethrin will only go so far, so making sure you have bug juice on exposed skin is a must. Yes, most camps will provide you with some, but it's smart to take stuff you know you can use, as repellants can have a strong allergic reaction in some people. DEET is considered to be the most effective, but it's also toxic as hell. I've had great luck with Skeeter Beater, and have read in travel forums that it works well on African insects. Take the time to research which solutions work best for where you'll be, as the internet has plenty of information floating out there. Again, malaria is not something you want to get.
  • Battery Pack (WITH light). Many camps aren't going to have an electrical outlet in your tent... so if you want to charge your iPad, camera, or whatever, taking along a battery pack is a must. I never travel without them anymore, because you just never know when you'll need a charge. That being said... most camps aren't going to have nightlights or flashlights provided either! So getting a battery pack that has a light built-in is just a smart move. There are tons of options out there, but the best I've ever found is the Intocircuit Power Castle. It has two USB ports and a bright light that's incredibly power-efficient (I left it on all night as a nightlight and it drained just 1% of the battery!). I'm not going to lie... it's a bit bulky and heavy compared to weaker options... but it packs a lot of power and is well-worth tucking in your pack or camera bag. The Power Castle is just $29.99 at Amazon (as of this writing).
  • A Decent Camera with a Quality Lens + Accessories. On a safari you're going to see some amazing stuff that you're going to want to remember, so you're going to want a good camera... I don't care who you are. Even if it's just a quality point-and-shoot pocket camera, you're going to use it. I'm not going to go into recommendations here (let's save that for another entry) but I will say a few things... A) Make sure your camera has an eyepiece viewfinder, as the bright African sun will obliterate the screen display and leave you guessing if that's all your camera has. B) Make sure your lens is of good quality and goes out to at least 300mm (or zoom equivalent). Longer is nice, but holding a camera steady enough to make use of longer reach can be tough (even if it has stabilization). C) Practice shooting with your camera so you know how to take photos of animals, scenery, sunsets, or whatever... before you go. D) Shoot RAW or at the highest quality JPEG setting your camera will allow so you have enough pixels to crop into later, if needed. E) Take double the amount of memory cards you think you'll need... you'll rarely have time to offload your photos and re-use your cards. F) Take at least one extra battery... preferably two... and make sure they're at 100% before you leave. G) Don't leave home without lens cleaning cloths, a lens pen, or some way of getting dust off your optics... it's EVERYWHERE. H) If your lens can accept filters, make sure you have a haze filter attached to protect it. A circular polarizer is also nice for getting good color in many situations. I) As I said above, a full-size tripod or monopod probably isn't worth it for most people, but a compact small tripod can be useful... especially if you're taking astral photography shots.
  • Backup Camera. Yeah... if your primary camera dies, you'll want to be sure you have a spare. Even something cheap is preferable to having nothing at all.
  • Decent Quality Binoculars. Most of the cool stuff you'll see is going to be at a distance. Making sure you have quality binos with you is essential. I've owned many pair over the years, but the ones I'm most happy with are (don't laugh) the Bear Grylls Edition 10x42 by Bushnell. They're $80, but perform as well as binos I've bought costing hundreds... very clear, fog-free, and bright! They're also built tough and have held up very well for me. Here they are at Amazon.
  • Power Strip and Converter Plug. If your camp is lucky enough to have power outlets in your tent, there aren't going to be very many of them. If your camp has communal power outlets, they're going to be filled most of the time. The best assurance you have of making sure your camera batteries and other electricals stay topped off is to take a power strip. My favorite one... by far... is the BESTEK I found at Amazon for $25. Yes, it's big and bulky... but it will pass through higher international currents with no problem and has USB charging ports built-in! Best of all, the outlets are space far enough apart that I can plug in my Sony camera battery chargers side-by-side with no problem! (I posted a photo of that on this entry, third-photo down). IMPORTANT! This unit is NOT a power converter! Be sure to check your equipment to be sure it can handle the current/voltage of the countries you'll be visiting (all my Apple chargers worked fine). Don't forget power plug adapters, and African countries vary on style from place to place, so be sure to research what you'll need.
  • Good Flashlight and Headlight. I am in love with the Nitecore MH2C flashlight because it can be recharged via my USB battery pack. It's a spendy $70, but worth every penny when you need a light you can count on. If you find yourself needing to go hands-free, a relatively inexpensive headlight option is the Petzl Tikka at $45. Small, tough, reliable, and essential when you're trying to futz with your camera setting in the dark and need both hands.
  • Decent Polarized Sunglasses + Backup. Don't skimp. Get a good pair that wraps around your head so light isn't leaking in while you're trying to spot game under an unrelenting sun. Bring a backup pair as well, because you just can't be without eye protection if your first pair breaks.
  • Medications. There ain't going to be a pharmacy out in the bush, so be sure to take enough prescription drugs and basic over-the-counter needs with you.
  • Warm Fleece Jacket and Gloves. At Ruckomechi, I was warm all the time and had a fan blowing on my all night. At Davison's the mornings and nights were freezing cold and I was very, very glad to have a fleece jacket to keep me warm. I wish I had brought a pair of light gloves.
  • Suntan Lotion. Pretty obvious, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

   
• Do Some Good! I filled my excess luggage space with school supplies because my camp is attached to a "Pack With a Purpose" program that will pass them along to local schools that can really use them. Had I been a smarter packer and left all the crap I didn't end up using, I could have taken more. If you're going on safari, learn more about this awesome program at the Pack for a Purpose website!

   
• Hedge Your Bets! I stayed at two separate camps at two very different parts of Zimbabwe and was really, really glad I did. It's just a way to make sure you're seeing the most variety of animals and environments on your trip, as nature can be unpredictable and game can be uncooperative.

   
• Leave the Attitude and Expectations! If you want guaranteed animal sightings, go to a zoo. Safaris aren't the place for guarantees, and the reason to go on safari is to experience a safari. There is -zero- sense getting upset because you didn't see lions or the place you visited didn't have rhino or whatever. If you're going to a good-quality camp with a decent-sized piece of land, you're going to see some amazing stuff. Whether it's what you wanted to see is anybody's guess, and not your guide's fault if things don't go your way.

   
• Don't Be a Douche! My last night at Davison's was amazing except for one thing... I had to listen to some d-bag screeching into a satellite phone, which is EXACTLY THE KIND OF THING I WENT TO AFRICA TO AVOID! He made a point of telling the guy on the other end of the line that he'd be checking in every day, which is fine... that's his choice. But do it in the privacy of your own tent... don't force everybody else to have to endure your douchebaggery. For the sake of those on game drives with him, I hope he didn't take the sat-phone with him on safari. Something tells me that he did.

   
• Research Appropriate Clothing! I touched on this above, but it's so important I am giving it a bullet of its own. Because if I hadn't packed a fleece, as recommended, I'd have spent half my time in Africa freezing. If you're traveling in the wet season, waterproof gear is essential. If you're going to an area with the satan-spawned tsetse fly, you'll want to avoid wearing the dark colors they are attracted to. Bright colors and white clothing can cause problems in some areas too. Everything I packed was in khaki and neutral colors because it was suggested that it was the best thing to be wearing. Few people bothered to be as khaki-obsessed as I was, and were wearing anything and everything. I went overboard, but would rather be safe than sorry. If you've got a decent travel specialist, they'll provide recommendations... best to follow them.

   
• Vaccinate Early! I made the huge mistake of waiting until the last minute. Not only did this mean that my typhoid pills were not fully effective before I left... it also meant that the Malarone I took to prevent malaria killed off the effectiveness of the typhoid treatment because I started too soon after! Meet with your doctor or health department months before you're due to leave and make sure you have a plan in place... and the time to follow it through.

   
• Check Entry Requirements! I was lucky in that South Africa didn't require a tourist visa for American citizens... and Zimbabwe allowed me to purchase a visa for entry at the airport. But not all African countries are going to be this easy. Some are going to require a visa that has to be purchased in advance, so make sure you check into it. If you plan to purchase at the airport (for those countries offering it) be sure to have the appropriate cash in the appropriate currency before you arrive. Zimbabwe's currency is the US dollar, so I didn't have to worry about stopping at a currency exchange or finding a cash machine.

   
• Factor in Tip Money! There are no ATMs out in the bush. If you're going to tip your camp staff and guides, you'll have to bring the cash with you... and it goes a lot faster than you'd think. I blew through $300 in no time, and wish I had brought more because the people working at the camps totally deserved it. It's suggested that you tip $10 (or equivalent) per day per person for the camp tip-box and another $10 (or equivalent) per day per person for your guide. I doubled it, and it still felt inadequate considering how well I was taken care of. I also ended up tipping porters, drivers, and other staff as appropriate... and it was always appropriate. Truly amazing service everywhere I went, and that should be rewarded.

   
• Don't Give In to Fear! When I got back to "civilization," the number one comment I got... whether seriously or as a joke... was "I hope you didn't get ebola!" I heard it before I left as well. And I think that's because people don't have an idea of just how huge a continent that Africa is. It's massively huge. It's so huge that people in London, England were closer to the ebola outbreak in West Africa than I was in Zimbabwe...

The True Size of Africa

Yes, the disease is a serious concern (even here at home!), but educating yourself about what ebola is, how it is contracted, who is at risk, and why the areas being hit are being hit as hard as they are... it goes a long way towards easing your mind. The simple truth is that there are going to be dangers when you leave your home no matter where you travel. If you're going to allow fear to keep you from your Southern Africa dream vacation... or any vacation... rather than relying on common sense, then staying home is probably best for everybody.

   
• The Sooner the Better! When I was in the earliest planning stages with Ultimate Africa, I mentioned that it might be better to wait and do my safari next year. I had the money saved, but everything seemed to be happening too fast and the choices were too overwhelming. That was when I got the best piece of advice possible... As economies recover, and safaris get more popular, and supply struggles to keep up with demand, Africa is getting more and more expensive year-after-year. Many of the prime locations are now so far out of reach that most people can't afford them. Soon even the more reasonably-priced locations like Zimbabwe and Botswana will follow suit. If you have any desire to visit Africa, now is the time. Wait too long and your options will continue to diminish until all the best options are out of reach. And it's true. When you look at the pricing calendars for some of the lodges, 2015 dates are showing a hefty price increase over their 2014 counterparts. As if that weren't bad enough, availability is already getting scarce. It's a problem that's only going to escalate the longer you wait.

   

And... that's a wrap.

Though I've probably forgotten a dozen things, so I suppose I'll update the list as needed.

   

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