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Home Articles posted by Joe Harkins
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My ATM Card# Is Widely Known

Published on May 10, 2007, by in India.

When I was in India I was shocked that the credit (and debit) card receipts at bank ATMs were displaying information that could make it easier for someone to access my account and steal money. (see SprangleBlog post) At the time, I thought the issue did not exist in the USA.

 
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Update on Fujitsu

Published on April 4, 2007, by in Fujitsu.

It has been roughly 4 and 1/2 months since the above was reported on. Considering how negative the experience may appear – but with proper respect for what is right – here’s an update.

 
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As Lyndon Johnson Used to Say . . .

When LBJ was a Senator from Texas and famous for getting his way against strong opposition from fellow congressmen and government bureaucrats, he was asked to explain his negotiating secrets. He said to the questioning newspaper reporter: “Son, it’s really simple. You grab ’em firmly by the balls. Their hearts and minds will follow.” It turns out that what charms reluctant politicians works just as well on corporations . . . case in point, Fujitsu.

 
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Legal Action

Published on November 8, 2006, by in Fujitsu.

Today I filed a lawsuit in Hudson County, NJ against Fujitsu for: 1) selling me a laptop computer that fails the implied warranty that it is designed and manufactured for the purpose for which it is advertised and sold, as a reasonably robust portable computer. 2) failure to honor their own warranty by repairing the defective and useless computer. 3) failure to return the computer to me some 8 weeks after it was handed to them and despite frequent explicit written and phone requests that they do so. The suit demands a full refund of the purchase price, refund of the

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“So, Mrs. Kennedy, aside from all that, how do you like Dallas?”

I just got an email from the online agency where I had booked the Heathrow Lodge, the budget hotel I stayed in during last week’s brief London layover. They want my review of the experience. Too late.  This detailed indictment had already been drafted and was being made ready for publication when that request arrived.

 
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Yep, it’s Pneumonia.

By the time I arrived in Mumbai, I had a fever of 102f (I keep a thermometer and a small first aid kit in my toilet kit).  Every deep breath and cough caused a powerful, sharp pain in my lower lungs. I was sweating and shivering at the same time. I was panting and slightly delirious. I suspected pneumonia – or worse.

 
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Overnight Train Mathura (Agra) to Mumbai

By now, my fantasy of  “Overnight Train to x x x ” has been exposed as poor romance, frustrating adventure and less than ideal transportation. Guess what? The overnight train from Mathura Junction to Mumbai reset the template. From the moment of arrival on the platform at the Mathura Station, to getting down on the platform in Mumbai Central, it was the train ride I’d been anticipating but didn’t find between Delhi and Varanasi – or between Varanasi and Agra.

 
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Souveniers

Published on October 26, 2006, by in Agra, India, Mumbai.

I am not one for souveniers. They just add to the baggage. Back in high school, studying Ceaser’s Gallic Wars, I learned that the Roman military word for baggage is “impedimenta”; just something that gets in the way.

 
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Painting with Light – Part 3

Shoes must be removed before going up the narrow marble stairs to the plaza and into the dome. The quiet intimacy of the past half-hour is rapidly dissipating as more and more people arrive. Now the shaded areas outside the perimeter of the plaza are attracting photographers seeking the right angle to capture the color. Examine the two last photos above. They are closeups from one of the larger pix further above. The spots of color are polished jewels set into the marble shell. In the low rays of the early morning sun, when you are in the same visual

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Painting with Light – Part 2

Now the sun is rising, just clearing the line of trees to the east, sliding from behind one of the corner minarets. The richness of its palate is revealed. The warmth of the sun is displayed across the eastern surfaces of the monument in appropriately butter-bright shades of yellow. Click on the photos.

 
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Painting with Light – Part 1

Understand up front that I’m not going to fudge on my resolution to avoid adjectives to describe the Taj Mahal. But the photos in the mini-album embedded in this post deserve explaining. At times I may need a “word that describes a quality of a thing” to clarify what’s in those pix. Sometimes I’ll need to modify something in the experience, other than the building itself. The genius and artistry of the Taj Mahal is not limited to placement, form and scale. The masterful exploitation of light, within and without the tomb, raises the site to a level not seen,

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Dawn at the Taj Mahal

I was the first person at the ticket window when it opened at 6am. Once inside the gate I lingered briefly along the pathway to the portal that frames the Taj Mahal itself. I wanted a little more light before I encountered the view. Birds in the trees that lined the tiled path were warbling musically to each other. The air was calm. The heat of the day had not yet intruded. A fountain splashed water on the flowers at its base. As I passed through the portal, I saw a couple who had preceded me by a few minutes.

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The Taj Mahal – Late Afternoon Album #1

After a nap, a great hot shower, fresh clothes and an excellent sandwich in the garden of the amzingly cheap and cheerfully green garden of the Guest House, I climbed into the back of a three-wheeler and roared off to see the Taj Mahal before it closed at 6pm.   The authorities have wisely banned motor vehicle traffic at a point some 200 or so yards short of the western gate to the grounds. This not only cuts down on the air pollution and motor noise, but it requires that tourists walk the narrow street lined with souvenier shops and

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The Ineffable Taj Mahal

I’m not going to try to describe the Taj Mahal. To do so is impossible. Far better writers than me have said so. Confronted with it at dawn, and then at sunset, and again in the moonlight, Mark Twain declined to describe the monument except in an oblique way. The handful of pages he devotes to the Taj Mahal include the most candid passages he ever wrote about the limits of his skills.

 
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A Ganges Morning Album

No text . . . just an album of what I saw this morning from 6 am until around 8:30am. Click on any photo to enlarge.

 
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Twilight Above the Ganges

Last night at twilight, as I was standing on the balcony of my hotel room, high above the broad sweep of the Ganges River, temple bells were tolling and puffs of the late freshening breeze carried small gusts of distant chanting. (Now tell me, honestly, could there ever be a more promising start to a story than that?) 

 
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Varanasi and the Ganges from a Balcony

The wide balconies of the Scindhia are the very definition of what American southerners call “a catbird seat,” the perfect spot where one sits just high enough to be un-noticed from below and just enough to the side that you can see faces, not merely the tops of heads. Life on the path and plaza and nearby temples and schools flows as steadily as the river itself.  Directly below to the left, stairs lead down from the heights and continue right on into the river. Next to them is a patch of land that is literally covered in cow dung.

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The Burning Ghats of Varanasi

Varanasi is widely spoken of as the holiest city of all to the Hindu faithful. Here, the democracy of that faith’s theology – and its contradictions -are evident.

 
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The Scindhia Balconies Above the Ganges

Over the course of my days in Varanasi I learned there are other places to stay along the river. Some of them will appear high up and in the background of photos taken during the Dawn on the Ganges below. But, as the photos here and in other posts demonstrate, none have the broad, open-air balconies that give virtually every Scindhia room these awesome vistas. Click on photos to expand them. For example, look at the range, down and across the Ganges. These are the views directly outside the door to my room. The hotel layout offers one long, common

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The Ganges River

Published on October 22, 2006, by in Uncategorized.

Standing on an open, stone-surfaced platform that was like a “thrust stage,” jutting out from the buildings to the rear and either side, I confronted great contrasts.

 
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The Maze

The free ride in a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw from the Varanasi train station to the Scindhia Hotel was far and away the wildest I’ve ever had in my 73 years of traveling the world. It was a real live version of the roller coaster that many know as “The Mouse.” The driver was the most aggressive I’ve ever seen, passing on the outside of  curves at full speed against oncoming cars, trucks and rickshaws. At some places along the way, the opposing streams of traffic were divided by a low, narrow wall of concrete – which we ignored. At some intersections

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Finding My Way Out of the Station

The arrival platform at Varanasi was no less tumultuous and disorderly than the departure venue at Delhi the night before . . . utter, absolute, overwhelming chaos.

 
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Overnight Train Delhi to Varanasi

This was not the deluxe train I’d expected. The carriage was probably 40 or 50 years old. Everything was the same shade of pale green one sees in the below-ground corridors of hospitals and governmental buildings around the world.

 
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Brown Bread Cafe

Published on October 22, 2006, by in India, Varanasi.

At Noon I am in Varanasi in an Internet carrel at The Brown Bread Bakery, also known as Olio Restaurant and Ice-Cream Parlor, also known as OM Cyber Cafe, also known as Harashita Sarees and Silk Emporiium, all in a space not much larger than the necessary room in modern home. The welcome is much larger. The computer I used to check my email contained a ton of spyware but after downloading, installing and running Ad-Aware, the free spyware cleaner from www.lavasoft.com, I found and removed 160 infections. I also showed the owner how to do this daily from now

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The Delhi Train Station

It is a scene that Bruegel might have painted in a fever or Dante reserved for one of the innermost circles of Hell.

 
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Open For Business

Published on October 21, 2006, by in India.

What a shock. I just used my debit card at a Bank of India ATM in Delhi to withdraw pocket cash. WARNING – do not casually discard the little printed receipt that the machine spits out at you along with the cash.

 
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I Think I Saw This Marx Bros’ Movie

Published on October 21, 2006, by in Delhi, India, Trains.

I had spent too much time shopping in the Karol Bargh Market and the other in Paharganj, followed by a final afternoon enjoying rest of the fantastic Delhi Metro system, that I  did not get back to the Megha Sheraton, to pick up my bags, until 5:10pm, almost 1/2 hour later than I had been advised. That put everything at risk. I was to pay the price, literally, in sweat and rupees.

 
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Gandhi’s Memorial Park (Gandhi Rajghat)

Published on October 19, 2006, by in Delhi, India.

New Delhi is one of the most over-populated, dense, crowded, jammed together, claustrophobic, delimited, pressed in, bethronged, enjostled, cramped, packed, crushed, squeezed, tight, heaped, swarmed, mobbed, clogged cities in the world. Even more so than the previous sentence.

 
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Lost in Delhi; Found in Manhattan

Published on October 19, 2006, by in Delhi, India.

I was fortunate in the taxi driver I’d hired for a day-long tour of New Delhi highlights chosen from my guidebooks and research.

 
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Four Days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

When much of your life has been lived in cities like New York and Chicago, it is hard to imagine a major city that is so different from those places, yet as exciting and inspirational. Kuala Lumpur is one such. Like all great metropolises, KL has at least one icon, in this case, the 1,381 ft tall Petronas Towers, for a while – and thanks to a tricky definition that would have put Texas voter redistricting to shame – the tallest building in the world. There is more text below the photos. But, as everywhere else in this web site,

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Henna Hands

Published on October 18, 2006, by in Delhi, India.

For henna painting on your hands, world-class artists are sitting on the main street that runs through Delhi’s Paharganj district. Here’s a sample . . . Click on the image to enlarge. This is done every year at this time for the festival of Karwa Chauth. (http://www.karwachauth.com/the-legend-of-karwa-chauth.html) Two artists work simultaneously. One works the left hand, and the other creates the exact mirror image design on the other. This took about 20 minutes. I didn’t ask the price because there’s a basic marketplace rule around the world . . . if you are not serious about buying, don’t ask.

 
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A Tranquil Surprise – and a Reality Check

Published on October 18, 2006, by in Uncategorized.

In the midst of the clamour of the Paharganj market district, about 100 yards in from the busy 6-lane road and the massive concrete structure of the Metro overhead at one end of the main street through the marketplace, I saw a sign and gateway.

 
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Bangkok’s Grand Palace part two

Like the previous post, this is a visual experience. Just photos. (But I must comment on the photo, in the last row below, of the fat man with the dribble down the front of his shirt. He insists that it is not the result of a poorly managed ice-cream cone or some other personal sloppiness. He claims it is simply the result of the fierce humidity.)

 
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The Golden Buddha of Bangkok

About 600 years ago, give or take a century, an unknown group of Buddhists in Thailand created a statue slightly more than 10 feat high, weighing more than 5 and 1/2 tons. That’s heavy because solid gold tends to be heavy. At the current price for gold, in the range of $600 per ounce, it also tends to be pricey. To that equation add the elegant beauty of its design and the excellence of its workmanship. Then you’ll have a definition of “priceless” that mocks the insipid pretensions of that credit card television commercial. The temple in which it sits

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Bangkok’s Grand Palace – Part One

This is just a photo album of scenes at the entrance The Grand Palace.  Other than the basic details about when, why, and how it was built, the Grand Palace is a visual experience.  But if you want those details, here are a few links that will spare me the time of repeating what I’ve looked up. WikiPedia entry for Grand Palace Into Asia Guide Bangkok Guide

 
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The Bangkok House of Joyful Moments

What’s in name? Well, as I learned, the real name of Bangkok is a bigger, hotter mouthful than a cup of harissa sauce. Meaning?? Try this (from Wikipedia) . . . Krung-d?vamah?nagara amararatanakosindra mahindrayudhy? mah?tilakabhava navaratanar?jadh?n? pur?ramya utamar?janiv?sana mah?sth?na amaravim?na avat?rasthitya shakrasdattiya vishnukarmaprasiddhi. It translates to “The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built

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Walking Through Fairy Bower

This morning I did two hours of walking at best speed. Had to stop a few times to ease the thigh-burn. The rain let up as I began but the wind blew so hard off the ocean that at one point the steady breeze across the mouth of the water bottle I was drinking from produced a perfect “A”. Fairy Bower is an upscale community that hugs the top of a steep cliff that juts eastward out to sea, directly south of Manly Beach.

 
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The Delhi Metro

Published on October 15, 2006, by in Delhi, India, Trains.

This modern transit system (Delhi Metro Wikipedia entry) is a hugely refreshing surprise. It’s also a bit humbling. I don’t know a single city in all the USA that has anything of this size and quality even under discussion . . . and Delhi’s system here is almost 90% complete. See the Delhi Metro web site. And here’s a photo gallery that shows how modern, clean and comfortable the Metro system is in this “impoverished, third-world” country. 

 
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Your Fly is Open

Today – and almost any day – is “fly day” in Manly. Spring or Summer brings swarms of flies that would carry off small dogs were they not well tethered. They drive pedestrians to mad semaphoric wavings. The phrase “bloody flies” is the local equivalent of the American reference to inappropriate maternal affection.

 
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Not Good At All- Dengue Fever in India

Published on October 7, 2006, by in India.

News online says there is a dengue fever outbreak in Delhi. Here’s the report from a newspaper there.

 
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Let’s Call This a Training Session for India

Travel confounds your assumptions and habits. Where I am now, in Australia, exit signs are green. Cars drive on the left side of the road and pedestrians generally follow the same sinister path.

 
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Manly Jazz Festival – Day 03

Published on October 1, 2006, by in Australia, Manly.

After the cold wind that drove out the audience for yesterday’s last set, this morning’s calm warmth is welcome. But spring in Australia is as full of shiny promises in the morning that become afternoon disappointments. It’s not quite 6am. The same sun that is setting for the west coast of South America is now offering itself to the eastern edge of Oz as sunrise. The plaza before the main stage is empty and expectant. The street that parallels the beach is deserted. The guest house I’m now living in it just around the corner in that photo. There’s more

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Manly Jazz Festival – Day 02

This afternoon, the John Harkins Trio were the backup for Delilah, an American singer. A huge crowd stayed seated and standees filled all the space in the plaza during the entire show despite the bitterly cold wind that came in off the ocean.

 
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Manly Jazz Festival – Day 01

The 29th Manly Jazz festival opened today. Despite a great deal of anxiety about the incomplete condition of the Corso reconstruction, everyone seemed satisfied. My son, John Harkins, was the afternoon’s attraction on the Main Stage overlooking Manly’s mile and one-half long beach. I’ve never heard John play with such fire. His runs were awesome and his improvisations full of joy and excitement. I’m sure the crowd’s response added to his enthusiasm.  (Click on the “read more” links for photos)

 
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Turning and Turning . . .

Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; W. B. Yeats, poem As usual, I’m clueless about what, if anything can be done to salvage the relationship with “E.” She’s totally withdrawn. I’m in the spare bedroom (says she can’t sleep with me in the same bed). Won’t talk (“nothing to talk about”). Goes off on her own for hours (“I need to be alone.”).

 
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The US$3,000 Paperweight

The Fujitsu Lifebook P7120 laptop computer is out of service and the situation is not good. Only a few months ago I paid $2,000 for it and invested roughly $1,000 more in software and memory upgrade. Now its only dependable function is to keep loose papers from blowing away in a breeze.

 
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First Day – Manly and Sydney

My first day back visiting beloved Australia started just after dawn in Manly with a brisk walk north along the beach, from the Gazebo near the Corso, about a mile to Queenscliff and back. If the Gazebo looks familiar to Americans, it was the centerpiece in a television commercial for Old Navy clothes, shown frequently across the US in August Prime Time. Teenage dancers were romping around the Gazebo, showing off the Old Navy fashions.

 
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Stockholm Syndrome

The Stockholm Syndrome is famous among pyschologists and sociologists. It refers to the intruiging concept, based on a prolonged bank robbery during which the hostages protected their captors when the police attempted a raid. Psychologists say that hostages often form sympathetic bonds with their captors as a survival mechanism. Survivors of an extended ordeal sometimes need to be deprogrammed back to the reality that they have been abused. International air passengers at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport may well need some shrink-service.

 
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Make Your Bed and Lie in It

One of my reasons for choosing this route to Sydney instead of the more obvious one across the USA and over the Pacific Ocean using a United or Qantas Boeing 747 is that Malaysia Airline uses a Boeing 777. The center rear rows  on the Malaysia Boeing 777 are five seats across. (Seat Guru) In most of those rows (but not all) the armrests can be raised to create a bed-like space roughly 8 feet long. It’s a bit narrow for a guy my size but still sleepable. I’ve yet to see a Malaysia Air 777 on these 7 to

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Disaster

As soon as I plugged in the Fujutsu laptop’s AC power and re-booted, I knew I was in deep trouble. The display was 20% scrambled. Maybe it’s a software glitch or static buildup? I shut down and re-boot again. Now almost 50% of the screen, the entire left side, was a mess.

 
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First Leg – Newark to Stockholm (Part 1)

It’s widely agreed that the most important foreign-language question for travelers is, “Where’s the nearest bathroom?” Having read of Delhi Belly and the Mumbai Trots, I want to be perfect in my annunciation of this need, and even more important, be able to understand the answer.

 
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A Brief Conversation on 9/11

Earlier today I visited a client of my web site business in Lower Manhattan. Their office is a few blocks walk north of the World Trade Center. Few New Yorkers, other than media types and those peddling goulish day tours, refer to “ground zero.” Like many others born and raised in Jersey City, I hold self-appointed dual citizenship in NYC. We New Yorkers stubbornly call it the World Trade Center, partly out of memory but largely out of defiance and a refusal to allow the 9/11 scum to think they took away anything more than the physical. It’s another insight

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The Flight I Almost Missed

Oh, that was a close one. It’s now Sunday, Sep 10, 2006. For weeks I have been telling people my first outbound flight is Friday, September 14th. Earlier today I was speaking on the phone with a friend. She asked, “Are you ready for Thursday?” “What’s happening Thursday?” “You’re leaving on the 14th, right?”

 
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Finding India

What a ridiculous conceit, to research India, armed with a Google search button, a Barnes and Noble discount membership and a Public Library card. I don’t want the pale lightbulb of vicarious information; I want the fire of experience. I know that even a few weeks of that will be inadequate. After all, India is the source of the cautionary tale of the blind men invited to describe an elephant after running their hands over the part nearest at the moment. The one at the trunk said it was a firehose; men at the legs said it’s a tree; the

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Sub-Letting My Apartment (part 2 – Craig’s list)

For those who may not know, Craig’s List is the Google of the online classified advertisement world. In just a few years, it has become such a powerful free tool that many newspapers around the world are losing serious revenue to its superior and cost-free service. I’ve never used it before now. I’m looking forward to discovering how well it works – or if it works at all.

 
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Sub-Letting My Apartment (part 1 – legalities)

In years past, when I’ve taken trips of similar length, I’ve either left my apartment vacant or participated in a home exchange through one of the online services that facilitate them. The home exchanges have been great and satisfying and have expanded the range of friends around the world – but this time I’ve decided to sublet for the 6 weeks I will be traveling.

 
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Who’s Got the Lowest Price?

The Emperor Franz Joseph famously complained that Mozart’s music has “too many notes.” My version of that, probably as lazy and ill-informed as his, says there are too many choices online for buying air tickets.

 
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Defining the Itinerary

Defning an itinerary and buying the air tix are a test of the sincerity of one’s belief that it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters. Every step is an act of faith in someone else’s integrity and competence.

 
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ants . . .

. . . in my pants. Sand in my shoes. Wander in my lust. It’s been an entire year (August 2005) since I lived out of my suitcase and I’m getting horny for it’s intimate embrace. Of course, thanks to the war criminals in the White House, our economy – and more specifically – the value of the US Dollar as international currency, has declined near to that of toilet paper. When you persist in an illegal war that costs billions per month – and hide its fiscal consequences by failing to either raise taxes or sell war bonds to

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Do You Sprangle?

Sprangle – (definition: “going in all directions“) That’s what I’m doing. No, this is not about my uncontrolled waistline, nor does it refer to my expansive ego. It’s about travel – travel in many directions, local and far – and in many modes, formal and informal. BTW – speaking of “all directions” that’s not a rug in this photo, just a lousy haircut. On Sep 14th, 2006 I’ll be off again on another pilgrimage from Jersey City, NJ USA to Manly Beach, NSW, Australia. In addition to the 4 weeks in Oz, I’ll finish up that trip with my usual sprangle

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