Category Archives: Zieak

Personal stuff – much of this is password protected.

The NY Times list of 52 places to go in 2018

Another new year, another list of places to go that I’ll look at and see if I’ve already checked them off.  This year is neat though because before promoting their list they sent out a request looking to hire someone to spend next year visiting these places and documenting them.  Dream retirement job right there!

Anyway, here are my run downs from 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.  I went so far back that they were only doing 45 places then!

  1. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
  2. Colombia
  3. Basilicata, Italy
  4. The Caribbean
  5. Vierwaldstättersee, Switzerland
  6. Route of Parks, Chile
  7. Gangwon Province, South Korea
  8. Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
  9. Bhutan
  10. Glasgow, Scotland
  11. East Cape and Corridor, Los Cabos, Mexico
  12. Top End, Australia
  13. Cambodian Coast
  14. Liuwa Plain National Park, Zambia
  15. Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  16. Estonia
  17. Gansu, China
  18. Saskatoon, Canada
  19. Seville, Spain
  20. Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica
  21. Branson, Missouri, USA
  22. São Tomé and Príncipe
  23. Germany’s Western States
  24. Fiji
  25. Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
  26. Oslo, Norway
  27. Honshu’s West Coast, Japan
  28. Arles, France
  29. Kuélap, Peru
  30. Denver, Colorado, USA
  31. Kigali, Rwanda
  32. Belgrade, Serbia
  33. Tasmania
  34. Iceland
  35. Rogue River, Oregon, USA
  36. Lithuania
  37. Buffalo, New York, USA
  38. La Paz, Bolivia
  39. Prague, Czech Republic
  40. Emilia-Romagna, Italy
  41. Disney Springs, Florida, USA
  42. Megève, France
  43. Chandigarh, India
  44. Seattle, Washington, USA
  45. Rotorua, New Zealand
  46. Ypres, Belgium
  47. Tangier, Morocco
  48. Ribera del Duero, Spain
  49. Montgomery, Alabama, USA
  50. Südtirol, Italy
  51. Bristol, England
  52. Luang Prabang, Laos

The places in bold I have been to.  Which means that yet again I have been to about 15% of the suggested destinations.

Comments against Net Neutrality posted by dead people

Amazing.  I read an article that the NY Attorney General is filing suit against the FCC because millions of comments in favor of the FCC discontinuation of Net Neutrality are fake.  The article pointed to a link where you can search the comments to see if your name was used falsely.  I searched mine, my wife’s, my brothers…  Here is a comment I found by someone named Kevin McFarland — though not my brother because the address is in Missouri.

A Google search for the text showed that it was one of the strings of text reused by many of the proponents and suspected bots.  Copy and paste is used by both sides of these types of public comment periods.  Nothing wrong with it.

Except then I found out that this Kevin McFarland died in 2014.  First I did a search for Kevin McFarland in O’Fallon, Missouri.  I found that, per the comment in favor of ending Net Neutrality, he and Susan own a home at 32 Hollywood Drive.  Then a search for Kevin and Susan McFarland led me to this obituary.  His obituary ends with…

Mr. McFarland was a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War.

Despicable.  Someone has programmed a bot to scrape death records and then upload them as comments in favor of deregulation.  This is just one that I happened to find.  Search for your name and then contact the Attorney General in your state to file a complaint.


Results of our DNA testing

For a long time we have wanted to do one of the 23andme DNA tests for ancestry.  Over the summer we ordered three of the kits (we couldn’t have Jordan do one because he wasn’t with us).  The kits cost us about $100 each.  [But there is a sale right now — buy one, get one free!  Just follow this link.]  The box came in a few days and we spit some saliva into the tubes and mailed them off.

Around a month later we all had our results and there were some surprises.

First, mine showed an even more European heritage than I was expecting.  I knew that as far back as I could go that everyone seemed to be from England, Germany, the Netherlands… but here are my results.

94% of my heritage is from NW Europe — currently Britain, Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia and 61% is from Britain and Ireland.  I’m about as white as you get.  This may account for some of my genetic superpowers contributing to my hangover resistance, but counter to my ability to tan easily.

We had Jacob’s test done because it seems like whenever we travel he ends up looking like a local.  In Nepal last week and older woman kept telling me he was Nepali.  In Thailand we had a driver swear that Jacob had Thai ancestry.  We suspected he could have Mongolian or another Chinese ethnic minority like Tibetan ancestry.  But his results just give us more uncertainty.

His DNA is 85% Chinese  …and 8% Korean.  The results also show that he has 2% southern European DNA.  I think that is probably a Silk Road influence.  His results are shared via the DNA relatives tool through 23andme and there are already 18 people connected that are 3rd or 4th cousins.  It is just a matter of time before some closer relatives take a test and we can find out more about where he is from originally.

Sexism in the waiting room

Our boys had to get physicals done for school so we went to a nearby clinic.  We didn’t have their blood type information so that test became part of our scavenger-hunt-like wander through the hospital.  Jordan, who has a fear of needles, decided he wanted to go first and get it over with.  Pepper rubbed his back and shoulders as he had his head down and didn’t watch.  An older man in the wakting area (seated just two feet behind Jordan) noted Jordan’s fear and told him “boys don’t cry” and to “be a man” because he was a man and never cried.   

It took me no time at all to be shouting at him that men and boys do cry.  That I cry.  He flexed his bicep and held it up pointing to it saying he was a man.  Pepper was telling me to stop.  I visualized making the man cry which in my mind was quickly followed by my arrest.  I backed down.  I know I can not change him.  But I do not need either of my boys believing that they should not cry or that such gender stereotypes should be tolerated.  

Cyclone Vardah – our experience in Chennai in December 2016

For the second December in a row, Chennai had disaster strike in the form of a natural calamity.

For a week I watched this low pressure system build up over the Bay of Bengal using this wind visualization tool (use your mouse to move around and scroll in and out) and this cyclone and hurricane mapping site.  It ended up ramming right into Chennai.  Our home was just south of the center so the winds were actually coming from inland and heading to the sea, which I had never considered a possibility.

The cyclone rolled into Chennai on Monday the 12th.  School was closed by mid-day, but we were not able to leave until the Head of School because our car was being repaired and we were getting a ride with them.  Fortunately a neighbor took Jordan and Jacob home before we were able to leave.  We were without power before we arrived home and water on the roof had pooled and was coming in under the door.  I’ll let my video tell the story…

More cost comparisons for Chennai

Here is a collection of some recent expenses compared to some regular US prices.  I posted some a few weeks ago and continue to be curious about what things would cost in the US.

So… we should definitely stop buying Lego at the store in the mall.  And no more beer.  But the savings on our beef prices more than make up for the bacon expense, so we can keep doing that.

The comparative savings on fruit and vegetables here is incredible, especially compared to what I’m used to paying in Alaska or what we were willing to pay in Mongolia.

We splurged on a Blendtec blender

Almost every weekday for almost six years straight, Pepper has made smoothies for breakfast.  Summertime and vacations we usually take off from that routine, but it still probably comes to well over 1,000 uses of a blender.  With no sign of that changing, we decided a long time ago that we needed a blender that made the task even better.

The problem is that finding a high quality blender was difficult because we needed one that runs on 220 volts.  I finally found a commercial restaurant supply company that imports from the UK and bought the Blendtec EZ600.  We’ve used it for a week now and are really happy!

Things that frustrated us about our other blender (a Panasonic):

  • Cleaning the jar required disassembling.  Then when reassembled sometimes it would leak.
  • That leak poured over the base which had a number of spots where milk and yogurt settled and festered.
  • Cleaning the blades was a little dangerous.  (The Blendtec has blunt blades.)
  • It had a short cord which frequently came unplugged.
  • The jar cracked.  It didn’t leak, but like having a functional phone with a cracked screen, it is annoying.

Things we didn’t know we would like so much about the Blendtec commercial blender:

  • One button operation.  Pepper puts in the ingredients, presses a button and walks away.  It stops automatically.
  • Power.  Oh gosh, what power.  If you’re not familiar with their YouTube channel where they put things like iPhones in the blender then check out how it pulverizes things.

If you’re looking for a place to buy a Blendtec blender in India, I suggest Kiwi Bar.

Happy birthday dad!

I’ve not ever been very good about giving gifts.  I really want to be better though and finally feel good about one here so have to share it.

One of my grandfathers was a pilot.  A student at our school likes to make scale models of airplanes.  I asked my dad what kinds of planes my grandfather flew and commissioned the student to make a series of them.  Here are the first two.

The C-47

The C-119

They are just what I like to give in a gift:

  • Personally relevant
  • Hand-made and even one-of-a-kind
  • Purchased from a person, not a corporation


I am worried about education in the US

On the surface, “school choice” sounds great. “Yay! I can send my kid to a school that matches his interests and will cater to his talents and he will succeed. I can use this handy voucher to send Federal money that I paid into the system through taxes to help pay for his education at a nice private school!” One of the arguments for this is that “failing” schools will be put out of business. But here is my problem. I have a son with special needs. He’s reading far below his grade level. He struggles with math. Science and Social Studies are not even possible for him to do alone. He has CP but is able to get around great, though his movement easily makes him stand out among peers. Private schools would be under no obligation to accept him. So with a voucher system siphoning off funds from public education, the services that would be available to him in his “failing” public school would be minimal. His low performance on standardized tests no doubt would help ensure that the school continues to “fail” and as he and others with difficulties push the average test scores down the spiral of reduced funding continues.

You’ll notice that I keep putting fail in quotes. Because a lot of the argument about the need for vouchers is that public schools are “failing.” The truth is that they are not. One of the indicators used to point out America’s “failing” education system is that we’re behind many (mostly Asian) countries in our math and science test scores. Again, on the surface we should all be worried, right? But if you’ve ever seen the process of education in most of these countries that are besting Americans at math tests you’ll know that they drive in rote memorization instead of critical thinking. Students seek only the correct answer instead of the meaning or understanding how to get to the answer. Students spend hours every evening, on weekends and during breaks at private academies further driving in the correct answers to try and score better on standardized tests. I’ve had students from Japan and Korea pick up a badminton racket or Frisbee and not know how to use it. That’s not the US system. We value a well-rounded student. Art classes, PE, music… Students work in groups, learn collaboration, focus on communication skills and problem-solving. So those same “failing” schools might compare differently if instead of comparing standardized tests there was also a creative writing or poetry component. Or if there were representation by the arts or even a simple tug-o-war.

American schools are not failing. They are different. We can’t compare our system to Finland or Singapore. There are huge cultural differences, value differences and even a big range of purpose. If you want to send your kid to a school and just have them score well on math tests then yes, public education may not be the right place for your kid. But it is the right place for my kid. I see him on the soccer field surrounded by friends that don’t see his disability. His friends actually come to the pool to cheer him on as he swims. A parent praises his behavior when they drop him off after a sleepover. The elementary councilor comments about how everyone in his class seems to like him. He’s invited to birthday parties of the siblings of his classmates. I’m so grateful that he’s at an American school — one that follows American standards which give him opportunities to succeed.  If he was in the US attending a school I fear that those opportunities would quickly disappear.

I wrote the above paragraphs a few days ago.  Since then this chunk of news has come to light.  Just days after the confirmation of the new Secretary of Education a website dedicated to providing information about the rights to education that children with disabilities have has disappeared.  I fear we will “make America great again” — by going back to about 1950 when children with disabilities were sequestered or lobotomized.

DeVos as Secretary of Education could be the worst thing to happen for the educational system in the US.  Period.  America will not advance in our scientific achievement by teaching creationism next to evolution.   Our public schools can not withstand further erosion of funding by directing it to private schools.  As many have pointed out, public education is not for individual children, it is for all of us.  We all benefit from living around intelligent people.  But America has begun to prove that we don’t deserve to be surrounded by smart people.  Perhaps public education has failed us after all.  I mean, Trump was elected somehow.  How can a population of critical thinkers possibly be so badly duped?  No matter.  I’m sure that other countries will value both of my sons and their creativity and interpersonal skills.  Skills they learned at a “American” school — a private school doing hard work to educate children, just like all those public schools in the US do.