Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Video Recording of Government Workers. Why Not?

Any program requiring more tax dollars should be willing to accept public video monitoring via the Internet.

For years my technology friends and I have discussed that in the near future it will become practical to record every waking moment of our lives.  Have you ever fantasized about playing back a section of video and being able to show your spouse or your boss that the way you handled a situation is not as they described?  Imagine the arguments you could settle!  Google Glass will make this easier on a personal level.  Recently the price of network cameras (as opposed to the old CCTV style) have come down enough that I replaced my home cameras with IP cameras and a Windows based machine running Blue Iris that captures motion around my home.  I love the new system.  It's easy to use, monitorable via the Internet and reasonably priced.  Storage prices are coming down, and power usage of the new system is pretty low so it's possible to imagine retaining a lot of video if you had reason to do so.

All this video footage got me thinking about the great debate on our hard working government sector employees.  As a guy who has climbed around working on computers in government buildings, I've seen my share of civil servants slacking off.  As a Libertarian I've been pretty vocal most my life that the government sector is too large.  I've talked to friends and former employees who actually work in Federal and State positions and they've confirmed that they were asked to "slow down a bit" when they first went to work there because they were making others look bad.  I've heard stories of welfare fraud and abuse through friends that make my hair curl.  The stupidity and waste in the military is legendary.   Whether it's education or healthcare, city or federal, police or fire, social security or the DMV....they are all known for inefficiency.    Democrats seem not to worry about how deeply dysfunctional all aspects of government are and want to continue to "invest" more.  My preferred solution is to have competing government agencies that the public can chose to use as I feel competition would keep them on their toes and outweigh the inefficiencies of duplication.  But given that probably won't happen another thought is wouldn't you love a deep expose on government efficiency?  I wished the press would place spies in government jobs and record the shenanigans over a number of years. Unfortunately the press never had the budget or the patience for this type of sting.  Back 10 or 20 years ago it might have been possible to do such an undercover assignment, but budgets have gotten pretty bleak for journalists  these days.

15% of our population now work for our tax dollars.  Public sector unions are so damn adamant that they are under paid and over worked.  Democrats and Republicans alike seem very anxious to borrow the country into oblivion to pay for more government.  What if we turned the tables on the government?  Why don't we start recording full video and audio in government workplaces and make that video available to independent auditors?  In fact, if no private data is at stake, we should make that video to the general public on the Internet.  Government workers seem to have no problem violating our privacy so it seems turn about would be fair play. Snowden showed us that the government is highly involved in monitoring our private communication.  The cell phone in your pocket literally allows where you go to be tracked.  Cops access private video and cell data all the time when investigating crimes.  Shouldn't it be the other way around as well? If you've never used security software like Blue Iris, it allows you to scrub quickly backwards and forwards through the video and get a pretty good idea of what's going on.  A person could review an entire year's worth of video in a few hours and learn a lot about work habits and efficiency.  If I'm paying a government worker with my tax dollars don't I have a right to be able to scrub quickly through the video of their work and workplace to get a sense of what they do all day?  If nothing else it could be used as a compromise proposal the next time a politician or government worker asks for more money.  "Oh you'd like to expand that program and hire more people?  In return for our funding you wouldn't mind us installing security cameras in the workplace to monitor how those people are doing would you?  Oh.. and it will be searchable and viewable via the Internet so you may not want to do anything you don't want seen."

I've wrestled with explaining to spiritual friends my ethics and morality over the years.  I feel the same rules basically apply whether we're being watched by a supreme being or not.  I finally came up with a universal litmus test to explain it that also helps me determine if I am "doing the right thing".  I merely ask myself  "If what I'm about to do were on camera is there anyone in this world I wouldn't want to see this video?"  If the answer is yes it's a good indication I shouldn't be doing it.

Isn't it time we held government workers to that ethical standard?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Next Twinkle in Hillary Clinton's eye: Rent Control

I assume that Hillary Clinton will win the next presidency.  It's a fair assumption given the discovery by the 60% of citizens who don't pay tax that they can vote themselves benefits from the treasury.  I also assume that at some point in the next 10 years, interest rates will go up and a certain amount of
inflation will return.  Rising interest rates will make it difficult to afford houses so it's safe to assume the next generation will do more renting.  Depending on how fast baby boomers die off, (making housing available for the next generation), I'm thinking rents will go up.  Rising rents would be a combination of inflationary pressures, as well as increased demand for rentals if there isn't enough supply.  This will be a bigger problem in the larger cities obviously.

Yesterday, the US government reduced the maximum amount FHA loans could be made for.  The pressure not to fund "rich people" to have big houses is evident in the current administration and will continue.  The government doesn't mind helping the average Joe get a low down payment loan, but is loathe to help someone in Reno into a house costing more than $325,000 (The limit for 2014 in Washoe County)

In Germany, France, and UK where a larger number of people live in rentals,  rent caps are being discussed.  Surprisingly, they are being endorsed by both the left and the right and were promised during election campaigns.  Conservative (by European standards) center right Chancellor Angela Merkel supports them.  The french are expected to cap rents in Paris and other cities.  Investors are highly critical of rent controls, saying it will lead to reduced maintenance of properties.

While New York has struggled with rent control for decades, I have no doubt that when rent price pressures ratchet up that Ms. Clinton will be the first to propose rent controls at the federal level.  The assault on private property rights continues....

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Robots are Coming. Encourage your Children to Major in STEM Fields

  • After posting this photo on facebook recently a friend commented:  "Thats what they look like already. What is your point?".
     
    My point is that although they have them at home depot and other places it's not the norm...yet. By the way I hate these. My point was that robots are coming. Soon. Within the next 10 years. And that raising the minimum wage will accelerate it by making it financially more viable to replace labor with automation. You don't need imagination to see it. We are very very close already. Now as I have posted previously, I realize President Hillary Clinton will combat this by simply slapping a tax on the robotic station, the robotic hamburger maker, the Amazon delivery droid, the agricultural robot, etc and use this tax to pay unemployment benefits and food stamps. But my point is why accelerate this pain and higher joblessness by raising the minimum wage? If we were smart the tax President Clinton slaps on the robots would go to train people to work on robots. The universities should be discouraged from training more archeologists and history majors and encourage STEM majors (Science Technology Engineering & Math). Instead, because politicians are always stupid (and behind the curve) and because our university system is full of professors with stagnant skills and tenure, the tax will go to have people lay around in hammocks. Which would be fine if it increased human happiness. But I daresay it won't. It will breed MORE class envy and resentment. 

    My friend said " I hate robots also. These machines are in all of the grocery stores around here. I can see the day when they will take away our drivers license in lieu of self driving cars, etc. The problem we need to solve is that we have hard working people who are working full time and still are on government assistance because they can't survive on what they make. These people can't afford an apartment and food let alone health insurance, a car or classes at the local community college."

    I replied: Yup and it's about to get worse. It will no longer be an option to drop out of high school, or take some schlock major in College. Those on the lower end of the education spectrum will be hit hardest. It won't matter if you work hard. You will need brain power too.

    Momentum Machines has announced the hamburger robot that makes and serves up to 340 hamburgers per hour.  The next version will offer custom meat grinds for every single customer. Want a patty with 1/3 pork and 2/3 bison ground to order? No problem.  Agricultural robots are getting better. Imagine a fire fighting robot. It doesn't even take much programming to point a hose at the bright light and heat and try not to wet down the people. If cities can save a 70K firefighter salary and pension you bet they will. Waitress? I heard Applebee's restaurant is planning on putting WiFi tablets at every table so you can pay your bill or place a desert orderNot to mention Amazon delivery drones.  Taxi and truck drivers? Have you watched the blind guy get into a self driving car?  Sure, it will probably take a long time to make self driving cars legal (they already are in Nevada with a co-pilot).  You can bet professional drivers will delay acceptance even more. But if you're a young person do you think it's wise to become a truck driver? Life is good in America compared to other places.  I hope we become leaders in this field but we are in danger of losing to the Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese. Can you imagine the protests all over the world when truck drivers are replaced? Will that be evil corporations fault? You can't stop it. All you can do is tax it. Business owners like me will be pissed when you do that. But such is the dance of life.


    Google recently announced the existence of a previously secret robot division.  These won’t be robots for the consumer but will be instead focus on automating manufacturing and the supply chain.  The first company they bought was Meka. Look how Lifelike the thing is:


     
    The next Google purchase company is Industrial Perception.  I find it comical to watch this robot chuck boxes just like a real UPS loader.  It even watches to see where it has heaved them. The box that looks like beer bottles is treated no differently than any of the others. 

      

    And who hasn't seen the small robots that lift entire Amazon warehouse shelves into location for human packers to ship boxes?  Perhaps a performance of the Nutcracker Ballet will convince you things are getting interesting. 




     











    OK maybe just one more.  This is my favorite robot video because it sends a chill down my spine to think of something like this used by police to kick down a door.  Those of you who value guns as a last protection against government think about what good your fancy semi-auto assault rifle will do against police equipped with a Wildcat that has a shotgun strapped to it's back.

    So how do I summarize all this?  The future is coming rapidly.   Please encourage your children to learn to program and work on computers, electronics and robots or be left behind as one of the millions who will be put out of work.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

How to Build a Database of Everyone You've ever Exchanged Emails With

If you use Outlook chances are you have huge folders of correspondence from friends, acquaintances, and business contacts through the years.  What if you wanted to leverage all that information by building a contact database of all of them?  You can do that by using Outlook Export on your email folders and choosing only the name and email address.



I tried this on my “contact form submission folder” and it worked.  Run through it on your machine and see how you do.  For the visual learners, here is my video walk through:


In Outlook 2010 the export has moved a bit from 2007 (see below).  Go to  File, open, import.  See the screen shot to help orient you.  This export technique has the advantage you can export only the name and email address.   After you export a folder run a dedupe because if people emailed you multiple times they'll show up more than once in the export file.  I used technique #5 from the link below to dedupe because I have Exchange 2010.  I can't believe how easy it was!




Here is how to do an export in Outlook (version 2007):
    Click on 'File', 'Import and Export' to open the Wizard
    Select 'Export to a File' [then click Next]
    Select 'Microsoft Excel 97-2003' or a CSV file [click Next]
    Select an Outlook folder [Next]
    Click on Browse to select a location and then type the file name to export the information to (terminated by .xls) [Next]
    Click on Map Custom Fields. This will bring up a list of all the available fields that are available in that folder.
    Since we are only interested in Email address, click on Clear Map and then from the Left side click on From: (address) and drag that to the Right list
    Click OK
    Click Finish
    Open the output file using Excel and remove duplicates

 Removing dupes.   Wow this is so easy and cool!  I used technique #5

Saturday, October 19, 2013

One Guy With A Marker Just Made The Global Warming Debate Completely Obsolete

A friend on facebook posted this entertaining video titled "One Guy With A Marker Just Made The Global Warming Debate Completely Obsolete".

 I struggle with the global warming debate, as I can't figure out how humans, who can't even predict the weather next week, can predict global warming.  I understand that the majority of scientists believe that man caused global warming is happening.  I even accept that it's probably a problem.  I just like to think I keep an open mind.

So when, I watched the video I found myself thinking:  This is just a variation of Pascal's wager.  It proves nothing.  To illustrate the point I decided a simple graphic would do.  Watch the video, which admittedly is coolly and calmly reasoned, and then stare at my graphic as you re-listen to his audio.  I hope you'll see my point that whether the argument makes sense depends entirely on the percentage chance the theory of global warming is true.






Sunday, October 13, 2013

Austerity Has not been Tried!

This morning, 10-13-13 on meet the press David Gregory asked a guest if the experiences of Europe prove once and for all that austerity doesn't work.  Austerity is the radical notion that governments should reduce their spending, increase taxes, or both in order to stop spending more than they take in.  What gripes me about Gregory's question is the liberal assumption that austerity has even been tried, let alone has failed.
Data from Eurostat show that only a few European countries decreased spending since 2008.  Take a look at the graphs for Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal and note they have all INCREASED spending since 2002 and have at best flattened spending since 2008.  Most austerity measures in these troubled countries have involved increasing taxes more than cutting spending.  In fact according to Eurostat, only 8 of 30 European countries reduced spending between 2008 and 2012.  In terms of GDP growth 6 of the eight countries that practiced austerity are above the European average (one the 2 that didn't grow above average was Iceland, which had a complete meltdown of it's banking system). 3 of the 4 countries with the best  GDP growth in the Eurozone have tried real austerity.  Austerity can indeed work if a country is willing to try it.  Government spending does not generate growth the way Keynesian style government deficit spending advocates believe.  Every buyer requires a seller; you cannot buy a product unless someone has made it and is ready to sell.  An increase in demand (from government) simply results in higher prices.  You have to attack the supply side and make businesses willing to take the risk to create things to generate growth in the economy.

For those who criticize the government shut down, realize that the pressures being brought to bear are from people who believe government has to shrink.  Despite all the protests and nashing of teeth, even when a government claims to reduce budgets they are often lieing.  Really they are often talking about shrinking the size of the previously planned growth in spending.  In my opinion, no government department or program is sacred.  Not education, not farm subsidies, not corporate tax breaks, not even military spending or veterans benefits.  All of these must be slashed.  In addition, medicare and social security are going to go broke if the outlays can't be curtailed somehow. The non partisan CBO report projects Social Security revenues will no longer be sufficient to fund all promised benefits beginning in 2019  This means my generation will have to take cuts in social security, retire later, and accept reduced medical benefits.  The fight in Washington is about doing this hard work sooner rather than later. Neither democrats or republicans have proposed nearly enough budget cuts to make a difference.  If you're a liberal and think all this spending is critical PLEASE think about what happens when your car breaks and the repair is $1000 and you only have $100 in the bank.  You can ask for a pay day loan, but it's going to cost you in interest.  If you make that necessary choice you also need to plan on reducing future spending to get it paid back.  It's time we stopped acting like borrowing money is the solution to our budget deficits.   I believe that what the Fed and our government is doing will, at some point, create hyperinflation and more job loss.  This will further hurt the middle class in the U.S.  The rich will have assets like real estate, equipment, business ownership, and commodities that will help protect them against both inflation and job loss.  The current government policies will make the income gap between rich and poor much worse in the years to come.  When it happens, don't hate on the 1%.  Hate on government bureaucrats who can't stop spending.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Is Burning Man for Losers?

I just got back from burning man and have been wrestling with whether to characterize it as a positive or negative experience.  The key question is "Will I go back Next Year?"  Much to my surprise the answer is "probably".  As time goes on, I find myself remembering all the fun and funny things and forgetting the noise and dust.  My camp mate Jim was a great part of the experience and was also a burning man "Virgin".  We didn't know each other well but had met the previous year on a tour of burning man.  Jim is from Ohio and had his crap together.  Between the two of us we were fairly well prepared.  It seemed if I forgot something he remembered it.  He encouraged me to think outside the box and get off my comfy bed in the RV and go explore.  Plus we were thrown in with a bunch of Russians from Seattle at the Bloop camp, and I was glad to have experienced Burners as camp company.  Although we were the odd men out, we were made to feel welcome at Bloop. Whether I go next year all depends on who else wants to go or who I will hang out with.  I even have some ideas for art cars and building a playa experience.  I want to share some pros and cons to the burning man experience. 

There are 4 primary draws to Burning Man that I can see:
1) Drugs & Alcohol
2) Sex, Nudity and  & Voyerism (i.e. looking at hot young bodies)
3) Music & Dancing
4) Art
Notice the above is just a variation of "sex, drugs, and rock n Roll" with art thrown into the mix. Not bad reasons to go all by themselves.
 There are also some Secondary draws:
5) Eye candy. Seeing new ideas and things that can generate creativity in your own life, products, or job.
6) Camping with friends and all that goes with that. Conversation, laughter etc.
7) Meeting Interesting new people in an environment that encourages interaction.
8) The feeling of pride & accomplishment when people show appreciation for playa gifts you provide.
9) The sense of community - of being unselfish and sharing.  Socialism? Communism? Well we know they won't work long term but they do work for 1 week on the playa whilst everyone is feeling generous with the plethora of goodies they brought.
10) The feeling of accomplishment for being self sufficient and surviving harsh elements.
11) Completely off the grid - no cell phones, no communication with outside world.
12) Getting outside your comfort zone - whether that's seeing nudity, sex, drugs, or interacting with people you wouldn't normally interact with.  Your choice how far to go.
13) Exercise.  OK it's a stretch.  But between walking and biking you'll find it's a pretty good workout!
14) Costumes.  The crazy way people dress is entertaining and funny all by itself.

The Negatives Include:
A) Dusty, Dirty environment. Wind storms, white outs, Powdery playa dust gets everywhere. Plenty of cigarette and marijuana smoke you will breathe. Complete lack of amenities other than what you bring and the ability to buy ice and coffee (the only two things you are supposed to purchase at Burning Man).
B) Noisy and hot.  Generators running all night, loud neighbor playing music you may not like.
C) Tremendous amount of work.  Preparation, setting up, tearing down, getting out there is exhausting. Never mind trying to clean the playa dust afterwards.
D) Despite some interesting people the truth is there are lots and lots of undesirables at burning man.  These, for me, include people who are unprepared and unaccomplished.  The motley assembly includes heavy smokers, drinkers, druggies, and people who are unkempt and who "sponge" off their fellow man.
E) Thieves. I will include bicycle thieves in this list of negatives, which is apprently a serious problem on the playa. I didn't have anything stolen, but ran into a few people who did.
F) Safety.  Although there are relatively few accidents, this is a factor for some people.  The burning man motto "Safety 3rd" is a joke, but to some extent reflects the care free attitude prevalent out there that leads to injuries.


If it sounds like "You're too old for this shit" (TOFTS) as Murtaugh in Lethal weapon would say, then you probably are.  I'm in my early 50's and there is no question I was saying I'm TOFTS at numerous times throughout the experience.  Depending on your state of mind, you can see the creativity as just a bunch of blinky lights thrown on stuff or a mind blowing panorama of human energy as far as the eye can see.  Both thoughts crossed my mind during my week on the Playa. Most of us older folks are "over" loud music and prefer comfy beds.  You can minimize the negatives and emphasize the positives by being prepared, having nice accommodations (RV or an air conditioned Yurt) and choosing  your camp mates and camp site wisely.  Just remember having new experiences is part of burning man, so don't climb too far inside your box.  Let me go into just a little more detail on some of the above points.

#1 Drugs and Alcohol - You can drink anywhere.  But I Burning Man also provides a relatively safe environment to experiment with other things if you have a desire to do so.  Certainly the experience can be more enjoyable in an altered state.  But Burning Man can be great even if you prefer sobriety.  No one forces you to do anything so don't let the stereotype of drugs scare you from experiencing BM.
#2 Sex  - Again you can choose to participate or not.  I did see an "orgy dome" and I'll have to leave to my imagination what goes on inside, as you weren't allowed to "just watch" and I had no desire to take my curiosity any further.  No question lots of beautiful young women at Burning Man, and some of them seemed more open to meeting new people than in normal circumstances.  But BM is far from a "Fuck Fest".  This event has families, kids, and everything in between.  I didn't see any open sex the whole time I was there.  Like the drugs it's something you can look for or not, but it's not overly blatant.
#3 Music and Dancing - The vast majority of the music at Burning Man is some form of Techno that I don't always appreciate.  There was some great music including the old rock I enjoy but the vast majority is something else entirely.  It's that thumping beat you hear at Raves.  Jim, my camp mate remembered one of the bands and sent me this quote from Wikipedia: "Shpongle is an English psychedelic music project formed in 1996. The group includes Simon Posford (aka Hallucinogen) and Raja Ram (one third of The Infinity Project). The duo are considered to be one of the progenitors of the psybient genre - a genre combining world music with psychedelic trance and ambient."

#4 Art - To be honest I'm not a big artist and I often don't see the appeal.  To me a great photograph captures a moment every bit as well as a painstaking painting.  I do see the value of sculpture, but I'm just too pragmatic to truly enjoy most expensive art that I see.   Having said that let me say that a vast majority of Playa art is done by amateurs and it shows.  Sorry, but I don't count smashing a beer bottle top into a necklace as interesting art.  To me it's a second grade project.  Most of the art isn't worthy of the name but some stuff out on the Playa is great.  Personally the art cars with hydraulics and fire are more interesting because of the engineering involved.  That type of thing to me is shows creativity and art, and is what I hope I can do if I go back.

Summary:  So is burning man for losers?  In my opinion there are a LOT of them out there. But... I hear there are also very accomplished winners on the Playa - people who run companies like Google and Amazon.  I personally didn't run into anyone who invented air - or even anything interesting. Is Burning Man for for yuppies and young people?  Lots of those too.  But despite plenty of negatives it's an experience I'd recommend for anyone to see at least once.  Just don't do it half ass.  Open your mind and be well prepared to make your experience great.  Bring ear plugs and goggles.  Your cell phone won't work.  You aren't going to hook up with friends unless you've done a helluva lot of planning in advance (register with center camp so they can find you).  Go out and experience it.  You just might see me next year on the Playa.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Tourism during the Egyptian Coup d'├ętat

Viva the Revolution!  Egyptian Protest in Luxor
My 23 year old daughter Meredith and I recently completed (June 26 through July 4th 2013) a "bucket list" trip to Egypt that happened to coincide with the ouster of Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi on July 3rd by the military.  This blog is part travel review, part general observations, and part story telling for all those friends who have asked what we saw during this crazy time.

First some background.  We are US citizens and call Reno, NV home, although Meredith currently lives in Hong Kong.  Meredith was invited by a friend to visit Turkey and she discovered the plane trips from Istanbul to Cairo and from Cairo back to her home city of Hong Kong were quite cheap.  When she floated the idea of visiting Egypt to us, I decided it would be a good idea for her to have a body guard.  Besides, I've wanted to see the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx from the time I learned about them in grade school. Who hasn't dreamed of seeing them in person? I did a little research and learned that Egypt was a bit restive.  The U.K. had officially recommended their citizens not go there but the U.S. had not issued a similar warning.  There were some basic warnings about being careful but I've traveled in the middle east before so I figured "why not?".  I didn't have time to research what to see and where to stay, so I figured a prearranged tour would be the way to do this trip. I googled for a tour and found TSC travel and was helped by Melek Ada, who was responsive to my requirements and patient with my changes.   I give TSC a 7 out of 10 as they delivered what they promised and kept us safe during the trip.  There was one snafu where we landed in Aswan and weren't greeted by anyone with a sign, which produced some minor stress.  My other minor complaints were the quality of the hotels and food.  Also I do wish our guides spoke a little better English but in general they did well enough that I could recommend them to fellow travelers.

There will be a lot of negative comments in this write up and for that I apologize.  I'll try to throw in the cool things too.  I guess negative comments are partially because those are the memorable things and as Americans there are many things in Egypt that are just "not quite right" to me.  But overall I would say Meredith and I agree the trip was a "once in a lifetime" and worth doing.
Our Route through Egypt. Green section was Nile cruise
Rest of the legs were by air

May 26th - I flew from Reno to San Francisco and then Frankfurt Germany and then on to Cairo.  I'm glad I showed up in Reno 2.5 hours early because flights were running 2 hours late and I got lucky and got a standby seat on an "earlier" flight, meaning I arrived in San Francisco right on time to make my International flight. On the flight over I thought about how foolish it was that I didn't order Egyptian pounds at Wells Fargo before I left Reno.  I decided I'd rather convert some money at the Frankfort airport than risk being ripped off by Egyptians.  First mistake. Second mistake was failing to check the going conversion rate before going to the counter.  I'm an experienced traveler so I knew that airport conversions are a rip off, but decided to convert $1000 rather than just a small amount because I really hadn't done my homework and didn't want to be in an unsettled place like Egypt with no local currency.  I can only attribute the stupidity of converting so much to the 11 hour plane ride and already being exhausted.  I assume the conversion would carry stiff  fees but would be fair.  The attractive girl at the shiny Frankfurt kiosk seemed pleased by the proposed transaction and assured me that she would waive the commission and also I'd get their guarantee of being able to convert back any money I didn't use at full price if I saved my receipt.  What she didn't tell me is that to do this transaction they had to first convert dollars to Euros and then convert Euros to Egyptian Pounds.  Each conversion carried a 15% hit from the published Internet rate meaning I ended up losing 30% total.  Ouch! Long story short after leaving the kiosk and checking my iphone for the conversion rate I discovered it was approximately 7 to $1.  I texted my daughter that I was on my way and that I'd just converted a lot of money but felt I was ripped off.  When she scolded me with a "DAD!" I got that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I realized it was time to man up, go back to the kiosk and undo the whole transaction per their guarantee.  For some reason I've always had an aversion to returning things or asking for money back. They didn't want to do it, and made me come back to see the exact clerk that had helped me but after waiting for her to return I got it done.  So I started out the trip feeling like a sucker already but I felt good that I undid the damage.

One other mistake I made was having a wallet full of $50 and $100 bills, and only a few $20 and no small change. Here is a tip if you go to Egypt (or most other places) - bring about $200 worth of $1 bills.  It turns out that tipping various people and dealing with beggars is a big stress creator on international trips.  You're unfamiliar with their currency, get stuck without small change, and are unsure of the conversion rate.  In addition you're often unsure how much to tip.  Don't even deal with it.  Just smile and pass out $1 bills like you would in the U.S. and count it as part of an enjoyable trip.  You can also use $1 for street beggars and some vendors.  I don't give money to beggars in the US as a matter of principle.  But on my last trip a fellow traveler from Australia told me he brings a few hundred to 3rd world countries just planning to be "generous of spirit" and he has a much better time when he just counts it as part of his trip expense.  I decided it was good advice and would make me feel less stingy and guilty.  Anyway, back to the $1 bills. I can't think of a country I've been to where tips and donations in dollar bills aren't taken and appreciated and you'll have a much better understanding of what you're giving them.    Of course having local currency for other reasons can be important.  In China almost no one except for big hotels took credit cards, so I didn't even use the card that much in Egypt, preferring to have cash.  Also remember when you travel you can't easily convert coins. Give any coins to beggars or use them before you come back.

Day 1 May 27th - I arrived at the Cairo airport around 9 pm.  Total travel time
Many buildings in Cairo leave rebar
sticking out from roofs so they
don't get taxed as finished buildings
was about 24 hours so I was beat. Meredith had arrived a few hours earlier and our TSC tour guide met each of us.  Baggage came out incredibly slowly and I could tell the guide was anxious to get home as the hour was late but he was very patient.  He and a driver transported to the Barcelo Cairo Pyramids Hotel in Giza.  This was a good hour drive from the airport, which was fundamentally stupid because we had to turn around and go back to the airport at 6am the next morning to catch a flight to the southern part of the country (Our itinerary took us from the south part of Egypt to the North over the course of 7 days).  I casually commented on how it might have been wiser to select a hotel next to the airport but the logic of it seemed to be lost on him.  On the way in I noticed long lines of cars in the right hand lane and men waiting.  I was told that was the line for gasoline and that some people were waiting up to 2 days.
Tut Tuts line up for gas in Cairo
 I was astonished that anyone would do this and baffled why it was necessary. Later I learned that people were fueling up in anticipation of the protests that became a revolution and that was part of the reason for the length of the lines. My tour guide explained that Cairo is a city of 23 million people and that life is hard here, especially since the Muslim brotherhood took over a year ago, seriously impacting tourism.  This was the first of many times that people we came into contact with expressed dissatisfaction with president Morsy.  He then took the time on the way in to instruct me in Baksheesh - the art of tipping in Egypt.  Baksheesh is also used to describe bribes and by the end of the trip it became apparent that the line between tipping, bribing, and begging is a thin one.  We were asked for Baksheesh by people giving us services we didn't even want, such as taking our picture, or pointing out a particular hieroglyphic on a tomb wall.  The most annoying was having to tip for using bathrooms when you had no 1 pound or 5 pound notes(they hold the toilet paper and give it to you if you tip).  I once ended up paying $5 for the privilege of peeing because I had no other change.  I was trying to live up to my Australian friend's advice to be generous of spirit and enjoy.

I had read a Clive Cussler novel years ago about how cab drivers in Cairo use their horns more than their brakes.  I laughed at this line and assumed it was an exaggeration.  But it turns out horns are used more like echo location systems as 2 lane roads that have no painted lane lines often accommodate 3 lanes of traffic with cars and motorcycles weaving around each other crazily, using their horns to basically say "I'm back here brother".

The Barcelo hotel was advertised to us by TSC as "4 star".  Meredith
Barcelo Pyramids Hotel
and I agreed that it was closer to "3 star", if that. We endured quite a bit of second hand smoke, including some being circulated through the AC system that was very unpleasant.   The air conditioner in the room we stayed in the first night worked just enough to be tolerable. On the return trip to Cairo 5 days later we got a room where the air conditioner was unacceptable and endured one hot night before asking to move.  Meredith would probably have moved us us earlier but I was too exhausted to go through the hassle of complaining.

Our hotel was, as the name implies, fairly close to the Pyramids of Giza.  I had not realized that the Pyramids were on the edge of the city and also where the Sahara desert starts.  More on this later.

Day 2–June 28th: Cairo to Aswan to Abu Simbel Back to Aswan
Meredith boards the EgyptAir flight
to Aswan from Cairo
5AM trip to airport shows Cairo
Graffiti
We were picked up at the hotel at 5am and taken to the Cairo airport for the flight south to Aswan and then a second flight to the small town of Abu Simbel. It turns out Abu Simbel is very close to the Sudan border. Certainly as close to Sudan as I ever want to get.  We were there to see the Rock Temples of Ramses II and his wife Nefertari. These were carved into solid rock around 1264 BCE.   Upon landing in Abu Simbel Meredith and I were amused that we deplaned and were loaded onto a bus that drove approximately 30 yards to the terminal.  We could have walked there faster but I suppose they didn't want passengers walking around on the tarmac.
Cross the border to Sudan anyone?

Ramses II was said to be egotistical,
 creating multiple statues of himself
to show how powerful he was
Meredith in front of Ramses II temple
If you look at a map you will see that the largest man made reservoir in the world is Lake Nasser, created when the Egyptians dammed up the Nile in the 1950s.  This had the unfortunate side effect of flooding much of the southern peoples (known as the Nubian people) ancient homes, as well as potentially putting the historic temples under water.  UNESCO intervened and literally "moved mountains" to save the Ramses temples by moving them to higher ground a few hundred yards away and up the hill. The temples were built by Ramses II partially to mark the southern boundry of his land

Lake Nasser - Largest reservoir in the world

After touring the temples, our guide took us back to the airport and we flew write back to Aswan where we were picked up by yet another guide and transferred to our Nile cruise ship.  The picture nearby shows a moment of comedy when we were greeted at the Aswan airport with a sign saying "Barren" instead of Darren.
Who the heck is "Barren" ?
We were pretty tired and end up hanging out in our room and at the pool that evening.  One creepy feature of the pool is that it has round "portals" on all sides that allow patrons of the bar/lounge on the floor below to oogle the bikinis in the pool. Arabs are odd in thinking this is an amusing feature of a cruise ship.  The result is that Meredith didn't go swimming once.
Traditional Feluccas - Egyptian
Sailboats on the Nile in Aswan
Meredith in front of our Nile cruiser
the Tower Prestige
The elegant dining room of the Tower Prestige Nile
cruiser.  I wish the food was as nice.

We decided to forgo the horrible food on our boat, which luckily would remain parked in Aswan for the night.  We hired a horse drawn buggie and then took a free boat ride to take us to Ad-Dukka, which was a Nubian restaurant on Essa Island on the Nile.  Both the cab and boat driver were thrilled to see us as not many tourists were brave enough to venture out given the building protests in the country against president Morsi.  Our tour guides were a bit concerned we weren't on the boat but glad we survied our adventure alone.


Our cabbie pointed out the nearby Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel where Agatha Christie was said to have written the 1937 story "Death on the Nile" which later became a movie. The nearby video is our horse drawn cabbie helpfully explaining a rip off where sometimes people give you smaller piestre bills as change instead of Egyptian pounds, hoping you won't notice. There are 100 piestres in 1 Egyptian pound, making a piestre only worth .001 cents.  I believe this advice wasn't needed, as we never saw one of these bills.  Even finding 5 and 10 pound notes was difficult.  We never did find out the reason for the lack of small bills in the country.  After eating a wonderful meal we shopped at the gift shop, negotiated and purchased some small statues, and then caught the dingy ride back to the Nile where our cabbie had waited patiently for us to take us the long way back to the boat.  We witnessed an Egyptian wedding celebration, picked up the cabbies young daughter, and generally enjoyed ourselves immensely as the horse clopped through the back streets of Aswan.
8:48 PM June 28th at Ad-Dukka  for Nubian food
Egyptian wedding dancing on the
streets of Aswan.
Day 3 –June 29th 2013; Saturday:: High dam and Philae temple. The high dam created Lake Nasser back in the 1950s, built with the assistance of the Russians. As mentioned before, it also swamped a lot of Nubian homeland and ancient historical sites. In the morning we went and visited the top of the High dam.  Security was tight and we were only allowed to take pictures on the Lake Nasser side of the dam.  It was a mediocre experience, as we are Nevada natives who have seen Hoover dam.  Now That's a dam.

They didn't let us take pictures of
this side of the dam so I grabbed
this off the Internet
We took a boat ride to Philae temple, on an island in lake Nasser very near the dam that created the lake.   This flooded the original Philae Island but the relocated temple was our next destination.  What we refer to today as Philae is the main temple complex relocated from that island, after the High Dam was built, to the island of Agilika. It was the center of the cult of the goddess Isis and her connection with Osiris, Horus, and the Kingship, during the Ptolemaic period of Egyptian History.
Our tour Guide Muhammed was with us for 4 days of
our trip, staying on the boat and showing us around.
Here we take the boat ride to Isis temple of Philae
Approaching the temple of Isis, built over 500 years
from 246 BC to 305 AD
relocated in the 1970s to Agilika
Island so it wouldn't be under water












Aswan Botanical Gardens on Elephantine Island
Aswan-Kom Ombo-Edfu
Coptic christians "hacked" at many ancient egyptian carvings,
which is what all the pock marks are about.
Day 4 –June 30th 2013; Sunday :: Luxor
Morning Visit West Bank of the Nile including The Valley of Kings, The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir El-Bahari and the two colossi of Memnon. Go on with the visits of Karnak & Luxor Temples in the West Bank.Overnight at Luxor.

Day 5 –July 01st 2013; Monday Luxor & Disembarkation
Breakfast and disembarkation from the cruiser.. After visits you will be transferred to airport to take the flight to Cairo. Arrive Cairo and transfer to hotel.
Kids sell Egyptian flags on the streets of Cairo
which was a symbol of the protest

Day 6– July 02nd 2013; Tuesday Full Day Pyramids Tour 
We benefit from the revolution - Very few tourists at the
Pyramids of Giza

I was amused to bribe the guard to let me lie in
the SarcophagusNote the Skeptics.com T-shirt.
Perhaps this stunt is why I got a severe case
of  "Pharaohs curse"
Pick up from hotel to discover Necropolis of Saqqara, Step Pyramid of King Zoser,three Pyramids of Giza, Valley Temple, Sphinx.

Day 7–July 03rd 2013; Wednesday:: Departure
Watched the revolution unfold on TV and from our hotel roof top.  Had a nice meal and took lots of pictures of the celebration in the street.  Checked out of hotel at around 10:30 pm and headed to the airport for Meredith's 3 am flight.  I spent an awful night in the Cairo airport. Several time Egyptian men in full Muslim garb sat down next to me with their luggage, only to wander off and leave their suitcases unattended next to me.  Nerve wracking!  All told I was up for over 48 hours getting home.  Longest travel time without sleep ever.