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January-March 2004 Archives

Mar. 27, 2004 TRIUMPH! After staying up most of the night to finish putting everything together, on Thursday I showed my Latin American Politics class a 30-minute edited video from our recent trip to Peru. The soundtrack of Andean folk music, the scene titles, and transitions between video clips made it all look pretty darn slick, if you ask me. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the video connections to work in my two other classrooms, so I'll have to burn it as a video CD (or DVD) in order to show it to my Global Politics classes.

A couple days ago I got another message from EarthLink saying that this Web site was closed until the end of the month due to excess traffic, but today I heard from a guy who viewed it yesterday morning, so who knows?

We're back from Peru!!!

Mar. 17, 2004 Peru montage2 WOW! Our trip to Peru went very, very well, and despite the limited time available (eight full days, not counting air travel to and from Peru) we accomplished nearly all of our travel objectives without any nuisances. I saw a total of 29 life birds altogether, though the exact count is pending closer examination of some video clips I shot. Our new Canon ZR65-MC digital video camera performed suberbly, with one exception: the auto-focus mechanism gets confused when you try to take photos with water in the background. This made it hard to get good shots of sea birds such as Brown pelicans and Brown boobies. Anyway, here is a preview that shows Machu Picchu, which was obviously the high point of our trip, as well as a Black-necked stilt, an American oystercatcher, and a cactus flower. Click on the image to go directly to the page with the first batch of photos from Peru.

We didn't spend as much time in central Lima as I had hoped, but we did stay in the Cuzco highland area for three full days. The altitude sickness ("soroche") left me feeling rather lousy while in Cuzco (elev. 10,000+ feet), but Machu Picchu was much lower (elev. 6,000 feet), fortunately. We spent two nights in the adjacent village of Aguas Calientes, which can only be reached by railroad. Getting on board that train at night with hordes of tourists and local people was quite a surrealistic experience, like getting in a time machine. From that village to the top of Machu Picchu the bus must climb about 2,000 feet, going back and forth along frightening hairpin curves. When you get to the top you find yourself in the most spectacular physical setting you could ever imagine, with lush greenery clinging to the extremely steep slopes, and the sturdy remains of the ancient city.

For me, one of the biggest accomplishments of the trip was purchasing a charango from a musician on the streets of Cuzco. For many years I've been enchanted by Andean folk music, and at last I can try my own hand at "El Condor Pasa" and other songs from the Land of the Incas. Another serendipitous moment in Cuzco was a protest march that arrived in the main plaza just as we were sitting down to have lunch at a second-story restaurant. I had a great view from the balcony, and took several minutes of video that will be highly useful in my classes. There were no other disturbances that we could see, and the truck drivers' strike that briefly cut off food supplies to Lima was fortunately called off just before we flew to Peru. Cuzco, by the way, was the capital of the Inca Empire, and the plaza was the sight of the royal palace that was demolished by the Spanish conquistadors.

Yet another stroke of fortune was that we were able to visit two wetland wildlife sanctuaries near Lima, one in Ventanilla itself, and the other ("Pantanos de Villa") located in Chorrillos, not far from the ocean on the very southern edge of the Lima metropolitan area. I recall reading about the major controversy that erupted in 2002 when the municipal government shut down the adjacent pasta factory owned by Lucchetti, a Chilean corporation which allegedly bribed Peruvian officials to get a permit to build in the protected wetland area. Thanks to Jacqueline's brother Chicho and his family who took us to Pantanos de Villa, I was able to get a copy of a book about that case. Muchas gracias por el libro, Chicho!

Mar. 3, 2004 This will be the last posting to this Web site for the next two weeks or so, as Jacqueline and I are headed to the southern hemisphere for spring break! After we return, prepare to be blown away by exotic tales of adventure and awesome photos from the Land of the Incas!

To me, it's rather ironic that the first time I went to Peru nearly ten years ago, the United States had just used armed force to restore Jean Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti, whereas this time our government has just taken the lead in encouraging him to pack up and leave. Uncle Sam installeth, Uncle Sam removeth from power... Aristide's claim that he was in effect "kidnapped" by American soldiers, however, seems utterly ludricrous, which only confirms the conventional impression that he is an irresponsible and highly deluded man.

While our attention was distracted by events in Haiti, opponents of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela turned violent once again. Army troops fired on demonstrators in Caracas who were trying to disrupt the summit meeting of the Group of 15 nations, which represent Third World interests in various international forums. The Venezuelan election commission ruled by a slim majority that too many of the signatures on the recall petition were questionable, halting the process once again. The matter has not been definitively resolved, however, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, in Peru, the association of truck drivers just called off a strike that had severely curtailed the supply of food and fuel to the capital city, Lima, for almost a week. Just in time for our arrival! The government has apparently responded to their demands for a "minimum freight charge" and lower taxes on fuel. It was a very aggressive gesture that illustrates, once again, the weakness of President Toledo.

Feb. 29, 2004 My old pal from high school days, Greg Merrigan, just had his 12th actual birthday. Felíz cumpleaños, Greg! And to everyone else, I hope you had a Happy Leap Day. Smile

Once again, EarthLink informed me that this site was closed to the public after the monthly traffic quota was exceeded a few days ago.

New batch of photos just back from the developers: Winter 2004. Lots of snow and a semi-decent shot of one of the short-eared owls I saw earlier this month.

Feb. 9, 2004 On February 9, 1964, John, Paul, George, and Ringo made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. They then took a train down to Washington, D.C. to begin their first stateside concert tour, and returned to do two more shows with Ed later that year. I remember the thrill of watching the Beatles on one of his shows, but I'm not sure if it was the first one.

Feb. 3, 2004 Condolences to Carolina Panthers fans. Their team made a great showing against the Patriots on Sunday, beating the spread and almost winning outright. It occurred to me that the last two versions of Mac OS X (10.2 Jaguar and 10.3 Panther) have been named after feline predators who are also mascots of NFL expansion teams in the southeast. What is the meaning of this?

Jan. 31, 2004 I just learned from EarthLink that this (free) Web site has exceeded its monthly traffic allotment and therefore will be unavailable to the public until the first day of the next month. Good thing that's tomorrow! My apologies to all. I may have to "go commercial"...

As of tomorrow, one year will have passed since the seven astronauts of the space shuttle Columbia died during reentry over Texas. May such tragedies never dampen our spirit of discovery.

I produced our first original video CD project this week, and it took over two solid days of computation (with a 500MHz G3 processor) to convert 13 minutes' worth of digital video into MPEG-2 (higher quality) format prior to "burning." Even so, there were weird digital artifacts (specifically, wavy, rippling edges) whenever the camera panned quickly across images with sharp contrast, such as plant leaves. This apparently rules out making video CD movies with a substantial amount of rapid action. Otherwise, I was very pleased with the results when we played it back on our TV.

The spring semester at JMU is off to a lively start, and I've got another bunch of bright and (mostly) enthusiastic students in my Latin America and Global Politics classes. I'm trying to have the movie The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2003) shown at the campus theater later this spring. It's a documentary about the failed coup attempt against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in April 2002, when the Bush administration seemed to endorse the usurpers. I'm no fan of Chavez, but forcing him out of office would only serve to strengthen radical forces throughout Latin America. Indeed, that is exactly what the movie's producers are hoping for.

Jan. 25, 2004 (Silly me, I put the wrong date for yesterday's entries. That's what you get for doing everything manually.) Last night I downloaded the iVCD program published by the Mireth Technology Corporation, and it worked like a charm. I can now play back my video creations on our new DVD player! For a G3 Mac such as mine, however, the process of converting to MPEG file format is very time consuming. Today it snowed, and I shot some more video of inside and outside birds, including purple finches and goldfinches, and then edited the raw footage using iMovie. I can't wait to make videos of life in Latin America.

Jan. 24, 2004 R.I.P. "Captain Kangaroo" Bob Keeshan died yesterday after a long illness. What a contrast between his program and the kids' TV shows of today! I would like to think that he imbued my generation with a sense of decency, kindness, and respect, but my generation didn't always take such lessons to heart.

Jan. 9, 2004 (After midnight) Tuesday's bombshell announcement that Joe Gibbs has signed a five-year contract to coach the Washington Redskins once again has reverberated throughout the region. What a timely uplift in spirits for downtrodden fans! I recall how stunned I was when Gibbs bid adieu to football and embraced NASCAR 11 years ago, before NASCAR began to move into the "mainstream." It turns out he knew what he was doing, and his racing team has won two Winston Cup trophies. There is a possible downside to Gibbs' return: it may distract the attention of baseball fans who still cling to hope that major league baseball might relocate to the D.C./N. Virginia market.