Wais … loveable rogue of Kabul – RIP

Wais KabulCollected off the floor of a shower, bleeding from the head, trousers round my ankles… my first real introduction to Wais…

Like so many Wais “found room” at the Mustafa as I arrived in Kabul. Initially I had a luxury room with terrifying read velvet drapes, huge ornate wooden chairs and cushions to match, soon after moved to the standard glass walled (& whitewashed) cubicle. Dehydrated I had collapsed, and left a blood trail from the bathroom to my room as Wais manhandled me over the twenty feet!

The ultimate loveable rogue, Wais helped people through their first nights in Kabul, provided a macabre jigsaw of human flotsam then ensured that BBQ’s, bar sessions and assorted shared experiences wove them together… His genuine concern and care for people seemed a juxtaposition to the guns, uncomfortable rooms and temporary stays, but you had to be there, it made sense.

It is a shock to think of Kabul without Wais and it is difficult to believe he died in his sleep on night of 26th December after knocking his head badly in a shower?, he would love the suspicion that lingers. We all have a mix of printable and censored stories to relay, no doubt many are posted at Kabul Guide. His partial/ occasional paralysis purportedly from a poisoning attempt brought us close together, though he never imported a Concept II or took up the excercise routine we discussed.

The phrase “larger than life” fits him to a tee, always engaging at a personal level as he balanced pressures of Afghan family fealty with his own abundance of ideas and thirst for life, Kabul has lost another re-founding son.

We should take away a determination to live to the full, push to the limit, care for each other and above all despite the frustrations and hell it puts one through, continue to nuture forward Afghanistan despite itself.

I miss you Wais!

Airline Security: biometrics, security ratings… any rights?

biometric scanningCongratulations! You have a personal security rating by the US government, the EU is sharing all data about passengers, the governments are introducing biometric passports, and the UK has now introduced biometric scanning of passengers.

I hope you feel safer!

Passengers at Heathrow airport are being invited to sign up for a trial of the most advanced passenger screening equipment in the world.
Travellers will be able to bypass long queues if they have their fingerprints biometrically scanned, while face and eye scans will be introduced soon.

Those trying the miSense system have the scans at the same time as their passport is scanned at check-in.


The British Aiport Authority suggests that such electronic keys will enable customers to pass through airport process smoothly. Though it is difficult to imagine Heathrow or JFK as smooth as Dubai’s e-gate card system, which requires one fingerprint and a full face photograph, but thereafter a one gate check in!. The British version will require 13 identifying scans of fingerprints, irises and face!Italian biometric passport

Whilst the UK, USA, Canada, Singapore, Norway, Italy to name but a few, have adopted biometric passports, though the Dutch system has already been cracked!

Biometric scanning is not new, but as we take is and the news from the US in conjunction it is clear that governments around the world will all be able to access to our most personal details… is this a step in the cause of liberty or are these restrictions (innevitably though they may be) playing into the hands of the terrorists, have the terrorists won by derailing our lives?

Global Nomads will innevitably have to manage these challenges and no doubt like me you have been pulled aside (especially in the US) for more detailed checking following their discovery of visas in your passport from wierd and wonderful terrorist havens.

I for one have an uncomfortable feeling that increased paranoia concerning people of different cultures, their ways and means will increase as the fear frenzy escalates,  allowing ever more defenses to be thrown up in the name of “security” concerns… when will this stop?

We witness this in many cities around the world as the rich, then middle class willingly segregate themselves from poorer, increasingly percieved as, crime ridden neighbourhoods. Extrapolating such a social problem to an international scale may potentially lead to greater isolation and marginalisation of whole swathes of nations and possibly countries, religions, cultures or races. Will we still be arguing that we are winning the war of terrorism then?

“Out of Damascus”

Our intrepid Logistician made it, (see Sidney to Syria “I got a ticket to ride”, “It’s been a hard days night” and “A day in the life”), only to find after buying a car that he is not permitted to travel outside Damascus… this was his first escape, a tourist trip in the ancient country of Syria.

I arrived in Latakia, which is on the Syrian Mediterranean coast approximately 400kms from Damascus, in the afternoon of the Saturday and caught up with one of the military observers, we had a few beers and a meal together. Clearly it was time to look around the place and went to investigate what was on offer. He had been there a day or two and the highlight of his explorations was finding an Internet cafe and the DVD shop. So it was time to look around and see how the Syrian nightlife was. Imagine our surprise that the first place that we went, turned out to be a den of iniquity, .

The next day we had great plans for visiting the sites of this historic area where the crusaders achieved a dubious reputation for betrayal and vengence, fortunately we got back to the hotel just after 1:00 AM and as we said our goodnights, we arranged to meet early, breakfast and get on the road to look at some of the significant historical points of interest on the way back. After breakfast, we planned our visits and would set off after a quick stop over since I needed to get some fuel.

We were travelling in convoy with the UN vehicle in front, running interference and me following close behind. Suddenly he stopped at what was once a fuel station, it now however looked like something that would be left behind after the holocaust. Not even cockroaches would have felt comfortable there.

I pulled up at the fuel pump and after much posturing and hand gestures, it was determined that I should move to another pump. As I was talking to my friend I noticed that the guy filling the tank was having some difficulty in getting the nozzle into the fuel tank. To tell you the truth I never even thought it was strange he then patrolled the area and found a small stick to aid in his attempt to refuel the car.

I mentioned to my friend that the price of fuel here seemed to be a hell of a lot cheaper than Damascus and didn’t understand why. He finished filling the car and we set off, well my friend did. I made it as far as the drive-way entrance to the main road. This tall, inept, idiot had filled the car with Diesel.

I wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. To say that I flew out of the car would have done me an injustice. All I can say is that if it was over a hundred metres, you would now be talking to the new world record holder. Using all of the restraint I could muster, that is to say hurling threats and abuse to all of those that were within listening distance, I call up the true marital status of his parents and if indeed he was actually intellectually challenged. Fortunately someone spoke English, and acted as an interpreter on my behalf. It appears that somehow, after leaving the road and entering his establishment, my car had miraculously changed from a petrol driven vehicle to one now powered by diesel. At least this is what he had said that I told him. No wonder the fuel was cheap and the nozzle didn’t fit.

I now was left with a small problem, the tank would have to be drained, along with the fuel lines. No problems, my only now too helpful bowser attendant said that he knew someone up the road that could help me. Suddenly he couldn’t do enough for me. He arranged for the guy that was interpreting for us, to tow me a mile or so up the road to a mechanic. In between all of this my friend had returned to the scene of the crime, because he had realised after a few miles that I wasn’t following.

Off we went to the mechanic, which in fact turned out to be a car washing station. So before my temper got the better of me and I ending up killing some poor unfortunate. I called my assistant in Damascus 400kms away to act as a go between. It appears that they would leave my car at the car wash and get the mechanic (who was 50 metres from the fuel station) and bring him to the car. Decent I suppose. Then the guy that towed me, wanted a little something for his assistance. All he got was a curious look, a lesson in Australian vocabulary. He left empty handed, but certainly blessed with a new way of saying goodbye.

Time was dragging on and it was looking very slim that we would act as tourists. After two hours my car had been drained of the diesel, which I must admit, was cunningly siphoned, collected and spirited away by the people in the car wash and never seen again. The lines were now flushed with petrol, which was ironically purchased from the same fuel station that created the mess in the first place, and an amount poured into the fuel tank. All was fixed, but it had cost me another 1500 Syrian pounds. I thought the best moment of it all was when the people from the car wash asked me if I would like my vehicle cleaned.

So my time for adventure and exploring was spent between an establishment of dubious reputation and a car wash. Either way they both cleaned me out by hook and crook. Maybe next time I will be luckier and get to see some of the sites. Oh and I never got any pictures either .

by A. Logistician (aka Catweazle)

Photosynth, amazing 3D imagery from your snaps!

Typically those of us who travel a lot, whether it be for work or pleasure enjoy photography. How often have you looked over your photo’s from a trip and wished you could stitch them together digitally?Photosynth Vatican

In an urban setting this could mean stitching together all the images of the Taj Mahal or of the Vatican, giving spatial clarity to urban area or gardens, laying out the 3-D space and size and enable one to zoom in on detail. Indoors this might this might enable one to visually walk around a space choosing to zoom in on detail or pull back to the broader perspective. A series of photographs taken over time could show different stages of development of an art project. Take the interior concept further and it could become a virtual guide to a museum, enabling a viewer to zoom in on the detail of artifacts as they choose.

If the concept is extended to landscapes, it wouldn’t take many photographs to complete a broad 3-D image and might enable the viewer to zoom in on photographs of activity, say canoers advancing down rapids, golfers moving over a course or climbers scaling a cliff. And the more photographs the greater the experience would be, photographs from different angles would all add to the 3D experience improving depth, scale, spatial dimensions and detail.

Thanks to Microsoft labs and Photsnyth this possibility is already a reality, though not commercially available. Scoble has posted a video of a demo by Gary Flake at the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Summit, or go direct to demo’s online. Photosynth software takes a large collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities, then displays the photos in a reconstructed three-dimensional space, showing you how each one relates to the next.

There are clearly many interesting practical applications one can imagine from monitoring environmental degradation, to observing flooding across an area relative to normal state or visually recreating the image of the Buddhas at Bamiyan after their destruction from multiple photographs, also see The Bamiyan Project to recreate them using computer graphics. Of course given a few professional tools the ability to use such imagery for measuring distances, or combine it with available remotely sensed data could potentially transform this into a powerful tool for post disaster assessment.

This is truly exciting, the next time you are part of a team that mobilises to assess a disaster, perhaps all those holiday snaps uploaded by tourists will provide detailed baseline data, improving effectiveness of response.

Paranoia – another friend on Skype?

Since you are all seasoned travellers there is no need to introduce you to Skype, probably it is the friendliest VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) service available.

No doubt you, like me, really enjoy being able to phone friends and family all over the world as I please. The Web cam takes it to a whole new level and my kids just love to chat, scream and show their favourite toys to cousins, uncles and grandparents.

However have you ever considered security! Yes, sadly Skype is just about as secure as the internet, fortunately we are not all using MS Windows, market dominant software typically attracts security breaches… Oh dear… it looks as if Skype is not only taking the market by storm but is likely to for a while, especially in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Middle East. The BBC Digital Planet podcast 16th Oct 06 has more info.

Telephone calls are most prone to hacking when they can be interrupted. For example if you call a bank the line is on hold while you wait for call centre staff to become available, this is when the call/ line can be interrupted (pretending they are the bank call centre) and interjects a request for verification of who you are, asks for your password, and card number, codes …. of course after they have such details they can directly manipulate your banking details. These are known as “man-in-the-middle” attacks, since the hacker has to interject a call and manage the telephone communication to both parties. Of course there are plenty of counter-opinions such as Ravings of a Strange Mind.

Is this common … far from it, indeed it doesn’t appear there have been any widely discussed examples … yet!

Of course enterprise providers of VOIP equipment (like CISCO or Nortel), VOIP solution providers to business (Vonage), and hosted VOIP service providers will all be putting in place appropriate security mechanisms. It is not so easy for Skype since they do not control the equipment in your home, the last mile or the server connecting to your computer.

Paranoia is not a healthy state of mind, however next time you are on Skype to the bank… there is a skip in the music… the line tone changes… simply gives some strange interference… you might want to fall back on good old paranoia and hang up!

Need some help getting shut eye… Pzizz

In highly stressed environments it is not uncommon to sleep so deeply that even a rocket hitting a nearby hill doesn’t wake one. Minor earthquakes hit cities like Kabul routinely but how many of us sleep through and are suprised to discover the next day that others were not only woken but waited in the garden for the earthquake to subside!

Pzizz is designed for those of us who find it difficult to take a nap during the day or sleep well at night. Pzizz can be played on MP3 players, i-pods or computers… a soothing combination of relaxing verse and music can be timed to provide you with a nap of duration you choose, waking you up at the appointed time, if you prefer an alarm will also sound. Alternatively the sleep option doesn’t wake you. Radio Leo reviewed this on 24/10/06 and if you wish to purchase one of the products the TWIT coupon name will give you a 25% discount.

Ok so that is unfair, Pzizz is published a personal life coaching system helping tackle stress and energising oneself amongst other things, Judith Woods review in the Telegraph offers more insight.

For those of us who are rather intense, get stressed easliy, travel alot or cannot sleep through the odd interruption common to the environments in which we work. Pzizz will hopefully offer an alternative outlet!

EU airline security restrictions… from 6th Nov.

From 6th November 2006…travellers in European Union have tight restrictions (less than 100ml) on hand-luggage carrying of liquids, gels and pastes.

New security restrictions apply to anyone travelling from any EU airport, experience suggests this applies to transit also).