Man versus Mall

August 17, 2005

I have been experiencing a bit a of blog paralysis because I have so many things I want to discuss and I was trying to maintain some semblance of an order. I give up. I am going to dispose of my remaining Colorado musings since it was more than a month ago. Maybe then, I can start to catch up on everything else.

In Colorado I was staying near one of the many enormous “Lifestyle Centers” (read overgrown mall with brilliant designers) that abound in the Denver / Boulder area. These are the sort of truly gigantic places that can only exist in places where land is affordable.

How big can it be you ask? Nearly a square mile! The photo shows the area, but only about half of the mall has actually pictured since the photo is a little out of date.

I wanted to hate the place (and did for all of the reasons below) but still, like Jason and the ill fated argonauts I felt myself drawn to its sweet, sweet call. It was right next to my hotel (shown in the bottom of the photo) and so I was actually there several times in just a few days.

It is such an incredibly obviously manufactured experience, and yet it is somehow oddly appealing. The designers manage to add all of these transparent ploys at making the place feel like a destination, and they sort of work. Even though I notice them all, still involuntarily I am forced to admit it is convenient and pleasant. It is a little scary.

The brand new faux old Spanish style architecture actually comes with faux decay. It is nice enough and (I am ashamed to admit) gives the plazas a sense of place. But then I notice real decay on the fake decay and I can no longer be a participant in the charade. Click on the photo to the left to see what I mean.

Public spaces with a central focus gives people a place to meet and the feel of a destination. I could hardly walk by this fire without wanting to sit by it and soak up the scene. Fire is so primal and there is something about siting around the fire that just feel right, except that it was 96 degrees. Notice how everyone is wearing shorts. I also think it is a lovely irony that the sign in the back advertises images of the wild. Click on the photo to see the details.

Here I was left to wonder if maybe the mall builders actually stocked the place with shopper much like you might stock a lake with fish. It is hard to believe that grown adults would match so well of their own free will, but if that is what they wanted to do, I guess this is the place to do it. Click on the photo to see the details.

A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!

August 10, 2005

Map of my Itinerary Palindromes are fun, but I really am a man with a plan, and the first stop is a canal in Panama.

I previously posted my best guess about an itinerary, but ultimately we could not fit it all in and still make it to Kilimanjaro on time. I am very disappointed not to be going to French Guinna and Suriname, but they are a short hop (relatively speaking anyway) from the States and we’ll have to try and get there on the back end, perhaps when we go to the Galapagos.

What follows is my actual ticketed itinerary for the first few months at least:

Now   - 09/04 Boston
09/04 - 09/14 Houston
09/14 - 10/06 Panama City, Panama
10/06 - 10/07 Connecting thru Santiago, Chile
10/07 - 10/26 Mendoza, Argentina
10/26 - 10/29 Easter Island. Chile
10/29 - 11/01 Santiago, Chile
11/01 - T/B/D Punta Arenas, Chile
T/B/D - T/B/D Ushushaia, Argentina
T/B/D - T/B/D Antarctica
T/B/D - 12/07 Ushushaia, Argentina
12/07 - 12/21 Buenos Aires, Argentina
12/21 - 12/23 Johannesburg, South Africa
12/23 - 12/23 Connecting thru Dar Es Salaam
12/23 - T/B/D Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
12/26 - 02/02 Climb Kilimanjaro
01/03 - 01/07 Safari
01/08 -            ???

Except for the Punta Arenas - Ushushaia - Antarctica - Ushushaia all the legs shown above are flights. Of course we’ll be doing side trips from many of the individual cities as well.

After the itinerary above the plan is to head South overland toward Capetown, S.A.

Finally, I’d be remiss in concluding this post if I didn’t mention another friend’s blog because of its palindrome title: “Yo bang a salami! — I’m a lasagna boy.”

There is nothing like the very best!

July 25, 2005

This blog is about my upcoming trip around the world and I have lots of updates on the way, but in the mean time, I have been doing a little traveling in the US. On a recent trip I saw something that I just had to share. I was in Colorado thumbing thru the local city magazine when I saw an ad for Linda Huang — The Best Middle-aged, Female, Asian Plastic Surgeon Practicing in Denver.

I can only assume that there is a better Middle-aged, Female Plastic Surgeon in Denver that isn’t Asian. And maybe there is even a better Middle-aged, Female, Asian Plastic Surgeon in nearby Boulder, CO. I want my doctor to be highly qualified, not her advertising.

This reminds me of when local news outlets show someone proudly touting police work as “the largest Cocaine bust ever of a mid level dealer in the western part of the local county on a weekday under a full moon…”

Jonathan Lieberman
The best Young, Male, Caucasian Entrepreneur blogging about world travel in Newton, MA

Before I die..

June 22, 2005

Gravestone I am passionate. I am goal oriented. Sometimes, I can be a tiny bit obsessive.

I have been doing a lot of research and planning for my trip. I’d really like to leave the itinerary open and flexible, but I keep planning because there is just so much I’d like to see and do. Other people’s lists bear some of the blame (or credit) for the extensive list. Ever since I discovered the Hillman Wonders website, I have been mesmerized.

The site begins with a simple question: “How many of the world’s top 100 wonders have you seen?” It goes on to offer a thoughtful, objective and continuously updated (since 1968) list of the top 100 (and top 1000) places to see, selected by a thoughtful and very well traveled writer.

I’ve seen Twenty One of them, but who is counting?

It seems like a lot of people are counting.

My brother shared his critique of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. A clearly less ambitious friend recommend 100 Things to Do Before You Die : Travel Events You Just Can’t Miss. My wife gave me June’s Men’s Journal with the article “99 Things to Do Before You Die.” She also mentioned that in last month’s issue I missed a good article on the “100 Greatest Adventures.”

The pace has quickened. Just five years ago the overachieving executive and corporate mogul magazine, Forbes, thought one could get away with a mere 10 Things To Do Before You Die. The article begins…

In 1902, as he lay dying at the age of 48, Cecil Rhodes could look back on a not undistinguished career. He had made a vast fortune in gold and diamonds. He had built railroads through the wilderness and become one of the century’s great rulers. He had created an empire, which is more than your average 48-year-old has on his resume. But Rhodes was not going gentle into any good night. On his deathbed he was heard muttering, “So little done, so much to do.”

I never knew it but there is a whole concept of making “Life Lists”. There is even a book on it: No Opportunity Wasted : Creating a List for Life. All this life list obsession reminded me of an old episode of Ira Glass’s This American Life called Superpowers in which a five year old “Zora had recurring dreams in which she was a 6′5″ warrior queen who could fly and shoot lightning from her hands. She made a list of all the skills she would need to master if she wanted to actually become the superhero she dreamed of being. Sample items: martial arts, evasive driving and bomb diffusion. She actually checked off most things on the list… and then had a run-in with the CIA.” She the list ruled her life and she accomplished virtually everything on it until she failed to get the job of her dreams, and then it called everything in to question.

All this leaves me feeling a little ambivalent. The goal setter in me loves the life list idea and of course the I am just about to cross off a big one with my upcoming year long trip around the world. On the other hand it feels a little bit like setting goals to “relax and take life as it comes” is a bit of a contradiction in terms. I had one friend who set goals about how many hours of sleep he’d get. I really truly believe that what gets measured gets managed, but sleep goals always stuck me as funny.

Tell me what you think! To make life lists or not? If you are in the list camp what do you want to do before you die?

The business of business is business.

June 17, 2005

I went to visit my friend who runs a lawncare business, (green grass, no weeds) in PA, NJ, MD. Happy Lawn was a really great group of hard working people. I came away very impressed! Even though the business is completely different from my former online marketing business, I was struck by the huge number of similarities.

The challenges are all the same:

  • How do you plan for growth but keep overhead down?
  • How do you develop your people to support that growth?
  • How do you mange cash and finance it?
  • How do you deal with a difficult but vital vendor?
  • How come the printer doesn’t work?

The more businesses I visit, the more I come away feeling that they all face extremely similar challenges. The business of business is all pretty much the same, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.

Fortune cookie offers “greater perspective”

June 10, 2005

Picture of a fortune cookie My wife recently got a fortune cookie that seemed to bode well for travel. Last night I got mine. The photo is blurry, but it says: “Traveling this year will bring your life into greater perspective.” How perfect is that?

I am excited about traveling, but just being on sabbatical is changing my perspective. It has made it much easier for me to focus on my health. Since I left work, I have started to diet with the help of Calorie King’s Palm Diet Diary, it was recommened by Jeremy Zawodny. The last time I successfully dieted, I used a palm product called Diet Log from Healthetech, but it stopped working when I upgraded to my Treo 600. The mere process of logging what I eat has very positive affects on my eating habits. While logging everything I eat is a little tedious, I am excited to be doing it again because it offers me a sense of control over the process and makes me more conscious about the choices I am making. I am a firm believer that if I can’t measure, I can’t manage.

I am also getting lots more exercise both in and out of the gym. While I would be dieting and exercising in any case I am particularly motivated by a twinge of fear about the rigors of the climb of Kilimanjaro. More about my plan to tackle Kili soon.

Beyond eating less and exercising more, I went to a concert tonight (on a school-night no less!) It was fun! After the concert walking on Newbury street, I was stunned (as usual) to be reminded how many people are out and about having a late supper at Cafe Armani or socializing over cocktails at Ciao bella at 11:30 on a week night. I could never manage to do that when I had a job. Good for them.

Climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

June 6, 2005

Photo courtesy of Jungle Photos

The die is cast! Now lets hope no one in the cast dies!

In January 2002 shortly after I went skydiving to celebrate my 30th birthday, Soyan and I saw the IMAX movie: Kilimanjaro - To the Roof of Africa. After seeing that “normal” people could summit Tanzania’s Mt Kilimanjaro, I suggested that we should climb Kilimanjaro for Soyan’s 30th Birthday in December 2004.

She said that sounded nice, but she’d never been to an opera and that she’d like go for her 30th birthday. I explained that the two were not mutually exclusive, but when her birthday crept up last year, I got her a subscription to the Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) and we did not climb Kilimanjaro.

We enjoyed the BLO, but it some how failed to captivate Soyan to the same degree as her first opera, The Magic Flute. This is surprising because the BLO performances were live with a full orchestra in a theater. There were sets, costumes and lights at the BLO while the Magic Flute was a 3 cassette tape recording seen with the limited visual aids of a public school, in the late 1980’s, the “Ding - please advance to the next frame” filmstrip. I guess that is more evidence that a good score can carry a film, and of course that Mozart’s was a genius.

But I digress! The die is cast, we have paid our money and have our first firm date of the trip. We are booked for a trek up Kilimanjaro, starting December 26th, 2005 (the very day of Soyan’s 31st birthday). Soyan assures me that within the scientific community an error of plus or minus one is an acceptable margin of error, so in a sense we are still going to Tanzania for her 30th birthday. If all goes well we should be at the the summit for sunrise on new years day 2006!

I am incredibly excited for our climb, but a little scared. I know I need to get in shape before I go, and I know it will be hard. I take some solace in knowing that ultimately how I do will have to do more with how I handle the altitude than how in shape I am, but being in better shape certainly won’t hurt!

The Kilimanjaro trip is being organized by Donovan and the nice folks at Boots N All, a terrific resource and message board for backpackers travelling around the world. After Tanzania, we are planning to head south and west overland until we get to South Africa. Then we’ll see how we are feeling about Africa, because there will still be lots more to see, not the least of which is the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda.

Brazil’s Bikini Girls

May 25, 2005

Flickr? More like a roaring bonfire of hot, sexy photo love!

I have started playing with Flickr to store my photos. My challenge is that I plan to produce a lot of photos on my trip around the world. I estimate 200-400 photos per week. A 7 mega pixel jpeg is about 3 megs, so I expect to be producing 2 to 4 gigs a month of new photos. I’d like to store these somewhere other than with me on the road. This way I won’t lose them if I lose a bag. Additionally, I’d like to share at least some of them online with people as I travel.

I had originally planned to host the photos myself on my website, but ultimately I am not likely to do this because…

Hosting them myself is work.
I’d have to pick a software package to use. It would probably be an open source package called gallery, but I’d need to research it some more to be sure. Using an open source package would give me maximum flexibility and control. But, whatever I picked, I’d need to install, manage and customize it. That would take time and effort.

Hosted disk space is expensive.
My web hosting company, Dream Host offers great deals for hosting (use promo code 777 and pay $9.24 for the entire year, not per month, but for the entire year of hosting). However, it is quite expensive if I want to add 40 gigs of additional storage (to the 2.5 gigs I have) for high res photos.

Not hosting the photos makes back up hard and means additional work.
If I don’t upload all of my high res versions to the web then I have to burn them to CD / DVD and mail them back from my year long trip around the world. I may do this anyway as backups between uploads when I am in remote places with little or no Internet access, but having to do so all the time is a burden, it also doesn’t facilitate sharing them.

Since I am still comfortable ensconced in my home office with a cable modem and a large supply of unhosted photos from previous trips, I thought I’d give Flickr a try. I have a little time before I head out on my trip around the world in September, so if it doesn’t work out it is not too late to change.

I decided to try Flickr after being caught in the Yahoo buys Flickr media storm. My interest in Flickr was in large part based on the fact that I have a lot of respect for Jeremy Zawodny and he seems to think about many of the same issues of data storage that I have been thinking about. He is also coming to many of the same conclusions.

As I began uploading my photos to Flickr I found that it was a pretty powerful application and that there was an active community there. It was still not quite as quick as managing my photos form the desktop, but it was pretty good and it offers nice features for tagging, sharing and searching. If anybody from Flickr is reading this I have a pro account and I’d really like to pay double to be able to upload twice as much.

I got a nice note about some of my Brazil photos from Lorenzo and a few people marked some photos of kids or street scenes as among their favorites. This was nice and made me feel good about my photos, but as I uploaded more photos and played with Flickr it seemed that pretty girls in bathing suits (or less) got all the attention.

As an experiment I grabbed a handful of photos form the streets and beaches of Rio De Janeiro and cropped out some women in bikinis. I added some descriptive tags and POOF. Within 15 minutes of uploading the photos in my Brazil’s Bikini Girls set each of the photos had more views than any of my other photos that had been uploaded for days. Now that the swimsuit clad ladies of Copacabana and Ipanema have been up for 24 hours they have more views than my other 600+ photos combined. In fact the only photo that can even compete a little bit with girls in bikinis is Kentucky Fried Santa

I must confess this post itself is a little experiment to see if it too will increase the exposure (no pun intended) of my site in the same way that my flickr photo set has.

For all my friends and colleagues and those of you not looking for sexy Latin ladies, here are some other photos from Brazil:

“So where are you going?”

May 21, 2005

South America Itin Map
Or, “Where are you going first?” seems to be the number one question I get when I tell people that Soyan and I are taking a year long trip around the world. When I answer, “I’m not sure yet” they seem mildly annoyed as if they were some how going to be personally inconvenienced by the fact that we haven’t finished planning our trip.

Since I don’t want to annoy anybody, let me go on the record with our current thinking. The big picture is: south through Central and South America then north through Africa, the middle East, Turkey, Greece and a tiny slice of eastern Europe. Then Dubai to India to Nepal and Bhutan and on to South East Asia, Papa New Guinea, the Great Barrier Reef, and perhaps China and Korea. Then back to the States, unless we still have energy left.

Since I don’t mind annoying anybody, let me tell you that it is all subject to change.

So where to first…

Well I haven’t booked anything yet, but I have been playing with an online travel agency specializing in “multi-stop international air travel service.” I first learned about them from The Practical Nomad, an extremely detailed guide to the minutia of pretrip planning, by Edward Hasbrouc, who happens to work for Air Treks. Practical Nomad offers a lot of insight in to the travel industry, and although it has a little too much detail to be a “fun read”, it is however a great resource. If you are thinking about a round the world trip, and you want a good book to start with, I’d recommend Rough Guide’s First Time Around the World.

Alright, alright, I know what you really want to know is where am I going. The tentative plan is to visit my parents and grandmother in Houston at the beginning of September and then follow an something itinerary like this:

  • Houston
  • Guatemala
  • Panama
  • Colombia
  • Venezuela
  • Aruba
  • Suriname
  • French Guiana
  • Chile (Santiago)
  • Easter Island
  • Argentina (Mendoza)
  • Chile (Punta Arenas and Ushuaia)
  • Antarctica
  • Argentina (Buenos Aires)
  • Africa starting in Johannesburg

It turns out that the airlines would like to send me from French Guiana to Santiago via Miami and that doesn’t sound like any fun, so I am still trying to figure it out. Savvy South American travellers may be wondering about the absence of Peru and Brazil. We’ve skipped them because we have already travelled there (the photos on the right are from Rio, more photos are coming soon). Returning to Brazil may however be the answer to avoiding Miami, so all of you that want to know just where I am going will have to sweat it out a little longer.

The end of an era.

May 17, 2005

I began building the first of my three companies my junior year at the University of Chicago, and I have been hard at work at the practice of entrepreneurship ever since. It has been an exciting and fulfilling experience, but also a challenging and tiring one.

The highs have filled me with an elation that far exceeds my rush from skydiving for my 30th birthday. The lows were so devastatingly painful and gut wrenchingly scary that the agony they evoked far exceeded any anxiety that accompanied my jumping out of a plane.

I am feeling reflective about all I that have learned, about myself and about entrepreneurship, because last week I tendered my resignation from the company my brother and I founded six and a half years ago. We sold the company a little more than six months ago and have been working for the acquirer since then.

My last day of work will be the day I head to my 10th college reunion, and that seems to have heightened my sense that this is the end of an era. It is, after all, almost 10 years to the day, and I am leaving everything that has been my life for the better part of a decade for a series of new adventures.

I am filled with enthusiasm and excitement as I look forward to the next decade and what it will bring. My first adventure is a year-long trip around the world with my wife, Soyan, starting in September.

At the same time, I am very sad to be leaving, even more so than I imagined I’d be when I originally decided to quit. I’ll miss the people I work with and an environment that is really supportive, encouraging and fun. My company has provided the pleasure and privilege to work with really outstanding people. I owe much of my success to these people and count them as not only colleagues, but as friends. I hope I have given these people half as much as I have learned from them, and that we get an opportunity to work together again.

I don’t want my rosy retrospective glasses to lead anyone to think that our company was perfect. It was not, but through trial and error, we built something special. People who work here care about each other, both at work and outside of work. They are creative and innovative. They work hard and play hard. They are an amazing group! I am sure that the strong culture will continue. I hope I am lucky enough to experience something like it again in the future.

When other people have left the company before me, I was always conflicted about their departures. I sincerely wished them well, but I felt a bit like they had abandoned me. I am saddened to imagine that’s how people will now feel about me. I hope they know that I’ll miss them terribly and that I will always treasure the time we spent together because in just the week since I resigned that has become even more clear to me.

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