03 February, 2006

Driving in Rwanda

If you are a confident driver, a car can take you all over the country easily and quickly because most places are within a 3 hour drive from Kigali. Renting a car is a decent third option for travel: it helps you avoid having to use public transportation or be overcharged by a safari company.

But the decision to drive in Africa always comes with a set of obstacles. In Rwanda, the primary challenge is passing with low visibility on steep mountain roads. Also, caution is required on stretches near villages and towns that can quickly become crowded with bicycles, playing children, and pedestrians.

Roads are paved, which is a big positive. They are predominantly twisty, however, and all of them are single lane. Being confident at passing (overtaking) is necessary if you want to prevent long stretches of creeping uphill behind heavy trucks or weak minibuses. Passing can be a sweaty-palmed ordeal because stretches of acceptable visibility are limited.

To make matters more complex, Rwanda's road system is right hand drive, but half of the cars are also right hand drive. You may find that, as a driver, you are completely blind when you are behind big trucks. Take a passenger if at all possible because a second set of eyes can help make safer snap judgments.

The speed of driving is mildly schizophrenic: uphill stretches are achingly slow and downhill slaloms are quick. Minibuses and trucks that you pass going uphill may careen around you at top speed on the next downhill slope. It's a zen kind of ebb and flow, so be patient with the turns of the tide.

Above all, avoid hitting anything alive and slow down when roadside numbers get thick. I noticed a lot of children playing in the road, and some of them pretended to jump (or push a playmate) in front of the car when we passed. Honk your horn early to warn them, other pedestrians, and bicycles to clear the way. Some roads have wide shoulders or sidewalks, though; so crowding the road is not as much of a problem in Rwanda as it is in other countries.

Renting a Car in Rwanda

Renting a car in Kigali is very informal because there are no rental car companies. This is either a nail biter or a relief for Westerners who are used to signing their lives away at the end of a three page corporate epic.

Asking around at local travel agencies will yield scraps of paper with the names of friends who rent out cars. Keep searching for a better deal and bargain until you are happy with the rate, which should be around 20,000 francs per day for a normal car and 25,000 for a 4WD. Make sure you have the proper car for the roads on your trip. If you will be driving on a dirt road for any length of time, rent a 4WD.

You may have to sign a simple contract. Find a person who speaks your language: it is crucial to sign a contract that you can read. Don't feel pressured to sign anything that sounds unreasonable. We refused to sign a contract with a clause in it that held us responsible for replacing any items stolen from the car - that would have included pricey things like, for example, the engine. Instead, we agreed to file a police report if anything went missing.

Finally, I recommend driving during daylight hours outside of Kigali. Have a map on hand, and plan your routes so you arrive at your destinations before dark.

Gorilla Treks Rocket Ever Upward

You now have to shell out 350 USD to spend one hour with the gorillas. That is almost a 50% increase from 2004.

30 December, 2005

Visiting Akagera National Park

If you do not have six hundred dollars to spend on a safari package from one of the agencies in town, and/or if you do not have access to a private 4WD vehicle, visiting Akagera National Park may be more hassle than it is worth.

Private Vehicle Owners are Winners

The drive to the park from Kigali is two and one half hours. If you are entering the park at the southern end, the first hour and a half - from Kigali to Kayonza to Kabarongo - is on tarmac roads. The final stretch to the main park entrance near the lodge is 27 km further down a passable but bumpy dirt road.

There is no petrol inside the park, so come prepared. The lodge recommends that you fuel up in Kayonza because there are sometimes shortages at the station in Kabarondo. We filled our reasonably fuel-efficient car up to the brim in Kayonza and were fine for one two-hour game drive and one five-hour game drive plus the trip home to Kigali. If you have a gas-guzzler, you may want to consider bringing along an extra jerry can of fuel if you want to drive more than three times and then exit the park at the northern boundary. Supposedly there is access to fuel when you exit at the top, but it all depends on how prepared you want to be.

Most importantly, make sure your car is suitable for the terrain. Both the northern and southern roads into/out of the park are passable for a normal car with reasonably high clearance, but once you enter the park the terrain is more severe. The roads are alternately rocky, bumpy, or steep. We drove during the dry season, so we did not need the four-wheel drive function; but I could see the spots of road in which a 4WD would have been necessary if it was raining. A true SUV would be an ideal ride, as even our car/SUV hybrid bottomed out a few times on steep or rocky slopes or was scraped underneath by the termite mounds jutting up in the center of the road.

Park Public Transport (or Lack Thereof)

We were lucky enough to travel with someone who had a 4WD vehicle, but I asked the park staff about using public transport to travel the same route. The replies painted a dismal picture. Minibuses run from Kigali to Kayonza, and from Kayonza to Kibungo. This is where the good news ends. Sixteen kilometers south of Kayonza, when you have to turn left toward Akagera and leave the tarmac road, the minibus supply dries up. The Bradt Guide explains, "Any minibus-taxi traveling between Kayonza and Kibungo can drop you at the junction, from where the only realistic option is a motorbike-taxi (assuming you can find one)."

On the dirt road, we did pass several motorbikes, but only four or five in one hour. Therefore I conclude that finding one may be a daunting task. If you have any accumulation of luggage or camping gear, a moto is an inconvenient option anyway. Plus, the roads were bumpy and dusty enough in a car, and I cannot imagine that riding on a motorcycle would be pleasant.

If you manage, scraping and clawing, to be dumped off at the park gate (for motorcycles are not allowed in the park), your crusade does not end. No walking, with or without a guide, is permitted. And... the finale... there is no vehicle available to hire for game drives anywhere in the park. It's B.Y.O. SUV at Akagera. In sum, if you do manage to make the trek to the entrance, you won't be able to leave the Game Lodge - assuming you get a ride from the gate to the lodge, that is.

Entrance Fees

Figuring out how much you owe the front gate takes a while because there is a complex system of fee-charging. It all depends on where you live, what you want to do, and how long you want to stay. After much wrangling, I paid $40 total: $30 for a two-day game driving permit and a $10 one time park entry fee. This was somehow portrayed to me as a bargain, but I had my doubts. Then we had to pay another fee, around $8, to take our car into the park, which struck me as highway robbery seeing as neither the park nor the lodge provides any alternative way to tour the park. Boat rides and fishing are expensive additional activities.

Take a Guide

The only thing the park provides nearly free of charge is a guide. You are not required to hire one, but it is strongly recommended. If nothing else, the guides carry radio in case of emergency or vehicular trouble. Ours was polite and helpful, especially in navigating some tricky terrain and bird-watching. He did not have an in-depth bank of environmental knowledge with which to be chatty, but it was still useful to have him along. Tipping your guide is expected, as is money for his moto transport back to the southern gate if you exit the park up near the Ugandan border because there is no other way back.

The Barren Frontier of Lodging

You have two extremely different options for staying overnight in Akagera. You can either by your own equipment and camp, or you can stay at the Game Lodge. Camping is $10 per person (not $3 like it says in the Bradt guidebook), and basic toilet facilities are provided at campsites. The sites we saw looked a little spartan, though - you have to bring your own drinking and cooking water and firewood. The park is quite empty, so don't expect to make new friends with your campsite neighbors. Our guide recommended the campsites at higher elevations because in the lowlands near Lake Ihema an elephant named Mutwale has been known to ransack human enclaves for food (see TRAVELOGUE).

If you are not set up to car camp, your only other option is to stay at the Akagera Game Lodge. The park staff may suggest that you can stay at other hotels in nearby towns, but in my estimation they are all too far away to be convenient. The Game Lodge is certainly convenient, but it is not a good value. Like any true monopoly, the rates were twice what they should be, and the service left a lot to be desired. For example, our rooms were only half cleaned when the staff showed us in, and then we had to twist arms to get the screens on our windows repaired because they were badly ripped. Gradually, I realized that there was a disconnect between the front desk staff and the rest of the staff, as the former would tell us one thing and the latter would tell us, or do, several different things.

Unfortunately, there was no isolated incident to forgive, as we encountered several conundrums during our short stay. One illustration reared its ugly head before dinner. The front desk explained that there was a pre-fix dinner menu or an a la carte menu from which to choose. When we sat down, however, we were informed that there was no a la carte menu. We were stuck with an overpriced package deal. It was tasty; but the vague sensation that comes with having no choice floated in my head: we got lucky. On a related note, breakfast was vastly enjoyable. It was a wonderful buffet of rolls, fruit, cereal, and custom made omelets.

I wish that the Lodge had more character. It is a modern place more reminiscent of a Holiday Inn than a real game lodge, with a bustling atmosphere that doesn't allow you to enjoy the natural scenery. The rooms were comfortable and the setting is not unpleasant; but I expected my experience there to be less stressful and more nature-oriented (with the notable exception of the baboons - see TRAVELOGUE). Any hotel situated around a pool instead of a watering hole is more oriented towards people than animals.

Come if You Can

Akagera can best be described as a selected experience. I will admit that I enjoyed myself - it is extremely difficult for me to be unhappy in beautiful wild places. Yet my felicity was tempered by the realization that very few travelers would be able to have the same experience. The park's biggest drawback is that many visitors, and especially tourists, have no way of transporting themselves to and around the park. Those that do might not mind staying at the Game Lodge; but for those of us with a tighter purse and/or a desire for unique travel experiences, the lodge does not satisfy. This trip is probably the most pleasurable for people who are in Rwanda for a longer stay and are willing to shell out for a change of scenery.

15 December, 2005

Travel to Kibuye: A Note from a Helpful Reader

A veteran Kibuye traveler wrote me and said that if you're willing to get up early, it is possible to take Iposita (Post Office) transit service from Kigali to Kibuye. I am grateful for the information and will look into it for my next trip.

02 December, 2005

Traveling from Kigali to Kibuye

If at all possible, avoid taking a mini-bus to Kibuye. Depending on your budget, however, this may not be possible. Alternatively, you can try to hitch a ride or spend the money to hire a private car. The latter option is easy - and well worth it - if you are part of a group of 4 or more, or if you can pool your resources with other travelers who have the same plans.

If you must take a mini-bus, I would brush up on the following French phrases: a) a request for the driver to slow down, b) ditto to pay attention, and c) ditto to prioritize the safety of the passengers over arriving fifteen minutes faster. Also try to avoid sitting in the back row, as you get whipped around.

We took an Okapi Travel and Tours mini-bus. Avoid them. Okapi and Atracao are two examples of 'private' mini-taxi companies. Okapi vans are newer than public buses and may be less crowded, but the same mentality exists: a speedy trip is a successful trip - at the expense of safety and comfort. These vans are not equipped to handle either the roads or the weather conditions (see TRAVELOGUE).

Unfortunately, there are very few vehicle options to travel out of Kigali, and this situation must be improved for tourism to increase. The Volcano buses to Butare are tolerable rides, but we don't recommend any other out of town transport companies right now. There are big green government buses, but we haven't taken one yet. It is difficult to judge if their larger size will make a trip through the mountains safer or more nerve-wracking.

Traveling to the National Museum of Rwanda in Butare

The National Museum of Rwanda in Butare is beautiful, informative, and sophisticated (see TRAVELOGUE). The displays are only in French and Kinyarwanda, but we received a gracious English-speaking guide when we asked for one. The museum is several kilometers north of town, so be prepared to walk or find transportation back and forth.

The Volcano Express is quite a comfortable way to travel from Kigali to Butare, especially when compared to a public mini-taxi. The company sells tickets for individual seats, and the buses are roomier than minivans. Each ride is around US $3, and you can purchase a round-trip ticket in advance. If you are planning a day trip, leave as early as possible in the morning and book a return by or before 4pm so you won't be traveling in the dark. Estimate between 2.5 and 3 hours travel time one way. Volcano Express is busy. Every bus is always full, so we suggest showing up at least 30 minutes before departure to get a good seat, as the crowd can get a little pushy close to departure.

The Peculiarities of Paying

Kigali has a few quirks when it comes to accepting payment. First, for those people whose lives revolve around plastic, there are few to no ATM machines here and the ones that exist are mainly for local banks. Credit cards are still not widely accepted at all.

A truly useful scoop: when traveling to Rwanda, the US dollars you bring should have been issued in 2000 or later. My bank teller in the States was from Ghana and had never heard this request. I did have a moment of doubt at her confusion, but this turned out to be true. Banks and Forex Bureaus are legally required to accept older bills, but they do not like to and may refuse to change your money. Hotels like accepting dollar payments, but they probably will not accept old bills. Avoid potential conflicts by bringing all new money.

Even if you ask for new money at your bank, go through and check each bill. My bank mixed about one-third 1996 bills in with the 2004 bills, and I didn't catch it in time. Now I get to argue every time I use money anywhere outside primary institutions, which is often because of public holidays.

02 November, 2005

Late at Night in the Land of Lions

A Sample Itinerary with Ethiopian Airlines

With Ethiopian, we practiced what we preached and booked a paper ticket using a human representative at the New York office. This required access to a fax machine for payment technicalities.

Reasonable fares are by and large because flights are scheduled at odd hours and can have extra stops. The first flight left DC at 8:30 pm on a Monday night, and the plane touched down in Rome on Tuesday morning. At 9 pm that night, we arrived in Addis Ababa. True to tradition, the flight to Kigali was scheduled to leave at 3 am Wednesday morning. A 6-hour layover unto itself is not abnormal, but factors to consider are jet lag and early hours.

EA makes an effort to compensate for its unusual flight patterns by offering hotel and food vouchers. For our layover, for example, a hotel voucher was offered, but we decided to remain in the airport with the meal voucher. In hindsight, this was a wise choice. Our fellow Rwanda passengers remarked that by the time they had to leave the airport, get on a bus, check in, and get back to the airport, they ended up with a about one hour of leisure time at the hotel. We kept busy pounding the marble pavement, as the cavernous international departures lounge had cafes, Internet access, and shops all of which were bustling at 2 am (see TRAVELOGUE).

The last leg of the journey was the flight from Addis to Kigali, which made a brief stop in Entebbe, Uganda. We were wheels down in Kigali at 6:30 on Wednesday morning greeted by a colorful sunrise and a flock of hawks (see TRAVELOGUE).

29 October, 2005

Hop, Skip, and a Long Jump

A Short Survey of Getting to Rwanda

Unfortunately for Americans, shifting continental plates many millennia ago has made current day travel to Africa into a 2 or 3-day journey. There are a variety of ways to fly into Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.

First, let the buyer beware: try not to exceed 2 airlines when booking your flights, and make sure you have plenty of time to make your connections. If a flight is delayed and you miss a connection, you may be cross cut by quarreling airlines as to who finds your luggage and pays to reroute you.

Aside to chronic discount Internet bookers: going directly through an airline or agency is a more secure way of reaching African destinations. Many times paper tickets are required anyway, so the speed of the process is eliminated. And if your itinerary alters for any reason (and it might), changing tickets is a simple and relatively inexpensive affair if your ticket is issued directly from the airline.

For many Americans traveling to Rwanda, getting to Europe would be the first step. There are three main European connections to aim for. First, Kenyan Airlines (a BA partner) flies from London to Nairobi to Kigali. If you get a sweet deal to London, this route could be one of the most cost effective options. Another city to shoot for is Amsterdam, as KLM also uses Kenyan to fly via Nairobi to Kigali. For those travelers with a bit more pocket change and an aversion to layovers, SNL Airways has biweekly direct flights from Brussels to Kigali. This is a remarkable but pricy timesaver.

An option that allows you to stay on one airline all the way from American soil to Rwanda is Ethiopian Airlines, which flies a creative route from Washington DC (Dulles airport) via Rome, Italy, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Entebbe, Uganda. A savings of several hundred US dollars might make this trip attractive to someone with a tighter budget and flexible time frame.

12 October, 2005

Malawi Cyclones

This image is taken of a cyclone approaching Mozambique two years ago. Many people wouldn't think that a landlocked country like Malawi would be affected by such storms; however, these cyclones crush the coast lines and penetrate beyond Mozambique all the way into Malawi. The resulting rainfall causes flash flooding and washes out bridges. This in turn shuts down or severely hampers transportation. Even in unexpected places, Mother Nature shows us that we can't barricade ourselves off from nature and must prepare accordingly.

"By the end of February, the DMC had given a warning about Tropical cyclone 'Japhet' positioned around 23 S and 37.8 E moving south-westwards. The periphery of the cyclone was expected to remain active over the southern coast of Mozambique. Further intensification, which could bring relief rains to drought prone areas but could also be catastrophic as strong winds between 63km/hr and 93km/hr, had been detected. Significant rainfall was anticipated over the central and southern Mozambique, northern Zimbabwe, Malawi and most of central and southern Zambia."

29 August, 2005


The shiny 500-calorie foil sachet is a household name in hungry countries and almost unknown in well-fed ones.

Technology at its best, Plumpy'Nut was developed by Nutriset to rehabilitate famine victims. The goo looks like tan mashed potatoes and tastes like sweetened peanut butter.

Plumpy'Nut is made of peanut paste, dry milk, and vegetable fat. Reviews from aid groups seem to hail it as a miracle food: not only is nutritious and pleasantly edible, it doesn't contain water and is therefore resistant to bacterial contamination. The only problem is that kids with peanut allergies can't eat it.

Worldchanging explains the benefits of Plumpy'Nut as opposed to more traditional milk-based water formulas used in hunger camps.

27 August, 2005

The Romance of Mosquito Nets

Mosquito nets tug on that childlike part of our imagination that wants to build forts out of cushions.

The western world may have eradicated malaria, but going to bed is much more fun when you can look forward to cuddling up inside a sheer cloud of mosquito netting.

The aim of bed netting is to prevent nocturnal moquito bites and therefore mosquito-bourne diseases like malaria, encephalitis, dengue, or yellow fever. These diseases are much more widespread than AIDS, but they get much less press. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that 300 to 500 million people are diagnosed with malaria annually, causing 1.1 to 2.7 million deaths.

Netting can feel smothering if you're not used to it. Some of it is hard core, soaked in DDT or similar chemicals, so it may skeeve you out if it touches your skin. If you're tall, cut a big swath to leave yourself stretching room. Netting should never touch your skin at night anyway because then mosquitos will be able to land on you and/or bite you. That would defeat the whole purpose.

Mosquito netting is also fabulous because it keeps out other critters. Specifically, I mean snakes. In chilly climates, many a warning tale addresses waking up with snakes on or under beds. Netting tucked into the mattress or draped in piles on the floor can thwart slithery visitors seeking warmth in the cold night.

25 August, 2005

The Vlogging Revolution

By now, you've heard of blogs -- a rather unfortunate sounding word. Well, this year you've got another, equally clumsy sounding word to wrap your head around: vlogs.

A vlog is a video blog. [Those of you who still don't fully understand the ramifications of "blogging" will now feel like you're back in math class, when you didn't quite get the right answer for x, and therefore missed (x - 2) too.]

Just as TV and the newspaper work in harmony (well, maybe more like direct competition) to give you news, so vlogs and blogs bring complementary types of information to your online table. Newspapers are continuing to replace boring ol' print with splashy color photos in an attempt to catch customers attention because TV is winning the game. We wonder if blogs and vlogs run that same race. A vlog is a blog in which writing is replaced by video clips, and it is the next revolution in personal media being dispersed over the internet.

24 August, 2005

Rent Your Own Satellite

Cable modem not working in the middle of the rainforest? Get your own satellite connection anywhere in Africa! Simply buy the dish and rent out a signal from space. The satellite that has a 'footprint' in most of central and southern Africa is named Eutelsat WA3.

You can get an idea of the cost of 3 seperate VSAT access plans through Eutel, one of the major players in Africa. (And the next time you complain about access costs, remember these prices!)

Fees for Satellite Internet services from Eutel:

(1) Name of service: IP 512
Price: $530/month
Authorized protocols: FTP, HTTP, POP3/SMTP, IMAPDNS on UDP
Possible IP addresses: Up to 29 (8 public)
Volume limitation: 2 GB/ month
Downstream: 512 kbps
Downstream CIR for VoIP service: 20 kbps
Upstream: 128 kbps
Upstream CIR for VoIP service: 5 kbps
Recommended number of PC's: 1-5

(2) Name of service: IP 768
Price: $730/month
Authorized protocols: FTP, HTTP, POP3/SMTP, IMAPDNS on UDP
Possible IP addresses: Up to 28 (16 public)
Volume limitation: unlimited
Downstream: 768 kbps
Downstream CIR for VoIP service: 30 kbps
Upstream: 192 kbps
Upstream CIR for VoIP service: 7,55 kbps
Recommended number of PC's: 1-10

(3) Name of service: IP 1024
Prices: $995
Authorized protocols FTP, HTTP, POP3/SMTP, IMAPDNS on UDP
Possible IP addresses: Up to 28 (16 public)
Volume limitation: unlimited
Downstream: 1024 kbps
Downstream CIR for VoIP service: 40 kbps
Upstream: 256 kbps
Upstream CIR for VoIP service: 20 kbps
Recommended number of PC's: 1-15

Hardware Costs for Dishes
Complete Linkstar VSAT system 1.2m
Africa, Middle East, Asia $2450

Complete Linkstar VSAT system 1.8m
Africa, Middle East, Asia $3500-$3710 (depending on configuration)

Additional Ground Equpiment
Linkstar VSAT terminal DVB, Channel Master antenna, New Japan Radio

23 August, 2005

Diesel's Greasy History

On diesel engines, history, and new inventions...

For outback travel, a diesel will serve you better due to greater power and better fuel economy for long hauls. Also, the lack of electrical mechanisms in diesel engines makes them more reliable because they are simpler, require less service, and contain fewer specialized parts (like spark plugs, for example). Semi-trucks use diesel because gasoline burns more quickly and thus costs more. Diesel is not the most economical, however, for around-town driving.

Interesting fact about diesels: they can run on about damn near anything that has the right viscosity. Rudolph Diesel, aptly enough, invented the diesel engine. It was revolutionary because it was a pressure-ignited engine that needed no spark to burn fuel. The first ones were run on peanut oil, and demonstrated that revolutionary idea at the World's Fair. Mr. Diesel, in fact, envisioned an engine that was designed to utilize whatever fuel was locally available, and could allow farmers to grow their own fuel.

With this invention you start the vehicle with diesel gasoline, warm up the corn oil tank, and then switch over to corn oil. When you're done running the engine, run the diesel tank for a minute or two before you shut it off to clear out the corn oil. Rinse, repeat and start over. You can use corn oil from many places, but many people get theirs for free from local restaurants, especially Chinese and fast food establishments. The exhaust, predictably, smells like egg rolls and French fries. Yum. Just what I want to smell like all day long.

Ebola & Marburg Virus Hunters

These are the pictures of the Marburg (left) and Ebola (right) virus, those faceless little beasts that cause ambiguous pains and aches as they get down to business. Each virus hijacks the internal cell machinery, replicating at a terrifying pace until the cell wall ruptures and release the next generation of viral bodies into the bloodstream.

Imagine this happening millions of times every couple of minutes. The symptoms sometimes progress to uncontrollable vomiting of blood and the expulsion of bloody stool. In more horrific cases the nervous system is affected which induces thrashing, an effective method of distribution for the virus-laden blood to infect new hosts. But most vicitims just fade away in a relatively short period of time and with almost no chance of recovery.

Now the BBC reports in this article that, "The first vaccine to protect monkeys against Ebola and Marburg viruses has been developed by scientists from Canada, the United States and France. The study could advance research into finding treatments for use in humans." Angola is continuing to fight the outbreak of Marburg, while cases of Ebola have been reported in Congo.

Scientists adapted another type of virus to carry proteins from the Ebola and Marburg viruses. This modified virus was injected into Macaque monkeys who were later exposed to the disease-causing pathogens. Just a single injection completely protected the monkeys and the initial data is so encouraging, say the researchers, that the technique could be used against other emerging viruses and may even lead to a trial vaccine being developed for humans.

Some in the West would argue that this is not our problem since only a relatively small number of people have died from the virus (120 Congolese deaths in 2003). Shelving the obvious moral arguments, a critic needs to understand that if a mutation were to occur and the virus adapted itself to a maintain a longer incubation period (i.e. not killing its hosts so damn quickly), and with the advent of modern transportation (i.e. international travel); the virus will come find them.

19 August, 2005

Choosing a Prosumer Camera: a Humorous Odyssey

Your most important piece of equipment for filming is a camcorder. Well, maybe it's a close second to your eye, but let's not get all 'film-studentish' yet. This article is strictly a bare-bones regurgitation of information that has been gleaned from the web and from pestering 'film types' with queries about bizarrely termed details like lux ratings and zebra stripes. (If you are a professional filmmaker, you just stopped reading in disgust/shock and have moved on.)

For those of you who stayed, lets give you a layman's breakdown of the current stock of camcorders on the market today, their viability in the face of overwhelming odds, and the stuff you need to go with 'em. I'll try to be short and sweet, but it's hard not to blather on and on about specs until someone smacks me across the head with a rolled up newspaper to shut up. Click here for full article.

18 August, 2005

Shot in the Arm

I got my shots yesterday -- ouch ouch! I had almost forgotten about the tetanus aches and pains. Thank goodness you only need it every ten years.


My doctor advised me to get the Menomune meningitis vaccine instead of the Menactra dose. This is because Menactra, although longer lasting than Menomune, interacts with both tetanus and hepatitis vaccines and shouldn't be given at the same time as either. The primary side effect of this interaction is a severe headache and flu-like symptoms. Since I needed all three of those shots on the same day, I went with Menomune, which only lasts about 3 years instead of 10. Both of these shots are only for meningococcal bacteria Groups A, C, Y, and W-135, which cause 50% of infections. Neither guards against Group B or viral meningitis -- so if you develop symptoms, find a doctor even if you've been vaccinated.

Hepatitis A and B

You'll need to plan six months in advance for your Hepatitis shots if you are traveling in an at-risk country. Hep A is a series of 2 shots, preferably 6-18 months apart, and costs about US $60 a dosage. Hep B is a series of 3 shots within a 6 month period and costs US $60 per dose. If you live in the US, it's easy to find a state clinic if your doctor does not provide the vaccines.

Other Vaccines

When you travel abroad, remember to check travel advisories and health warnings before you go. You may need a Polio booster or a Yellow Fever vaccine in addition to those listed above. An oral Typhoid vaccine is less painful than a needle -- you just drink three doses over three days. This vaccine is a live culture, so make sure to keep it refrigerated to maintain its effectiveness -- no shopping trips on the way home from the pharmacy! (There was a blackout the second night of my typhoid series. My fridge got too warm, so I had to start the course all over. Needless to say, the insurance company was not sympathetic, and I had to pay for the second one.)

Don't Forget the Yellow Card

Make sure you get a yellow WHO immunization certification card. I have mine paper-clipped into my passport so I won't lose it. Some border crossings, especially in southern Africa, do check it to make sure your vaccinations are up to date before you enter.

17 August, 2005

NTSC, PAL, and SeCAM Film Formats

The world is made up of people who see things from different points of view. When industries choose to support one of those points of view, it becomes survival of the fittest. As we have seen again and again, the best idea is not necessarily the most successful idea (at least in monetary terms). The more one gets to know different cultures in different parts of the world, the more these proprietary ideals become glaringly obvious. Have you ever asked yourself, "Why in the sam hill are things like that?" Well here at Looking Glass Land, we asked that very question about the technology formats of PAL, NTSC, and SeCAM. Click here for full article.