Posts Tagged ‘travel’

SOSAS

Posted: March 19, 2015 in Life, Real estate, Stupidity, Travel
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Same Old South American Shit (SOSAS) hooray for fun acronyms.

I came here to do a few small select things.

  • Remove WifeBob from the Chilean medical insurance policy.
  • Get the car’s paperwork renewed for another year.
  • Go on an awesome road trip through Patagonia.
  • Pack up my things into storage and rent the Volcano Lair out as a furnished short-term rental.

Even the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. We are, dear reader, once again in South America…

Let’s start with the first simple thing. I contacted my medical insurance rep months ago to ask how I might have WifeBob removed from the policy since she no longer wants/needs it. “Oh, all we need is your signature,” I was told, and so that’s what I went on. Months later, here I am in Chile to meet and sign, and “Oh, we need your divorce certificate.” Gee, would have been nice to have known that when I asked months ago, right? So I would have time to get a copy and bring it down with me? So now, in order to take care of this crap, it will cost me several days which may eat into my road trip and possibly make it a no-go.

Then the car. I keep, in my opinion, one of the best-maintained little shitboxes in all of Chile. Yes it often sits unused for long periods of time but I keep it in such a high degree of operational fitness that after 6 months of non-use, all I need to do is turn the key and it comes back to life. And so, I figured, it should be a piece of cake to take it into the inspection station, get my papers, and off we go on our road trip. Not so! I was rejected flat-out for “visible blue smoke” which does not exist. Not only am I mechanically inclined enough to know that this is bullshit, but I took it to a mechanic for further inspection, whereupon we both scratched our heads as to what they could have possibly seen to make them think it was so bad that they failed it outright and did not even bother to give it the emissions test. Oh, and they also failed it for having improperly-aligned headlights, even though nothing has changed since last year when it passed with flying colors and perfect emissions. Weird.

So anyhow, I have to “fix the problems” and then bring it back for re-testing. Which will eat into potential road trip time and may make it a no-go.

As to the possibility of the road trip at all at this point, it teeters on the edge.

The only potentially good thing in this little to-do list is the prepping of the place for rental, which is really just a matter of boxing a few things up, upgrading the locks on a closet, and handing the keys over to my chosen AirBnB rental manager (who I have dealt with in the past with excellent results). But, alas, he is on vacation right now and won’t be back until about a week before I leave. So if the road trip is delayed I may miss my window to do my dealings with RentalBob. In my opinion doing the rental stuff is more important than the road trip, and so the road trip plans are being squeezed from two directions.

Ahhhhh, life in South America. It is content to leave you alone completely, until you decide to do things.

In other news, I learned that since October, our citizenship file in Uruguay has finally passed muster (2+ years of waiting) and is now in the hands of the bureaucrat who will actually make our passports happen. Whatever that means. Nobody who is supposed to know seems to know, and they don’t answer emails or phone calls. The only information we have is that the next step should take 8 months (since October 2014), which means that in theory, in April, if all goes to plan, I can wrangle someone who will give me my goddamned passport. But, Uruguayan time being Uruguayan time, 8 months really means another 4 years. There is actually a formula for this:

Let Z = real time in months. Let Y = time promised by Uruguayan in months.

Z = Y (6 +- 48000)

Back in Chile

Posted: March 17, 2015 in Life, Travel
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The BobMobile lives.

It sat for 6 months in the parking lot, with the battery disconnected, having collected a thick sludgy layer of condensed Santiago Air Slime, into which the local kids had carved finger graffiti with increasingly-desperate pleas of “Lavame” (Wash me!). I wondered if it would start, but BobMobile roared to life on the first crank.

I am getting BobMobile ready for another legendary BobQuest journey. This time I will hit the southern half of Chile in the hopes that I reach as far south as roads go, on the “Ruta Fin del Mundo.”

It really is the best little piece of shite car I have owned. I might just drive her up through the entire continent and bring her “home” to the US once my dealings in Chile wind to a close. If that becomes home again. You see, I can’t fucking make up my mind.

It’s weird being back here after a 6 month absence spent back in the old republic. As FrenchBob said to me a couple weeks ago, we expats are, “Avoir le cul entre deux chaises,” which means, “To see ones ass perched between two chairs.” It’s an excellent saying for folks who just can’t figure out where they belong anymore. I feel perfectly at home here in Chile, and I don’t miss the US. Yet.

I don’t know if it’s a “tolerance battery” that wears down, or if it’s just itchy feet. A few months in a place and then you can’t wait to get back to wherever you were before. All the same, I like to rearrange my furniture in an equal timeframe. Are we just wired for a necessary change of scenery within and without?

BobStore!

Posted: May 14, 2014 in Humor, Travel
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Selling all the latest in BobFinery!

Spotted in Brazil, by SpamBob.

photo

BobQuest Grand Totals

Posted: March 16, 2014 in Travel
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Chile to Argentina:

Tolls: CLP$ 18450 (US$36)
Fuel: CLP$ 180417 (US$325)

Subtotal: US$361

Argentina to Uruguay:

Tolls, Argentina: AR$32 (US$4.06)
Fuel, Argentina: AR$2109.06 (US$267.49)

Tolls, Paraguay: PG$5000 (US$1.13)
Fuel, Paraguay: PG$342,000 (US$77.23)

Tolls, Uruguay: UY$275 (US$12.30)
Fuel, Uruguay: UY$1400 (US$62.64)

Subtotal: US$424.85

Uruguay to Chile:

Uruguay:
Tolls: UY$325
Fuel: UY$3147

Argentina:
Tolls: AR$64
Fuel: AR$1502

Chile:
Tolls: CL$2700 (US$8.91)

Subtotal: US$364.51

=====================

Grand Total: US$1150.36

Distance driven: 7225.9km

Average distance/day: 722.59km

Other misc items not included: 2 liters motor oil, AR$150 repair on shock mount, +-AR$200 for fuel paid for in cash at one point which I cannot remember if I included in the totals.

Day 9:

I left Punta Del Este with a carload of crap, which certainly slowed the BobMobile’s acceleration and handling but did not cause it any undue harm. Literally floor to ceiling in back, and taking up a lot of the passenger seat as well. 6 boxes of books and clothes, my old drafting desk (sans top, which had to stay behind; I could have tied it to the roof but didn’t want a wing there with all the wind), power tools, the infamous Expat Usufruct Chair (TM), my clothes, camping gear, a couple boxes of Uruguayan alfajores, 6 bottles of wine, and a few other odds and ends. Most of the wine is the last remaining supply of a 50-liter batch of mead I brewed back in 2008, and I must say after aging 5 years it is truly excellent.

I digress, again.

I headed to BeelzeBob’s for a barbecue and to crash, for an early start. The Usual Suspects were there, along with some new blood, and we had a great time.

Day 10:

In the morning, I packed VikingBob into the passenger seat and headed to Montevideo where we had lunch with SwingdanceBob, then I dropped off all my human cargo and headed out into the Great Beyond. I’d say I left Montevideo around 3pm, and made it to Fray Bentos around 8pm.

Fray Bentos is the site of the Botnia pulp mill, which has been a source of Gran Lucha between Argentina and Uruguay. Mainly because Botnia explored Argentina first and the Kirchnerites wanted too much money and would have raped them out of their business, so they went to Uruguay instead. Then the hippies, funded by the Argentine thug government, protested for years, blockaded the international bridge, and essentially starved many of their own businesses out from lack of transiting tourists (it is/was the main road route between Uruguay and Buenos Aires).

Now it’s open again, and so I went that way.

The young douchebag on the Argentine incoming side did not like me from the get-go, and insisted that the reciprocity-fee sticker in my old passport was expired. “This is valid only for the life of the passport,” he told me.

“No, it is not. Otherwise it would say so. Instead, as you see here, it is valid until 2022. I have had no problems with this so far, entering Argentina twice within the past week, at Paso de Jama and Jose Falcon.”

Seeing I would not budge after we argued back and forth for 15 minutes, he took it in the back office, was told by his superiors that yeah, he was wrong, and then wordlessly did all the stuff he was supposed to do in the first place, taking his dear sweet time, and then not saying a word nor looking me in the eye as he handed me both passports and waved me on. He did not win his Vivo today. The Argies hate to lose.

The famous bridge at Fray Bentos. Sans hippies.

The famous bridge at Fray Bentos. Sans hippies.

Once I was driving through Entre Rios, the bugs were so thick and heavy that I had to stop every couple of hours to clean the windshield because I could not see anything. I managed to get through all the way to Rosario around midnight with no problems, and then came the toll bridge. I had been dreading this moment because during my routine bug-guts-scrapings, I had also been on the lookout for an ATM, which so far, to this point, I had not been able to find. And so I had no Argentine Pesos.

I told the bridge-tender as much, and offered any mix of Uruguayan, Chilean, Paraguayan, US, Canadian, Brazilian, whatever would work. She kept saying no. No credit/debit cards either. She would not accept my offer to wash dishes, either. Eventually she called her boss, and he told her to just wave me through. Much to the thanks of the honking line of drivers behind me.

Finally, AFTER the bridge, in the town of Funes, a suburb of Rosario, I found an ATM and made good use of it. Filling up fuel, I the girl at the station asked me if I speak English. I must still set off GringoDar with my cargo shorts and hiking boots with black socks. And t-shirts with English stuff on them. “Yeah, I speak English.”

She chatted me up for a while as she filled the tank, explaining that she had lived in the ‘States for a few years, and then come back to Argentina. “It’s getting tough for us here. We make the same, but everything else keeps going up. Clothes, food, even shoes are getting hard to afford.” We went back and forth about the Argentine industries, since a lot of that stuff is still made in Argentina, or at least was, and she explained that production from all those Argentine businesses is rolling down and even those local goods are getting expensive. The people still want stuff made in the USA but they can no longer afford it and lots of it has been banned from import. Sad.

I wished her suerte and moved on, determined to close the distance to Santiago to under 1000km. I finally got to about 945 and ran out of steam somewhere a couple hundred km from Cordoba. Slept at an YPF station, uncomfortably, since the seats no longer recline with all the crap in the car. So I did a sort of yoga over the dashboard to stretch my legs out. I had looked for camping spots but found none on the GPS, and neither my Uruguayan nor Chilean sim card would work with the internet here.

Day 11:

That lasted for maybe 4 hours until my body couldn’t take it anymore, and I got headed out again around 8. I tried to fuel up at the same station but they had no gas. From here on in, it seemed that all the stations were out of 1 or more varieties of fuel. Usually it was the cheapest form of gasoline; not sure if that is because they want the markup on the premium gas, or everyone just flies through the cheap gas because that’s all they can afford. Diesel was always in stock. And, interestingly, there were GNC (natural gas) filling stations everywhere for cars that had been converted to run on it.

There was a campground/rest area maybe 30 minutes up the road from where I slept in the damned parking lot. BobLuck again.

Around lunchtime, late lunch perhaps, I decided to pull into the little town of LaPaz to refuel the car and my belly. Next to the gas station is the bus station, in which is a little comedor which advertised empanadas. So, I went in. They sold them by the dozen, but they were only AR$35 (about US$5, or US$3 on the black market) so I told them to give me a dozen, half ham-and-cheese, and half carne.

So I waited around for 15 minutes, which was fine because it allowed the blood to flow back into my ass, which is, interestingly, the same amount of time it takes to fill a short order in a roadside Argentine comedor, handed them my order ticket, took the bag, thanked them, and left. The bag was heavy, and I wondered if I would be able to eat a dozen empanadas before I got to the border crossing, but eh, whatever, they were cheap…

So about 30 minutes down the road I decide to open the bag and eat, and inside I find no empanadas; in their place are 5 enormous lomito sandwiches. WTF? Well, I am not going to turn around and go back for $3 worth of incorrect order in my favor, so I ate one and kept on trucking. In my mind, though, is “How do you botch an order like that when I am the only guy in there?” It’s not like there is some guy in LaPaz wondering why he has a bag of a dozen empanadas. Bienvenido a SudAmerica.

So at every place I stopped for gas, I tried to unload the sandwich surplus, and had no takers.

I got to Mendoza in the late afternoon. It had been quite a few years since I was here last, and I had forgotten how beautiful the whole area is. Seemingly endless high plains stretching out to the horizon, where they meet mountain ridges and then the snow-capped Andes beyond. Everything green and sunny and thriving. Life. Industry. Wal-mart. Ahhhh, civilization!

Beautiful Mendoza

Beautiful Mendoza

Past Mendoza and up into the mountains, past beautiful lakes and epic rocky peaks. The road was a pleasure to drive, despite its uphill grind at slower speeds. There wasn’t much traffic to pass, which was nice, and for the most part I had the whole road to myself. I like driving through tunnels. It must be a man thing. There were lots of tunnels, and it was cool. I reached the Chilean border checkpoint shortly before sunset. Sum total I was stopped twice at Argentine police checkpoints, but all they did was look at my drivers license and wave me on.

_DSCN0143

Up around 3500 meters, near the border, I started to feel the altitude headache creeping in, but I knew it wouldn’t last. However, at that altitude, you get loopy while waiting around at the bureaucrat lines in the border station. I suppose being sort of high on lack of oxygen makes it more tolerable.

_DSCN0146

The Argentine aduanas were boggled because the doofus at Fray Bentos failed to give me a piece of paper with a stamp in it, and that took them like an hour to muddle through. Also the Chilean folks were baffled by why I would have so many entries and exits in just 2 weeks. Seriously, the pile of stamped papers was ridiculous at this point, the Argentine temporary car import paper literally had no more room for stamps on it. They thought something was up, and my car got extra examination by the dog team. They didn’t open anything but my toolbox, though, which I had bought just last week, to hold all the Free-Floating Trunk Crap (TM), which the dog was fascinated by for some reason. I would have thought it would be obsessed by the alfajores or the 50 metric tons of lomito sandwiches in the front seat, but no. It was well-trained.

The time was made more pleasant, however, by the customs girl who kept asking me absurd humorous questions like, “Are you sure you don’t have a turtle in there?”

I’ve got a turtle in my pocket, baby…

And so the check was completed, I put all my shite back together, organized my mountain of papers, which will just go to the compost heap anyways, and rolled out. They didn’t make me get rid of the fucking lomito sandwiches and wouldn’t take them when I offered.

Bienvenidos a Chile!

Bienvenido a Chile!

Rolling down the pass into Chile, the crew is still working on fixing the road, and it is still closed down to one lane in places. Crazy switchbacks and no guard rails. Nice shiny new concrete, which has got to be a bitch to drive on when it’s wet. Good thing it is dry.

Between here and Santiago is only 100km or so, amazingly close.

I got home around 9:30pm, unpacked the BobMobile in its entirety, and took it back to its parking spot for a nice long rest. I cannot tolerate loose ends and so despite being at the point of complete physical and mental exhaustion, I had to finish unpacking or I could not live with myself. Capitalism!!!

Walking home, it felt nice to move my legs again. All done by 10pm. Climbed in the tub to pressure-wash the patina of road scum off of myself and then hit the sack.

I’ll have the totals up in my next post hopefully, after I go back to the car and gather all the receipts from this run.

My fridge is full of goddamn lomito sandwiches.

I love tech but it has gotten out of hand in terms of turning people into iPhone zombies. This wonderful gem of a short film is worth a watch. Are you that unfortunate odd-man-out, or are you among the infected?

Uruguay is painfully lame. I cannot understand why I lived here for so long. I can’t want to get the F out of here and back to Chile.

Trying to organize social gatherings with friends, and of course the cel network is completely broken. Nice timing, it being high season and all. Must be great for helping all those tourists find their way and get together with friends and family. Oh yeah, what tourists?

But I digress. Enjoy the video.

A team at the Manchester Metropolitan University has developed a new millimeter-wave mobile scanner that can detect hidden weapons on a human body from a distance of 25 meters. They claim it can differentiate between keys, mobile phones, belt buckles and other common harmless objects, and even detect 3d-printed guns.

“The machines work at a distance of up to 25 metres using low-power millimetre-wave radar signals that reflect off a weapon and back to the scanner, but without compromising people’s privacy or health.”

Well, back when I used a radar device on my boat, it had loads of health warnings not to be anywhere near the emitter when it was in use. Not anywhere near its path. The goal being to avoid being irradiated to cancer death levels by an otherwise “harmless” electronic device. Radar is not harmless, millimeter-wave or not.

Like Raaytheon’s “Active Denial System” which uses millimeter wave radiation.

With Raytheon the U.S. Air Force has developed a nonlethal weapon system called Active Denial System (ADS) which emits a beam of radiation with a wavelength of 3 mm. The weapon is reportedly not dangerous and causes no physical harm, but is extremely painful and causes the target to feel an intense burning pain, as if their skin is going to catch fire.

In testing, pea-sized blisters have been observed in less than 0.1% of ADS exposures, indicating that second degree surface burns have been caused by the device. The radiation burns caused are similar to microwave burns, but only on the skin surface due to the decreased penetration of shorter millimeter waves. The surface temperature of a target will continue to rise so long as the beam is applied, at a rate dictated by the target’s material and distance from the transmitter, along with the beam’s frequency and power level set by the operator. Most human test subjects reached their pain threshold within 3 seconds, and none could endure more than 5 seconds.

How is that not harmful? Oh, it won’t kill you. Immediately.

However, overexposures of either operators or targets may cause long-term damage including cancer. According to an official military assessment, “In the event of an overexposure to a power density sufficient to produce thermal injury, there is an extremely low probability that scars derived from such injury might later become cancerous. Proper wound management further decreases this probability, as well as the probability of hypertrophic scarring or keloid formation.”

Jesus.

So be sure to get “proper wound management” after your scan, terror suspect!

And remember, Millimeter Wave is safe! Just like x-ray machines, and drinking mercury!

I hit the road about 8am to head south. Leaving Paraguay was not a big deal, took about the same amount of time (40 minutes) as before to deal with the border crossing. I did get stopped by one police checkpoint on the eastern side of the bridge out of Asuncion, but after looking through my copious amount of papers and repeatedly saying my first name (to which I just nodded and said, “Si.”) he waved me on and wished me a bien viaje.

Then I got stopped again at the first police check in Argentina, they just asked where I was going, I told them Uruguay, and they waved me on. That was the extent of my police stops.

Driving through most of northern Argentina was uneventful. I had though I would pass through Paraguay by way of Encarnacion/Posadas but adding an extra day to my transit time was something I decided against. It’s been a week at this point; it’s time to move on. My body can’t take much more of this gas station food diet.

Most of the fields up here are sitting empty. 9 out of 10 are vacant now, just going overgrown with weeds. Maybe one with a few cows, goats, or sheep, but no commercial production anymore. All of that has gone to Uruguay or Paraguay, thanks to the Kirchner policies that made it nearly impossible to turn a profit in agriculture.

It’s sad, seeing it like this. It has turned into more of a backwards third-world area than Paraguay. And Paraguay has turned into even more of a cleaner, shining beacon of commerce than back when I had visited 2 years ago. From what I can see, Paraguay is the shock absorber of South America. Argentines, Brazilians, and Uruguayans all flock in, to avoid the impossible costs of their former countries. It seems like all of the business owners are foreigners. And it has driven up property costs accordingly. A generic two-bedroom apartment I could have bought 2 years ago in Asuncion for $50,000 is now $150,000. Other costs of living remain ridiculously low, like food and electricity.

Anyways, rolling through rural Argentina is like rolling through a ghost farm.

Then you get past Corrientes, and you are in the land of Gauchito Gil. For those who have never heard of him, including myself, he is a weird sort of Argentine folk hero elevated to religious status. It’s sort of like if Paul Bunyan had the healing powers of Jesus. You can read about it here. There are shrines to him everywhere, bearing red flags, and then at one point in my journey I drove through an entire little village dedicated to his worship. Red buildings on both sides of the road hawking the red flags, effigies, and souvenirs of Gauchito Gil. Strangely, there were also a high number of showers and toilets there. I don’t know what those were for. And at the end of the town, a huge sculpture of Gauchito Gil on a white horse.

450px-Gauchito_Gil_Rosario_1

It was shortly after Gauchito Gil’s pilgrimage site that the road turned horribly worse and after emerging from a massive pot hole, I noticed some ungodly noise coming from the back of the car. As if something was caught in the wheel and smacking around as I drove. So I stopped and had a look. I didn’t notice anything out of place, so then I checked the luggage to see if maybe something had flown out of place and was simply bouncing around in back against something else. Nothing. So I resumed, and so did the noise. Then I checked another few times, and it kept coming back. Ultimately, while I was rocking the car side to side, I saw the rear left shock absorber floating freely within the wheel well. Gauchito Gil was punishing me for not relieving myself at his shrine village.

It's not supposed to look like this.

It’s not supposed to look like this.

Yes, the Argentine rural roads are so bad that they will break your car. The shock mount was literally sheared off of the frame. Fortunately this is not a fatal injury, so I was able to drive another 30km to the little town of Curuzu Cuatia to find a mechanic to weld it back together for me. I asked around at the gas station, and they told me to head down the road that-a-ways and I would see the mechanic places on the right. So I did, and they were indeed there. One was closed, but the other, fortunately, was open.

I went in and told the guy in charge, “Uh, there’s a problem with my car.”

“You and the entire neighborhood, man,” he joked. So then we went to have a look. “Yeah, I can fix that. But I can’t get to it for another hour or so. Can you wait?”

“I don’t really have much of a choice,” I replied, and he then noticed the Chile plates. He gave me a knowing nod, then I told him I’d head to the gas station, where they had tables to sit and wait and watch the football game, and I’d be back. “How much do you think it will cost?” I asked.

“Eh, about 150 pesos.”

Hmm, well, that would exhaust the very last of my peso supply. I had nearly run out paying for gas before but fortunately I talked logic into the station attendant. After I filled up he told me that they didn’t take cards for payment, despite me seeing two card readers right behind him. After explaining I had no other way, he reluctantly agreed to use the card, and it worked without any problems. I assume that they don’t want to do card transactions because it takes a while for them to get their money, in pesos, and by the time they receive it, it has devalued. It was during this fill-up that I found, days later, well-cooked and smelling quite ripe, one of the suicidal birds from the crossing of the Chaco, wedged firmly headfirst in my radiator. I took a photo but somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate to post it here. But I digress…

I returned in an hour and we got to work. It was dark, and I held the flashlight while he welded. All in all it took about 30 minutes to get it finished but now it is as good as new.

I didn’t want to separate myself from my few remaining Argie pesos, seeing as there were a couple hours of Argentina remaining and I did not want to get stuck at a toll booth without proper money again, so I offered him a US$20 bill. He didn’t want to take it, he wanted pesos. “But this is worth, at the official rate, more or less 150 pesos Argentinos, and at the Dollar Blue rate, 200 or more.” He still wanted the Argie pesos, so that’s what I gave him. Weird considering that in Buenos Aires they can’t wait to trade with you, but out here where if they had banjos they would be a-pickin’, they don’t seem to get it.

I got back on the road, and maybe within half an hour the roads widened out to double-lane interstate highway style roads, without opposing traffic, and nice smooth pavement. Ahhhhhhhhh

And, fortunately, no more tolls.

I got to the Uruguay border at Salto around midnight. There was nobody else there. So we all joked around at the immigration/customs counter because nobody knew exactly how to deal with a guy coming in with an American passport, with an Argentine entry fee sticker in an older passport (which has a different passport number than the newer valid one), a Uruguayan cedula, and a Chilean car. For shits and giggles I gave them my Paraguayan cedula and Chilean cedula, to see if that would help. At this point, they said, “Well, so long as you’re not also Russian… are you?” to which I said, “Not yet” and we had a good laugh.

They approved everything and on I went with yet another stack of papers nobody will ever see or need or check. Crossing the Salto Grande dam, I entered Uruguay and the final few hours of my outward-bound journey. About an hour into this, it started to rain heavily. As in buckets. No visibility, tree branches blowing down into the road, wind throwing the car around, so I found a safe spot to pull off the road where I wouldn’t die, and slept in the car.

The sun woke me up, on Day 8, and I had 2 hours to drive to Montevideo to meet SwingDanceBob for some empanadas. We had a good lunch and good conversation, catching up, and then onward another 2 hours to Punta del Este to crash with MexicanBob. Now I have the fun task of packing up the last of my old stuff, attempting to do the paperwork to renew my gun permits, and then heading back across to Chile, a journey which I hope will only take 2-3 days.

Having experimented with various electronic toys in a search for decent television streaming, I have finally found a decent toy that works: the OUYA open-source video game console.

ouya

Playstation 3 is great for Netflix and Hulu, but to use it in a foreign country requires setting up VPN. And getting it to work with VPN services is sometimes problematic due to its limited internet settings. Having true 100% VPN on a PS3 means getting a specialty router and/or dealing with flashing the ROM on your existing router, if it can take the software and if the compatible software flash even contains the proper guts to put it permanently on VPN. And then what do you do with other internet devices you do not want on VPN all the time? Then you need a second router, of course! Obviously a complete pain in the ass. To top it off, there is no third-party software for generic video streaming on the PS3.

Xbox allows you to do generic video streaming through XBMC, so it’s not a bad toy to have, but $179 retail for the basic model is not cheap compared to the alternatives, and it’s not a small item to drag around with you if you travel a lot.

Raspberry Pi is cheap and small, but it is also limited in the extreme. It does have a passable OS release of XBMC; however the Raspberry Pi’s pickiness on power sources, lack of integrated wifi, and sound problems on HDMI make it undesirable unless you are fairly tech savvy and can fix these issues. And, by the time you have all the accessories you need to make the Pi viable as a TV box, you have spent more than enough to buy an OUYA.

The OUYA is a cheap ($99), tiny (3-inch cube), yet powerful Android-based console which now has a stable official release of XBMC. Through XBMC you can install the Navi-X plugin (among others) which lets you stream just about every channel known to mankind, from all over the world, for free. Sports, movies, tv shows, live cable networks, video-on-demand, and wacky foreign stuff you have never heard of before. Since XBMC/Navi-X uses generic video streaming, there is no need to use a VPN service for it to work. OUYA has a decent selection of indie video games to boot, and it can emulate older Playstation and Nintendo games as well, not to mention your classic arcade favorites.

At that pricepoint, size, and configurability, it pretty much beats out other video streaming toys like Slingbox.

The downside? XBMC can be daunting to set up for the beginner or non-tech-nerd, and it’s disorganized at best even for those of us who know what we are doing. Fortunately there are lots of YouTube videos for dummies that can walk you through setting it up.

Why not just use your laptop? Well, you can, but then you have no remote control from where you plant your arse, and then you have nothing to geek out on when you get those “must check IMDB to see who that actor is or what other movies they were in” moments. Plus all the constant plugging and unplugging of laptops and cables and adapters everywhere becomes another complete pain in the ass. It’s nice to have just one little dedicated box next to your TV with just the power and HDMI cables to hook up.

With some fiddling, you can get OUYA to stream all the music and video from your main computer, too. All in all it’s a good solution not just for international television, but to wirelessly integrate your media sources.

Sayonara, Japan

Posted: September 19, 2013 in Travel
Tags: , , ,

Japan is a great place. Because of the Japanese. They are one of the few cultures remaining with a sense of honor, propriety, and respect for life and property. They are excellent stewards of their environment and take very good care of their stuff. They didn’t always, but they are excellent learners-of-lessons in all aspects of life, and they pass it on to younger generations. Everything is done to a high level of attention to detail, lest one fall into dishonor for failure to provide excellence. Up until the 50s it was still a fall-on-your-own-sword event to cause dishonor, and fortunately that attitude, sans suicide, remains today. But only in Japan.

Why, oh why, don’t other cultures have this? It’s the opposite in South America; it’s viewed as failure or dishonor to ever finish anything!!! In the USA where wearing suits while lying/stealing/cheating/murdering is now a national sport, how I would love to start passing out swords and demanding Seppuku! We have become uncivilized.

It is unfortunate that the Japanese are about to learn the hard way about macroeconomic financial meddling, but hopefully once that damage is done, they will add it to their long list of Never-Agains. That’s if the Japanese remain on the planet in another 300 years. They are not reproducing fast enough to maintain their population, and immigration is tightly controlled and not helping much. It would be a shame to see these islands in the hands of anyone else, because they will be ruined otherwise. Japan must be kept Japanese.

It’s a shame other cultures don’t look here and want to emulate them. In my opinion, the best thing Japan can export is its culture. All the geegaws and shiny blinking electronics, those are nice, but please, PLEASE, export some Honor and Shame and Consequence to the rest of the world!!!

Nonetheless the Japanese do well with what they have, and they want to keep it for a good long time to come. It’s a fascinating place, with everything modern and new right beside things that have been around since the dawn of their civilization. Glowing tacky neon signs next to Shinto shrines, Zen temples across the street from flashy red-light-districts. It’s a crazy mix of art, culture, and technology thrown together, shaken thoroughly, and left to settle. It’s a blend of weird overzealous safety-mindedness right on top of live-and-let-live; volunteer trash pickup corps with uniforms and helmets and flags, with baton-weilding safety-cop escort, march past vending machines that sell beer, wine, and cigarettes to all ages. But it works. And I think it works because of the people and their culture. There are other countries with similar details but different culture, and it’s a failure.

It’s all about the Bushido.

Japan is an easy place to travel. You do not need to know Japanese so long as you know English. But a little bit helps. You’ll be largely illiterate but that’s OK. The locals are friendly and helpful and CORRECT. Meaning, when you receive directions or advice on this and that, or timing of things, or “it will arrive today,” it’s true. Not like some other countries I have discussed in this blog. Because if it turns out not to be true, some poor bastard gets throw on his sword, at least in his head, and the others will never let him hear the end of it. Shame is a powerful thing. Once again it’s all about the Bushido.

Japan also has the most impressive rail network I have ever seen. Not once did I have to use the bus (I did use the bus, but didn’t have to), rent a car, hitch a ride, etc. anything and everything even the intrepid tourist might want to see here can be reached by rail. I also made out like a bandit on my 3-week JR Pass, probably saving double what I paid for it. Maybe we should add the Shinkansen to the list of things Japan should export. It’s excellent.

Really I am beside myself here because I can’t find much to say about Japan that I did not like, and this does not appeal at all to my misanthrope side. I’m actually sort of thrilled at the same time, because Japan really appeals to the side of me that demands excellence, honor, and responsibility, and, well, though it wasn’t called the same thing when I learned it from Grandpa… Bushido. I will really miss Japan. I enjoyed it a lot. Holy crap, ExpatBob is broken! He’s saying nice things!

…for now.