Skip to content

Justin Mason's Weblog Posts


A classic byline:

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (July 24, 2002 9:37 p.m. EDT) – Losing your job, quitting school, going broke and moving back home with your mother after living abroad for years would be tough on anyone.

It’s even tougher when you’re a former military dictator who once had the power to execute opponents at will.

Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 15:54:43 +0100
From: “Martin Adamson” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Onetime dictator now broke, living with mom

World: Onetime dictator now broke, living with mom

Copyright © 2002 AP Online

By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (July 24, 2002 9:37 p.m. EDT) – Losing your job, quitting school, going broke and moving back home with your mother after living abroad for years would be tough on anyone.

It’s even tougher when you’re a former military dictator who once had the power to execute opponents at will.

Valentine Strasser became the world’s youngest head of state when he seized power in 1992 at the age of 25. But the limelight didn’t last – four years later, he was ousted in another coup.

“I’m basically living off my mother now. She’s been very supportive,” the 35-year-old said at a neighborhood bar on the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital.

“It’s been tough. I’m unemployed, but I’m coping.”

It was well before noon and the former president was doing what he often does on weekdays: Joking around with friends, playing checkers and sipping diligently on a plastic cup of palm wine – a cheap and highly potent alcoholic brew.

In contrast to the days when he commanded an army and courted the favor of foreign presidents, Strasser today seems to have reverted simply to being just another neighborhood kid.

Gone are the crisp military fatigues, new suits and wraparound sunglasses. In their place: A baseball hat worn backward, a Bob Marley T-shirt, dark green shorts and a pair of ‘Air’ Nike sneakers.

Asked how he spends his time now that he doesn’t have to rule the nation, Strasser took a drag of his cigarette and thought for a moment.

“I’ve been drinking palm wine,” he said. “You shouldn’t say that. But this is a democracy now. So go ahead.”

Things were very different a decade ago when Strasser, then a captain known for winning disco contests, headed up a group of twentysomething officers demanding unpaid salaries.

The protests snowballed into a popular coup that ousted dictator Maj. Gen. Joseph Momoh in April 1992.

Strasser was hailed as a savior by many. Even today, Freetown residents say he changed things for the better, drastically cutting inflation, cleaning up the capital and putting the long defunct national TV station back on air.

He and his junta – known as “the boys” because most were only in their 20s – scored points by waging war, if unsuccessfully, on the nation’s hated rebels.

But Strasser was no angel. The young ruler was widely criticized when his government executed two dozen alleged coup plotters without trial on a Freetown beach.

Strasser promised to hand over power in democratic elections in 1996. But he was beaten to the punch by his No. 2 man, Brig. Julius Maada Bio, who overthrew him in a bloodless coup in January that year.

Strasser was forced into exile and soon ended up in Britain, where the United Nations arranged a special scholarship for him to study law at Warwick University in Coventry.

University spokesman Peter Dunn said the former dictator spent 18 months at the school before dropping out, saying in a letter that he’d run out of money.

Media reports at the time said Strasser slipped away to London and changed his name to Reginald to avoid the press and potential enemies. In 2000, his student visa expired and he was deported.

Soon after, he made his way back to Sierra Leone, which is only now emerging peacefully from a decade of civil war in which rebels abducted children into their ranks and killed, raped and maimed tens of thousands of civilians.

Unlike many of the world’s former heads of state, however, Strasser was not treated to a generous government stipend or given a plush mansion or bodyguards.

A house he built for himself on the edge of town was burned down by aggrieved soldiers in 1999, so he moved into his mother’s two-story house across the street.

The government says Strasser is not entitled to benefits because he took power by force. Strasser concedes the point but says he should be treated better.

Last year, the government called on citizens not to throw stones at the former head of state, who without a car, was wandering around Freetown on foot.

But Strasser is still immensely popular among some, and may be able to capitalize on it. In five years, he’ll be eligible to run for president – something he says he’s considering.

Charismatic, muscle-bound and six-foot-two, he’s the dominant figure at the bar he often frequents, which stands tenuously together with bamboo poles and plastic sheeting somehow obtained from the U.N. World Food Program.

Whatever the future holds, Strasser will always have his high-profile past to relish.

“Oh it was good. I was the youngest … head of state in the whole wide world,” he said with a guffaw, looking around the bar for support.

Then he leaned forward with a wide smile and slapped a high-five on the hand of someone sitting across from him.

Comments closed


“An obsessive anti-abortionist who murdered a security guard has quoted Bible passages to a Supreme Court judge to try to prove he is not psychotic.” Fwded from forteana…

Date: Fri, 26 Jul 2002 07:15:31 +1000
From: Peter Darben (spam-protected)
To: “Forteana List”: ;
Subject: Chock full of sig potential

my favourites are the first and second-last paragraphs

—– (from The Herald Sun (Melbourne) 26.7.02)

Abortion clinic killer: I’m not psychotic By WAYNE HOWELL, Supreme Court reporter July 26, 2002

AN obsessive anti_abortionist who murdered a security guard has quoted Bible passages to a Supreme Court judge to try to prove he is not psychotic.

Peter James Knight, who killed Steven Rogers at a family planning clinic on July 16 last year, said he objected to taking oaths on religious grounds.

In April, a jury found Knight guilty of the killing. Knight was armed with a Winchester rifle and 14 rounds of ammunition.

For months after his arrest, Knight was known as Mr X because he refused to talk to police or reveal his name.

At a brief pre-sentence hearing yesterday, Knight agreed to the publicising of two psychiatrists’ opinions and of a letter he wrote to Justice Bernard Teague.

In his letter, Knight rejected psychiatrist Dr Ron Senadipathy’s opinion that he was psychotic. He said his opposition to taking oaths was not delusional but was based on biblical scripture.

“Firstly, James, chapter 5 verse 12 says: ‘My friends, above all else, don’t take an oath. You must not swear by heaven or earth or by anything else. Yes or no is all you need to say. If you … anything more you will

be condemned,” he told the judge in his letter.

Dr Senadipathy told the court Knight’s delusion about taking oaths had led to his living in a humpy in a forest so he did not have to take oaths or sign declarations by earning income or claiming social security.

The psychiatrist said Knight was a highly dangerous man who suffered chronic paranoid schizophrenia. “He committed the crime driven by his delusional interpretation of the Bible and moral values he developed accordingly,” Dr Senadipathy said in his report.

But another psychiatrist, Dr Justin Barry Walsh, said Knight was not mentally ill, just “odd”.

Knight believed taking oaths was childish nonsense and violated the Bible’s teachings.

Knight also said he had designed a perpetual motion machine and a better mousetrap, but was reluctant to give any detail for fear of being thought a nutcase.

The case was adjourned.

Herald Sun

1 Comment


EBay comes in handy as a “source of evidentiary ephemera for asbestos litigators”:

After a heated bidding war on EBay, Mark Lanier recently paid $2,125 to win a 1941 naval machinery manual. It sounds like a peculiar collecting hobby, but to Lanier it was serious business. The Houston lawyer, who sues companies on behalf of asbestos exposure victims, was bidding against a defense lawyer to get his hands on an evidentiary trophy filled with details on where and how asbestos was used aboard ships.

LA Times, via Gary Stock on the Irregulars list…

Comments closed


Here we go again — the Dead Russian Composer Personality Test. My result:

If I were a Dead Russian Composer, I would be Igor Stravinsky.

Known as a true son of the new 20th Century, my music started out melodic and folky but slowly got more dissonant and bizzare as I aged. I am a traveler and a neat freak, and very much hated those rotten eggs thrown at me after the premiere of The Rite of Spring.

Comments closed


Har har… a tale of two emails. Take one April 3 2000 post to ILUG:

The concept of revocable email addresses has been around for ages – once you’re set up to do subaddressing (such as [email protected]), it’s dead easy to do all by yourself, with the added bonus that you’re not dependant on some third party service provider.

Yep, sure I do it myself using virtusertable: [email protected] gets deleted once it gets spammed.

Forget all about it for 2 years…

… and eventually follow up with a 20 July 2002 spam to me:

Long Beach Film Festival – Now Accepting Films & Screenplays

The Long Beach Film Festival is now accepting screenplays and films (short, documentary & feature) in all formats. The winners’ work will be reviewed by a committee of established production companies. This is a great way to get exposure and even discovered in Hollywood.

What address was it sent to? Yes, that’s right — jm-latestdodgydotcomstock at Oh the irony.

Comments closed


Collatoral Spammage 2002, a “How much spam do you get?” survey, results here. (found via aaronsw’s blog).

Currently there’s a neat curve around 21-50 per week, and then a big jump at the 201-400 range, where I find myself (spamtraps not included — they get more like 30k spams a week ;)

I reckon this jump in the graph is a result of the poll URL being passed around people who are interested in the subject — who, if my experience is anything to go by, generally find themselves interested because they’re snowed under by the stuff.

Anyway, some further reading brings me to two TidBITS articles on the subject: Content
Filtering Exposed
and Email Filtering: Killing the Killer App.

For what it’s worth, I agree to an extent with Adam and Geoff on the subject: the mail delivery infrastructure should not be clogged up with content filtering, with two caveats. (read on for more)

… Some further reading brings me to two TidBITS articles on the subject: Content Filtering Exposed and Email Filtering: Killing the Killer App.

For what it’s worth, I agree to an extent with Adam and Geoff on the subject: the mail delivery infrastructure should not be clogged up with
content filtering — but with two caveats.

  • Unless the user wants filtering to take place: content filtering should be left to the user’s discretion. It makes me uncomfortable when I receive mails from some guy I’ve never corresponded with, asking “who the hell is SpamAssassin and what has he done to my mail?”. It’s clear in every case that what’s happened is that an ISP has installed SpamAssassin with the default configuration, which is oriented towards an end-user on a UNIX desktop, not some poor bought-a-windows-box-a-month-ago newbie.

    There’s a bucketload of documentation telling ISPs how to install for their situation, but clearly someone’s not reading it, and SpamAssassin gets a bad reputation as a result.

  • Unless the filters do something other than bounce or bit-bucket: False positives will always happen, so there has to be some way for the mail to be received correctly if it’s an FP. In SpamAssassin, we simply tag the mail, so the user can filter to a separate mailbox and scan those for FPs occasionally, and we document that FP’s do happen, and happen regularly.

    Bit-bucketing or bouncing the mail will either (a) mildly irritate some senders (“what do you mean my mail is porn?”), (b) greatly inconvenience other senders (the large-scale TidBITS case), or (c) result in an important mail going AWOL (the worst-case scenario). Not recommended.

With both (not either ;) of those caveats noted, it’s a vastly improved situation.

It’s worth noting as well that SpamAssassin also takes a “straw that broke the camel’s back” approach to avoid the “if mail contains ‘Viagra’, then bounce it” stupidity. Unless multiple problems are found in the message, it’s not filtered. That, along with the automatic whitelist, makes a big difference.

Comments closed


The Spam Has Got To Go — (link via HtP) —

“I used to think that spam was akin to junk mail that we all get in our physical mailboxes. I once even argued that I got more junk postal mail than junk email. Those days are long gone. It has now become a daily deluge. It is analogous to people driving by your house and stuffing your mailbox with trash and pornographic materials and other insults to your intelligence and your morals. People are advised to get a new email address to avoid the problem. That is analogous to having to pick up your furniture and family and move to a new house. And then within days if not hours, be found and have your mailbox stuffed once again.”

The author gets it right, until they hit the paragraph at the end stating (along with Jon Udell) that digital IDs and signed emails are the solution. That’s the problem — one can’t wander around telling all your correspondents to rebuild their email systems, and use new methods simply to talk to one. And even then, a whole new — and scary — layer of infrastructure needs to be built to issue, guarantee, and revoke the IDs, and let’s hope to ghod it’s not Verisign ;) It’s just not viable.

Comments closed


Damn, the Simputer development effort is running into money problems.

THE SIMPUTER — whose name is an acronym for Simple, Inexpensive, Multilingual Computer — was launched in April 2001. … Running on AAA batteries, they included a built-in speaker, microphone, telephone jack and modem as well as USB and smart card connectors. Internet browsers and e-mail applications would be standard. Among software that has been developed for the Simputer are applications covering electronic governance, literacy initiatives and dissemination of health information.

‘Nobody has built a computer for the rural and poor people. Also, there is no license for the hardware or software. That is probably the reason for their hesitation.’

Comments closed

(Untitled) haven’t looked at it in 6 months, but it’s got great stuff, like:

  • CRM-114 “is a system to examine incoming e-mail, system log streams, data files or other data streams, and to sort, filter, or alter the incoming files or data streams according to whatever the user desires. Criteria for categorization of data can be by satisfaction of regexes, by sparse spectra, or by other means. Accuracy of the sparse spectra function has been seen in excess of 99 per cent, for 10+ megabytes of learning text”.

  • Panorama Tools : “Software to View, Create, Edit and Remap Panoramic Images”. If I can ever afford to get all my photos printed, I’ll need this.

Comments closed


According to BrightMail, spam volume to their traps has quintupled in the last year; from 879,253 messages per month to 4,825,144. Insane. PDF graph here.

Comments closed


“(On July 4) Israeli officials reported that a missile may have exploded a few miles from an EL-AL plane flying over the Ukraine. Over the weekend, however, both the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and Ukraine’s National Space Agency indicated that a meteor rather than a terrorist attack may have been the cause of the atmospheric fireball explosion.”

Random musing: I saw a memorable meteor strike while I was visiting Fraser Island in Australia — while walking along in bright sunshine, without a cloud in the sky, a burning fireball streaked across the sky from west to east. It burnt up before it hit the sea, however. Wish I’d got a picture.

Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2002 09:35:37 +0100
From: Rachel Carthy (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Meteors target Israelis

CCNet 79/2002 – 8 July 2002

Only two days before a Space Roundtable at the United States Senate will address “The Asteroid Threat”, an atmospheric impact on July 4 (Independence Day) has set off a timely reminder that the impact hazard is not limited to large objects. Last Thursday, Israeli officials reported that a missile may have exploded a few miles from an EL-AL plane flying over the Ukraine. Over the weekend, however, both the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and Ukraine’s National Space Agency indicated that a meteor rather than a terrorist attack may have been the cause of the atmospheric fireball explosion…. The latest incident should serve as a catalyst to begin addressing the political, economic and security risks due to smaller NEOs, a perpetual threat that has been neglected for far too long.

–Benny Peiser, 8 July 2002

Comments closed


Hooray! Dug my headphones out from the box where they’ve been stowed for the last 6 months, found my mp3 backups, and I can finally listen to music again! Current top picks (in a retro style):

  • Tribe of Issachar – original dubplate

  • Barrington Levy – Under Mi Sensi

  • Congo Natty – Champion DJ

  • Hyper-On Experience – Lords of the Null Lines

  • Sizzla – Praise Ye Jah

Man, I missed good reggae on my holidays — there’s only so much Bob Marley you can take ;)

Comments closed


Biological Warfare and the “Buffy Paradigm”.

Any structured intellectual approach to describing this situation (biological warfare) — and planning for it — is so uncertain that a valid structure can only be developed as an exercise in complexity or chaos theory. I, however, would like you to think about the biological threat in more mundane terms. I am going to suggest that you think about biological warfare in terms of a TV show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that you think about the world of biological weapons in terms of the Buffy Paradigm, and that you think about many of the problems in the proposed solutions as part of the Buffy Syndrome.

My ghod. It’s not quite as bad as Jerry Pournelle and SDI in the 80’s, but it’s getting there…

Comments closed


“Archaeologists can now say with confidence what life was like for the Roman legionaries stationed at the end of empire: in Carlisle, almost 2,000 years ago – it rained all the time and it stank of fermented fish.”

Synchronicity! The fermented fish paste cropped up at the weekend, too. Described in the article as “a luxurious import from Spain and undoubtedly one of the most prized possessions of a wealthy Roman officer” and (in Latin on the amphora) “Tunny fish relish from Tangiers, old”, this was made near my parents’ house in Torrox in Andalucia, Spain — or at least, if it was common across Spain, the Torrox version was much prized by the Romans.

Sadly, it’s no longer made. But I’m a bit of a fish paste fan — you can’t make decent Thai or Laotian food without nam pla, and for a taste sensation on toast, Patum Peperium (“The Gentleman’s Relish”) is unbeatable in a steampunk-breakfast kind of way. In fact, the Roman paste sounds very similar. (Link)

Date: Tue, 09 Jul 2002 09:12:12 +0100
From: “Tim Chapman” (spam-protected)
To: forteana (spam-protected)
Subject: Roman sauce,3604,751857,00.html

Legionaries’ lament of mushy fish

Dig reveals Roman Carlisle

Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent

Tuesday July 9, 2002

The Guardian

Archaeologists can now say with confidence what life was like for the Roman legionaries stationed at the end of empire: in Carlisle, almost 2,000 years ago – it rained all the time and it stank of fermented fish.

The historians assured the mayor of Carlisle that their latest piece of research tasted much better than it looked, which still left considerable room for argument.

The fish sauce, recreated from an authentic Roman recipe, and served up at Carlisle Castle last night, looked appalling.

“It looked frankly like something Baldrick would have served Blackadder. Actually it looked just like mud – lumpy mud,” one sceptical diner said. Martin Allfrey, English Heritage head of collections, said firmly: “It did look slightly off putting, but pesto, which everyone likes now, isn’t exactly a picture of loveliness either. It tasted – well, perfectly all right. Quite interesting, really.”

The broken container of fish sauce, which was a luxurious import from Spain and undoubtedly one of the most prized possessions of a wealthy Roman officer, was one of hundreds of thousands of objects found in a large dig at Carlisle Castle, which turned into one of the richest Roman excavations in Britain.

The condition of many of the finds, perfectly preserved in the sodden soil, was startling. There were almost 10,000 pieces of leather and timber – including dozens of pieces of complex wooden drainage pipes, suggesting that coping with the rain was a signifcant headache for the Romans.

Among thousands of pieces of broken pottery there was a nondescript chunk of the neck of a common amphora, which still had an attached label. In Latin it promised that its contents were “Tunny fish relish from Tangiers, old”, “for the larder”, “excellent” and “top quality”.

Tangiers is believed to have described the style of the sauce, rather than the origin, which was probably Cadiz. The sauce was made of tuna fish chopped into chunks, salted, and then fermented in its own juice packed into a clay amphora – the one at Carlisle would have held at least a gallon of sauce.

For last night’s guests this unlovely greeny brown sludge was then diluted with garlic, thyme, cumin, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil and wine.

Comments closed


Phew! That took a while, and it was only the watch-camera pics. The 1000 “proper” photos may take a while longer to get up. But without further ado, here’s some shots from my travels:

  • New Zealand (March)

  • Thailand and Laos (April)

  • Nepal (May)

  • India (June)

  • BTW regarding the Nepal image above: we must have just missed these guys, but their MS-sponsored patches (surely “service packs”? snicker) were much in evidence along the trail.

    Comments closed


    The evolved keyboard.

    Danny O’Brien:

    Mac Websites have this quality of I’ve been exploring and stumbled upon this cool (yet mysterious) trick! How endlessly curious is my strange friend!. Linux sites have much less of this idea of PC as mysterious black box. Tips tend to come with long explanations attached as to why they work, and why all other ways of doing it are Considered Dangerous.

    (both via BoingBoing.) BTW I’ve removed swhack — which seems to have 404’ed — and replaced it with Oblomovka and Aaron’s blog.

    Comments closed


    One for Ireland Offline — the Pew Research Center’s report The Broadband Difference: How online Americans’ behavior changes with high-speed Internet connections at home.

    For broadband users, the always-on, high-speed connection expands the scope of their online activities and the frequency with which they do them. It transforms their online experience. This has led to steady growth in broadband adoption among Net users. Since the Pew Internet Project first inquired about the nature of users home connection in June 2000, the number of high-speed home users has quadrupled from 6 million to 24 million Americans. This places home broadband adoption rates on par with the adoption of other popular technologies, such as the personal computer and the compact disc player, and faster than color TV and the VCR.
    Comments closed


    Good NYT article on spam. Worth blogging, despite it’s age, for this stat:

    A (Federal Trade Commission) survey showed that 63 percent of “remove me” options (on spam mail) either did not work or resulted in even more e-mail.

    I’ve tested this, too, but it’s nice to have such an authoritative source to quote.

    However, they missed SpamAssassin — totally off their radar, it seems. I wonder why?

    Comments closed


    Interesting notes on level design in 3D games. FPS means first-person shooter, TPS third-person shooter. Both refer to the position of the “camera” while you’re playing.

    In an FPS, realistic room sizes would be pretty much what they are in real life, in a TPS they’re closer to double that of real life. If your average bedroom is 4×5 meters and 2.5 meters high, in a TPS the size would be 8×10 meters and the height 4 meters; the great thing about larger sizes is that the characters are easier to control and the spaces don’t even feel too big!

    But what about furniture? If the room is 150-200 percent of realistic size, surely the pieces of furniture need to be large as well? Not exactly. The best approach really is to make the furniture close to real life scale as the characters in the game are as well of real size — making the furniture larger would result in the characters looking like children and that’s definitely something you should avoid. Please note I’m not saying you shouldn’t scale the furniture, but rather than the effect should be kept to a bare minimum; making the pieces 10-20 percent larger than what’s realistic still results in close enough real size tables, chairs, couches etc., but it also ensures the rooms don’t look overly large. Its also important to remember the spacing between the pieces — even if they are about real life size, the space between doesn’t need to be, go with whatever still looks good and makes the movement of the characters easier.

    A good rule of thumb for all this is to make things the player gets near closer to the their real life size. Objects further away can be too large, as it often makes the space look of more realistically sized. Another pointer to keep in mind is a thing they teach people studying architecture: one centimeter on the floor is ten on the wall is a meter in the ceiling – as your gaze is usually downward, you tend notice small things on the ground more easily than larger ones in the ceiling.

    Comments closed


    Whoops — another SpamAssassin plug, this time from Peter G. Neumann, moderator of the RISKS Forum. Looks like I’m collecting the entire Internet Secret Cabal at this rate!

    Comments closed


    I’m back! And I wrote a long, well-thought-out update, and poxy, broken SuSE 8.0 ate it, without even leaving a dead.letter turd. Bastard.

    But in the meantime, I must note that it’s mind-bogglingly cool to have people like Salon, Bruce Sterling, Simson Garfinkel and Cory at BoingBoing plugging SpamAssassin, and to come back to Ireland to find that dogma, our humble server, got slashdotted as a result!

    In passing — it looks like Danny O’Brien now has a blog called Oblomovka. Worth taking a look at. I’m still struggling through several thousand mails, so for now even adding it to my bookmarks is on the to-do list.

    Comments closed


    OK, we’re back in Pokhara, after a 10-day trek up to the Annapurna Base Camp. Much fun, and much dhal bhat, was had by both of us, despite some initial scariness…

    Basically, myself, Catherine and Bhadra our guide, spent a very pleasant first night in Dhampus, the first stop on the 10-day trek. Much rakshi (local millet booze, tastes like watered-down lukewarm vodka) was imbibed, resulting in some seriously ludicrous attempts at Nepali dancing! Thankfully there’s no photos.

    Next day, we hiked up to the next town, Pothana, over some very leechy trails (top leech tip: cover your boots in salt, they can’t stand it). All well and good, until halfway through the town a Dutch guy ran out of a teahouse and stopped us, telling us that an English couple had been attacked in the forest just outside the town — of course, we immediately went to meet them. The guy had a bloodsoaked bandage tied around his head, and told us how himself and his girlfriend had been walking through the forest towards the next town, Landruk, when a Nepali guy approached. The English guy said namaste (hello), and was rewarded with a wallop over the head with a 6-foot stick! They then stole his girlfriend’s rucksack and attempted to take his, but (somehow) he managed to fight them off with half of the stick, then escaped.

    With some help (and interpreting) from Bhadra, we found out from the locals that there was a gang of robbers operating in this forest, and a week previous to this, 2 Swedish girls had to be airlifted out because they were too badly beaten to walk! Serious problem — and one nobody had bothered to inform any of us tourists about!

    After this, the 8 tourists, and their respective guides and porters, all trooped out of the village — Bhadra knew a quick route back to the road over a ridge, which saved us a half-day’s walk back via Dhampus. Along the way, the English couple were stopped by what seemed to be the entire village, who were having a very heated conversation. The upshot was that they wanted the English couple to wait around for a half day until some of the men returned from the forest, hopefully with captive robbers in tow, and then the whole lot would get the bus back to Pokhara (the nearest city) and give out stink to ACAP, the Annapurna Conservation Area Project, who run the area. The English couple agreed, and we went on.

    Eventually, we sidetracked around to another way up the trek. Myself and Catherine were the only 2 tourists to head up — everyone else decided to head back to Pokhara, but we were happy enough with Bhadra’s assurances that this route was very well-travelled, with no forests and no known robberies (by day at least).

    It turned out for the best in the end — we had an amazing trek, got loads of pictures, saw the entire Annapurna range from the Annapurna Sanctuary, no clouds, and no further robberies. And lots of rakshi!

    In the end, we heard through the grapevine that the robbers had been attacked by the local Maoists (the police don’t patrol the mountains any more). One 17-year old robber was shot, and 2 more had their arms and legs broken. Rough justice in the traditional paramilitary law enforcement style, I guess. (By the way, the Maoists enjoy about 80% support in the mountains, from what we’ve heard).

    The remaining robbers hightailed it to Pokhara as well (they were not locals), and were eventually arrested. Hopefully the Nepalese law enforcement system can sort it out – corruption is apparently rife, but around here they take these kind of tourist-targeting attacks very seriously — for many people, it’s their livelihood, and it’s already suffered a lot this year due to the political situation.

    So, a happy ending for us, and a warning for anyone else out there thinking of doing the Annapurna Sanctuary trek — stick to the known-safe trails, and bring a Nepali guide/porter for extra safety.

    Photos will be forthcoming once we get back to Ireland, earn some money, get them developed and scan them in. This could take several months though… ;)

    Comments closed

    Laos: Speedboats and Pla Beuk

    Latest update: (This one’s a bit lazy. I’m just editing Catherine’s mail to travelogue, adding a few bits.)

    We flew from New Zealand to Bangkok on the 18th of April. From Bangkok we headed for Laos via Nong Khai in North-eastern Thailand, on a comfy first-class train carriage again (spoiling ourselves!).

    We then made for the Northern Thai border, passing through Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.

    Vang Vieng is a tiny little town which has evolved into a tourist chill-out zone for falang (foreign) and south-east Asian tourists alike — we spent a nice afternoon with a group of holidaying Thai Buddhist monks, jumping into a deep river pool on a rope swing! (Camera was out of film for that one, sorry folks). Great fun spot though.

    Having said that, Luang Prabang was definitely the highlight, I would highly recommend anybody to go there. The city is crammed with Buddhist temples from the 14th to the 21st century counterbalanced with crumbling old french colonial architecture. All of this is set by the Mekong river, filled with river traffic of all descriptions from water buffalo to large chinese sampans.

    After this we headed for Thailand, up the Mekong river, on a speedboat. These are a reasonably insane way to travel, hitting speeds of 80km/h, and shooting the occasional rapids! We’d heard it was possible to have to wait a day or two before getting on a boat, so we paid extra to pre-book, just to make sure it was OK.

    Things started badly, with an hour and a half delay as our pre-booked tickets didn’t really seem to make a difference; eventually we persuaded our boat to get underway, with 7 passengers instead of the promised max 6.

    Then we hit Pakbeng, the halfway point, had a spot of lunch, and waited another bonus 1/2 hour, before our driver informed us that we’d be changing boats after the 2 Lao passengers left, leaving 4 falang in the boat. (The passenger details may seem meaningless, but I think he’d never have embarked on the next bit if a local was around to give him a bollocking).

    It turned out our new driver had a nice sideline in trading pla beuk (giant Mekong catfish) and live monitor lizards up and down the river! After about 6 stops for chats, buying and selling, our group of 4 was joined by his 2 mates, 2 sacks of live lizards, 2 2-meter-long live pla beuk and another large, live mystery fish, all thrashing about occasionally. I’d wanted to see a pla beuk, but not this much!

    Eventually we lost the rag a bit, and I think this got us to Huay Xai before the border post shut for the day. Not a good experience. For reference, our tickets were booked through a ticket agent 2 doors up from the LPB Lao Aviation office (one of our co-passengers booked through the Lao Aviation office itself), and our agent had assured us that these things — or the ones we could foresee at least! — were not going to happen. Suggestion: don’t bother pre-booking, or if you do, make sure you get these assurances in writing!

    Anyway, after that we made it into Thailand, pretty sure we were going to be stuck in Chiang Khong (we’d missed the last bus to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai, our intended destination). But the good news was that an agent of Namkhong Travel was touting on the far side of the Thai border post, and got 3 of us onto a very comfortable, very reasonably-priced private air-con minibus bound for Chiang Mai — so see, touts are good! Namkhong Travel certainly get my thumbs-up anyway.

    So we are currently in Chang Mai which we missed on our last visit, and ahead of schedule no less. We are not sure exactly what to do next, we have a few days to mess about with, as we are leaving SE Asia on the 11th of May to fly to Nepal.

    Comments closed


    Writing from an internet cafe in Luang Prabang, Laos. It’s sweltering, of course, so we’ve spent a day hiding in the shadows of wats (temples) and drinking pineapple and lemon shakes.

    Despite warnings of bbq’ed rat and grilled frogs, we’ve found the food to be excellent — laap and sticky rice being the top favourite at the moment. Back to Thailand in a few days for more top tucker!

    Comments closed


    Well, we’re back in Auckland after zooming around the South Island. Got to meet up with June and Vin in Christchurch for a tasty meal and much yakking about NZ; take a look at that site for pictures and imagine me and Kate instead of June and Vin, and you’ll have a good idea of what we’ve been up to… I haven’t even developed the photos we’ve taken yet!

    We did meet up with a mate from Dublin — Yvonne; we didn’t even know she was over here, but there you go. Basically, we wandered into a Dept of Conservation (they manage the National Parks) office in Queenstown, intending to get some ideas of good walks to do, and who was working behind the counter but the girl herself. Small world! So we all did a 20km hike. WTF is New Zealand doing to us?!

    Anyway, next update will probably be from Thailand — we still haven’t firmed up an itinerary yet. Let’s hope the political situation in Nepal settles down before we get there…

    Comments closed


    We’re currently zooming through New Zealand in the cheapest way possible,

    while still managing to see some stuff - very hectic and lots of early 

    mornings. Managed to see lotsa dolphins close-up and do a 15km trek to see a crater lake on Mt Ruapehu (“see” in quotes because it was pissing rain and so foggy we could barely see 100m anyway).

    Good laugh being had anyway, although there’s a danger we’ll catch scurvy from all the cheap noodles and packet pasta we’re eating…

    Comments closed


    Help! We’re staying in a tent in a malarial swamp for 56 bucks a night! Can you spell rip-off?

    But I think that’s Byron Bay for you. We’ll probably stay here tonight for the night that’s in it — there’s lots of bars here (happy Paddy’s Day), then rock up to Lennox Head, which sounds like a thoroughly nicer (and cheaper) beach chill-out kind of place. With any luck Lennox Head has less fairy-tat-selling hippie shops, flaming jugglers, etc. as well.

    Fraser Island was cool, dingoes spotted, still no snakes or sharks though! BTW I’m not impressed by the “that’ll kill ya, mate” stories — IMO, picnics in th’ oul’ sod are more beset by stinging insects, plants, and rampaging animals than this place is (Queensland stingers and crocs excepted). Sure, there are dangerous animals out there, but they’re extremely rare, whereas the minor irritations of aggressive wasps and nettles are far too common at home. Plus the weather’s nicer here ;)

    In other news I’ve just plumped for a copy of Lord of the Rings, so my reading will be sorted for the next few months I think!

    La Feile Padraig shona diobh, will update again soonish…

    Comments closed


    Touching land once again! Much swaying is taking place as the sea legs wear off.

    The Whitsundays are lovely — a great archipelago of 74 islands off the Queensland coast, with beautiful blue seas and white coral and sand beaches. Good fish-watching too: pairs of cuttlefish, some large coral and potato cod, and — best of all — a huge (1.5m) Maori wrasse called “Elvis”. Catherine got some diving in, but I was surface-bound by a nasty cold so had to stick with snorkeling. Still, I think I saw more fish, ha.

    Now off to Hervey Bay and Fraser Island (via the night bus. argh). Another update at that point!

    Comments closed


    Well, just back from diving on the Great Barrier Reef; lots of good fish, and no attacks from groupers called “Grumpy”, thankfully.

    Disappointingly, there were no sharks either. But I spotted lots of other good wildlife; a good few green turtles munching coral, lionfish, and some pretty large coral cod.

    Great diving! Hopefully the pictures will come out OK once they’re developed — if so, I’ll scan ’em. First though, there’s sailing in the Whitsundays…

    Comments closed


    Hi travelogue readers! Quick links for photos (probably will be very infrequently updated…)

    Just back from tree-hugging around Victoria’s national parks; now in Sydney, bodysurfing! Great Barrier Reef next.

    (Before I sign off, I have to note NTK calling me an “official NTK hero”. How nice is that? Cheers Danny ‘n’ Dave…)

    Comments closed


    One last blog. This has to be noted as a worthy aim. Ben writes:

    I think it would be mildly amusing if a lot of people were to visit this page and enter star ratings and customer reviews that do a little bit to repay Mr. Myers in kind for what he has so unstintingly given to so, so many people over the years.

    Read on for more…

    Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2002 12:38:31 -0800
    From: ben walsh (spam-protected)
    To: (spam-protected)
    Subject: Kevin Myers

    It is an indication of the hidebound and inflexible organisation of “The Irish Times” that they continue to give space — almost daily! –to Myers to vent his bilious spleen. What is particularly upsetting is that the column is in some ways an inheritor of Myles na gCopaleen’s brilliantly witty “Cruskeen Lawn” column. The humour is gone — Myers’ concept of this artform is to invent silly names for organizations which advance opinions he holds in contempt, especially those concerning women. Myers’ deep-seated loathing for women and schoolboy paranoia about lesbians and female orgasms is always close to the surface, so he sneers about the “Afro-Lesbian Collective of Limbless Veterans of the Falklands War” when he wants a “politically correct” straw man he can savage. Where Myles was inclusive in his satire; mocking “bores” that we could all recognize aspects of in ourselves and our friends, satirizing real people and events in a humourous and effective way, Myers is all vitriol; removed from any semblance of real life and especially the company of women, he inveighs against imaginery opponents wildly, inaccurately and without the benefit of the scholarship he fondly imagines himself to possess.

    What Myers is in favour of is hard to say. His slavish admiration of anything English and upper class is evident in his hatred for the “lower orders”, as evidenced by this recent screed in which he fawns over the accomplished Fiennes family by asking why there is no “Sharon Fiennes, aged 23, the mother of seven children, in some tower block in London? She too, no doubt, belongs to the nowharmean linguistic subgroup. Her delightful offspring are of various racial origins, with an uncertain number of fathers (owing to drink having been taken on most of the nights in question, nowharmean; maybe even the odd threesome or two, eeer, wotchadoin, o-aw-righthen, nowharmean). Possible fathers might exceed the dozen, though no one really knows, least of all Sharon, and of course none of these fine lads is paying a single penny in maintenance, no-wharmean.”

    Ignorant misogyny, racism and snobbishness wrapped up into one piece of vicious, hateful bile: that is the writing of Kevin Myers.

    Similarly, a recent clerical controversy inspires in Myers a sudden passion for Christian orthodoxy which we never knew he possessed. Comments by a church Dean questioning the ressurection were deemed so off-the-wall by Father Kevin that he depicted a world turned upside-down as a consequence of the Dean’s thinking. And, this being Kevin Myers, the female orgasm had to make an appearance as he talked of a nude Mother Superior herding a group of nuns to: “The Anne Summers sex shop, of course … Batteries or mains, girls?”

    It is sad beyond measure that “The Irish Times” publishes this hateful prattle so often and under the “Irishman’s Diary” byline, when an occasional guest opinion piece is all the insight into this sick worldview is more than is called for. Sadder still that a publishing house chose to compile and sell a collection of this output. Beyond comprehension that anyone would buy it.

    1 Comment


    End Of Bloggage, for now — updates will be infrequent for the next few months. I’m off! travelling back to Ireland via

    • Oz
    • NZ
    • Bangkok, then overland to Laos and Vietnam (hopefully)
    • Nepal, then overland to India
    • and finally back to Ireland via Frankfurt

    there will be intermittent bloggage ’til then. See y’all soon…

    Comments closed


    Aaagh! I’m going to be diving in the Great Barrier Reef pretty soon. Gotta avoid this bugger — having my head chewed by a giant 100-kilo grouper called “Grumpy” is not my idea of fun, let alone when it’s 20 metres down.

    (The diver said:) It came from underneath me. I never saw it coming. Then it was just ‘bang’ and I was inside the fish’s mouth. It ripped off my regulator but my mask was still on and then, just as suddenly, it let me go. …

    (The dive instructor said:) Giant grouper have very powerful jaws. Grumpy could have crushed Andre’s head like a soft peach and snapped his neck like a twig. That’s why I think Grumpy was only being playful.

    Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2002 10:01:07 -0000
    From: Mark Pilkington (spam-protected)
    To: (spam-protected)
    Subject: “Grumpy was only being playful”,4057,3660475%255E2765,00.html

    How I survived being gulped by a giant fish

    DOWN IN THE MOUTH: Swedish tourist Andre Ronnlund is lucky to be alive after being swallowed by a giant grouper



    A MAN who was swallowed by a fish while diving on the Great Barrier Reef has told of how he was “stalked” by the creature which tried to make a meal of him.

    Swedish backpacker Andre Ronnlund, 24, thought he was going to die with his head in the mouth of a giant grouper while diving at Yongala, off Townsville, last month.

    “In the beginning, it was fun,” he said, speaking for the first time of his bizarre ordeal. “Me and my diving buddy had never seen such big fish.

    “But then it came right up to within inches of our faces and followed us everywhere we went. I felt it was a little bit threatening and I didn’t like it.”

    Running short of air, Mr Ronnlund decided to signal his diving buddy that he was going to surface.

    That’s when the 100kg grouper – a local legend called Grumpy estimated to be 80 years old – made his move.

    “I was hit from underneath and everything suddenly went black. My breathing gear was shredded. I was inside the mouth of this big fish and I blacked out,” he said.

    “At first I thought it was a shark. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t know what hit me.

    “I was as helpless as a prawn on the proverbial barbie and I thought, ‘This is it’, and I would end my days as fish food.

    “I was stuck in its mouth and it was squeezing pretty hard. I felt the blood running down my neck and I couldn’t move. I was in great pain, just waiting to die.”

    Mr Ronnlund was about 20m down when he was attacked.

    “It came from underneath me. I never saw it coming. Then it was just ‘bang’ and I was inside the fish’s mouth. It ripped off my regulator but my mask was still on and then, just as suddenly, it let me go.”

    As he reached for his emergency air supply, Mr Ronnlund had to put the boot in as Grumpy came back for another bite.

    “I gave him a kick between his eyes and he swam back towards the bottom.”

    Mr Ronnlund, who had been blase about stories of the dangers of Australian wildlife, is believed to be the only person to report a grouper attack.

    Dive instructor Merv Ruggeri, of Adrenalin Dive company, said Mr Ronnlund was lucky to be alive.

    “Giant grouper have very powerful jaws. Grumpy could have crushed Andre’s head like a soft peach and snapped his neck like a twig. That’s why I think Grumpy was only being playful.”

    Mark Pilkington (spam-protected)

    “The blood is the life, but electricity is the life of the blood.” Dr Carter Moffat, 1892 :Strange Attractor :Fortean Times online :Magonia online :Kosmische Club

    Comments closed


    The Turkish Star Wars. I reckon this has got to be seen.

    What can anyone say? “The Turkish Star Wars” makes film criticism moot. From the early days of the flickering shadow scenes in the Lumiere Brothers’s shorts through today’s digital cinema, there has never been a film quite like this. Help us, Obi Wan Kenobi…help us!

    Date: Fri, 26 Oct 2001 11:13:05 +0100
    From: “Tim Chapman” (spam-protected)
    To: forteana (spam-protected)
    Subject: The Turkish Star Wars


    by Phil Hall

    1982, Un-rated, 85min, Shocking Videos (spam-protected) (10/26/2001)

    The Turkish film industry has a curious tradition of appropriating Hollywood classics and remaking them on a budget roughly equivalent to the price of lunch at a neighborhood kebab shop. Devoted readers of Film Threat will recall “The Turkish Wizard of Oz,” which tossed the MGM classic over an Istanbul rainbow and into a realm of utter surrealism, and there are also Turkish-based versions of “Star Trek,” “Tarzan,” “Superman” and even “E.T.” lurking about.

    However, none of this knowledge could possibly prepare you for the jaw-dropping insanity of “The Turkish Star Wars.” This film is not actually a scene-for-scene remake of the George Lucas landmark, although it shamelessly pirated the special effects footage from the 1977 original and tacked it into a feverish nightmare of celluloid dementia which needs to be seen if only to prove how far the minds of lunatic filmmakers can run. Prepare yourself, because the only way to appreciate “The Turkish Star Wars” is to follow the storyline through its labyrinthine lunacy.

    Long ago in a Turkish-speaking galaxy far, far away, the universe is being imperiled by a quartet of evildoers: two bush-haired men wearing Mardi Gras costumes, a slutty babe dressed as Cleopatra, and a blue robot with an ambulance light on his head. (I am not making this up…I could not possibly make this up!) Their fleet of spaceships go to war against the flying saucers of a heroic group of rebels, and for several minutes the screen is filled with F/X footage from a battered print of “Star Wars.”

    … and so forth to the horrid climax: …

    Now it’s time for a showdown between our golden gloved good guy and the entire cast of miscreants. A huge rumble takes place in an open field, with the villains getting their heads decapitated left and right. While this is going on , footage from the outer space battles in “Star Wars” is repeated, along with scenes from a film about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. After much derring-do and chopping, the bad guys are vanquished and everyone lives happily ever after. The man with the golden gloves goes back into outer space, leaving his chemically-enhanced blonde lady friend behind to clean up all of the severed heads.

    What can anyone say? “The Turkish Star Wars” makes film criticism moot. From the early days of the flickering shadow scenes in the Lumiere Brothers’s shorts through today’s digital cinema, there has never been a film quite like this. Help us, Obi Wan Kenobi…help us!

    Comments closed