Thursday, February 28, 2008

Paper or Plastic? Neither!

For a long time now, I have eschewed plastic bags at retail stores, and instead (whenever possible) asked for paper. I figure that even if it certainly takes energy and trees to create the bags, at least they don't overwhelm landfills and kill wildlife after disposal. Plus, I used them a second time, either for kitchen trash or cat litter.

But over the last year, Veva and I have started being much more conscientious about bringing canvas bags with us when shopping so we can avoid having to use either paper or plastic.

The problem for me is that I would run out of bags for garbage. What's a tree-hugger to do?

Veva solved the problem. She found 100% biodegradable and compostable bags from BioBag.

The bags are made of Mater-Bi, made by Novamont SpA. Here is what BioBags says about their products:

"All of our products contain GMO free starch, biodegradable polymer and other renewable resources. No polyethylene is used in the production process. BioBag products meet ASTM D6400 specifications and California SB 1749 requirements. We will never compromise our earth or our standards."

Sounds good to me!

So....if you do not already live in a sane part of the world - that is, a part of the world where plastic bags are no longer given away free and in great, profligate quantity -- and you desperately want to avoid filling up our world with plastic, order a bunch of BioBags.

And then buy yourself a bunch of reusable, durable canvas bags to bring home your food and other products from stores.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ruminations on the Eyeball Economy

Do you like advertising? When I am asked this question, I usually reflexively answer: "No! I hate advertising."

Yet to be honest, I often enjoy ads quite a bit. They can be incredibly creative, funny, surprising, emotional, and more.

Upon reflection, what that means, really, is that I appreciate the art in the ad.

So let's strip the art, creativity, imagination and so on from the ad. We are then left with an effort to convince us to buy something. OK, and now I will ask myself that same question again: "Do you like advertising (without the art)?"

And now I can answer most definitively: "No!"

I expect you would probably say the same thing, especially when you are forced to sit through a third or fourth repetition of the very same ad in order to get back to that really interesting movie. Don't you just hate that?

Ah, but isn't the art and creativity worth a touch of selling?

Well, it's worth lots more than that. In fact, I often think of advertising as a "pact with the devil." I accept advertisements (in newspapers, magazines, on television, as visual pollution along the highways, and so on) in order to get things for free or (theoretically, that is, according to advertising agencies) at a reduced cost.

If not for ads, we are told, we would have to pay for all the television shows we see.

If not for ads, newspapers would cost $10 an issue.

If not for ads,....well, you get the idea (and had it before you read this).

Why don't I like being urged to buy something? Because it seems to me that the selling part of advertising is fundamentally about coercion, manipulation, and shadings of the truth from omission to outright deception. It is about trumping objective, rational decision-making with irrational choices (more on irrationality below).

Impervious to ads?

I like to say (most emphatically) that advertising does not affect my buying decisions. And that may be true, relatively speaking (for example, I never - or hardly ever - click on a sponsored link on a Google search page. I watch almost no commercial television.). Yet it would be presumptuous of me at best to make the claim that messages beamed into my brain from almost every angle and experience in my urbanized, ad-saturated world have no effect whatsoever.

And even if the impact of ads is fairly minimal on me, it surely must be having the desired effect on hundreds of millions of other people. I may not have lots of positive things to say about the simultaneously brutal and liberating economic system called Capitalism, but it is clear that money is spent where and how it is able to generate more money. Advertising works, which means that people are convinced, compelled, directed, to buy things not according to rational decision-making but on the basis of heavily prejudiced information produced by those with a serious conflict of interest in the matter at hand.

"Oh, stop whining, Steven." I can hear the chorus now. "Just another bleeding heart liberal who hates the Market because it doesn't guarantee a free lunch for every lazy bum on a street corner."

Maybe (but only if that lunch is organic and vegetarian), but what I really want to talk about isn't advertising, it's the Eyeball Economy, whose existence and success is dependent entirely on advertising.

What's the Eyeball Economy?

The Eyeball Economy is that part of our economic system which derives it value from "eyeballs," from the numbers of people who visit, view, experience a particular piece of content. The valuation of companies in the Eyeball Economy is not based so much on the products or services they provide (often given away at no cost to the user) but on how many people stop by to visit (and, so the advertisers desire, "click through").

Prominent members of the Eyeball Economy include Google, eBay, Yahoo, YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, etc. These companies are the newest high-flyers, the get-rich-quick role models of our day,

Now, don't get me wrong. These companies perform valuable services. I use Google to find stuff. I use eBay to buy stuff. I use YouTube, wait. I don't use YouTube. I'm not one for sitting passively and watching. And I haven't yet gotten round to setting up my MySpace page, but when I do it is going to be very hip or very hop, or something. Obviously these companies fill a need. I am happy these websites and services exist. Heck, I'd even be willing to pay for those services. That's how valuable they are to me. Yet it seems that something has gone badly out of whack when you look at their stock value.

Consider Google. For the user, it provides a powerful search engine. For the advertiser, it provides enormous potential revenue via click-throughs. For Google, it makes a gazillion dollars from a gazillion-squared micro-transactions (it receives a tiny payment per click-through).

So everyone wins, correct? Well, it is very hard for me to see it that way. The money that is soaked up by Google and by advertising agencies is coming out of someone's pocket somewhere along the way. It's fine for economists to go on and on about how it is not a zero sum game, but it sure does seem that way to me. That is, to put it simply, you can't have rich people without poor people. And you can't have super-rich people without massive numbers of extremely poor people.

So Google is a great money maker – but what is its inherent value, really?

Google's market capitalization on February 25, 2008 is $152 billion. In contrast, Baxter International's market cap is $38 billion.

For all the complaints one might have about the pharmaceutical industry, it does at least on occasion produce real things of critical value in the world. When I make my monthly aphaeresis donation, which should save a few lives, my blood is extracted, separated, and re-inserted into my body by a machine produced by Baxter.

Even if I never see an ad about Baxter products, even if I never click through to the Baxter website from Google, even if I never directly purchase a Baxter product, those products are worthwhile, have value, and so does Baxter as a company. In other words, remove advertising, remove eyeballs, from the equation and Baxter is still Baxter.

Can we say the same thing about Google?

A vulnerable business model?

Suppose for just a moment that lots of people get really sick of advertising, of being pressured and manipulated to buy things. I know, I know, sounds crazy, but just stick with me for a bit. Suppose that all of a sudden and in a very public manner, we the Internet users of the world simply refuse to "click through." We ignore all sponsored links, pay absolutely no attention to ads on the right hand side, block banner ads and balloon ads and whatever other kinds of nifty "features" they will think of to get in our way, and so on.

Instead, we all join Consumer Reports. Then, whenever we are interested in buying things, we simply go to and get a dose of completely objective, unbiased, thorough information about the relevant products and services. And because so many more of us join Consumer Reports, it has vastly increased resources to research and evaluate products, and educate their membership about their findings. [In fact, is already one of the most successful subscription websites on the entire Internet!]

What, then, happens to Google? It ability to make money disappears virtually overnight. Companies stop paying for ads, because they aren't getting click-throughs. Instead, those companies concentrate on improving product quality and features so as to achieve better evaluations by Consumer Reports. And the bubble that is Google (a bubble that more accurately resembles a Zeppelin) bursts.

Nah, it won't burst. At least not right away, because Google will respond simply by ending the practice of offering free searches. Instead, we will have to pay small amount of money, say $.001, for each search. Well, I say: "Great!" Let's start paying for searches. We will search less and more selectively. We will consume less bandwidth, making it easier to extend the Internet to more and more people around the world (yes, bandwidth is getting scarce due to the increasing amount of video downloads, thank you, YouTube).

Google's valuation is irrational

Thus, the value of Google to investors and management and employees is based fundamentally on irrationality. Irrationality should be tolerated so long as it is kept private (fine examples of irrationality that should be kept to oneself, to my mind: religious faith and celebrity adoration), but when it is extended to a society as a whole (especially in a coercive manner), irrationality becomes a curse and a cancer.

One could argue that before the Internet, advertising played a crucial role in educating consumers about what was available. Sure, that education was biased in favor of those who could pay for the ads, but still, how else would we know that two-ply, contoured toilet paper existed and would help us oh so much?

And since advertising (aka, Madison Avenue) had established itself as a dominant force, and the manipulative powers of advertising had been proven over and over again, that same business model quickly was extended to the Internet, and then spread like a virus to websites, services and the perception of which of those had value.

Ironically, however, it is precisely the advent of the Internet, in fact, specifically because of websites like Google, that advertisements lose any sort of redeeming value from the standpoint of education and awareness building (except from the sellers' perspective). We don't need companies pushing their products at us. We can use the pull technology of Internet search to find out everything we need about those products. And once we have collected that information, we can make informed, rational decisions about what to buy and do.

And when we do that in increasing numbers, helped by resources like Consumer Reports, the Eyeball Economy becomes endangered, and giants of "industry" will fail.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Istanbul in One Day, Sort of

I am now flying back home to Chicago from snow to snow, actually. The morning I left Istanbul, it had started to snow....

Upon reflection, what that means, really, is that I appreciate the art in the ad.

I am now flying back home to Chicago, from snow to snow, actually. The morning I left Istanbul (Wed, Feb 13) it had started to snow. And Chicago, well, Chicago is having one of the snowiest and coldest winters in a long, long time. It is now 9 degrees Farenheit in Chicago. That's much colder than Istanbul. So I will not complain about how in my short visit to this old and bustling city of 20 million the weather was cold, wet and gray.

It just was.

I went to Istanbul to do a two day training sponsored by Oracle Corporation for 53 developers, including some hard-core members of my "fan club" (you know, the sort of programmer who takes his or her job very seriously, reads my books before going to sleep at night, that sort of thing. Hey, Husnu, get a life! :-) ). Everyone was very pleased with the turnout, and the facilities at Sun Plaza were fantastic. Many thanks to Issin and Gokhan of Oracle Turkey!

The reason the title of this blog entry is "Istanbul in One Day" is that while I was in the city for three full days, I only had Sunday to be a full-fledged tourist. I arrived Saturday night at the Sheraton in Maslak (business center 10 KM from the center of Istanbul). At 8 PM I heard a loud clanging sound outside my 14th floor window. I pull open the blinds and see that right next to the hotel is a big construction site for a new building, already towering above me. And yes they were working. I call reception and find out that they work till 11 PM each night. Including Saturdays and Sundays. Uh oh.

I really didn't want to pack up and move to a different room. Instead, I went online and found I paid $2.99 for a 68 minute MP3 file titled "by the sea". Wonderful, soothing sounds of the surf. Covered up the clanging and allowed me to easily and enjoyably drift off to sleep. I recommend it highly and you sure can't beat the price.

So I got to sleep, but imagine my dismay when I woke up at 8 AM on Sunday to pouring rain. Not a hint on sunlight. And none too warm, either. Ugh. Well, there was nothing for it, but to get out there and do what you do when you come to Istanbul for the first time:

1. Visit Hagi Sofia (actually spelled and pronounced Ayasofia in Istanbul itself), a very old and massive church with famous mosaics. I have to admit that I was a bit underwhelmed by Ayasofia. I think the problem was that it was a very dark day and the building does not have lots of electrical illumination. Plus it is not really all that well kept up (which I can understand, given its size). So it was dark, dank and cold inside, and I was expecting pristine, glowing, well-maintained structure. Check out my photos.

2. Visit Sultanahmet, otherwise known as the Blue Mosque, a very old and massive and beautiful mosque. This is the largest mosque in Istanbul, which is saying a lot, because Istanbul was full of mosques, many of them very big (Turkey is 95% Muslim, but its government and military have been resolutely secular for decades. The dominant party at the moment, however, is PPP, the Muslim party, and tensions are growing in the country). Check out my photos.

3. Descend into the Basilica Cistern, an underground water reserve built in the 6th century (the water was collected from the Belgrad forest 19KM from the city). Consists of 336 large marble columns (two of which have Medusa heads at their base for unknown reasons). Marvelous, mysterious, very soothing. Check out my photos.

4. Walk up to the Galata Tower: built in the 15th century (or maybe earlier?), it looks out over the city (though I must admit I did not climb up to the top of the tower). Check out my photos.

5. Stroll down Istiklal (Independence) Street to Taksim: this is "Main Street" Istanbul. Very crowded, very busy, cosmopolitan, full of cafes, restaurants, Starbucks, the occasional church or mosque, the oldest high school in the city, a car that had just been on fire and was covered with ash. You name it, I saw it - and here are the photos to prove it.

6. Visit a carpet store (more or less against my intention, if not against my will): ah, yes. Turkish carpets. I had no plans to visit a carpet store. For one thing, several years ago we bought two beautiful, fair trade carpets from Ten Thousand Villages, so we were all carpeted-out. Second of all, with plans to relocate to Puerto Rico in a few years, we are focusing on getting rid of belongings, lightening the load, not acquiring more stuff. But here's what happened: I had just left the Cistern and was circling back to take a picture by the entrance so I could record the date and basic facts of this water store, and this friendly guy struck up a conversation, assured me he was not a guide trying to pick up a fee, and then said: "I have a shop down the street; let me give you my card." OK. Well, turns out all his cards were in his shop, so in we went, and it was full of carpets. And his family had been in the business for seven generations. What a surprise! I immediately told him that I was not going to be buying any carpets. "No problem! Please, sit down, have some tea. Turkish hospitality." So I did that and soon his brother, more the carpet expert than the "pull in the guy off the street" guy, took over. He showed me a carpet and asked me what I thought.

At that point, I decided, well, they dragged me in here. I could either just leave or I could engage and perhaps have an interesting conversation. So once again I told him that I wasn't going to buy a carpet. He dismissed that. I then told him I was not very impressed with the carpet. It was an uninteresting repetition of a dull pattern. Have you heard of Christopher Alexander? I asked. Yes! he said excitedly. Of course!

Alexander is a very interesting guy. An architect by profession, he developed a powerful and deep critique of modern architecture, and in the process came up with a "pattern language" to describe how to create meaningful, high quality structures. His ideas on patterns were taken up by software architects (the so-called Gang of Four) who established a whole movement in software called Design Patterns. Alexander also collected and studied very old carpets to try to understand what them so remarkable and powerful and moving, compared to the sort of things that are for the most part done today. He published a book about it, which I bought and read (most of). It is a beautiful book and his theories about the carpet designs really struck home with me. the carpet fellow must have been very excited. They pull some American off the street and he actually knows something about our carpets! So he immediately gestured to his assistant to pull out certain carpets and...yes...there they were, the kinds of carpets that Alexander found so powerful (they generally feature a central "medallion" or shape that seems to have life to it, plus complex interlocking "centers"). So we talked about them, compared several, and he soon realized which of them was my favorite.

Throughout this whole time, I am reminding him: I am not going to buy a carpet.

Finally, he starts to talk about prices. "I am not going to get into bargaining with you. I am going to offer you a very good price for this carpet. $3800." I was impressed. Given what I spent in Chicago, that was not a lot of money for the quality and beauty of carpet he was showing me. I said so, but reminded him "I am not going to buy a carpet."

So he talked lots more, he asked me why I am not buying. I explained in full detail. He talked more and then because he said he had not yet sold a carpet that day and very much wanted to sell this carpet to me, who could greatly appreciate it, that he would sell it to me for $1700. Now, that was a good price. But no, I sadly shook my head....and a few minutes later he was down to $1200. I really felt torn. At this point, I was sure that he was more or less giving it away, that this was a very good price, that he really did not want me to walk out the door empty-handed. And I did like it a lot. But I stuck to my principles and eventually walked away. I bet he was quite upset. But hey - I didn't come in there on my own volition. I didn't insist on being served multiple cups of tea.

Like I said to him: "Bad luck, man! Your brother actually finds somebody who has studied carpets, who can appreciate what you are selling....but he just wasn't going to buy a carpet. No matter what."

And that is my Turkish carpet story. I do feel some regret. I could probably have sold it locally for more than that. But I really am trying to get into the habit of not buying more stuff. So...I visited Istanbul and came back with nothing but a refrigerator magnet. And photos.

Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of my trip was the evening I spent with fellow Oracle technologists, H. Tonguc Yilmaz. Tonguc, who had helped spread the word of my training and is well-known in the Turkish Oracle community, arranged an evening out to authentic places that local Turks visit, not the big (though remarkable) tourist spots. We had dinner at the Aga Restaurant, across the street from the Aga Mosque, right off Istiklal Street. It was Turkish "fast food". All the food is sitting in trays at the counter. You pick out what you want, they fill up your plate, you sit down and dig in. Delicious! Stuffed grape leaves, lamb (I don't usually eat it, but had to try it. They forced me. :-) ), all sorts of different stuff. Then we enjoyed a platter of various desserts, most honey-soaked and all quite wonderful.

From Aga, we walked down Istiklal, I bought my refrigerator magnet, and then we down a rather dark, almost empty side street (more like an alley) and stepped in through a non-descript doorway, went up an elevator and ended up in the Leb-i Derya bar, which offered a truly wonderful view over the city, from the Anatolia side (Asia) to the Eminou side (old city, palace, Ayasofia, etc. - Europe). After a drink and a soaking in of the view, they then took me to the Dolmabahçe Palace for a traditional cup of hot sahlep, right by the water.

That was a really nice evening. Thanks again, Tonguc, Husnu and Ozgur for taking the time out to help me enjoy a side of Istanbul I would otherwise never have seen.

Istanbul was probably the most security conscious place I have ever visited. Almost every building I entered (hotel, office building, historical site, mall), plus the metro, had metal detectors. No one enters the airport, much less gets on a plane without going through a metal detector. My friends felt that it was a bit much. The rationale for it is to protect against possible terror attacks by Kurdish groups, but so far as I know there haven't ever been any in these kinds of public places. So they felt that its purpose was more to keep people scared, on edge, and willing to accept a heavy military presence and role in society. Gee, sounds kind of familiar.

The metro was interesting. According to my friends, Istanbul had the second subway in the world, after the one installed in Paris. And it is still in operation! But it is very small. And besides that one, there is a new metro line build in the last ten years (which I took) but it is only 8 KM long and with six stops. Traffic is awful in Istanbul and there is a great need for public transport and an extensive subway network. But in a city as old as Istanbul, it is virtually impossible to dig anywhere and not run into architectural treasures that must be preserved.

On the flight from Istanbul to Heathrow, we flew right over the Alps. Beautiful, snow-covered mountains, photos here.

On the flight from Heathrow to Chicago, we of course flew over Greenland and then the northeastern corner of Canada, right near Ungava Bay, photos here.

Only 1500 miles to go!

See the rest of my Istanbul photos here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Huckabee discloses he is unfit for U.S. presidency

"I did not major in math, but I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them," Huckabee said at a rally at the University of Maryland in College Park, according to this Reuters report.

So the way I see it, he could run for Pope. He could run for Chief Rabbi. He could run for all sorts of things, but as the presidency of the United States, he would be a total disaster. We don't need believers in miracles. We need believers in rational thinking, logic....math.

By the way, I think the way this race is going demonstrates a big difference regarding the "extremes" of the Democractic and Republican parties.

On the Republican side, Huckabee is strongly supported by the Christian evangelical, fundamentalist, extreme right element of the party. They continue to give him money and he continues to fight.

Why? Not because he can win, but because they want to pressure McCain to move further to the right and to pick a harsh right-wing VP running mate.

On the Democractic side, left-wingers are too easily content to simply jump on a Clinton or Obama bandwagon (mostly Obama) and hope for the best. The result will be that there will be little pressure to take up more progressive viewpoints (Clinton and Obama both mouthed concern about poverty as long as Edwards was in the race making an issue of it) and they will be more likely to pick a VP candidate to the right of them.

Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. And a major strategic error.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Define "Accidental"

Read this yesterday online:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Actor Heath Ledger died of an accidental overdose of six prescription drugs, with a combination of painkillers, tranquilizers and sleeping aids found in his system, officials said on Wednesday.

"We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications," the New York City Medical Examiner's Office said in a statement.

"Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine," the statement said.

This is really sad. Here's a guy who had just achieved enormous success in his chosen field, and yet he was apparently very unhappy. So unhappy, so disturbed, that it is very likely that he engaged in "doctor shopping" so that he could obtain prescriptions for that amazing and ultimately deadly array of drugs without anyone getting suspicious. Clearly, he abused these drugs and it killed him.

Why would he do this? Why do we hear so often about actors and actresses, often very popular ones, being so incredibly messed up?

I think that it must have something to do with the very nature of the celebrity culture, particularly as it applies to actors and actresses. They get an enormous amount of recognition and adulation, and often large sums of money.

But for what? For pretending to be someone other than themselves.

I am fortunate enough to be well regarded by many PL/SQL developers. Oracle Corporation, in fact, calls me a "celebrity" when they organize trainings with me. I find that very amusing. But, OK, I will accept that in my very small subculture of PL/SQL, I am a celebrity. And why is that? Precisely and only because people value what I say, do and believe.

Thus, any kudos and ego strokes I receive reinforce to me my basic sense of self esteem (well, my wife would say it bloats up my ego so that I can barely fit my head through the front door).

But the message that someone like Heath Ledger gets from the over-the-top adulation is:

"We love you for being able to pretend to be someone else. In fact, we have NO IDEA what you are really like and who you really are. And we don't really care. Party on, Heath!"

I can see that really twisting up a person's thinking, the way they see themselves. I can see it leading to excessive drug use and getting completely lost.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Rangitoto, New Zealand: Baby Land

New Zealand is a whole bunch of islands, formed from volcanic eruptions. And 30 minutes by ferry ride east of Auckland City is Rangitoto, the very newest of these islands. Its volcano erupted just 600 years ago, and almost all the vegetation on the island is less than 200 years old.

New Zealand is a whole bunch of islands, formed from volcanic eruptions. And 30 minutes by ferry ride east of Auckland City is Rangitoto, the very newest of these islands. Its volcano erupted just 600 years ago, and almost all the vegetation on the island is less than 200 years old.

I couldn't pass up the chance to walk on such new land, and hike up to the summit for a look around. So I took the first ferry out, 9:15 AM, along with a lot of other people. I noticed many of them slathering on the sun block and found myself worrying a bit: "Shouldn't I be doing the same thing?" Coming from Chicago in the winter, it's not as if my skin is tanned and ready to withstand the hot, bright New Zealand summer sun....well, I had sunglasses (really poor quality sunglasses in fact, that are too tight and give me a headache if I wear them for too long - silly me) and a Wallabies rugby cap, gifted to me by Vanessa of Quest while I was in Sydney. I figured I would be OK.

We arrived at the pier and disembarked. Rangitoto is not a tourist haven. There are no shops, no food or drinkable water available. Whatever you plan to consume, you bring with you. I had a decent size bottle of water and a bag of nuts and raisins. Now, while Rangitoto is not developed, it is also not empty. The shoreline is dotted with tiny little "Bach" houses. When I first saw references to the "Bach" community on websites, I thought to myself: "Weird. They can't even get their webpages spell-checked," certain that they meant to write "Beach". Nope. "Bach" is short for "bachelor" -- apparently several decades ago it was very common for single men to build these tiny little shacks near beautiful spots to crash while away for the weekend to enjoy the surf, etc. George, my eco-guide to Waitekere, pointed out some of the same in the Waitekere Ranges.

OK, off the boat and on to my hike. Of course, for those who were not ready willing or able to walk to the summit, you could hop on a trailer that was pulled by a tractor. Not for me! was a hard climb. At first relatively flat, walking along a bulldozed trail cut out of what is clearly new land - mostly just low brush, a few trees, and lots of black, volcanic rock. And lots of sun. I was very glad for my cap, but worried about my ears and neck. I kept turning the cap for maximum coverage against the position of the sun.

And then the ascent grew steeper. I was hiking in some new New Balance 857s, which are great running shoes but not great hiking shoes. Not enough support in the sole or in the uppers. I ended up with blisters on several toes, mostly from the downhill climb. But I managed to get to the summit in about 45 minutes -- the trail markers estimated 1 hour to climb and I was impressed. That is the amount of time someone in pretty good shape would climb the summit. For most out of shape Americans, it could be well more than that. And I was amazed to see (as I descended from the summit, and passed people who were way behind me) a whole bunch of people trying to climb wearing only flip-flops! Many of them made eye contact with me and others coming down with clear questions in their eyes and on their lips: "How much further?"

Well, the summit was excellent. Fantastic view all around, could see all the way back to Auckland City and the Sky Tower (from which insane, adrenalin junkies jump) and into the volcano's crater. I was a bit disappointed there - it was covered with vegetation like everything else. I was hoping for more of a volcanic/lunar kind of landscape. Ah well...I took the Crater Rim Walk and was about half-way around - and actually having climbed up off the trail for a better view into the crater, when I heard a boy yelling with increasing hysteria and tears: "Daddy? Daddy? DADDY!"

I hurried back down to the trail and found little Sam, perhaps 8 years old, alone on the trail and very upset. He was from some town in New Zealand that I could barely understand, something along the lines of "Wallabangadanga". His dad and other brother had gotten ahead of him, and his mom and younger brother were behind. Pretty clearly, he'd turned down the crater trail, while his dad and brother went on up to the summit. So I walked him around to the summit, trying to calm him down.

We get to the summit and he says "There's my dad!" but his Dad doesn't notice him and doesn't seem to even notice that Sam is not with him. Sam finally walks over to his dad and his brother. I kept my distance but listened. "Hey Sam, what's wrong? Did you fall down? Were you yelling back there? What? You got lost? Oh, well, you're here now." More tears and pathetic sounds from Sam. "Well, I won't lose you again," with a laugh and clap on the shoulder. His dad sounded like a real loser. Not only did he actually not notice that he had lost his middle son, but he basically made fun of the boy and expressed no real concern about what had happened. Sam could definitely have fallen off the side of hill, if he got really upset and panicked. Poor kid (in the blue shirt). So the message of the day was: Can't trust your dad, and total strangers seem to care more about you.

On the way down, I visited the lava caves. They were small and very dark, but I made my way through one of them, following some young boys with inadequate flashlights. I also went off the path and found another cave, which was really a big hole in the ground and from there, who knows? I did not climb down to look around. But I did come across some very interesting and beautiful and fragile growths on the bare volcanic rock. It looked very much like white coral, growing into the air.

Before heading back to the ferry, I stopped at the Kidney Fern Glen, which was a wonderfully peaceful and lush area, very different from the open volcanic areas.

All in all, a really nice way to spend the morning.

Here is the link to all my Rangitoto photos.

I am very sorry that I don't have the time to explain each one, but hopefully you can still enjoy them.