Friday, March 30, 2007

Stop Cyberbullying

I encourage everyone to join in the effort to bring awareness to and to help stop cyber bullying. Thanks to Scott McLeod for the graphic above.

Check out the Stop Cyberbullying website created by Andy Carvin.

This is becoming a larger concern for me as my kids are becoming more and more active in the online world. IM, Skype, Runescape, Club Penguin, and many others sites where they can be subjected to cyber bullying. More later when time permits.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Turn Off Turnitin

Finally!! Finally some very smart students have taken a serious stand, while standing up for their rights. According to the Washington Post story, four high school students have sued Turnitin for copyright violation (here's my Furl archive in case the story goes away).

Bravo!! They probably have a decent case ... I most certainly hope they win it. The way youths are treated in this country (not respected as being serious citizens) leads me to believe that they will have an uphill battle, but I do think they have the weight of evidence on their side.

I find it interesting that "each of the students obtained a copyright registration for papers they submitted to Turnitin." That absolutely should not be required since copyright is automatic on an originally created work. However, it was probably a prudent move to indicate that they were serious about their work having copyright protection, not just taking it for granted. Of course it can be taken for granted, but most people don't really get that so why not remove all doubt when you are trying to make a point.

Their papers were "submitted to Turnitin with instructions that it not be archived, but it was, the lawsuit says." This is where I think the strength of their case lies. They took out copyright protection (needlessly, of course), and then told Turnitin NOT to use their protected work in their profit-seeking business. However, Turnitin (and institutions that use it) don't believe that copyright applies to student works (apparently), so they proceeded as usual.

The number one way that my blog is found on Google searches is because of my previous posts about how I think Turnitin Sucks (and also here). Now let me add another search term to the list: Turnitin is Evil!!

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IP Tip of the Week - 01

I will try to revive my "I.P. Tip of the Week" from a couple of years ago. Some of these will be repeats from 2004 and others will be brand new. Each Tip of the Week will deal with one or more issues related to intellectual property in higher education. I'll either embed or link to a Scribd document on each of these and include the mp3 file in case you want to listen to the file rather than read it. You can also open the document in a new window.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Scribd is Cool

Scribd (pronounced as "scribed" I'm guessing) is another very interesting solution for placing documents online. Scribd allows you to display your documents in a web browser using their custom Flash PDF player. Your uploaded document can be converted to many different formats, including Word, PDF, plain text, HTML, JPEG, PowerPoint, Excel, Postscript, LIT, and even audio format.

Some other features they tout are (from their FAQ):

  • Publish a document online with its own public URL that will be indexed by Google and other search engines and be read by a lot of people
  • Embed a long or complex document in your blog or personal webpage
  • Convert a document to an mp3 that you can listen to on your iPod (or other mp3 player)
  • Bulk upload files (that's right, storage is unlimited!)
  • Choose among a variety of copyright licenses for each of your documents
I don't have many documents uploaded yet, but here is my profile and list of documents.

I'll make my first embed attempt below. Try out the mp3 player as well, where a computer generated voice will read the text to you. I'm thinking this has big possibilities.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Using Acroflip

I've been experimenting with Acroflip quite a bit for creating page-turning documents on the web, for free. It is a highly frustrating experience, although it also has great potential. To call it buggy would be a great insult to bugs everywhere, who clearly are designed better than this application. Still, I am excited about what the future might hold for this service. I love the flip-book type of document reading, although I'm not sure how widely held that affinity is.

So far I have TRIED to use it 14 times. Seven failed attempts at creating a usable document and seven successful attempts, although the documents were not always usable as I continued to learn by trial-and-error what works well and what doesn't.

My first four attempts at uploading files to their server were met by fatal errors resulting in nothing but an empty folder in my acroflip file manager. The next three attempts worked as they (acroflip) intended, but not necessarily what I had hoped for. The next three attempts were on another day when the server was apparently broken, and finally four more attempts yesterday and today were successful, and got closer to my intended outcome.

My first successful upload can be found here. The outcome is really quite lousy. When using the Acroflip Upload Wizard, it tells you to upload either PDF or JPEG files. I wanted to use JPEGs so I uploaded 5 photos trying to illustrate how to straighten a crooked picture and add a colored border using the Picnik photo editing tool. The five photos did upload and the resulting flipbook ended up with 16 pages of various versions of those 5 photos in a somewhat random order. If that wasn't bad enough, it took these 5 photos that were in a landscape (horizontal) orientation and squeezed them into a portrait (vertical) orientation. Not at all what I was shooting for. Apparently portrait orientation is the one and only choice.

My second successful upload contained 7 photos that were in portrait orientation (fool me once, shame on ???? me/you/him/GeorgeW?) from my trip to Vietnam. This was better because I really like the way that the JPEG file completely fills the page on the flipbook. HOWEVER, the 7 photos turned into 28 pages in the final document. So of course, I'm the one who looks like an idiot because of all the duplicate photos.

So now I'm learning something with each attempt. My third attempt was to upload a PDF that I made using the Picnik editing photos from the failed first upload. JPEGs seemed to be a problem, so how about a single document saved as a PDF. So I took the five photos and added text to them in Word to make a step-by-step document on how to edit the photos. I saved the Word document as a PDF and uploaded it to Acroflip. This was the best effort so far, but there were still some problems from which I could learn something useful. For some reason (mistake) there was an extra blank page 8 on the PDF when only 7 pages were needed. In Acroflip that blank page 8 actually looks transparent when you turn to page 8 so that you still see page 6 on the screen. Not really a big deal, but something worth noting. Also, I had three web links on page 7. Little did I know that the links would actually be live in Acroflip (very cool, I think!) However, in my haste, I mistyped two of the three links which meant that the links in the document were wrong. At this point a couple of the current failings of Acroflip became obvious. It is currently not possible to delete a document from your Acroflip account, not can you replace one with a new upload. I just wanted to correct the PDF and then upload it to replace the incorrect one. No can do.

So, I uploaded the new document and just had another flipbook added to my account. Now the corrected one lives right next to the incorrect one. I also took the opportunity to add a graphic to the front page and to add another link to page 7, although I forgot to eliminate the blank page 8. This is now my "best" document showing how to use the Picnik editing tool, but it's still not really the way I want it.

I wanted to try again with some of my Vietnam photos, so I created a new PDF this time using PowerPoint as the base application for creating the document, then saving it as a PDF. I changed PPT to the portrait view (which seems so unnatural in PowerPoint) and just added a little bit of text to each of the 26 pages of photos of the People of Vietnam. While writing this post, I decided that I wasn't really happy with the way those pages looked so I replaced the plain white background (in PPT) with colorful backgrounds. I saved the PPT again as a PDF and then uploaded once again into Acroflip. This also gave me the opportunity to fix a misspelling on page 7 of the document. So now, after several trials and tribulations, I'm pretty happy with the last version of this particular flipbook.

I wasn't quite ready to quit just yet, so I wanted to see what would happen if I saved a regular landscape PowerPoint slideshow as a PDF and then uploaded the PDF to Acroflip. I guessed correctly that it would change the landscape orientation into portrait, but I wasn't all that disappointed with the way the final product looked. Yes, it is squeezed a bit to fit the new orientation, but it doesn't seem too ugly to me. This was from a previous presentation about the Online Student Mentors at Lake Superior College.

In conclusion: Positives: (1) FREE!! (2) flip effect is visually appealing, (3) pages print nicely, (4) zoom is nice.

Negatives: (1) portrait only, (2) JPEGs not working yet, (3) very buggy, errors are common, (4) can’t delete failed attempts, (5) can’t tag for searchability, (6) can’t replace a document with an updated one, (7) almost no instructions or help available.

My bottom line: I'm excited about the possibilities for this service. As they state on their homepage: "Please be patient as elements of the system are still in development." Okay, I admit it, that's hard for me to do. I'll try.

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Picnik Slideshow

Another nice feature of is the ability to embed a flash-based slideshow. I'll try it in this post using my Flickr collection of examples from my collection of photos of examples of fun things you can do with fd's flickr toys and and also with picnik.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Econ is Stupid

This is the best video I've seen this week. Of course the video is nothing special, but the content is superb. This was posted on YouTube about four weeks ago, so I'm a little slow on the draw. Just move along if you've already seen it.

His name is Yoram Bauman and you can learn more about him at his website: Maybe it's my accounting background, but I love it when people make fun of economists and economics. An no, for the record, I don't really think that Econ is stupid ... ignorant maybe, but not stupid.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Additions to Picnik Basket

Picnik is quickly becoming one of my favorite web tools and is a good bet to make it to my 2007 year-end list of Top 12 Web Tools. I was pleasantly surprised to find some new tools when I logged onto my free account last night. I needed (okay, wanted) to add some borders to some screenshots that I had made. I knew that this feature was not in Picnik previously, but I just wanted to see if they had added anything new, and lo and behold, borders were one of the newly added features.

I have put together a simple document showing some of the new tools in Picnik. This document uses a new open source "flipbook-style" document created at This acroflip service is beta or alpha and rather unstable. It worked for me this time, but I had several false starts last week in trying to get it to work properly.

Check out my Acroflip document on adding borders in Picnik.
(NOTE: March 25, 9:30 AM, I was able to upload a corrected document into Acroflip and have revised the web links in this post.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Zoho Writer with Chat

One of the valuable features of Zoho Writer has been the ability to collaborate with others by sharing a document with other Zoho account holders, such as fellow employees, or students in a study group, or collaborating researchers. Zoho Web Office Suite was my Number One Web Tool of 2006.

Zoho has been aggressive in adding new features, and they just added one to Writer that is pretty cool and has great possibilities. They have now integrated Zoho Chat into Zoho Writer so that you can carry on a live chat with one or more collaborators while working on a document. If you open a shared document that is already being edited by another user, you get the following message: (NOTE: click on any of these photos to get a larger, more clear version)

All collaborators who are sharing the document will then be listed in the particpants listing at the left side of the screen, such as:

Just click on the chat bubble next to a name to open a chat window with that person.

Here is what the interface looks like with the chat window in the lower right corner. Click on thumbnail to view larger photo. Right now I don't think that you can change the placement of the chat window, but that doesn't seem to be too big a deal.

Below is a larger shot of an example chat in Zoho Writer.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Browser Battles

I still have vivid recollections of the 1990's browser wars where IE buried Netscape and went on to dominate the landscape. I'll never forget how when using IE you could type in the URL for the Netscape website and it would take a full minute or more for the page to be found, even though every other page would load almost immediately.

As I was rearranging icons on my desktop, I realized that I currently have ten different browsers installed on my desktop computer at work (only seven on my laptop, FWIW). I don't think that the current state of browser usage really constitutes a browser war per se (Firefox fans would beg to differ), but I do think that we are looking at some browser battles or maybe a skirmish or two.

Firefox is what I use more than any other, but I also use Flock fairly often, and am starting to use Maxthon more all the time. I use IE only when I have to, which is generally when doing certain functions within D2L or trying to view certain types of Microsoft content. I have played around a bit with SeaMonkey and usually keep a fairly recent version of Netscape installed as well as a much older version, just for old times sake, I guess. Avant Browser was the first tabbed browser that I ever used, starting several years ago. For a while it was my browser of choice although I haven't used it much during the past two years or so. Opera is still on the radar screen but hasn't really gained the ground that was predicted for it several years ago. Some people swear by it, but most people ignore it.

Flock touts itself as being a browser built with Web 2.0 in mind. You can create blog posts in Flock and post them automatically to most popular blog platforms. One feature that I am using more and more is the Flickr uploader tool as well as the filmstrip feature where your Flickr photos are visible at the top of the browser. Click on or click off, your choice. Flock integrates easily with, which I use often. Another interesting feature is Web Snippets. Basically you can quickly save text, links, and pictures as snippets (rather than an entire page) . If you use a snippet in a subsequent blog post, it's automatically formatted as a blockquote with the proper citation. Pretty cool. My two main complaints so far are (1) it seems to react more slowly than most browsers, and (2) it crashes often enough that you would think it was built by Microsoft.

Maxthon is interesting in that it reportedly has at least 30% of the browser market in China, which of course means that it has a large user base. Read/Write Web has a good writeup about it. One of Maxthon's previous claims to fame was the use of a proxy that allowed users in China to get around some of the governmental controls. I have no idea whether that is still true today or not. Maxthon lets you undo a closed tab which can save some frustration when you think you're done with a site only to find out how wrong you were. Maxthon is not the only one that does the following, but if it crashes or your system does, it will reload and ask if you want to reopen any or all of the tabs that were opened when things went sour.

I'm inclined to think that Firefox will still be my browser of choice as we move forward. Using the many different extensions available, I can do almost anything with Firefox that either Flock or Maxthon are developing, and more. Yes, I agree that having ten browsers installed is more than just alittle bit ridiculous. Maybe I'll get rid of one as part of my spring cleaning.

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Joe Dimaggio of Vietnam

Joltin' Joe has nothing on this guy who works at the restaurant at the top of the Majestic Hotel Saigon. This is not Mr. Coffee, this is Mr. Tea-N-Coffee. In order for this to not be completely off topic, I'll include this mosaic made from my photos on Flickr using fd's Flickr Toys.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Internet Cafes Evil

So I'm sitting in my favorite Saigon eating establishment called The Underground and I'm reading the March 12 Vietnam News. There's a Reuters story with a Beijing byline that is titled "Tough Love for China Net Addicts." You can imagine that this is a story that captured my attention. Here's a couple of the juicier quotes.

  • "Combining sympathy with discipline, a military-style boot camp near Beijing is at the front-line of China's battle against Internet addiction, a disorder afflicting millions of the nation's youth."
  • "The government-funded Daxing centre, run by an army colonel under the Beijing Military Hospital, is one of a handful of clinics treating patients with Internet addictions in China. Patients, overwhelmingly male and aged 14 to 19, wake up in common dormitories at 6.15 a.m. to do morning calisthenics and march on the cracked concrete grounds wearing khaki fatigues."
  • "Many of the Internet addicts here have rarely considered other peoples' feelings. The military training allows them to feel what it's like to be a part of a team," said Xu Leiting, a psychologist at the hospital. "It also helps their bodies recover and makes them stronger."
  • "The rising tide of Internet-addicted youth has prompted the government to ban new Internet cafes in 2007, which are seen in China as breeding grounds for social delinquency."
  • "The main cause of Internet addiction is that parents' expectations for their children are too high," said Xu.
Interesting that the Reuters online version of this story uses a subtitle of "Parental Pressure" near the end of the story. In the Vietnam News that subtitle was changed to "Internet Cafes Evil." I thought that was too funny to not make fun of.

Here's my furl archive of the story in case the link gets broken above. Also, my apologies for using pictures from Vietnam for this story about China, but I was taken by the Internet games places here in Vietnam and I figure it is only a matter of time until all of these people go crazy too; in fact doesn't this little boy look rather sinister already?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Visiting ITC and Chinatown

Saigon has a Chinatown called Cholon (Cho Loan, both hard o's). I was visiting the Information Technology College today which is in that part of the city. Two new friends, Mr. Nguyen Dinh Huong (center in pic) and Dr. Nguyen Tac Anh (right), took me out to lunch during a break from the conversations at ITC. They took me to Dam Sen, which I think can only be described as a Vietnamese amusement park. It was amusing to me anyway, that's for sure.

We had dinner under the canopy of this sea dragon. There were actually two of these, one on either side of a large dining area with a stage where apparently many weddings take place. It was only when I walked closer to the dragon's head and neck that I could see how it was constructed. Most of the scales are large dinner platters and tea cups are used for some of the smaller pieces such as the arms and such. I thought this was pretty funny, and quite unique. From a distance you would never know what it is made of.

Yes, they drink beer or wine with just about every meal, or at least every meal where I was involved, so you'll just have to get over it. "When in Saigon" applies just as well as "when in Rome." At least today it was only one beer at lunch and only one beer at dinner. You can read about the business part of the day here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Your Own Google Search

Now I think this is pretty funny. It actually works too. You can use mine here.
You can create your own here.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

24 Hours

Starting at 6 PM Friday, the next 24 hours in Vietnam were a little bit crazy.

6 PM: The group from TVU picks me up at my hotel to go a funky outdoor restaurant alongside one of the many canals here. They are viewing this as the celebratory dinner at the conclusion of our MOU signing ceremony. They were also honoring Caroline from Canada who had been working (volunteering, I believe) in many of the communes (little villages) in Tra Vinh Province for the past six months but would be leaving Tra Vinh is less than a week.

7 PM: We have already finished several of the dishes that have been served, but there are more on the way. We started with crispy fired Giant Gourami of which President Kanh handed me the prized tail fin that is to be eaten for good luck. It was actually pretty good. I also ate a fried Ghost Knife Fish. Soon after that the snails started arriving. I quickly learned that the smaller snails are better than the larger ones. Something came out that looked to me like it was a scallop (yummy!), but alas, it was some other type of mussel that was much chewier and much less tasty than scallops. During the meal, several things came out for rolling your own spring rolls, which was generally all quite good.

8 PM: Most of the food activity was completed but most of the toasting activity was still going strong. They make two types of rice wine in Tra Vinh, and they are hoping this will become their next big export product. If you’ve ever had rice wine, then you know that it isn’t very much wine-like, but it sure does pack a wallop. Luckily they used very small shot glasses and I was able to beg off and still save face after only a couple of them.

9 PM: This restaurant is also a karaoke bar. In Tra Vinh, there are apparently several places like this where you don’t sing in front of all the people at the restaurant; you get a private room instead. So there are seven of us who head off to the karaoke room while a couple of others depart. They had songs in English and others in Vietnamese. Some of the Vietnamese songs were actually sort of interesting. It also was amazing how quickly you could get a clue about the language from reading the words on the screen while they were singing. More fun than I would normally have at a karaoke bar, besides they really liked my songs.

10 PM: It’s back to the hotel to try to get my normal 4 hours of sleep. For some reason, that is all the sleep I’ve been getting over here, on average. However, tonight I get more like five hours. Yahoo.

6 AM: I’ve actually been up for a couple of hours answering emails and wandering around the neighborhood a bit. Then at 6:00 while I’m working on the computer, the power goes off. I don’t think much of it because the lights had flickered quite often in Tra Vinh during my stay there. My laptop still works on the battery, but the Internet connection is also dead with the power outage. So I wait a few minutes, then some more minutes, until finally I go downstairs for breakfast. They inform me that today is the “blackout day.” Apparently this happens from time to time on a Saturday where the power throughout the town is just shut down. Not sure if it is for conservation, equipment maintenance, or just an attempt to get people to slow down in their electrically powered lives, but everybody is expecting the power to be off all day. And they’re cool with that.

8 AM: The driver picks me up at the hotel along with Hoang and Mai and we head to a local eatery for breakfast (remember I had breakfast back at the hotel). I knew they were taking me on a tour today but I didn’t know it was starting with breakfast. Mr. Dung is waiting for us at the eating place. We were served a traditional dish of Tra Vinh noodles, broth, which includes more giant gourami, some snakehead (it’s a fish) and a chunk of the popular pig blood. The fact that I had already eaten a full breakfast came in real handy here.

9 AM: After breakfast we start the tour by going to a large pond that is where the Khmer people hold many of their festivals. Apparently the women dug this pond faster than the men did and that explains why the woman is the head of the household for Khmer people rather than the man. There’s a bit more to the story that that, but there’s the gist of it. Next stop was for gasoline, but I noticed that across the street there is some sort of monument so I wander over and Hoang and Mai follow along. They explain to me that this was the site of a very bloody battle right near the end of the American War in April 1975. Many Tra Vinh residents/soldiers lost their lives that day. At first it looked like a tank still sitting not too far away from the monument, but it is actually made out of cement and no one was quite sure of its intended purpose. Our next stop is at a chemical plant in the small industrial park. This is a joint venture between a Canadian company and local business/government. I saw all kinds of reactors and distillers and other things, which was all kind of eerie walking around this place during the blackout.

10 AM: We visit the first to two pagodas. There are 144 Khmer pagodas in the province. Approximately 30% of the people in the province are Khmer. Many of the monks at these pagodas are very young men who only spend a few weeks there as some sort of family payback to the church. It would be fascinating to learn more, but quite frankly I only got the most basic information. The pagodas are pretty amazing. The first one we visited was originally built in the year 990. It has had a few facelifts over the past thousand years, so it’s not exactly in its original condition. Between pagoda stops, we took a little break for some sugar cane juice. Surprisingly yummy. The second pagoda is well known for the wood carvings that the monks make from tree roots.

11 AM: We meet Mr. Dung and Mr. Khan back at the hotel for a farewell lunch consisting of fish paste cubes, dried cuttlefish, cucumbers, and very spicy dried beef (like jerky) that is made from beef heart. After that it was time to load all my stuff into the university van for the trip back to Saigon. Let’s just say that the trip heading back was not as bad as the trip going to Tra Vinh on Wednesday … probably because we were in a more comfortable vehicle, probably because I was more used to the crazy traffic, and probably because I actually was able to fall asleep for about 90 minutes of the 3.5 hour trip. Next thing I knew I was being dropped at the front door of the Majestic Hotel.

By 4 PM Saturday I was back in the same room as last week at the Majestic. Turns out that this story is only 22 hours long, not 24. Oh well, close enough.

Friday, March 09, 2007

International Women's Day in Vietnam

International Women's Day 2007 was celebrated in Vietnam on Thursday, March 8. This special day is celebrated in many countries, but apparently not so much in the United States.

Since I was in Vietnam where it is celebrated, I had the good fortune to enjoy a great dinner with my new friends Thuy, Thy, and Mai (left-right). There were four men (not pictured) on the other side of the table, but hey, it wasn't their day!

And yes, my wife does know about this. Okay, well, at least she does now.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tra Vinh Pic-o-the-day

These little ladies needed a bit of coaxing to pose for my camera. They did enjoy seeing their picture after it was all over with. These girls were playing and having a grand time ... but there was no way that they were going to smile for me while the camera was pointed at them.

Internet Gaming in Vietnam

On Thursday night in Tra Vinh I was waiting for my dinner companions to arrive at the restaurant at the Cuu Long Hotel . I wandered across the street to look at the Internet shop that was open and appeared to be doing a thriving business.

There were about a dozen kids (all boys) in there, each frantically playing some online game. I could see that a few were playing fairly simple games, but most were playing MMORPGs.

The equipment was mainly older looking and a real mishmash of different makes and models. Earlier in the day at the University I was told that most of their computers were United Nations models … meaning that they were put together using different parts form all over the place. That appeared to also be the case in this Internet shop.

I forgot to ask how much they pay to play these games, so I’ll try to get back to one on Saturday to get more info.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tra Vinh Palace Hotel

Very hard to tell you much about the hotel without sounding too much like a spoiled brat who prefers 4-stars and up. I keep trying to compare it to the Saigon Majestic or the Saigon Legend Hotel, and that is really an unfair comparison. That would be similar to trying to compare the two cities with one another. Tra Vinh is at the end of the line in rural Vietnam and Saigon is a metropolis.

But I'll try anyway. I'll put several small pictures in this post. You can click through to see them larger if interested. First is the sign that hangs by the small reception desk. Points 3 & 4 were worthy of a picture. Tra Vinh is apparently NOT trying to become the next Vegas. They keep my passport at the front desk during my stay. Not really sure why, but that may have to do with the police reference in point number 5.

I found this little guy in my room. Turns that this little penguin is the trash can. Step near his groin area and his head pops open. If you can look closely enough (probably not) there is some blue writing on his belly that says "Garbage, Please Come In!" Present company excluded, I'm sure.

Here's a shot of the bathroom. See anything missing? There is a curtain rod but no shower curtain. There is a drain on the tile floor in the bathroom, and all I can figure is that you just don't worry about where the water will shoot since they have the drain there. And trust me, the water shoots everywhere. One of those shower heads where the water comes out in every direction, some intended, some not.

They also apparently encourage water fights with this little pistol hanging on the wall. Either that, or you can wash your dishes in the bathroom sink. Sure, I bet that's it. The fact that it is hooked up to the toilet shouldn't be of any concern. It's not as if you would get your drinking water out of that little gun, is it?

This place isn't handicap accessible, nor do they try to be in any visible way. No elevator at all. See that spiral staircase? It's 42 steps up to the second floor where I'm staying.
Had I known that I would have tried to pack more lightly. Just about killed the poor bell hop-type person. I never would have made it lugging my super heavy suitcase plus extra bags of stuff. Slippery marble steps make it even more challenging. 42 steps might not seem like much, but OMG they feel more like 142.

There are room air conditioners throughout the hotel, but apparently they prefer not to use them. Seems preferable to have the doors and windows open so that the 92 degree air can cool the place off (this is early March for cryin' out loud). Having the doors open allows other hotel guests to join us. This little guy (he's alive, trust me) seems to be checking out the temperature first hand.

So, here's the deal. The people here at the Palace are very nice. They don't speak English much but they are very attentive and want you to be pleased during your stay. Parts of the hotel seem very fancy and ornate, and other parts are badly in need of replacement. Compared to the way that most people live here in Tra Vinh Province .... this is a king's castle.

Dinner in Tra Vinh

March2007 Vietnam 283a

I jump on the back of Mr. Dung's (not pronounced at all like that) scooter and off we go to the restaurant near the outskirts of Tra Vinh. Mr. Dung is the Vice Director of Tra Vinh University and is on the far right in the picture above. He speaks very little English, but he is able to understand what I'm saying most of the time. On another scooter are two young ladies from the University. Mai (blue) and Thuy (twee, in pink) are accompanying us for dinner which is good since they are fun and also because they have pretty good English skills.

I never did get the name of the restaurant. I would have done so, but the night kind of got away from me. We were also joined by Mr. Hung (far left in pic, pronounced "Yun") who is director of their computer services department, mainly dealing with network administration and the school website. As I keep saying about everyone, he is a very nice and friendly person. Thuy was trying to teach me to speak Vietnamese. She quizzed me mercilessly about whether I can remember the words she told me 30 seconds before ... which generally I cannot do.

The main course was this little forest pig. The way they explained it to me is that these run wild in "the forest" wherever that is. Apparently it is some sort of small wild boar, but I could be wrong about that. If you click on the picture it will take you to the flickr page where you can better see all the particular parts.

Even more interesting than the pig was the fish. We had some very spicy little smelt-like things on a stick. I am quite certain that this is the same fish species that I have previously kept in a home aquarium. It was actually rather tasty, but my lips were burning when I was done due to the very spicy sauce and other fixins for the little fishies. Along with that, we also had a traditional Tra Vinh dish of rice, boiled eggs, and this special fish sauce that they are known for in this area. They told me that this is what many of the poor people eat on a regular basis. It was actually very tasty.

Regarding the fish on a stick ... this is what a live one looks like in an aquarium. In the aquarium trade they are usually called either Dragonfish or the Violet Goby. In a U.S. tropical fish store it would generally cost $12-15 to buy one of these guys. Or, you can come here and get a plate of ten of them for a couple of bucks.

Yesterday was all about travel and meeting new friends. Today the work begins. I'll tour three campuses of TVU, meet with some University leaders to discuss various aspects of e-learning and begin to discuss student recruitment for Minnesota Online. Big day coming, so why am I awake at 4 AM?

The Road to Tra Vinh

Wow! I was pretty sure that today would bring great adventure. Let’s just say that I have not been disappointed. At 12:50 PM I am met at the hotel in Saigon by representatives of Tra Vinh University. They are to drive me from Saigon to Tra Vinh, which is about 200 km. Lam, the driver, and Huong the interpreter pick me up and off we go in a little Nissan Bluebird Saloon. I swear to you that I haven’t made up that car make and model. I take the back seat on the passenger side and discover that there are no seat belts. After about ten minutes in the car I come to realize that the air conditioning is just a fa├žade. Oh, there are all the normal buttons and levers and they are all in their proper positions. However, the air that comes out is definitely not conditioned unless you like your blowing air in the heated condition.

Huong's name is pronounced like Huh? only without the attitude and the question mark at the end. Or as she explains it, like honey but without the "knee" at the end. She is very nice but we don't talk a whole lot during the long drive. It takes us quite a while to get out of Saigon. That's what happens when a city has somewhere between 7 and 10 million people in it, depending on who you ask. It becomes pretty clear that after about 30 minutes we are no longer in the city itself. This is now my first excursion into rural Vietnam. And what an excursion it was.

At 1:50 we are almost completely crushed between the cement barrier road divider on the left and a very large truck on the right whose driver decided that he liked our lane better than his. Apparently Lam's constant horn honking was an invitation to this guy to come on over. Lam is not one to back down even though his little Bluebird Saloon is about 1/20th the size of this truck. Lam plays chicken with him to try to make some kind of a point, and after passing him pulls right in front of the truck and slows down as a sort of exclamation point (apparently). Now don't get me wrong. Lam is a very nice guy, and I'll tell you right now that the story (and the trip) ends without a fender being bent, but this was an experience I won't soon forget. I have witnesses who heard Jim Berg scream like a girl when we were driving with Wenzhi in China. HAH! That was nothing.

Whenever he had the chance, Lam was going about 80 km per hour. That's not particularly fast but it sure feels like it in these crowded, chaotic conditions. Besides driving with the horn, he also makes heavy use of the left blinker, even when in the leftmost lane with a concrete barrier directly on his left. Apparently the combination of the horn and the left blinker is a signal to cars in front of him that he is staying in the left lane and they best move to the right if they know what's good for them.

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My view from the back seat.

At about 2:15 Lam flips on the radio so we can listen to some cool Vietnamese music while we clench our teeth. At 2:25 he breaks out the Doublemint gum for which I am eternally greatful. As we drive along I just see so many things that I would have loved to capture for posterity, but you seriously can't get any good shots while screaming down the highway at top speed. Oops, my bad. This is most definitely NOT a highway. It is a road, but not a highway. If there was a highway it would take about 2 hours to drive from Saigon to Tra Vinh. On these roads it takes about 4 hours.

At 3:25 we narrowly miss killing a scooter driver who was swerving out of control while bending over trying to fix his shoe. Lam showed great restraint in not painting the center stripe with this guy. At 3:40 we make a turn and pass a sign that says it 62 more KM to Tra Vinh. At 4:15 a dog meanders into the road. I close my eyes and listen for the thump that never came. Again, kudos to Lam. At 4:30 it appears that primary school in Tra Vinh Province is just getting out and there is a complete halt in traffic while several hundred schoolkids try to get on scooters, bicycles, or start walking home on the side of the road. Then we start to move again and we see kids heading home for the rest of our drive. Seriously, these little kids are everywhere while the traffic screams by them within a foot or two.

At 4:40 we enter Tra Vinh town and just a few minutes later we are at the hotel. The Palace Hotel. I've got to get ready for dinner, so I'll post more later.

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That's me and Huong after arriving at the Palace Hotel in Tra Vinh.

NOTE: I didn't get this posted right away due to problems with the Internet connection. Before I could get this very slow connection working my new friends in Tra Vinh had whisked me away to dinner, which I'll try to write up now before those brain cells are totally gone.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Saigon Pic o the Day

Read about today's business meeting here.

This picture of a street vendor is definitely my favorite shot of all those taken today. Strange that I didn't notice her beautiful smile when I was taking the picture. After the business meeting in the morning, I had the afternoon to myself so I went to Ben Thanh Market. OMG! When I came to Saigon last October I didn't take advantage of the opportunity to go to Ben Thanh, as some others in the delegation did, but I sure did hear about it.

This is an amazing, somewhat disturbing place. You can buy just about anything imaginable here. Some very nice stuff, and some absolute junk. Beautiful silks or costume jewelery.

Whether you like your fish and shrimp dried and stinky (pic #2), or still alive and stinky (pic #3), the choice is yours.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, or jellied beef brains and dried pigs ears, again you can take your pick. Bootleg DVDs of newly released movies for a dollar, or a brand new tailored suit for $100 that you can pick up in 24 hours. It is an experience in sights and sounds, and especially smells, that have to be experienced to believe it.

I shot lots of video while there, so I'll try to get that put together in the next couple of days, if time allows. Unfortunately, I'm not on a proper sleeping schedule just yet, so I'm about ready to call it a night, at 7:30 PM.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Saigon City Hall

That's Uncle Ho (seriously, that's what they call him) in front of the People's Committee Hall, formerly called City Hall on the street named Le Thanh Ton in District 1 of Saigon.

I was walking about 8-10 blocks from my hotel to the SEAMEO offices today for a short meeting and strolled right past this beautiful building. As you can imagine, this is one of the most photographed spots in the city.