30 October 2005

The good, the bad, and the ugly

exhibit 1…concrete that is. Ryan already made the comment how everything here is made of concrete, and hence Bulgaria is the “fireproof country.” However, the quality of said construction varies greatly. Exhibit 1 is the ubiquitous concrete access covers found throughout Sofia. Every single example I have seen is somewhere along the continuum from brand new to totally disintegrated (and therefore leaving a big, dangerous hole in the middle of a sidewalk.) Obviously one company got the contract to make all these lids and just chinched on the cement. In a lot of places parts of streets and sidewalks are in similar states of decay; exhibit 2 is an example of the precast sections of tram track beds. In some streets rebar is actually sticking out of the remaining concrete such that when a car drives over it, the loose end exhibit 2 rings like (chow time) triangle. Structural concrete also covers the whole rang of good, bad, and ugly. Exhibit 3 is an example of some good, modern construction; however, exhibit 4 is a building on my street that has been in this state for at least the last 3 months that I’ve been here. Obviously what it missing here is a vibrator to eliminate the voids that in some place leave rebar expose! I have seen the result of this type of construction; in a few years chunks of concrete start to crumble and fall off, rebar rusts, and slowly everything begins to fall apart. The good news is that new infrastructure (paid with EU funds) is top quality. (I’m sorry, I know this is boring to everybody except my dad and brothers.) exhibit 3

I know I’ve not been posting much (at least its more than Ryan—he has only 2 posts for the entire month of October), but I have been spreading the love (writing & pictures) around to different audiences: MBAEC Yahoo group, MySpace, and even WeatherUnderground. Check out my photo series of Sofia Autumn Colors.

I just had to share the following; probably the single funniest comic strip I've ever read:
Satch: Hey, Bucky! Why did the chicken cross the road?
Bucky: That's an interesting question. I've done some thinking on the subject and I've come up with a theory./ You see, a chicken's perception of the definition of "space" is very different from yours or mine./ Whereas we understand the linear definition of the boundaries of the pavement and can make exhibit 4judgments on the future direction of the moving objects--vehicles, if you will--/the chicken may only see an unconnected patchwork of shapes and movements./ It is my contention therefore, that the chicken doesn't even know he's crossing what we would call a "road."
Satch: My juice cap says "To get to the other side."
Bucky: Well, sure, sometimes the other side is just cooler.

-Get Fuzzy 30 Oct. 2005 © Darby Conely

24 October 2005

I'm rich!

Technically, Corp members don’t get a salary at all, but we do get a stipend and housing allowance that allows us to live comfortably here in Sofia. I just found this website Global Rich List and determined that I am in the top 11% of the world population. Not that I needed this, living in a "transitioning" economy, I am constantly reminded of how good I’ve got it when I learn how little most Bulgarians earn (the average is 250 leva/month.) Even at that meager income, the average Bulgarian is in the top 20%!

How rich are you? >>

I'm loaded.
It's official.
I'm the 661,164,295 richest person on earth!

I challenge you to try this (click on link above) and then complain about your job! Some of my stats may be a little off, and certainly the cost of living is lower in developing countries, but it is still sobering to realize just how blessed we are.

23 October 2005

Home Show

This weekend there was a rather sizable home show at NDK (close to my apartment.) They had a whole range of residential construction material, fixtures, and furnishing packed into eight floors of foyers/mezzanines (NDK is primarily a performance space.) Some notables: tons of bathroom fixtures and hot tubs of all shapes and sizes. There was a lot of stylish, high-end stuff! Like I may have mentioned before, apartment buildings may look shabby from the outside, but individual units are often suprisingly posh. Then there were the mattress retailers who had scantily clad models demonstrating their beds ;-) ...and finally this door; for what kind of house would this be appropriate?! Some kind of Dr. Seuss looking thing I suppose.

While there, I was able to take to the picture below from the top floor of NDK. My apartment is behind the red circle. Alexander Nevski cathedral is predominant on the horizon. (Click on picture to enlarge.)

Sofia from NDK

18 October 2005

Bird Flu, Shmird Flu

If I hear one more “concerned” comment about the Asian bird flu “epidemic” I think I’m going to be sick. In protest of the media hype, I will now begin an all-poultry diet. Seriously, people, it’s called the “bird flu” for a reason—it kills birds, not people! Worldwide, only 60 people have ever died of this—and those cases were from living with poultry, not eating it.

16 October 2005

Inverse Law of Usenet Bandwidth

Would you believe this is the reason that I'm not posting as much lately?

"The more interesting your life becomes, the less you post... and vice versa." -Jorn Barger*

Actually, I've just been lazy; a good post does end up taking at least one hour to research, write, and photo edit. Even when I think that I'll just fire off a quick post, it often spins out of control. I even will go back and make corrections/additions hours or days after original post (as I am doing now.)

*Incidentally, Jorn Barger is an interesting fellow; he was an Internet pioneer turned homeless guy. He was supposedly seen panhandling with a cardboard sign reading: “Coined the term ‘weblog,’ never made a dime”

09 October 2005

Talking Bulgarian

OK, to set this up, please examine the following evidence:

Exhibit 1tramvie
Exhibit 2trollay
Exhibit 3autobus
Exhibit 1 is a tramvie. Exhibit 2 is a trollay. Exhibit 3 is an autovbus. Excuse me for any nonstandard Cyrillic to Latin conversion, but I've yet to find a standard; I have seen my street name spelled several way in Latin characters, and the same is true going the other way: my name is spelled differently in Cyrillic on different documents.

Anyway, how would you describe to someone what a Trollay is? Obviously, most of us would just say it is an electric bus, or more precisely, an autovbus that happens to run on electricity supplied by overhead lines. Not Bulgarians though, they describe it as “like a Tramvie, but with rubber wheels.” Now, I understand (and—as a train and electrical geek—appreciate) the infrastructure similarities, namely that you have to provide electrical current along the entire route, and therefore it takes a great deal of effort to change or enlarge the route, and they both have electric motors attached to their drive axel instead of a diesel engine somewhere. However, from the consumer point of view, there is no difference between a trollay and (city transit) autovbus! Although an autovbus could go anywhere, they always follow a set route and come by every x minutes. Therefore, I must assume that at some point in history the trollay must have looked more like a tramvie than a bus. However, I get the same result when I ask young people; this goes to show language imbeds deeper meaning than one would expect.

By the way, I've ridden every form of public transportation now, and they can all be characterized as crowded, smelly, and in need of repair; but hey, it's all part of the adventure!

06 October 2005

Working 9 to 5...

office…trying to make a living.” Well not really, more like 9:30 to 6:00 (see updated schedule and contact info,) and—of course—it’s not about making a living. Everyone’s been asking me for the last 3+ months what I will be doing. Although I will probably be doing a lot of different stuff over the course of the next 12 months—for instance, today I learned I will probably be going to Belgrade, Serbia in November to help out with a conference they’ve been contracted to put on—you probably want to know what I’ve done this week. (BTW, was that a sufficiently obfuscated sentence? ;-) So far, I’ve begun developing an action plan from the business plan Karen (previous MBAEC volunteer) wrote, written an application to for a “Responsible Business Award”, edited a proposal, and generally just read a lot—learning about the company. I work in a small office with about 4 people in my immediate vicinity (10 altogether—at least that’s how many desks there are.) My colleagues seem like a nice, fun group; mostly younger than me, attractive, and overwhelmingly female.

02 October 2005

Arrh! Arrh! More Power

Joel with Kubolta mini-trackhoeSaturday we went to the Plovdiv International Fair. We had only two hours, so it was just a cursory look at a smattering of exhibitions scattered among 23+ buildings. I’ve been to a few trade shows before, but I’ve never seen such a broadly (un)focused event; there was everything from scientific equipment, heavy machinery, automobiles, manufacturing equipment, and even IT/software stuff (which we never found.)Lada SUV It seemed like each building we entered had at least some building materials and a lathe or CNC on display regardless what the theme of that building was supposed to be. Of course Ryan (an electrical engineer) and I were like kids in a candy store; I’m not sure Julia was as impressed, but it is the biggest trade show in the Balkans!

Above: I had to get a picture of this; isn’t that the cutest little trackhoe you've ever seen? Below is Lada’s version of an SUV; love that Russian styling! ;-)

Later we traveled to Kalofer, a village in the “Valley of the Roses,” where we sampled Rakia and jam made from locally produced rose oil. It feels strange eating or drinking something that smells like perfume. The owner of the guesthouse where we ate and slept had participated in a tourism development program that took her to the US for some educational programs and a study tour of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This US-funded initiative has been very successful for the town; it is own of the nicest I’ve seen so far despite recent flood damage, and it has managed to replace many of the jobs lost when the primary employer (a state-owned munitions plant) closed after ‘the changes’ with tourism-related jobs. BTW, in this town we also saw another instance of still-functioning hydro power (although not electric); I’ve sent pictures to Simon.

Well, Monday is our first day of work; tell you all about it later.