Newley Purnell's home on the web since 2001

Month: October 2007 (Page 1 of 2)

See You in a Couple of Weeks Will BRB

I won’t be posting anything here for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, feel free to peruse the archives or fall in love with my most popular posts all over again.

And hey, amigos — turn those frowns upside down. I’ll be back before you know it.

(Image via

The World’s Worst Airports

The World's Worst Airports [Not My Image]

“The World’s Worst Airports,” from Foreign Policy, names “five airports around the world that make traveling hell.” They pick those in Dakar, Senegal; New Delhi, India; Mineralnye Vody, Russia; Baghdad; and Paris.

Last year A and I visited Indira Gandhi International Airport, in New Delhi. While the crowds massed outside can, indeed, seem chaotic, I must say the place didn’t seem quite this bad:

Visitors report aggressive panhandlers, filthy bathrooms where attendants charge for toilet paper, and used syringes on the terminal floor. The main terminal building was even closed to visitors for a few months in 1999 after a flight from Nepal was hijacked. Things have hopefully gotten a little safer since an Australian tourist was murdered by a taxi driver leaving IGIA in 2004, prompting the Indian government to form a special tourist police force. But there’s still a danger of things going slightly awry: In 2005, an act of sabotage in an ongoing feud between cable television providers led to a pornographic film appearing on the airport’s television monitors…

I do, however, remember that there were mosquitos inside the terminal. That wasn’t so great. And while our taxi driver certainly didn’t assault us, his ancient Ambassador taxi cab broke down less than five minutes after we left the airport. He fixed the engine with the assistance of nearby pedestrians. And what appeared to be a piece of string.

If you enjoy reading about bad airports, don’t miss this exceptional Economist article from December, 2006: “Kama Sutra and feral cats,” in which the author explains that “to understand contemporary Russia,” one must “consider its airports.”

(Foreign Policy link via World Hum.)

“Withnail and I” Redux

"Withnail and I"

“Withnail and I” have been reunited. Times Online:

We last saw them together by London Zoo’s wolf enclosure, parting mournfully in the rain at the end of the most memorable drink and drugs bender in British cinema.

One film – Withnail and I – was enough to place Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann among the great screen double acts in the eyes of generations of fans who still “demand to have some booze” and smoke “Camberwell carrots”, echoing memorable lines from Bruce Robinson’s film some 20 years after it was made.

It was assumed that the pair had grown apart or fallen out because they have not worked together since, but Grant and McGann have been reunited at The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival after a young director plucked up the courage to ask them to appear in his short film…

(Via Kottke.)

Photos from Koh Chang, Chanthaburi, and Around Bangkok

Yours Truly

I recently purchased the excellent Nikon D40 camera. And a trip down to Koh Chang and Chanthaburi last week afforded me the perfect opportunity to put my new toy photojournalism tool through its paces.

You can see all 40 images in the set here.

Following are some of my favorite pics:

Leaving Koh Chang

A ferry sets off for Koh Chang.

Outlying Island, Koh Chang

A small island off the coast of Koh Chang.

Koh Chang

Winding road in Koh Chang.

Chanthaburi at Night

The scene from my hotel balcony in Chanthaburi.

Vendors in Chanthaburi

Vendors in Chanthaburi.

Ecuador’s President Wants Military Base in Miami

Rafael Correa, Ecuador's New President


Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa said Washington must let him open a military base in Miami if the United States wants to keep using an air base on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.

Correa has refused to renew Washington’s lease on the Manta air base, set to expire in 2009. U.S. officials say it is vital for counter-narcotics surveillance operations on Pacific drug-running routes.

“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorean base,” Correa said in an interview during a trip to Italy.

“If there’s no problem having foreign soldiers on a country’s soil, surely they’ll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States.”

The U.S. embassy to Ecuador says on its Web site that anti-narcotics flights from Manta gathered information behind more than 60 percent of illegal drug seizures on the high seas of the Eastern Pacific last year…

(Emphasis mine.)

Virtual Airplane Rides in Delhi

Pic from Airplane! [Not My Image]

Times Online:

An Indian entrepreneur has given a new twist to the concept of low-cost airlines. The passengers boarding his Airbus 300 in Delhi do not expect to go anywhere because it never takes off.

All they want is the chance to know what it is like to sit on a plane, listen to announcements and be waited on by stewardesses bustling up and down the aisle.

In a country where 99% of the population have never experienced air travel, the “virtual journeys” of Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired Indian Airlines engineer, have proved a roaring success.

As on an ordinary aircraft, customers buckle themselves in and watch a safety demonstration. But when they look out of the windows, the landscape never changes. Even if “Captain” Gupta wanted to get off the ground, the plane would not go far: it only has one wing and a large part of the tail is missing.

None of that bothers Gupta as he sits at the controls in his cockpit. His regular announcements include, “We will soon be passing through a zone of turbulence” and “We are about to begin our descent into Delhi.”

(Emphasis mine.)

Airplane! Image via Wikipedia.

One-Minute Photography Lessons

How to Take Travel Photos

“Improve Your Photos 60 Seconds at a Time” offers basic tutorials on subjects such as light, landscaping, people, color, and composition.

(Via Popurls.)

Mexican Politician Cheats in Berlin Marathon

Mexican Politician Cheats in Berlin Marathon [not my image]


Having spent his life as a stalwart in the corrupt political machine that ruled Mexico for decades, Roberto Madrazo has never suffered from a reputation for honesty.

So it provoked laughter here when Madrazo, a former presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was disqualified this week for cheating in the Berlin Marathon.

Madrazo, who came in a distant third in last year’s presidential race, crossed the finish line in Berlin on Sept. 30 with a startling time of 2 hours 41 minutes 12 seconds, easily winning the men’s category for age 55. He grinned and pumped his fists in the air.

But a sports photographer, Victor Sailer, wondered why Madrazo was wearing a jacket, a cap and long tights on a day when most of the runners finished the race in sweat-soaked T-shirts and shorts. Sailer showed his photo to race officials and raised the possibility that Madrazo might have broken the rules.

On Monday, race officials said they had proof that Madrazo had taken a shortcut. An electronic tracking chip in one of his running shoes showed he had skipped two checkpoints and appeared to have run one nine-mile section faster than any human being on record, taking only 21 minutes.

“Not even the world record holder can go that fast,” the race director, Mark Milde, told The Associated Press. (The record for 15,000 meters, about 9.3 miles, is 41 minutes 29 seconds, set by Felix Limo of Kenya in November 2001.)

In June, Madrazo completed a marathon in San Diego in 3 hours 44 minutes 6 seconds, an hour slower than his Berlin time. On Tuesday, a phone call to his office was not answered, and a person at his house said he was not there.

(Emphasis mine.)

Kim Jong Il: “I am an Internet expert”

Kim Jong-Il


Reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has boasted of being an “Internet expert,” reports said Saturday.

The communist state keeps itself closed to the outside world to prevent so-called spiritual pollution from subverting its hardline socialist system.

Kim told delegates at this week’s historic inter-Korean summit his Internet expertise made him reluctant to allow further access to the Web in the communist state, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Kim’s comment came as he turned down South Korea’s proposal that a joint industrial park in the communist state be connected to the Internet.

“I am an Internet expert. Many problems would arise if the Internet is connected to other parts of the North,” Yonhap quoted Kim as saying.

On his way home to Seoul from the summit in Pyongyang, Roh said Kim seemed to be “very familiar with the technical aspects of the Internet.”

The media is a propaganda tool in North Korea, where televisions and radios North Korea are tuned to official channels only, and the leadership is aware of the Internet’s potential to stir up dissent.

It operates its own version of the Internet, a highly censored Intranet that is policed by the Korea Computer Center, North Korea’s window on the worldwide web and its leading high-technology research and development hub.

In 2000, Kim took then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright by surprise by asking for her e-mail address, demonstrating his strong interest in science and technology.

(Emphasis mine.)

How to download Skype and get up and running

I get a lot of questions about Skype — people ask me how it works and how I use it. So here’s a description of my setup. I’ve found Skype to be enormously helpful in communicating with friends, family, and colleagues all over the world. And I’m amazed that so many of my friends — otherwise intelligent, tech-savvy folks — aren’t taking advantage of the service.

First of all: What is Skype, anyway? The simple explanation: It’s an application that allows you to make calls over the Internet. Using Skype, you can call from your computer to other Skype users, or you can make calls to traditional land lines or cell phones. Using Skype is typically much cheaper than using land lines, and for international calls, the sound quality is often better.

Here’s how to get Skype up and running on your computer.

1. Download and install Skype for free from the Skype Web site. It works on both PCs and Macs.

2. Buy a headset. There’re a wide variety available in the Skype store, or on You can also find headsets in the Apple Store. Note: if you’re on a Mac, make sure that the headset you buy is, indeed, Mac-compatible. While most laptops have built-in microphones and speakers, it’s best to use a headset — standard earphones plus a mic that you speak into — to achieve good call quality. That said, some newer laptops have built-in microphones that’re pretty good. But using a headset is best.

3. Tweak your audio settings. In the Skype application, go to:

Skype > Preferences > Audio

…and make sure that your headset is selected under both Input and Output. You may also have to do the same thing to your computer’s System Preferences > Sound settings. On a PC, I understand this can be done by going to:

Start > Control panel > Sounds and audio devices

4. Call other Skype users. There’s no charge for calling another Skype user — you both simply need to be online and have Skype running at the same time.

5. Buy SkypeOut credit. This allows you to call from your computer to land lines and mobile phone numbers. The rates vary, but it’s much, much cheaper than calling conventionally, even using domestic or international calling cards. Here’re the rates for all international destinations. I buy credit in US$25 chunks.

Once you’ve mastered these basics, you might want to attempt some advanced Skype maneuvers:

6. Buy a SkypeIn phone number. It’s US$38 per year, and comes with voice mail. I have one with a Washington, DC area code so that people can call me from the US. Callers pay whatever rate they’d normally be charged for dialing a 202 area code number. These calls are then routed automatically to my computer. I pay for these calls, but the rate is quite reasonable. If I’m online, I simply answer the call in Skype with my headset. If my computer is turned off, I…

7. Use the call forwarding feature to send calls automatically to my cell phone. This is easy to do — just enter your local cell phone number and the call will reach you. (This works for folks dialing your SkypeIn number as well as folks calling you directly on Skype.)

This is perhaps the coolest of Skype’s features: What this means is that if friends or family call my 202 area code number, I might answer the phone on my computer here in Bangkok. Or I might be away from my desk and answer the call on my cell phone. Or if I happen to be traveling in another country, I can pop a local SIM card into my cell phone and answer the call there. (Related blog post: “I live in Russia, my phone lives in New York.”)

8. Get a Web cam and add video-conferencing to your Skype calls. The new Mac laptops have built-in Web cams and work seamlessly with Skype.

A few caveats:
— Skype reception — and thus the quality of your calls — depends on your Internet connection. Using a LAN cable is usually better than WiFi; the more stable the connection, the better. Weaker connections mean that call quality is sometimes compromised, or calls may occasionally drop.
— Generally speaking, calls from Skype to land lines — or from land lines to Skype — sound better than calls to or from cell phones. That said, I’ve received calls from people on their mobile phones that are routed via Skype to my mobile phone and the quality is clear and there’s very little delay.

Here’re some resources for further reading:

— The Skype help page offers general instructions.
— The Skype Wikipedia page provides a good overview of the service

So there you go. Have fun. My Skype ID is newleypurnell. You can thank me next time we talk.

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