Friday, February 29, 2008

Hey Baby, What's your Blood-type?

Ok, to continue in this week's potentially racist theme, tonight I learned from a young Japanese woman who is currently visiting the US that "all Japanese girls" ask potential boyfriends what their blood type is. Apparently, similar to astrology here in the US, there's a belief in Japan that your blood type reflects what your personality will be.

You can read all about it in more detail here in this Wikipedia article. And, coincidentally to fit this week's theme, in the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article, they say this blood-type fortune telling is a form of racism.

A lack of a sense of humor

A friend recently sent me a link to this blog. It's called "Stuff White People Like" and is a bunch of musings on "white" middle / upper-middle class American culture. The site's description says: "This is a scientific approach to highlight and explain stuff white people like. They are pretty predictable." It's obvious satire, but as with most satire, it takes some very true points and exaggerates them for humor. For a quick example, take a look at this recent entry about bottled water. Personally, I found it quite funny.

Apparently, some people don't get the joke. I got sucked into reading the comments people left on the blog. Yikes! There are some wicked scary / crazy / angry / racists out there who don't have a sense of humor. I'll just stick to reading the regular articles from now on and skip the comments. But it's scary to think there are people having such angry and violent reactions to the blog. Telling the author they hope he/she dies or gets gang raped in prison?!?!? What the heck?

It reminds me of the time I was talking to two coworkers about a visit to San Francisco and how I was walking with some friends and we stumbled across a really crazy gay block party. One of my coworkers responded with something along the lines of, "Didn't you just wish you had a machine gun and could have mowed all those fags down?" I was so stunned I was left speechless. At first I assumed he was just making a really bad joke, but he was serious! I had worked with this guy for a couple years and had no idea he was so wacko and prejudiced.

It makes me wonder what percentage of the people in the world sincerely are nice people. I hope it's a significant majority and it's just the loud mouth jerks who sometimes make it seem less.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shoji, part 2

I finally finished my 4 shoji screen window coverings. I came down with a nasty cold this week, so I had some free time to putter around my condo and play with a router. Here's the end result:

I now finally have some privacy in my home dojo. Here's slightly fish-eyed view of what the room now looks like. There's plenty of space to practice!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Peace Corps then and now

I just received my Peace Corps medical kit in the mail today. It includes a bunch of paperwork I need to have completed by a doctor and dentist. Talk about a boat load of tests! I've got to be tested for all sorts of stuff. Fortunately, I'm not over 50, so I at least get to skip the prostate exam. Phew!

Anyhow, while looking for some medical records in my filing cabinet, I noticed I had a folder labeled "Peace Corps". It turns out it contains the original documentation and application for the program that I sent away for back when I was in college! I was surprised I still held on to it.

Here's a snapshot of the current envelop I just received, overlaid on top of the one from 1989.

And here's a close-up of the postmark from the original.

That's March 14, 1989. Hey, it just took me 19 years to finally get around to completing the application.

On another side note, I found it interesting that postage hasn't increased much in the last 19 years. The original parcel cost $1.25 to ship. My recent Peace Corps information packet (not this larger medical one) only cost $1.48. That's only an 18% increase over 19 years.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Poor planning on my part

Part of the paperwork I need to submit to the Peace Corps is a financial plan for how I will handle the mortgage on my condo. I had planned on keeping my condo and I thought I had enough finances to cover the 27 months of payments while I have no income. Unfortunately, now that I am formally putting the numbers down on paper, it looks like I made a serious miscalculation. I had planned on selling some stocks and they had quite a bit more value several months ago - back when I started seriously considering the idea of the Peace Corps.

Now I'm not so sure July is still a realistic departure date. I could try to sell the condo, but the market right now is lousy and it's unlikely I'd be able to sell it in time. And, if I don't, it's not like I'd be able to handle a sale and closing while in Africa - at least I don't know how the paperwork would get done, especially if I'm not in a place easily reached from the US.

So, for now, nothing has officially changed with my application process, but it might have to if the stock market doesn't improve. On the other hand, I did just get an email from some ex-politician in Nigeria who said he wants me to help him launder $32 million dollars. So maybe my problems are solved!

(Oh, and this isn't a subtle appeal for any financial assistance. I prefer my financial independence and self-reliance. Worst case I'll just have to do the Peace Corps thing a bit later than originally planned while I save up the cash.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Next Step

Some people have asked me what's next in the application process now that I've been nominated for a position. Well, the next step is "Medical Clearance". My file will be sent to the Peace Corps HQ in Washington, DC. I'll then be sent a medical kit within the next two weeks. This is basically a bunch of paperwork I need filled out by my doctor and dentist. (They want to make sure I'm healthy and don't have any unexpected conditions when I might be far from a doctor while serving the Peace Corps.)

Then once I send all that medical paperwork back to DC, I could be waiting for up to 3 or 4 months before they process my file. (Hey, no surprise. It's the US government we're talking about...) It's at that point, after I'm medically cleared, the placement officer in DC will look over my file and determine where I am best suited based on my skills and the available positions to be filled. That's when I'll get an official invitation to a country, along with a more specific departure date. And that's also why the position might change, as 3 or 4 months from now there could be different or more urgent requests from the host countries. After being given the official invitation, I'll have 10 days to make a decision on whether to accept the invitation.

So, for now, I'm just waiting for the medical forms to be sent. And then I get to wait 3 or 4 months.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pick one!

The Peace Corps interview went well, I think. I spent a couple hours at the Boston office, got asked a bunch of questions about different situations, got to watch a 15 minute video on other people's experiences in the Peace Corps, and got to also ask a lot of questions that I had. When all that was done, I was given a list of possible nominations for Peace Corps opportunities. (After the interview, you get nominated for one position and then your case gets transferred to the Washington, DC office.) Based on my background and qualifications, I was given the following list of choices (listed with time of departure, area of service, and possible type of work being requested by the host country):

1) July, Africa, school-base information technology
2) late August, Caribbean, requires 1 year of experience in information technology management
3) September, Pacific islands, computer science / IT related
4) October, Africa, computer science / IT related
5) October, Pacific islands, willing/able to teach secondary/post secondary school, computer science/ IT related
6) July, Africa, primary math resource teacher (i.e. teach primary school math teachers)

From this list, it is obvious that the computer science / information skills are in highest demand. I had also expressed an interest in more hands-on construction type work building water supplies and sanitary systems, but since there are no degree requirements for it, there were no open positions looking as far out as next March.

Before I made my choice, my interviewer also stressed that I should not get too attached to my choice as it could turn out I receive an invitation to a completely different location than what I chose. The invitations are generally sent out based on the current need and the best fit for the applicants skills. In my interviewer's case, she had been nominated for a Pacific islands position but instead received an invitation to Uganda (which is where she ended up going). She said it was probably best that I didn't find any construction related positions that were of interest as I most-likely would have been rerouted to a computer science position based on my skills and the more difficulty they have in filling those positions.

So, with that said, I have reached my decision. I told my interviewer that I'd prefer the first position on the list - July, somewhere in Africa (there's a list of about 20 countries it might be!) doing information technology work in a school. The location of Pacific islands or Caribbean did have some definite appeal (I love the ocean!), but doing IT work at a school sounded like something I'd definitely be good at and would at the same time possibly benefit a large number of people. And I am after all signing up for this to help people, not to find the most exotic location to live for two years.

Now I'll have to wait and see when and where I really get invited.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The colors of Africa

One of the most visually memorable things about Africa was the colors - the colors of buildings along the roadsides and the colorful clothing people wore. These bright colors were often a sharp contrast to the sometimes drab browns and greens of the surrounding land. Here are a few pictures that hopefully capture this...

Oh, and don't forget, since blogger seems to wash-out the color of these thumbnail images, click on the images to see a more accurate and brighter color scheme. I really need to figure out how to fix this.

This first picture was of a tourist shop and viewing area atop the edge of the Great Rift Valley. Various colored Maasai blankets were for sale, along with some animal skins. As can be seen in some of the later pictures, the Maasai people wear the blankets as a sort of wrap around their body.

The following are a few snapshots I took from the daladala (minivan) while we were on the road.

Note the Glorious Hair Saloon!

I thought these next two people were particularly interesting looking.

This last one was a good representation of how often you'd be riding along in the middle of nowhere and see a bright red spot off in the distance with a bunch of cows or goats nearby. It was always easy to spot the Maasai herder.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Peace Corps update

As I mentioned earlier, I've completed the online application process. The new update is I now have my interview scheduled for next Tuesday, February 12, at the Peace Corps Boston office. The interview should last a couple of hours and is designed to give them an idea whether I'm a good fit.

Unlike most job interviews, I was even given a heads up on a half dozen of the questions they are going to ask. They said they don't want to put me on the spot with the questions and don't want it to be an uncomfortable process. Also unlike most job interviews, they said I should give honest straightforward answers rather than answers I think the interviewer might want to hear. There aren't necessarily right or wrong answers, but rather the point of most of the questions are to find out realistically what types of situations or environments might be best suited for the applicant.

I'll be sure to post an update after the interview on how I thought it went.

One interesting thing - since I've mentioned this whole Peace Corps application, I've heard from several friends who happen to know someone who was in the Peace Corps, so I'm getting some good feedback and advice. Thanks!

Monday, February 04, 2008


No, not the Chevy car. This is a type of antelope I saw on the Maasai Mara. They are quite common and are easy to tell apart from the other antelope due to the black tuft of hair on the backs of their hind legs and the black line on their rump.

A herd of impala is usually made up of just one adult male and the rest are females and young. Here's a snapshot of part of this one male's herd.

It wasn't uncommon to also see groups of bachelor impalas. These are the ones that were lucky enough to not get stuck with the responsibility of having to look after a group of 20+ females and young. Hmmm... or did I get that last detail wrong? Was it supposed to be that these guys lost out?

[NOTE: I've noticed recently that for some reason when I upload my photos to blogger, the colors get a bit washed out in the converted images it produces. To see the photos in their proper color, click on the photo image to see the original larger photo.]

Friday, February 01, 2008

Superb Starling

Saw this starling while on safari in the Maasai Mara. It's official name is superb starling. It's definitely a lot nicer looking than starlings we get around here in New England.

It's a bit hard to make out in this picture (as usual you can click on it for a larger view), but the bush the starling was on had huge thorns. It's actually a pretty common bush in the area. The Maasai people often use bundles and piles of these thorny branches to create fences in their villages. The thorns help keep predators away and keep the domesticated animals from trying to escape.