Wednesday, August 30, 2006

George Bush Debates Himself

Despite the lag between the sound and the video, I think this is quite hilarious.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

All Simpsons Stuff Up For Sale

Tonight at Midnight Pacific Standard Time all of my Simpsons toy auctions will go online. You can see them by clicking this link:

If you are interested, happy bidding!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Staring at the Sky

Tonight I hauled out my telescope for the first time in a long time to look at a bright "star" on the western horizon I had been noticing just after sunst. It has been rather humid in the evenings because, well... it's just that way in Atlanta during the summer. But tonight it was rather clear. So, I pulled my telescope and its massive aluminum stand out of my closet and and aimed it in the direction of the bright object.

I was pretty sure it was Venus, but since I hadn't been able to look at stars in over a year (Atlanta ain't got nothin' on Cairo's pollution), I wasn't quite sure what was where at this time of year. As it turned out it was Jupiter. I could see the small white disk with two grayish bands across it and four of Jupiter's largest moons, which show up through my telescope as four pinpricks of light. It was great to see an old friend again!

Then I realized I had some new capabilities with my new digital camera. One of the reasons I liked it was its shutter priority setting, which means I can set the amount of time the shutter remains open. I set up my other tripod and mounted my camera on it. Then I opened up the shutter for about 16 seconds and caught the above image of the constellation Scorpius (click the image to see an enlargement). If you don't have eyes for constallations, this second image I found on the internet should help you.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Exercising Milestone

Recently I've been getting up and walking at the local park most mornings. I started off by walking three laps around the walking trail, which is about three miles total. I always walk at least three laps, but every now and then I walk extra laps. Today I went a full six miles! I've never really had any regular exercising regimen in my life, so this is quite a milestone for me. It gives me energy and makes me feel good pretty much all day. It's nice! Hopefully I will be able to shed some weight too.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Survey says...

And the final tally on the number of Simpsons items is: 145. I'll post a link once I actually have the auctions up and running.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Photos of the Georgia Aquarium

In addition to the videos I previously posted, I have posted some photos of my trip to the Georgia Aquarium. Take a look at them on my photos page.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Selling the Simpsons

Before I went to Egypt I collected toys for nearly eight years. I started off collecting Star Wars toys, but soon collecting became an addiction and I was buying all kinds of action figures, from hockey players to The Simpson. In those eight years I amassed a collection so large that I began to feel cramped in my living space. When I ran out of space I stopped collecting toys, and that’s when I looked in my closets and thought, “Oh, no. What have I done?” It had taken years to buy all of those toys, and I began to realize that it would take years to get rid of them.

For a time I simply ignored this problem because it was simply too large to take on. I would just look in a closet and get overwhelmed. So, before I left for Egypt I came up with a plan. I decided I would quit my job two months before the big trip and use that time to try and get rid of a large chunk. I put nearly all of my Star Wars toys on eBay, and within two months, most of it sold. It was a large burden off my shoulders, but there was still a long way to go.

Now that I am home, I am going to whittle away at the stockpile once more. Tonight I took pictures of each item from my Simpsons collection (about 80 items total) and will begin the arduous process of selling them on eBay tomorrow.

It is very easy to get caught up in the big mess that is American commercialism. We Americans want whatever is newest, biggest, fastest, sleekest, and sexiest. We are continuously bombarded with advertisements that appeal to our very desires. Corporations are very good at parting us from our money and driving us to do it again and again. They go for the repeat buy, so they entice us to buy more and more.

I have learned a big lesson about myself from all of this. I have a newfound appreciation for living simply and buying as little as I can. Trying to live simply is still a difficult battle to fight. Everyday I have to struggle against years of conditioning in order to do it, but at the end of the day I know I can find peace without a bunch of stuff. Never again do I want to have a large collection of anything.

The Georgia Aquarium

Some friends of mine from church recently treated me to a trip the brand new (it opened while I was in Egypt, so it’s brand new to me) Georgia Aquarium. The Georgia Aquarium is nestled away in the middle of downtown Atlanta, and is a part of a new development near Centennial Olympic Park. The World of Coca-Cola is building a new building there too, which will make the area one big tourist destination.

Anyway, back to the aquarium. I was blown away! It was unlike any aquarium I have ever seen. I don’t know what kinds of materials engineers have been inventing over the last few years, but they took Plexiglas to new levels of usage at this place. No longer do viewers just stand and look at the fish through a window in a wall. Now the window arcs up and over viewers so that they can look up through the water at the undersides of the fish. They also had a tunnel that permitted us to walk through the water and be surrounded on all sides by schools… nay, swarms of fish.

The Georgia Aquarium also sports the second largest viewing window in the world. It is second only to a viewing window in Japan, which is only four inches larger. Words cannot truly describe it, so I have provided a video of it for your viewing pleasure.

The crown jewels of The Georgia Aquarium are 4 (I think) enormous Whale Sharks. There are two boys and two girls. Whale Sharks are gigantic! I can’t even think of anything to compare them to size-wise. Luckily I caught one in my video. Check it out!

If you are interested in going to the Georgia Aquarium, go to their web site and order tickets. Tickets are so in demand that you have to reserve a date and time. Apparently the place is always packed. Enjoy!

This is the tunnel through the water.

A Gigantic Whale Shark.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Sweet! I'm Green Lantern! My favorite!

Your results:
You are Green Lantern
Green Lantern
The Flash
Iron Man
Wonder Woman
Hot-headed. You have strong
will power and a good imagination.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Life in America

Since I returned home I have had many of my friends and family ask me about how I am adjusting to life in America, what I miss about Egypt and what I am glad to see again. I enjoyed my time in Egypt but I am indeed happy to be home again.

There are several things that have taken some adjustment. It is interesting to understand exactly what everyone is saying in public, almost overwhelming. I have been told that past YAV’s have had nervous breakdowns after visiting American grocery stores. Perhaps by hearing that I was prepared, so I didn’t freak out. But I am astounded by the sheer amount of products we have here. My grocery store in Egypt would completely fit in a third of one aisle at the local Publix grocery store here in Snellville, GA. Why do we need so much stuff to buy? I have gone to Wal-Mart a couple of times just to wander the aisles. I wasn’t there to buy anything specific. I just wandered the aisles and looked at all the stuff that is available to buy. I found it more silly than overwhelming.

What I have found quite overwhelming is driving on the streets and highways of Atlanta. I visited my brother at his new downtown apartment and could feel my heart rate and breathing quicken. I was very edgy by the time I arrived. I used taxis during my entire time in Egypt and even though the driving there was largely unregulated and quite crazy, it was comparatively slow. I experienced several hair-raising moments sitting in the back seat of a Cairo taxicab and barely flinched. I got used to the chaos from the back seat. Here there is less congestion, but traffic moves much faster, and sometimes the roads are much narrower. Plus I actually have to pay attention now instead of blissfully trying to read road signs in another language. Getting from one place to another has become quite an ordeal for my nerves.

Something I didn’t realize I missed, but now I appreciate being around them again, is pine trees. I love pine trees.

Recently I got to meet the newest member of my family: my new baby cousin. She was born back in November and I just got to see her. She is one of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen and I can’t wait to see her again. She’s so sweet and adorable.

What do I miss about Egypt? The friendly people. That’s not to say all Egyptian people are friendly. In fact they probably wouldn’t give each other the time of day most of the time. But in their eyes I am special. I am a foreigner that they want to be around and take care of and protect. They want to make sure I have a good time in their country. I tried my best to not let this kind of attention go to my head. I know deep down that I am not some super special fantastic person; I was just a guy living in another country in a different culture. Still, I don’t think anyone can go to another country and be lavished with attention the way we all were and walk away unchanged. Yes, I miss that kind of attention. Who wouldn’t?

I miss living near fantastic ancient places and artifacts. I think there are the obvious ancient Egyptian artifacts, pyramids and temples, but I have a newfound appreciation for the ancient Christian and Islamic locations. I never knew how much of a presence Christianity had and still has in Egypt and much of the Middle East.

I tell you one thing… it’s very odd to listen to the news or watch a program on Egypt and hear Arabic words and understand them clearly. It just seems so odd in this context.

I’ll continue to write more about my impressions of being home, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Last Two Weeks in Cairo

At long last, a new journal entry…

Teri was kind enough to take me to some Islamic sites of interest in Cairo before we left. Back in February my grandmother passed away and I returned to the U.S. for her funeral. While I was away the YAV group went on a tour of Islamic Cairo so I missed out on that bit of education. I was really interested in seeing some Islamic sites before leaving Cairo, so we went to the Khan EL Khalili once more (I won’t lie… I also used this trip as an opportunity to buy some souvenirs for friends and family at home) and saw several mosques. We also went to the Citadel of Salah El Din (AKA Saladin) to see the large sprawling mosque of Muhammad Ali. The mosque is enormous and has some five gleaming metal domes. Though the Citadel was built in the Middle Ages when the Christians were crusading, the mosque wasn’t built until the 1800’s and is the only mosque that I have seen that was influenced by Western cultures. This one was influenced specifically by French architecture. It has lavish decorations in some areas, but the main prayer space is typically sparse. I was impressed by how the mosque was lit. Suspended above the wide-open area was a large metal ring, perhaps fifty feet in diameter, with glass-globed lamps that were hung every few feet.

We also went to a military museum that is within the walls of the Citadel. We stepped into the museum and immediately found one of the chariots from King Tut’s tomb. Then we jumped forward a few thousand years to the medieval Islamic period and saw mannequins riding fake horses, dressed in the military garb of the day. They had some pretty wicked looking swords and knives. Then we moved on to artifacts from more recent military campaigns. We saw canons and even a mangled tail fin from an Israeli fighter jet. My favorite item in the museum was a painting depicting Jimmy Carter (former U.S. president and fellow Georgian) witnessing the 1978 peace accords between Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.

We found another mosque within the walls of the Citadel that was much older than the mosque of Muhammad Ali. The Muslim guide asked us to remove our shoes (as we had done at the Muhammad Ali mosque) and then led us to a pillar with a Christian cross near the top. In order to build the mosque, the builders used some materials from churches they had demolished. The cross was evidence of this. You can see a picture of this in my photos section in the album dated July 19th.

Upon finishing our tour of Islamic Cairo, Teri and I agreed that we had enough time to go to Coptic Cairo to go to the newly reopened Coptic Museum. We had been told at the beginning of our year in Egypt (in September) that the museum was being refurbished and it would be open in March. Everyone I knew in Cairo was very excited because the museum had been under renovations for several years and they were eager to visit it once again. March came and went and the museum was still not open. Every time we went we were told, “One more month.” Finally the museum reopened during our last two weeks.

We saw beautiful crosses that were carved into stone alongside carved ankhs, the ancient Egyptian symbol for life, paintings of various saints and sculptures. One thing I found very interesting was a symbol that is closely associated with Islam, a square with another square turned at a 45 degree angle, was originally a Coptic Christian symbol. The museum had one example of the symbol that dated back to the 4th century, long before Islam began.