Biosphere 2

Can you imagine staying inside a sealed building for two years without physical contact with the outside world? That’s what happened at Biosphere 2 in 1991. It makes an interesting story and the Wikipedia page has a lot more on that mission and a second one that followed.

We visited there today, here are a few photos!

Biosphere 2
Matt wants us to go live in Biosphere 2, away from the Nintendo Wii distractions to help get WordPress 2.5 out on time.
Biosphere 2Biosphere 2Biosphere 2Biosphere 2Biosphere 2Biosphere 2
A room with a view
I asked for a room with a view and they gave me this. WiFi reception is spotty but the view is stunning!

Blogging in Arizona

Most of the Automattic team are in the wilds of Arizona this week. Looking out the window I see an environment as alien to the green Irish landscape I’m familiar with as I’ll probably ever see. Cactus grows everywhere, dark green bushes cover the hills and the dirt on the ground is bone dry. The sun beats down out of a clear blue sky. It’s warm outside, but so cold in the shade. It’s still winter after all, even if it doesn’t feel like it to me.

Cactus

It’s WordPress this, WordPress that. Despite the broadband going down yesterday there’s plenty going on here. Stay tuned for new developments!

PS. Act Two, Automattic Fundraising. Great news for Automattic and WordPress!

Roaming in America

One of the problems with traveling is the cost of calling home. I enabled roaming on Meteor, but it’s a bit pricey at €1.39/minute or €0.32/sms. I checked roam4free as well but that appears to be more expensive yet at €2.50/min.

Enter Skype where I can buy credits and call an Irish landline for €0.02/min or Irish mobile phone for €0.184. It’s great as everywhere in San Francisco I’ve traveled to has WiFi access. This morning I roamed about the house with my laptop in hand, headset on and spoke to my wife Jacinta for over 18 minutes and it cost me less than €4. That’s pretty cool and it was great to hear her and baby Adam.

It’s not quite the same sort of roaming but WiFi is fairly ubiquitous in the United States, so Skype on my laptop is painless, and very cheap.

Later … Out of curiosity I checked how much it costs to ring a mobile phone from an Irish landline. I use UTV’s service and Skype is cheaper at all times except for the weekend. Crazy stuff!

The Sunday Times – Online

Colm on #linux pointed at an article I had previously read in the Sunday Times which had reminded me of my own unfortunate troubles with the US immigration just over a year ago.
That reminded me that I should look for the Sunday Times website which I did, and it redirects to the most recent edition. Great reading there, especially their D-Day coverage.
Here’s the article about that Brother Columbanus I mentioned yesterday. (Unfortunately you have to register to view that content!)

Oh USA, oh USA..

Today’s Sunday Times has some great articles. The front page of their “News Review” section has a harrowing photo of American soldiers praying over the body of a fallen comrade. The accompanying text is an extract from the book, “Thunder Run” by David Zucchino to be published tomorrow.
The piece in the Times described some of the battle for Baghdad, how Iraqis and Arab mercenaries drove cars, taxis, trucks, basically anything at armoured tanks in an effort to destroy them! They didn’t have a chance and it became an awful slaughter for the tank gunners.
The killing of two journalists in the Palestine Hotel is recounted and it’s the first time I read about the incident from the American soldier’s perspective. I heard Robert Fisk talk about it at length at the time it happened and well, war is never as simple as each side tells it.
I’d really like to see stories from the Iraqi side published in the mainstream press. Some have been I’m sure but they don’t get much press. Perhaps the most famous of those is the one written by that blogger in Baghdad, but just goes to show that I can’t even remember his name now..

Inside is another article I took a keen interest in. A Times journalist was refused entry into the USA. When he reached Los Angeles International Airport he showed his green visa-waiver card but was told he needed an I-visa as he was a visiting journalist on business. He had been over to the States many times so he wasn’t unduly worried until later he was told he was refused admittance and would be deported the following day!
He hoped he’d be put in a hotel or somewhere comfortable for the night, but instead ended up in a holding cell, without blankets, shoe laces, laptop/phone, and only a “bench fixed to the wall with a cold metallic surface” to sleep on. Finally he was put on a plane home 26 hours later and received his passport when he reached Heathrow.

I can really relate to this story, but I’m very glad I didn’t go through what he did! Last June when I and my girlfriend at the time went to Chicago I didn’t have a work visa. I was confidently told by my boss that he’s back and forth all the time and never has any problems!
We were to fly from Shannon airport and decided to go through immigration seperately. I went through first, I had my white card filled out and walked up to a counter with a thin woman in her late 30s in the uniform of the Immigration Service. I explained that I was going over on business to Chicago, that I was working for an Irish company, not taking any American’s job, and I was returning in 3 months. I showed her the letter my boss wrote on headed paper saying the same.
I was already worried, so you can imagine my stress levels when she asked me to accompany her down a dark hallway and told to sit and, “Wait here. Someone will be along in a moment.” Soon enough, she came back again, this time with another traveller who sat down next to me. He didn’t have a visa either.
While the two of us were sitting their contemplating our bad luck my girlfriend passed and when she saw me her jaw dropped with shock! I motioned to her to carry on, “Go on, go on, don’t stop, I’ll see you in a minute!” I had spotted a camera down the hallway so I expect it might have been watched.
Presently a uniformed officer came out and interviewed me in his office. He was nice, polite and cordial. He took my letter, read over it and photocopied it, handing me the copy. As he stamped my passport, I told him he could ring my boss if there was any doubt about my story and he replied, “If there was any doubt you wouldn’t be going on this flight!” With a shaking hand I took my passport, thanked him and hurried down the hallway. My girlfriend met me down there and the look of relief on her face was probably matched by the look on mine! Before going to Immigration, she asked an usher who she should go to, and he had pointed at the woman I went to, “Go to anyone but her!” My really bad luck I think!
I had to return to Ireland during the Summer for work reasons and I flew via London this time. Immigration checks were in Chicago, the cop there looked at my green visa-waiver card, asked what the purpose of my visit was. “Business”, and replied with a laugh, “Don’t get into any trouble now!”
Next time I’m getting a visa..