Namibia: everything is slow (and interesting!)

One of the things that happened in Namibia is that everything there is slow. It took a few days to get adjusted to that. People talking, check in, out, renting a car, filling up with fuel, buying from the supermarket… and the animals!

I haven’t watched animal documentaries for a while but I remember a few documentaries from the past. What I didn’t remember is how slow things are. How slow the giraffes are going to the waterhole for example. I remember arriving at a waterhole and seeing 2 giraffes far away slowly coming to the waterhole. If I were a giraffe I think that I would jog to the waterhole, look around, drink water, jog away. Well, it’s not this way! They walk very slowly to the waterhole (taking easily 15 minutes from where they were). One giraffe drinks, the other one still hasn’t arrived. Just to go to the giraffe drinking position it takes a few minutes. Giraffe drinks, stops, looks, drinks… another 15 minutes easily. Then the other giraffe also does it… they wait for each other. Then leave, slowly again, calmly… another 15 minutes. The giraffe show took at least 45 minutes .

This is the same with other animals, they are not in a hurry… hippopotamus, elephants, even zebras in the evening seem to act this way. This is something that I didn’t imagine based on the documentaries: where a cameraman spends months in the waterhole and shows the best pictures.

Namibia: I wish I had known

Earlier this year I went to Namibia. And I had such a good time! Obviously, like almost every first time going anywhere , there were some things that I wish I had known.

One of the things I wish I had known is that Namibian ants really go after Catalan nuts (and I’m not talking about me). I had a few nuts in my backpack (emergency food supply for London underground signal problems!). I left my backpack in one of the lodges and 2 days later I found thousands of ants in the backpack, they made a hole in the nuts’ plastic bag and started eating them. As a side note: this method could perhaps be used to grind nuts… they did a very good grinding it and was like dust, it was getting everywhere. We moved the backpack outside, threw the nuts away, cleaned it as well as we could and 2 days later there were no ants there. Phew!

Parking under a tree
Another thing that I wish I had known is that, well, parking under a tree with a social weaver nest (type of bird, amazing creature!) might not be the best idea. And no, it’s not a poo issue. Long story short: I parked there for a break and left the door open for a bit while taking photos of the very interesting birds, preparing the food for lunch. After lunch I sat down in the driver’s seat, closed the door, left the camera on the rear seats, got the keys to start on the car and when I looked at my feet I saw a snake next to them! And I was wearing shorts! It almost killed me! (of a heart attack!). For a split second I wondered if I should remain calm and open the door quietly to get out, or if I should jump over the gear stick to the passenger seat and go out that way (the passenger door was still open). Before I could make a decision I was flying over and going out in the wild way, not the civilized way. I still don’t know how but the snake didn’t bite me. We were outside, in the natural park, with the snake in the car but after a few minutes the snake went out by itself.

By the way, a social beaver came and started making an “alarm call” (I guess that they were saying “hey, watch out my friends, there is danger!”). But the other social beavers were curious: they actually came next to the alarm call bird to look at the danger. I wanted to tell them “no no… this is not working well, you have to go away!” but actually this was handy for us: it made the snake to go out of the car!

Another thing is the packing… and I think that I’m one of the very few people making this mistake. I was very afraid of mosquito bites so I didn’t pack any shorts and actually in lodges shorts were the best thing (I used my pyjama shorts that look like standard shorts). Not for walking in other places because of the snakes for example.

Termite mounds: do not stand nearby
There are some huge termite mounds, which can be more than 2 meters. Like good Namibia explorers stopped nearby and walked there to take a few photos (they look amazing!). But… it is not a good idea to get too close! Or, at least, not if the termite mound is not a live one! (and we don’t know how to know if the termite mount is alive or dead).

In one of our last lodges we read some information and they said that it’s dangerous to stand next to a termite mound… because if the mound has been abandoned then the ground nearby is unstable and it can collapse… and snakes usually live there.

Namibia: recommendations travel company

If you don’t want to read everything: all of this is to say that The Cardbox Box travel shop was amazing and helped us to organise our trip to Namibia. If you go to Namibia: don’t hesitate and use it!

When we started planning Namibia we were a bit confused: what to do, where to go, how long to stay… and then we had to make all the bookings.

Booking wise in Namibia: in many places the procedure is to send an email/web form and request the date the we wanted to check in and check out. Then after one day approximately (sometimes a few days) they answer say and “it’s available” or “not available but we suggest some days earlier/later” (or, in the Etosha national park accommodation they used to email in a few days saying “we are going to email you in a few days” and then they “oops, not available in this lodge but we will put you in another one). If the dates are available they sometimes send a Microsoft Word document and one should write the names there, check in, check out, tick the type of accommodation and write the credit card/debit card number for the payment (wow, yes!). Sign it and send it back. Then this needs to be done for each accommodation, let’s say that being there 2 weeks could easily be 5 different places (probably 7). On the top of this: do this for the car company, some activities, etc. (sometimes with an online payment instead of the Word document). For each one of it can easily take 30 minutes, so probably around 3 hours for all the bookings and then deal with small changes (move some booking with a cascading effect, etc.).

Then it comes the questions: is this too much driving? Do I need Namibian dollars or South African Rands? Should I stay in that place or the other place? Should I stay 2 nights or 3 nights?

So if you would like to have a local person answering the questions, making all the bookings for you, giving you recommendations (which car to rent, where to go first, etc.): we used The Cardbox Box and our agent (Rachael) was amazing! (and for the comments in TripAdvisor: they are always very good). She answered all the questions patiently, gave ideas from a local point of view, she accepted to do some small changes when it was almost all done (we had some problems booking one of the flights). We didn’t book all the lodges and hotels we dealt direct because we needed some more time to look at a few places in Swakopmund but it wasn’t as problem either.

Initially I was wondering about the price. They charge the same price as the places we booked direct. It’s really convenient to safe time instead of booking direct with all the dependencies (if this places is full then we should go there, but postpone one night that other place). After agreeing on the plan we paid in one transaction using an online secure system and they provided us with all the vouchers for the lodges. They also emailed a few tips what to bring and how to do things.

Star service, saved lot of time and gave us good ideas! Cardboard Box Travel Shop, Namibia

Icehack in Cambridge: report

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to attend an Icehack in Cambridge.

This happened yesterday and I had good fun, learnt a few things (about British Antarctic Survey and about IPython-notebook), meet nice people, had enough food for dinner (and, OMG, even fresh fruit besides the mandatory hack-pizza).

Thanks very much for organizing it! I also found that BAS has many datasets (see BAS data) but was nice to focus on a few of them.

We did a quick show and tell (see it in a new page)

And the CartoDB result (see it in a new page)

As mentioned another times on this blog (here and here): I really enjoy using CartoDB CartoDB. It makes things that previously were complicated to do much simpler!

Icehack in Cambridge (14th March)

In 2 weeks, on 7th March 2016, the Cambridge Science Festival will start. It’s 2 weeks or science talks, workshops, activities… and hackathons! In Cambridge of course.

Many of the events are free to attend but require a ticket booking. Have a look at the webpage to see what’s available. There are talks about many things: physics, chocolate, astronomy, maths, etc.

One of the things that I’ll attend is the Icehack: discovering polar data. To signup use the Meetup page.. I think that the proposed framework will be quite Python based but it’s not needed to use Python for this.

I might try to use again CartoDB: I liked it and I haven’t used for a while. I’ll see what will happen. Join and do something ase well!

Slides benches at #geomob

Two weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to present the Benches app at #geomob London. Now I’m on the #geomob London wall of fame.

The presentation went well! The slides are available online. A few slides need some explanation but you can get the gist of the presentation.

FOSDEM 2016 in 4 days!

This coming weekend is FOSDEM 2016: the biggest conference (and it’s free) about Free and OpenSource in Europe (at least). It’s in Brussels and registration is not needed. Check the schedule and you might still be able to come.

#geomob London: benches

Some time ago I mentioned the Benches app iOS. See that blog post.

This Thursday I’ll speak about it on #geomob London. It’s free to attend.

Also, feel free to re-tweet it.

Spanish to Catalan: what if just dropping ‘n’?

Some people speak Spanish and they learn Catalan… and some vocabulary is the same.

Actually, I remember checking, in 2006, how many words are exactly the same in Spanish and Catalan compared with Catalan and French or Catalan and English. I was trying to explain “how different are these languages” to Estonians and I thought that some numbers might help. See that entry, in Catalan.

I asked to a super Catalan learner: “how is ‘camión’ in Catalan?” and she didn’t guess it. I said that in case of doubt just drop the ‘n’… seems to work (‘avión’, ‘camión’,…)

Of course, we had to check comparing words to know the hit/miss rate! Given a random word in Spanish ending with ‘n’: removing the ‘n’: how likely is that will appear a Catalan word?

The success is 45.57%! (this is ignoring accents and using wspanish and wcatalan Debian packages).

I might add some other variations like “universidad” -> “universitat”… stay tuned here for more results.

Where on Mars? and Mendeley documents

As I mentioned in the previous post on a Mendeley hackday we worked with Nicolas Manaud from the project “Where on Mars?” and used CartoDB (and I’ll say once more: CartoDB is very cool).

What did we do? We programmed a Python script (very badly programmed, I am looking at you… the line with an “insert” query without binding variables!) that searches the Mendeley catalogue and inserts documents geo-located into a table in CartoDB. Then using CartoDB we displayed this data. And to make it more fun we displayed the data on a map with The Martian’s book trip. You can see that the specific locations featured in the story have many documents, partially because Pathfinder and Mars Rover were nearby.

If you want the data on CartoDB or the map.