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Our planet

I was looking up Earth surface elevation data today (from SRTM), and I was blown away by the amazing fractal structure of mountain and valley systems. Here's a small scaled-down sample of the dataset around Sydney, on which I've labelled Sydney and Newcastle to illustrate the scale. Brightness indicates elevation.



Nature never ceases to amaze.
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Crazy

For some reason I thought I was 28. I put my birthdate into a website, and it told me I was 27, so I started filling out a bug report. But now that I actually did the maths...

Good thing I didn't send that bug report in or that would be Very Embarrassing.
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Photos: Portraits from the Mekong

While Angkor Wat was impressive, I would say that the highlight of my Cambodia trip has to be travelling along the Mekong River by boat. I had two opportunities to do this: once on a tour of the floating villages near Siem Reap, and again when we travelled by boat from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. On the way, I pulled out my trusty telephoto lens and shot some close-up portraits of river life. Here's a few of my favourite shots...



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Photos: Khmer life

Streets in Siem Reap:



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Motorbikes and pushbikes are the dominant form of transportation amongst locals (as in Vietnam). Petrol stations are relatively sparse, but almost every roadside stall sells soda bottles full of fuel for emergency bike refilling.

Outside town, traditional houses in Cambodia are built on stilts, both for protection from floodwater and also for reasons of tradition and superstition.

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Along the Mekong River, there are also many floating houses.

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The residents along the river typically commute by boat, and there are a number of floating shops to serve their needs (and even floating schools and churches).

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More photos from along the river in my next post...
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Photos: Angkor Wat, Khmer architecture

For those out of the loop, I spent the last couple of weeks on holiday in Cambodia and Vietnam (with short stays in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur en route).

Naturally no visit to Cambodia is complete without a trip to Angkor Wat. Wat means temple in Khmer (Cambodian). Angkor Wat is a huge temple complex that was built in the 12th century at Angkor, which was then the capital of the Khmer Empire. At the time, the Khmer Empire was much larger than present day Cambodia (Wikipedia map). Angkor Wat is now part of Angkor Archaeological Park, near the town of Siem Reap.



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Since it's difficult to see the immense scale of the temple from the ground, here is a model of Angkor Wat located at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh (photo possibly taken by Emma):

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Another famous temple is Wat Phnom, in Phnom Penh (phnom means hill in Khmer). Here is a photo of the east entrance to Wat Phnom, which demonstrates many features characteristic of Khmer architecture. (The temple itself is not particularly remarkable, other than the fact that it dates back to the 14th century; a glimpse of it can be seen in the background in the top right.)

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In addition to the dvarapala (guardian warrior) and chinthe (lion-like) statues that often guard temples, the seven-headed naga is a common motif in Khmer architecture. It is often seen as a finial on railings, as demonstrated here and at Angkor Wat. Ornate triangular pediments, spires, and chofa (finial spires on roof ledges) are often used in the design of ceremonial buildings; this can also be seen in the design of the buildings at the Royal Palace:

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I'm so hot

Crazy hot day in Sydney today; the temperature reached 42°C (108°F) in some places, paired with high humidity. The candles in my parents' candelabra went flaccid, which was a strange sight.

If you were ever wondering what happens to potatoes when you forget about them and leave them in your shopping bags, I've done the research for you...

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Photos: New York

The weather has been rather depressing throughout my New York visit, and I think this reflects the prevailing mood of the place. As a major center of finance in the US, this is a city where the economic downturn is really being felt. Many of the firms I've visited are in the midst of "rationalisation", with heavy job losses.


(Times Square)

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More from Chicago

This evening I had the highlight of my trip, which was paying a coke dealer to walk me to the train station. I have no idea if the neighbourhood was actually dangerous, but it seemed safer than refusing the offer. It was also a good opportunity to have a chat to him on the way, since you rarely get such opportunities.

Other than that, I spent the afternoon in the northwest area of Chicago, along Milwaukee Avenue (where, incidentally, parts of High Fidelity were filmed). Indeed I went to Reckless Records, which the movie was supposedly inspired by, and picked up a whole bunch of used CDs. The whole stretch along Milwaukee Avenue has dozens of second hand stores, thrift shops and pawn shops, as well as unexpected miscellany including a spy supply store.

In the evening I went to Kingston Mines Blues Club, as suggested by ianw. Unfortunately the music there when I arrived wasn't particularly impressive — especially in the wake of the music at Blue Chicago the other night, which was a hard act to follow. On the way home I passed a couple of other blues places though. Chicago is simply a great city for live music.

The public transport system in Chicago is great. They have transit cards to pay fares on both buses and metropolitan trains. You can top up the transit card at with as much credit as you like, and it shows your remaining credit each time you use it. It's also really cheap. The first ride anywhere is $1.75 for buses and $2 for trains, a transfer within two hours is $0.25 and a second transfer is free. I'm sure if I lived in Chicago I'd have complaints about the public transport, but as a visitor it has been really good.

I also got to experience one of Chicago's special delicacies last night — the deep pan pizza. It's very good but also very filling: I was full after two slices. Leaving for New York tomorrow, so I will have to compare New York's very different style of pizza.
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South Chicago Shore

Yesterday I headed down south to the South Chicago Shore area, which is quite a beautiful area of Chicago, especially in terms of architecture. I haven't really been motivated to carry my SLR, but I did take some photos on my compact camera.

Here is the impressive Museum of Science and Industry (roughly akin to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney):



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