Sri Lanka photos. Mostly elephants.

I was expecting something like South India — a place I’ve never visited but imagine to be hot, crowded, and poor from all that I’ve heard and seen. 

Sri Lanka was nothing like that. Instead it was green and lush, rapidly developing (no obvious signs of extreme poverty), and full of friendly people working to rebuild a country stunted by and still recovering from 26 years of civil war that only just ended in 2009

I was lucky enough to visit the island in September at the invitation of the US State Department / US Embassy in Colombo to help lead a digital activism training for students across South Asia (see WICPER Training for Trusteeship). My colleague Susannah Vila posted some of her thoughts on the experience here on HuffPo. 

We didn’t have time to see much while there, but we did cover many hours of rough roads from rainforest-like mountain regions (Kandy, Kigale) to capitol city (Colombo) to — briefly en route to airport — tropical beach. I have many more miles of Sri Lankan beach to explore in my career. The elephant photos below are from the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, which was more like a park/refuge but seems to have started as an orphanage.

By the way, the US Embassy in Sri Lanka has an impressively active social media presence; here they are on twitter and facebook.

A new warrior up close: my visit to the Rainbow Warrior III [pics]

I’m here in Amsterdam for a whole mess of meetings with folks across the global organization at Greenpeace and the timing happens to coincide with the launch of GP’s latest, um, campaign tool — the Rainbow Warrior III. 

Here are some quick pics I took from the tour that Martin Prieto (GP Argentina) and I took with one of the new deckhands, Pablo. He was good enough to show us his quarters, not to mention the helipad (!), radio room (awesome gadgets), campaign room, engine room, and much more

It’s bigger than I expected — barely fits under the veranzano bridge apparently. But it also seems sturdy. Which is good because previous GP ships have had to withstand everything from bombings to pirate attacks. Hopefully this crew faces none of that.

For some great behind the scenes (reality tv?) stories of the new hands on deck and this maiden voyage, check out the videos my colleague Brian Fitzgerald has been producing by following the RWIII’s twitter, or here is the full series and background, pretty cool:

https://www.facebook.com/newhandsondeck?sk=app_162569423837389

The visit:

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Surviving theft. Shoulda worn that fanny pack.

I had my bag stolen earlier this week in Copenhagen. It was a huge distraction for about 24 hrs, but the upside is that I learned the truth about a few of those things people always warn us about. Hopefully this is helpful to you, but I’m also writing this to remind my future self:

  • Keep your passport not in your bag — like on your “person” or in a safe place in your room. Fortunately I had the prescience to pull my passport and other non-essentials out of my bag before heading out that morning, otherwise I may still be in the land of the Vikings. Although less important and easier to replace, same would be true for keeping your phone charger separate if you’re in a faraway place where you can’t get a replacement charger.
  • Long live the cloud. I was travelling with a small and relatively inexpensive netbook laptop. Because I use it as a secondary computer for travel, it doesn’t contain anything special — it’s essentially a piece of plastic that let’s me access email, calendar, files, and the web, all of which are hosted remotely on google, dropbox, or evernote. I was up and running again within minutes of finding a replacement machine, or using a public terminal. No priceless photos or hard-won music collections lost.
  • You can’t backup your moleskin (or non-hipster equivalent). Pretty obvious, but given how we live in a world of auto-save and redundant backups, it did come as something of a shock to realize that my [analog] notes from the year were unrecoverable. Since I didn’t have any special photos on my camera (see below), this was the most significant loss even though it was the least valuable item in my bag as far as my insurance company is concerned.
  • Download/upload photos frequently when travelling. I didn’t lose more than a few dozen pics, none of which were that special, but it could have been much worse. The lesson for me here was that when travelling and snapping photos, it’s worth downloading from the camera and uploading to web/backup after every batch of photos that you couldn’t bear to lose.
  • Don’t leave your bag even slightly unattended. Ok, right, thanks. Obvious, but my bag was actually attended when it was stolen — on the floor no more than three feet from me/our group. But it was dark and even though it was within my reach, there were plenty of distractions taking my attention away from my bag. So +1 for me for not leaving my bag in the corner or under a pile of coats; -1 for letting the bag out of sight while being obviously American in a foreign city.
  • Identify your privacy threshold.Password protection on my laptop (and phone, which was not stolen) puts my mind at ease that no personal information will get stolen, especially since those dirty thieves are most likely looking to resell the equipment. But if you’re the type of person who takes scandalous pictures with your camera or a high profile individual recording your deepest secrets in a journal, it’s worth thinking about what you’d do if that camera or notebook were taken. I don’t think that means you need to limit your creative expression, but it does make me think twice about what I’ll comfortably keep in my bag when heading out vs securing in my apartment. It used to be that a high schooler’s stolen diary couldn’t make it much farther than a copy machine and the school hallways, but with the permanence of information posted to the internet, a few scans and uploads could be devastating depending on who someone is and what they write.
  • Keep records of major purchases. Once you get a spreadsheet or system going, it shouldn’t be that hard to update every time you get a new ipod or camera, but if you’re filing an insurance claim, it’ll save you a lot of time and hassle digging up model/serial numbers and receipts.

I also learned that the Danes are the nicest people on earth. Everyone in the bar was helpful and sympathetic when I asked them all to move so I could search, the staff were helpful that night and the next day, and filing a police report couldn’t have been a more pleasant experience. My thoughts go out to ocean explorer Roz Savage, an inspired woman who i recently met at the computer terminals at the Fresh Air Center because she too was without her laptop. Almost all of her worldly possessions were taken while in CPH. Check out her post [here] to see if you can help, or just to learn about all of her crazy adventures.

Top three reasons to travel with an iphone

I try not to be a product evangelist but this was the first international trip i’ve taken with my iphone, and man has it performed in ways that I didn’t anticipate.

1. WIFI — enough said; ATT’s international roaming plans will cover you for some emergency email checks, tweeting, or mapping, but beyond that, tapping into hotel or conference wifi has proven invaluable for uploading photos, downloading messages, checking flight information, and most importantly, making phone calls (see 1B)

1B. SKYPE — in Turkey, ATT’s best roaming plan (at $6 for the month) brought the voice rate down to $1.99/min (from $2.99/min); nice to have for emergency use, but otherwise Skype has saved me; at point-zero-something-per-min to landlines, i’ve talked as long as i’ve wanted on clear connections and barely made a dent in my skype credit (just lookout for unstable wifi networks that drop your calls); pair this with free incoming on an inexpensive local SIM chip (cost me less than $20 for a number + some minutes) and I probably didn’t even need to tell my clients i had left the country; although the 7 hr time difference on email may have tipped them off.

2. VIDEO — i recently upgraded to the 3GS, but the video was incidental for me; not anymore; having video has been a cool way to capture unique stories or experiences as they happen; i’d never travel around with a camcorder (i eventually abandoned my Flip after a several-month honeymoon was over), but when there’s one on your cell phone, you’d be amazed at what starts to be come video-worthy all of a sudden.

3. MAPS — English is not so prevalent here, even in Istanbul, as most people had me believe. As in, I have yet to find a cab driver who knows where my hotel is. But everyone can read a map of their own city, so shoving a screen in a driver’s face has proven to be remarkably effective. (Or if you’re suspicious of the results of your exchange, follow along on GPS to see if you’re heading in the right direction.)

Video: The volunteers behind Obama’s ground machine — 3 clips from Jackson, OH

I’m still reading and reconciling the flurry of ‘how Obama won’ articles — in particular the ones relating to field and internet. In the meantime, I want to share three short conversations I had with local volunteer leaders I was working with on Election Day in the Jackson, OH office. They’re a great snapshot of the backbone of the campaign’s ground efforts. I shot them during smoking breaks or down moments, but I still feel guilty taking 90 seconds of their time on E-day.

Some context: In just under a week, I drove close to 1,000 miles across half a dozen conservative Appalachian counties to assist the tireless field organizers in “Region 3” with their get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operations, the final push. As did Ben, Asher, and Jen in their respective regions. Ginny had been there for several weeks and was coordinating the entire GOTV picture for our part of the state.

Our work included everything from figuring out the logistics of getting tens of thousands of location-specific door hangers ready for volunteers to shuttling last-minute supplies around or training poll-watch volunteers. Asher and I both unknowingly ended up with Chevy HRR‘s from the rental agency. What some consider a herse, i like to think of as Dick Tracy’s pride and joy.

This first clip is of Sandy, who explains how she went from being an online volunteer to  running the entire office and staging location on Election Day, something she never imagined she’d be doing.

Next up is Betty, Sandy’s mom. Betty was classic, which i think is fair to say of anyone who lives in a town for 75 years. Betty explains how she got pulled into this massive volunteer effort along with her family and what she’s seeing for the first time:

Finally, Marleen, overseeing the phone canvassing (and big fan of pumpkin pie), on why this campaign is different from Kerry 2004 and more important than her wedding day: