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Tag Archives: iceland

  • The Cold Hard Facts Of Freezing To Death

    You’ve now crossed the boundary into profound hypothermia. By the time your core temperature has fallen to 88 degrees, your body has abandoned the urge to warm itself by shivering. Your blood is thickening like crankcase oil in a cold engine. Your oxygen consumption, a measure of your metabolic rate, has fallen by more than a quarter. Your kidneys, however, work overtime to process the fluid overload that occurred when the blood vessels in your extremities constricted and squeezed fluids toward your center. You feel a powerful urge to urinate, the only thing you feel at all.

  • For Amusement Only: the life and death of the American arcade

    In March of 1991, Capcom released Street Fighter II into arcades, setting off a renaissance in the business. A massive success, Street Fighter II sold more than 60,000 cabinets worldwide, which was unheard of by the early ‘90s. Japanese fighting games weren’t new, but its combination of novel characters, hand-to-hand combat, and secret moves formed the foundation of fighting games as we still know them. It also brought a new wave of enthusiastic players out of their houses and into arcades. It was important that, while home versions were typically available the next year, they were simplified: arcade technology was simply better than what the SNES or home computer versions could offer.

  • What is Actually Going On In Iceland
    Some ramblings on why the Iceland economy is still messed up. I learned that loans in Iceland are really weird – you could pay for years on your mortgage and then suddenly your amount owning is greater than your original principal!

    In normal economies, 4% inflation underlying 2.6% growth doesn’t result in everybody’s loan principal increasing 4% over the year. But that’s exactly what happens in Iceland. So you have to bring inflation into every discussion on growth in Iceland.

  • Meet Amancio Ortega: The third-richest man in the world
    If you haven’t heard his name before (not surprisingly), he is the founder of….Zara
  • The Rules of the Game
    A look at the history and evolution of Hollywood’s publicity game, from when there was none to today’s social, organic approach.

    In today’s terms, media outlets report that George Clooney, whose picture personality is that of a handsome, charismatic, yet hesitant to commit man-about-town, replicates those characteristics in his “real” life, gallivanting about Lake Como, switching beautiful girlfriends every few years. The extra-textual information ratifies and authenticates his overarching image; the “real” Clooney is in fact all of the things he is in, say, Ocean’s Eleven. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, that coherency is at once pleasurable and reassuring.

The main reason I booked with a smaller tour company was to see the Kerið volcano crater. This was a dormant volcano which you can drive up to and then walk around. It was also nice because the sun was out at that point of the day! Unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to walk down near the lake because we were “on a schedule” and our tour guide didn’t know that we were good tourists who were on time for things. At the end we had a lot of extra time so we could have spent some time hiking here!

Next was a small waterfall named Faxi. It’s nothing too special, especially since we visited Gullfoss afterwards. The only noteworthy thing is that they built a special area to help salmon get up the waterfall and breed (which you might be able to see on the left).

We also saw a random spot in a small town that alluva sudden one day decided to become a sink hole and spew out hot spring water, visited a geothermal power plant (closed) and drove up a hill to see the long pipeline that brings geothermal water into Reykjavik.

We actually had a lot of time because we ended up on a private tour. That’s not how I booked it, because I had book a (cheaper) group tour, but because the operator mixed up and forgot to pick us up, we received a private tour instead. Well worth the price!

In Iceland, the most famous tourist thing to do is the Golden Circle. In the Golden Circle tour, you visit the three main natural tourist attractions: Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir.

Gullfoss is a waterfall. Being so close to Niagara Falls, I thought Hmph, how good can this waterfall be?; but I was impressed. In terms of size, it is nowhere near as large as Niagara; but it is the largest waterfall that I’ve been to where you can do whatever you want (such as fall into the waterfall).

There’s three stages in the waterfall, the first two stages are not a large drop, but the third drops into a ridge between two cliffs (I don’t think you can actually see the bottom). There are rocks at the middle stage which you can walk onto but there are no fences or signs, so you could wash your feet in the falls if you so liked! Our guide did warn us that the rocks are slippery and there was a heck of a lot of mist (kind of like Maid of the Mist on land).

Geysir is a geyser which I thought would be a shot of water straight into the air (like in a water fountain). It unfortunately was not like that at all. Geysir itself is now dormant but a nearby one named Strokkur is still active. Every few minutes it sends a cylinder of water into the air due to some geothermal effects which I don’t remember. I suppose it is an impressive feat of nature that will cause water to randomly shoot up like that, but it was not so interesting to me. This was the most disappointing part for me.

I expected to be disappointed at Þingvellir as I had read that it was the site of the oldest parliament. So I expected some historical plaques and displays about history. In fact, Þingvellir is a national park and the location where the North American and European tectonic plates collide. This results in a lot of ridges, crevices and interesting rock formations. With all the rocks, I thought that our pictures would turn out great, but unfortunately the colours ended up being somewhat muted.

We booked our tour with a smaller tour company because they had the ability to show us a couple of other sites in the Golden Circle. While we covered the three main sites, we also saw a couple of other parts which I will describe in part two.

One of the things we did in Iceland was to go horseback riding. The Icelandic horse is supposed to be calm and easy to ride, so it’s a good horse to go on for your first time. They are also a protected species in fact and do not mix with horses outside of Iceland (you have to disinfect riding gear if you brought your own). We booked an outing which included transportation and a couple of hours of riding on lava fields for pretty cheap, I think it was only €100 for two people.

When we got there, they picked out some horses for us. Each horse had a Icelandic name, which unfortunately for me made it impossible for me to remember my horse’s name (turns out it was Hrimnir). They helped us to climb on our saddle and off we went. There was no lesson or anything! All we were told is pull on the reins to stop and don’t squeeze your legs together because that will make the horse go faster.

Apparently the horses were trained or accustomed to following the horse in front of them, so they just kind of took off. In theory at least, I was the second last horse and my horse didn’t have a sense of personal space so s/he would keep walking even if the horse in front stopped. Plus Pauline was the last horse and her horse decided that it wanted to eat grass instead of following everyone else at the beginning.

Riding was pretty easy to pick up, at least at the slow pace we were going. You definitely need a sense of balance, but I think if you know how to ride a bike then you have enough awareness to ride a horse. I couldn’t figure out how to make my horse go faster (squeezing legs didn’t work, and I couldn’t figure out how to kick my horse in the belly without falling off) but at least i could make it stop! When the group started going faster, it was a very bumpy ride. I can’t imagine how bad it would be during a gallop (are you supposed to stand up in the stirrups?)

Although you can probably go riding here in the GTA, it was fun and not too expensive to do it in Iceland. They even have multi-day tours travelling across Iceland on horseback, but I think I need a bit more experience before trying that.

Originally I was thinking of not going to Iceland if the timing/itinerary didn’t work out, but not, having gone, I’m glad that we went! Iceland is an interesting place, it has a population of only 300,000 people and is built upon the meeting of the North American and Europe tectonic plates and a bunch of volcanos. That sounds like an inhospitable place (and certainly only 300,000 people chose to live there) but surprisingly, it is quite liveable.

(Houses have aluminum siding)

The road between the airport in Keflavik and Reykjavik (largest city with a population of about 180,000) is completely filled with lava rock on both sides. On the drive in, you would be surprised that anything can grow at all on this island! There are a couple of weeds here and there, but there is no soil for grass, shrubs, or trees. Not to mention that Iceland is sufficiently far enough north that there is hardly any sunlight during the colder months.

(There isn’t lava rock everywhere)

The inability to farm would cause lots of self-sufficiency issues. You would have to import all your fruits and vegetables from Europe – which would make them super expensive. That means not a lot of people would choose to live here, so then there wouldn’t be a market for consumer items (i.e., McDonalds, Starbucks etc). Everything would have to be imported!

(Along the seawall)

As I learned more, that turned out not to be the case. Yes the population is small so things are never “made” for the Iceland market (if you think that Canada had it bad being overwhelmed by USA products, imagine what would happen to a market that is 1% the size of Canada). But Iceland has some amazing advantages.

(Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik)

First, the presence of the volcanos provide almost limitless geothermal energy. Their energy costs are super low, and the only energy they need to import is oil (for cars etc). With the cost of energy being so low, they are free to build greenhouses and grow whatever vegetables they need.

(pipeline carrying steam to Reykjavik)

Secondly, the ground is not all arid; there are some agrable land which is used to grow grass that feed sheep and horses. Thus, there is a lot of lamb and horse meat; plus a lot of fishing from the waters surrounding the island. The lack of people makes it less profitable for a big corporation to come in and dominate food preparation, and so I would expect a lot more locally sourced and produced food (although you pay an elevated price for it).

(some typical Icelandic food)

Globalization is happening through the world, but here in Iceland, you have the opposite; a seemingly isolated, but socially advanced culture that works. Impressive and interesting.

When I get lazy with blogging, I just post links to some neat stuff around the web:

If you have half an hour or an hour to spare, this Michael Lewis article on Iceland in Vanity Fair is an interesting read. It’s intent is about the financial implosion of the Icelandic economy, but wanders a lot to talk about the culture and weirdness of the people. It’s necessary though, because it goes to illustrate their quirkiness and misplaced self-confidence:

A handful of guys in Iceland, who had no experience of finance, were taking out tens of billions of dollars in short-term loans from abroad. They were then re-lending this money to themselves and their friends to buy assets—the banks, soccer teams, etc. Since the entire world’s assets were rising—thanks in part to people like these Icelandic lunatics paying crazy prices for them—they appeared to be making money.

I’m really fascinated with Iceland, more than I am with Scandinavia; because their in funny position where they were an isolationist culture a la the lost cultures of the amazon, but integrated enough to exist as a first civilization. The article is really fascinating, including gems like turning Cod into PhDs (I guess they didn’t read this article), and this nutty tidbit:

Alcoa, the biggest aluminum company in the country, encountered two problems peculiar to Iceland when, in 2004, it set about erecting its giant smelting plant. The first was the so-called “hidden people”—or, to put it more plainly, elves—in whom some large number of Icelanders, steeped long and thoroughly in their rich folkloric culture, sincerely believe. Before Alcoa could build its smelter it had to defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it. It was a delicate corporate situation, an Alcoa spokesman told me, because they had to pay hard cash to declare the site elf-free but, as he put it, “we couldn’t as a company be in a position of acknowledging the existence of hidden people.”

In a way though, the PhDs do matter, and they are smarter than us. I mean they can see that the global financial/monetary system is a game and they are just manipulating it for their benefit. Their recklessness sometimes ends in disaster, and this is one of those cases.