I pushed out this article for Public Affairs and felt that I should share it with my readers so here it is!
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
By Cpt. Caleb Lin, 8th TSC Antiterrorism Force Protection August 22, 2016
This week’s focus for Antiterrorism month is the threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).
Terrorist asymmetrical warfare capabilities evolve in direct correlation with innovations in technology. Drone use has been a United States capability for superiority on the battlefield through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, however terrorists are beginning to adapt its uses on the battlefield as well through commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products.
Although terrorists have not acquired the same drone capabilities as the U.S., they are able to use drones acquired through commercial manufacturers to conduct surveillance during target identification.
The U.S. Army War College conducted scenario analysis across the three spectrums of warfare: tactical, operational and strategic; disclosing their findings in their Terrorist and Insurgent Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Use, Potentials, and Military Implications, a report by Robert J. Bunker.
In short, tactical uses of UAVs are currently more of a domestic security issue instead of an overseas deployment threat due to accessibility and un-weaponized products currently on the market.
Current potential capabilities include mounting weapons to drones for active shooters, IED-mounting for crowd targeting and possible aircraft takedown scenarios. Operationally, the capability to train and stage units in the operating environment may still be several years down the road but can become a hybrid threat capability as terrorists evolve their tactics, techniques and procedures.
Once this capability is actualized, it may become an emerging threat overseas or in deploying environments. Strategically, this may eventually shape the future combat environment.
Commands should be aware of current UAV capabilities and enact policies that reduce the use of UAVs near sensitive or critical assets in order to reduce their vulnerabilities. A simply benign flying UAV may have a camera-mounted system gathering intelligence without the knowledge of battlespace commanders.
As always, we must first understand the threat then develop countermeasures to reduce our exposure and protect the force!
If you see something, say something!
There are three ways to make a report:
– Contact your local Counterintelligence (CI) office
– CONUS Hotline: 1–800–CALL SPY (1–800–225–5779)
– iSALUTE — Submit a report online https://www.us.army.mil/suite/page/6337
In the past month I have been receiving a lot of questions on how to get “paid” writing reviews for Amazon. I put paid in quotes because virtually Amazon companies are offering free or heavily discounted products to reviewers in exchange for an in-depth photo or video review of their product.
To be quite honest, I haven’t figured out the algorithm. There are so many consumers and reviewers on the market, I found it weird that manufacturers reached out to me. One day, I opened up my email to find two offers from people in China offering me free products in exchange for a review on Amazon. At first, I was apprehensive about the links but when I replied to the emails they would respond that they saw me review a handful of outdoor products after I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and were interested if I’d do the same review for them. The only thing I could think of that put me in their spotlight is the fact that my reviews for the outdoor products received the helpful votes on Amazon.
So I started reviewing products such as first aid kits, water bottles, and garden shears. All were offered to me free of charge. Initial contact were discount offers, but after I reached back out to the senders, they offered the product free of charge. Since I just started, I’m still exploring this new market but it’s nice to get free stuff for a change!
In the past year I’ve been watching the ride-sharing community grow, first through Uber and then through Lyft. I’ve compared the two as one would compare Microsoft to Apple. Lyft is obviously the smaller corporation, raking in $300 million annually versus Uber’s billions. I did a small comparison between the two companies to see which one I wanted to drive for and in the end Lyft won; Lyft proved to superior for me because 1) It wasn’t a monster corporation and I know how bureaucratic large organizations can become 2) It offered a $300 incentive and $200 to sign on other riders. Uber may do something similar but they weren’t reaching out to me. Lyft and Uber both started in Hawaii around 2014 so it was a fair market advantage to work for either in my mind.
I signed up on 30 May to drive my BMW 535i in Hawaii, met with the mentor and waited the full two weeks for background checks. The mentor, Terrence, promised that these checks could take anywhere from 48 hours to 2 weeks. I have always had a clean driving record so I was caught off guard when 2 weeks came and passed but I had not heard anything from Lyft. I learned that in this decade, if you jump on @Twitter and hashtag the crap out of corporations, someone from executive customer service will reach back. Thes way you jump over all the front-end CS reps and are guaranteed a response.
After receiving a response, I resubmitted my Missouri driver license and was approved within 24 hours. I hope this wasn’t the norm for many. As soon as I was approved, I turned on my app and driver mode was ready to rock. I clicked “Go Online” and within minutes I got pinged for my first ride.
After driving for Lyft for a month and signing up three drivers, I believe that Lyft offers a great source of additional income with a minimal investment of time. I also learned a lot about the state that I work in, met a lot of wonderful and interesting people, got a glimpse of the prevalent drug trade on Oahu, and discovered a lot of new locations. The only thing left to do is to catch Pokemon while working Lyft!
If you’re interested in driving for Lyft, I would check out the bonuses in your area. New York, Los Angeles and Miami are heavy-hitters granting some drivers as much as a $1,000 signing bonus. It’s a matter of timing.
But, hey check it out here: https://www.lyft.com/drivers/CALEB548613
Bahrain is a small island just northwest of Qatar where I was stationed so I figured I’d visit the weekend before I left with a friend. We booked a flight using the new Hopper app, I found it to have an easier interface than SkyScanner for $153 round trip. The hotel was booked off of TripAdvisor reviews and we decided on a rental car through Sixt for less than $15/day because we wanted to drive the country. Using a combination of Google and TripAdvisor we compiled an itinerary that included the Bahrain National Museum, Seef Mall, Tree of Life, Bahrain International Circuit and the University of Bahrain.
Checking in for our flight was easy, we grabbed a quick drink at Hamad International Airport before heading on our way for a quick 30 min hop into Manama, Bahrain.
Customs was a quick process, for military members show the ID with orders. Our friend forgot to do this and instead presented a passport which they charged him $70 and refused to refund. We grabbed up our rental car, some Bahrani Dinar (BD) and headed out the gate.
Driving in Bahrain was fairly similar to Qatar. Law enforcement was much more visible in Bahrain which led to more Western-style type of driving, meaning stopping at red lights and speed limit compliance.
The first stop was checking-in to the Intercontinental Regency Hotel located in Manama and central to most of the attractions in the region. As a Western hotel, I was impressed that they had minimum force protection measures like mirror sweeps, vehicle denial barriers and vehicle inspections prior to allowing entry. Check out the full review on TripAdvisor. The breakfast buffet is highly recommended for first time visitors as across the street is a Papa John’s, Dairy Queens and an Arabic pizza place.
The first stop for us was the Bahrain National Museum. As one of the main attractions of Bahrain (personal opinion), it had a lot to offer on the history of the country and daily life. There was also a giant map on the floor of the museum for tourists to orient themselves. There were a couple of other places to visit like the Bahrain International Circuit and the University of Bahrain but TripAdvisor can provide those locations. With our rental car, we drove the entire length of the country and it took a total of 1:30 hours round-trip. The man-made islands on the southern end of the country are inaccessible unless you know someone who permanently lives there, trust me I tried to talk my way past the guard and he wasn’t having it. I will say that the Tree of Life is probably the furthest south worth going. The tree itself is a one-time experience and you can climb it if you avoid the security guard. He sometimes hides behind the branches so do a full 360 check first.
Other than that, the only other things to check out in Bahrain are the Seef malls, indoor skydiving and the Juffair district where the bars are.
Hit me up if you want to go!
I recently returned home to attend the funeral of my best friend’s brother. He had fought a hard battle with cancer for the past 2 and a half years, and although valiant he lost his battle on 27 March 2016. All in all, I reflected on the implications that death has on our psyche and the lens that it adds to our ever-evolving perspective on life. I believe there are two distinct types of deaths: those that follow a natural timeline and those that don’t. An example of the former are grandparents, those that have lived a full life and it becomes time to move onto the next life. The latter was this case, where we all felt that a full-life had not been lived, we had been deprived of an awesome individual who had started a successful career and possessed so much potential. It is in these types of deaths that while we reflect on their life, we also reflect on our own. I am reminded to have a greater appreciation for those around me, for the things that I am able to do and to cherish relationships with my family and friends. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” has been a popular phrase that I often repeat to myself. Those small things that seem like a big deal fade away in the big picture of life enjoyment. I continue to cherish the relationships I have, both old and new and constantly think of ways that I can build those relationships. As an avid gamer in the past, I chose to put that hobby behind me to pursue more productive hobbies that have greater social implications. Hiking, instruments, photo and video production continue to be emerging hobbies for me as I push into my 30s.
I was able to spend some time at the house where I grew up and where my folks still currently live. I haven’t been home for 5 years and from hearing the stories and walking around the neighborhood I was able to relish a bit of my childhood. I grew up on Edgewood avenue and was a latchkey kid growing up, babysat by a family friend occasionally on Elf Road. Someone put an elf on Elf Road! Love it.
I hopped into my folk’s Beamer and took it for a “test drive” around. I think I’m definitely picking one up when I get back to Hawaii in May. Totally sold on the Ultimate Driving machine once again. It’s been a while since I had the 330ci at Fort Leonard Wood.
South Mountain Arena on Northfield Ave has a changed quite a bit. From being just a NJ Devils practice rink and go-to graduation spot for those that attended West Orange Mountain High School it now sports a 2 mile track around a pond, a zoo (again, Turtle Back was closed for a long time due to renovations), and a zip-line in the woods nearby. There was also an education center but since it was closed I wasn’t able to check it out. The McDonald’s hasn’t changed at all and it was a staple in my childhood since my grandparents would always take me there.
St. Cloud school, a K-5 grade school it was a place of great memories growing up. From playing O-U-T, 4-square, arguing with my folks over the “celebration of Halloween” and simply a place I ran away from home once to (don’t ask) there is so much nostalgia here. I also first fell in love with chicken patties here and the practice of mixing ketchup with mayo. It was at this gymnasium I learned how to play bean-bag spin and dodgeball.
Lastly, I was able to walk around with my folks and Casper. Casper’s getting older but he’s still pretty spunky. I think the transition is complete between the folks and me – they’re definitely his owners now after all these years. He’ll play and jump on me but at the end of the day, he sleeps in their bed. Oh well, that’s life right?
DISCLAIMER: None of the links provided are to advocate for one company or another. This is merely to provide reference from a personal perspective.
Video Summary Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bXz-d8DsHo&feature=youtu.be
The idea started with a buddy attempting to revive a dream from the time he was deployed in Saudi Arabia. When he suggested that we climb Mount Kilimanjaro the idea stuck with me. Otherwise known as the Roof of Africa and one of the Seven Summits, Kilimanjaro stands at a towering 5,895 meters or 19,341 feet at its peak. That’s higher than Mount Everest’s base camp! Local laws dictate the use of professionally certified guides for the climb, it is illegal to climb without using a guide service so we looked around and decided on using Ultimate Kilimanjaro (http://www.ultimatekilimanjaro.com/). They have a few testimonial videos on their website supporting wounded veterans and celebrities so we figured it’d be a safe bet. We chose the 8-day Lemosho route. The max size for a group is 12 and we had 10 in ours. It was a mix of Americans, Canadians and UK peeps. Below is a picture of the group, from left to right Vicki, Bruce, Steve, Ryan, Sue, Neha, Mike, Jared, Erin and myself. This was the first day of actual trekking but more on that later on.
Arrival into Dar es Salaam was hectic – people everywhere, no lines and papers flying around the arrival gate. Best of luck grabbing one of those pieces of paper to fill out and apply for a visa. Cash only, bring $100 USD. The country prefers dollars over the Shilling and we saw that evident everywhere. It takes approximately 30mins – 2 hours to process through the visa process. We hopped onto the connecting flight into Kilimanjaro Airport (JRO) where we were picked up by an Ultimate Kilimanjaro (UK) representative. The bus ride to the Stella Maris hotel (http://stellamarislodge.com/) took approximately 35 minutes. There we received a quick familiarization brief on the hike and were able to request additional equipment. Walking poles cost an extra $20 and sleeping bags cost $50. I recommend bringing your own if possible for quality purposes. The sleeping bag you bring does NOT need to be inside your duffel bag. I found this out on day 6 unfortunately, since they put your duffel and the sleeping bag into a water proof bag of their own before the porters carry it. That’s 6 frustrating days of unpacking my entire bag’s contents and stuffing my sleep system into it. Checking in was a painless process and the rooms were amazing. Two beds to a room, it had a mosquito net and the mattresses were tempurpedic material. We had a great view of the objective from our balcony.
The adventure starts early the next day at 0800. The buses were loaded after bag weigh-in, they are strict on the 15KG weight (but you can get around it by overloading your day pack on day 1). The first leg of the journey is to Londrossi Gate for registration at Kilimanjaro National Park and then a ride to Lemosho Gate to start (see first pic). Day 1 is easy, it’s only half a day to the first camp at 9,500 ft. It’s a stairway to heaven climb, I recommend walking poles for the entire trek, you won’t regret it. Keep in mind your group is one of several hundred that are trying to reach the same camp. Around you will be other hikers and even faster will be the porters that carry equipment from the lower to higher elevations. Pure speed demons, they will only grunt “jambo” at you before swiftly side-stepping you. The terrain is mostly rainforest and dirt paths for the 1st climate zone, hot and humid.
The first stop is Mti Mkubwa at 2,895m/9,498ft around 1200 hours. Short half-day climb that lets everyone know that this will be a serious hike. The follow-on days will follow the same format, sign-in on location and then locate your own tent. We were glad that we didn’t overpack the day pack and found our tent easily. The rest of the time is yours to relax, chat and get to know the other people we were climbing with. Snacks and Kilimanjaro PREMIUM tea is always provided in the mess tent.
After settling down for the night, day 2 is a 0800-1300 climb. Wake up was 0630 hours for a quick wash, hot water was provided and then breakfast. ASK for the spanish omelet! I wish I had known this early on, it remains my favorite to this day. The temperate climate on day 2 is the same as day 1, t-shirt and pants/shorts. The Shira Camp 1 lies in a valley between mountain ranges and provides a great view of the summit if clouds are not blocking the view and will be the stopping point at 3,505m/11,500ft. The climb was a lot of up, some down, but mostly up. Think stairmaster. If you didn’t like the stairmaster before the trip, you’ll hate it even more now. The up-side was the scenery – breathtaking with a lot of picture opportunities provided you can whip the camera out fast enough during the hike. After the stop, there is enough day light to explore the area to check out the foliage and a small stream at the base of the camp.
Day 3 we departed camp and set foot through moorland-type terrain with the mountain in the background. Hats off to mother nature for providing an excellent and unobstructed view of the summit.
After the desert trek which is mostly flat for two hours, we moved onto a ridge line encompassed by white-tipped bush and rocks. The incline climb lasted approximately another 2 hours and there was a nice stop in a cave along the way. On top of the ridge-line there was an awesome Eco-system in the mountain with water and grass that grew inside smaller caves. Moir Hut is the final stop for the day at 4,200m/13,800ft which sits in the middle of a glacier recession point (a Geology major might be able to provide the technical term here). We reached there at lunch, took a short break then did an acclimatization climb another 1000 feet up a trail to the ridge line. Beautiful views. The climb for this day was a test in intestinal fortitude, certain parts of the climb required all fours and was a distance trek. By the end of the day every just passed out but I did end up grabbing a night sky shot. After this night, I put the DSLR away for the treks, in hindsight I wish I hadn’t.
Day 4 we took off from Moir Hut in the opposite direction up an 45-50 degree angle mixed in with all porters and other groups. The climb looked like a giant traffic jam. After a quick 20 minute climb the trail flattens out as we circled the mountain and walked through the clouds. Approximately 2 hours is spent circling around the mountain, on the left you have Uhuru Peak standing out prominently and on the right you have the city and countryside below with clouds hanging overhead. The last part of the trek gets difficult as you head up towards Lava Tower at an altitude of 15,100 feet (15,200 if you climb the actual tower like I did). This will be the highest altitude you reach until base camp on summit day which is 15,300 feet. We were told that we if felt good here, it would be a promising road ahead. After a quick lunch at Lava Tower, we prepared for the descent through clouds. The trail was flush full of green plants in contrast to the rocky climb at the beginning of the hike. Prepare yourself for nosebleeds as the air starts to become extremely dry. It was a straight descent through clouds until Barranco Wall. Halfway through the descent we had to pull out the rain gear. Barranco Camp puts you right at the base of the wall. What we saw was a straight uphill climb with a giant cliff drop on the right. Take the time to explore here if you have any energy left, it’s worth it. Sue was gracious enough to lead a short yoga session for some of us. Definitely welcomed, especially the pigeon! Oh, bring some cards – some fun memories came from a couple of friendly card games that night.
Day 5 started off with the usual fight against the stuff sack and repack of the duffle. The guides pushed the wakeup time an hour back but I honestly felt no difference. Once the party was ready to move, we headed off across a few streams and started the Barranco Wall climb. [GoPro video to follow soon!] The process was slow because of the porters and other groups. I highly recommend wearing gloves since certain parts of the wall are technical climbs requiring hands and feet. The rest of the trek also had technical elements to it but nothing that required putting away the trekking poles for again. There was a brief stop way up above the clouds at a great scenic view point where we practiced our jump shots and where we found out that some can jump more naturally than others 😀 After that it became an up and down trek ending at Karanga Camp located on a ridge overlooking the city of Moshi; elevation 3,995m/13,106ft. The most impressive part of this climb was seeing where the last natural water source was located, in a draw just below the ridge 1,000ft down where porters constantly milled back and forth carrying water jugs up for us. Seeing that shut me up from complaining the rest of the time. The second impressive part was one of our own that imagined my ass for that of a woman’s as his motivation to complete the day’s hike. Definitely a first for me. The day ends around 1500 hours giving us enough day light to explore the ridge line and see the sun set over the city.
On Day 6 we kicked off with breakfast and another routine health check with the friendly neighborhood pulse oximeter before heading straight up the ridge. A nice 45 degree angle to get the juices flowing, can’t get a break on leg day here! We shot up and across loose dirt and volcanic rocks with a final 300ft climb up to Barafu Camp, the final stop before the summit. The first thing you’ll notice is the wind! It cuts hard across the camp at 4,673m/15,331ft. As always, the tents were up and we just had to sign in before we could take a quick nap. We ate lunch, took another 3 hour nap, ate dinner and were told to sleep until 2330 hours when it was time to assault the summit. Between the adrenaline and thoughts of reaching the summit, it was extremely hard to catch shut eye.
At exactly 2330, the team suited up (5 top layers, and an arbitrary 4 bottom) and met in the mess tent. We were given snacks and some black tea for the 9 hour trek ahead of us. As we followed our guides to the summit, we saw a trail of torches (headlamps) also headed up the same path. We were always able to see what the path was ahead of us since multiple tour groups illuminated the way ahead. Over time, groups of torches would pull to the side as their clients couldn’t continue on and soon we all were feeling the toll that a lack of oxygen takes on the body. Until we actually started climbing, it was hard to anticipate the challenges – I just kept my head down staring at the boots ahead of me and every now and then pushing for a short piss break. By the time we hit our first checkpoint, Stella Point I barely could recall events happening around me. For many, this was the final stop since groups were turning their clients around as they saw Acute Mountain Sickness set in.
To my discredit, I cannot remember taking this picture but I’m glad we captured the sign! Once we started moving again towards Uhuru (Freedom) Peak, I found myself without a headlamp which was replaced by a GoPro on my head. The sun was just below the horizon at this point giving the mountain an eerie blue and gold glow. To the left of us were the glaciers, barely visible and to the right was a long drop off into the crater. The cool factor was that as we continued to ascend, the sun ascended with us. In the last 100 yards, I reached into the bag and pulled out my flag that has been with me since I joined the service. Steve assisted me and jokingly commented that one of the stars represented the Pikey state. Sorry if that offends anyone but it cracked me up and as soon as I started laughing, one of our guides snatched the flag and started sprinting up the ascent. It was a glorious moment, seeing his enthusiasm and I was almost overwhelmed with emotion having reached this pinnacle of my life.
The burst of motivation cleared the mind and all senses were on alert – looking around the view was incredible. Uhuru peak was quiet, almost in reverence to the power of the mountain that can create its own climate, break the health and will of humans and stand as the highest point on the continent of Africa. As we took our final steps to the marker, the rocks crunched beneath our feet from frost that had not yet melted from exposure to the sun, some sobbed softly while others carried a solemn look on their face that bore the memory of having just assaulted up a 20 degree slope for the past 6 hours to reach this point. I can only imagine the the thoughts of others as my mind was comprehending the crucible I had just passed.
When our chance finally came to take a group shot, we had maybe 5 minutes to take all the pictures we wanted. Other groups behind us were finally experiencing AMS and they wanted to be up and off the summit. Eunji and Zoey, your picture is there and it’s buried about 50 meters in the ground under a rock behind the sign post. Maybe one day we can find it when Zoey is old enough.
Overall the experience was exhilarating and definitely a worthy challenge for anyone that loves to hike but doesn’t want to learn anything too technical. Diamox is key, so is sunblock ~50SPF keeps the doctors at bay, baby wipes are key and bringing enough layers is perhaps one of the most important aspects of this climb. Lastly, pick a company that you feel comfortable with – on a trip like this, paying more is actually worth more. Safe travels, until the next adventure!
Below is the summary of our route with the stops.
Featured Gear for the trip:
Backpack: Kelty Redwing 32 (http://www.amazon.com/Kelty-Redwing-32-Liter-Backpack/dp/B00GZHVEV6). Great backpack at 2lbs 8oz. Selling points for me were the two water bottle slots, trekking pole slots and a camelback-friendly loop through the top. Recommend the rain cover as well, not included with backpack.
Boots: Merrell’s Moab Mid (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00132GBRU?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00). Goretex on the outside worked great when it was wet and kept the boots durable the entire trek.
Jacket: North Face Men’s Resolve Jacket (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008DJPJ8S?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00). Light-weight, durable and comfortable all I had to worry about were my internal layers.
DuffleBag: North Face Base Camp Duffel (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00WI09NLW?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00). The quality of this bag was of utmost importance especially since it was being thrown around a lot. The bag held up to the challenge and was extremely easy to pack.
TL;DR: Worthwhile broadening experience, use Triposo App and you can avoid using local guides that just talk to you anyways, budget $1000 for a comfortable time, be prepared to negotiate everything.
Over Labor Day weekend some friends and I decided to take a 4-day vacation to some place in this part of the world. After all, how often would we fly all the way from the states? Usually when you fly from the states to a similar part of the world you would rather go to Thailand or Moldives. Sri Lanka is a small island located southeast off the tip of India. The capital is Colombo and the airport is about 45 minutes north of the city by highway. It costs around $33 or 4550 Sri Lankan Rupees (SRL) one way.
Before our arrival, we pre-arranged for a rental car from Sixt. Since I wasn’t involved with the selection of the rental car, on arrival we found out that they sent a driver to pick us up from the airport to bring us to their company which is located in downtown Colombo. This might be an important detail for someone planning to use a rental car. There are some rental car and SIM card booths outside of customs at the airport if anyone needed to do last minute planning. It’s also important to note that in Sri Lanka everyone drives on the left side of the road and the driver sits in the right side of the vehicle. My buddy who never drove in this part of the world before picked it up pretty quickly.
In fact we made it a point system for him to “level up” since he compared driving to a game of frogger where you are the car instead of a frog. We rented a Hyundai Sante Fe from Sixt for $250 [you can find my review on Tripadvisor] with a $750 security deposit. From there we drove straight out to Dambulla, stopping by the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage along the way. The elephants were being herded around by handlers wielding pikes with sharpened tips.
You can see my Tripadvisor review for details. The orphanage takes about 1 hour to experience, has feeding opportunities and a souvenir shop for the cost of 2500 SRL. Parking across the street actually costs 100 SRL despite no signs stating that. Being a skeptic of South Asian countries and the difficulty discerning between scammers and legitimate business practices I’m not sure you have to pay if you don’t want to. Fighting the payment would only be a matter of principle since 100 SRL is less than $1. The drive from Colombo to Dambulla totaled about 5 hours because of traffic and the two lane road the entire drive. At the end of our destination was the Heritance Kandalama, a hotel/resort set into the side of a mountain. We were told it was off-season and paid about $116 for the night. The hotel came with free amenities such as an infiniti pool but also has a spa, breakfast and dinner buffet.
After settling in for the night, the next morning we checked out and drove out to nearby Sigiriya to climb Lion Rock fortress. I definitely recommend an early arrival time to avoid the long wait times and the heat. We got there a little later around 9am and it was already nut to butt climbing up the mountain. I also recommend wearing comfortable shoes because although the path is straightforward, be prepared to stand on your feet for a long time. Do not get a “guide” they don’t do anything for you unless you absolutely want another companion.
Climbing Lion Rock was an amazing experience, especially since it was declared a World Heritage site. It also has an amazing backstory. After completing the climb, we rolled back to Dambulla to visit The Golden Temple. This was probably the only attraction in the entire town as everything else we passed by in the town was shack stores with fruits and electronics. Entrance to the Golden Temple costs 1,500 SRL and requires a lengthy climb to the top, half the length of Lion’s Rock though. Meanwhile, on the way up you have to negotiate peddlers, stray dogs and monkeys. At the top, you must take off your shoes and you are given the option of paying 25 SRL or putting your shoes in your backpack. There are five caves to explore and I recommend reading about them beforehand so you know what you are looking at and can appreciate the experience.
After we left the temple we commenced the long drive back to Colombo. Along the way, there are plenty of side shops for snacks and breaks. We checked into the Cinnamon Red hotel in downtown district 03 for $106 a night. The hotel included a roof top bar, breakfast/dinner buffet, gym and another “infinity pool”. The feel of the hotel is incredibly modern and it was also rated the best HISCA 2015 Best Hotel for the Mid Market Segment.
If it is your first time visiting Sri Lanka, I highly recommend this hotel as a starting point for your stay. At night, we checked out Bally’s Casino – it’s a free taxi ride from the hotel to the casino for obvious reasons. Not too impressed with the place, no bonus for sign-up, one room casino with a stage for entertainment and terrible table service. We stayed there for 6 hours and only got 3 drinks and a hookah. The hookah was initially denied by a server (told me it was broken) until I chatted with the manager puffing on one and she finally gave me one. Blackjack was a 500SRL/$3 buy-in minimum though. The next morning we “attempted” to scuba dive but weren’t able to wake up in time so just grabbed breakfast and a cab down to Mount Lavian beach front for 1,600 SRL. Cab took us to the Mount Lavian hotel since it was the most recognizable land mark and we walked the beach from there. We went up the north end and it had small chinese and local restaurants. The restaurant we ate at was non-descript but definitely had great food. Waves were about 2-5m high because of monsoon season which was awesome but there was trash floating around the water. Getting to the beach and back to the mainroad for transportation requires crossing a two-way railroad track that has actively running trains. On the way off the beach, locals will try to talk to you acting as a “guide” then demand money at the end of the conversation. We had one talk to us but we left him on the side of the street after he grabbed us tuktuks.
From Mount Lavian we went to Majestic City mall. The local mall had your assortment of fake everything like electronics, shoes, bags and jewelry but there was one unique one in there called Run Ruwan that sold sandblasted paintings, local stone jewelry and trinkets for reasonable prices. It’s located on the 2nd or 3rd floor. Maybe it was because it’s a Sunday or the selection of fake stuff was overwhelming but we were done with the mall in 1 hour. The only other things there were a movie theater that played both local and American movies on the top floor and a small child amusement park on the bottom floor. Going back to the Cinnamon Red cost 200 SRL and was a mix between negotiation and pressure from a police officer to move. Trick is to set your price, realize when you might be a little low but keep moving through the drivers. Some business is better than no business.
That night we went to eat at Park Side Mews, just north of the park near the hotel. You could either take a taxi car for 625 SRL like we did or walk 10 minutes through the park and out the north entrance onto Park street. Park St is pretty hip with classy restaurants and lounges. Prices are reasonable and still cheaper than a US equivalent.
That pretty much concluded our stay, the next morning we checked out after having breakfast and grabbed the hotel taxi back to the airport. Sri Lanka was a great place to visit for 4-days and especially a great way to temporarily increase your purchasing power (refer to The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris).
To date I’ve had the chance to test this sweet ride for 3 weeks. I was lucky enough to have a friend that linked me to the product and I have to say it’s definitely a piece of life-changing technology. Like Beats by Dre or wireless headphones this technology can definitely be incorporated into daily life, the question is only whether or not anyone is willing to lean forward and adopt it. Weighing 22lbs and with a top speed of 6km, this is a very portable transportation device. So far, news media has shown only celebrities rocking these hoverboards (see Justin Bieber, Wiz Khalifa, and the unfortunate cameraman that knocked out Usain Bolt.) Celebrities are not the only ones these hoverboards cater to, it has pragmatic applications for the everyday person. Commuters are already implementing these devices into their daily routine because they are as efficient (both in fuel and cost) when compared to bicycles but smaller, practical and can be ridden up all the way to the cubicle. CEOs and employees have already incorporated it into their routines as a method to increase productivity hours during office hours. The basic concept is that the quicker it takes for an employee to get to the water cooler and back to the keyboard, the more work they can accomplish.
Then…. 2 days ago I got the Sipone S1. The difference between the previous version and this one is night and day. Whereas the previous version was straight-forward in control functions (lean forward to go forward, backwards left and right) this one has a different stabalizer and price point. My buddy called it the “Lamborghini” of the hoverboards, and it sure as hell feels like one. The stabalizer for one auto-compensates for the forward-lean when moving forward and backwards, allowing the user to increase the previous speed of 6km to 12km. Unfortunately, it comes up just short of $1,000 and would be hard for most to justify the cost when the previous version is just as practical. The Sipone S1 is the definitely for those with richer tastes but for the average user the smart hoverboard is just as good.
When I saw this article pop-up today I couldn’t help but feel a sense of disbelief that a 15-year old received 25 years to life for his prank on another gamer… that is until I scrolled down and saw the amount of injury inflicted on the victims. Stepping back a little I don’t know where in this society we have lost sight of humanity when it comes to video games. Having grown up playing video games, first with my father during the early days of Wolfenstein 3D and then later venturing off on my own playing games like Digger and Diablo I have always kept the virtual world separate from reality. Even as games like Call of Duty, HALO and Counter-strike came out that expanded the envelope of online gaming and instilled competition amongst gamers, once that console turn off or you pressed ALT + F4 that was it. You got up off the chair and went on to live your life.
Somewhere along the way, gamers have lost the ability to distinct between reality and the virtual. Their pride, ego and sense of self-worth have all been rolled up into one single identity. Games are supposed to be providing escape, not identity. It’s supposed to be a hobby where one can enjoy themselves for a few minutes to a few hours. Today, the youth of our nation strive to be at the top of these virtual ladders thinking that it translates into real worth. While I feel compassion for this kid who didn’t know any better, I can only ask, “where are the parents?” Why have they not been more involved with this kid’s life, guided him and raised him to rise above such petty and dangerous actions? It’s too late now.