Saturday, August 18, 2007

2 nights in Nairobi

Well it's been a couple of nights since I arrived in Africa and I'm just now getting back on the net (which is a long time for me not to have my internet fix). So far, Nairobi has lived up to Lonely Planet’s description as being both “a welcome injection of first world razzmatazz” and a “seedy, scruffy city with an air of barely contained violence.”

My flight landed late on Thursday and I got to my hotel after dark, which isn’t always the best thing to do if you’re staying in downtown Nairobi. I was planning on staying at the Terminal Hotel but couldn’t find any contact information for them before I left so I never made a reservation. I had the cab driver drop me off there anyways but when I got to the desk, they said they were full. Luckily I was traveling by myself as most of the people I have traveled with tend to freak out when we arrive in the destinations I’ve talked them into going to, and then find out I hadn’t bothered to make any plans or reservations. I was imagining the chewing out I would have received if they had been here. Well it ended up working out as it usually does, next door was the Downtown Hotel where I got a single room with hot water and bath for 1300 shillings a night. I think that is around $20, but I haven’t checked the exchange rates yet, which I probably should since I’ve been blowing through my shillings like water (or the Kenyan equivalent, Tusker Beer) at the bars.

Looking for something to do when I arrived Thursday night, I ended up chatting with the guys that work at the front desk. I asked for them to recommend a good bar where tourists and locals hang out. The security guy ended up walking me to a place called Florida 2000.

It looked fairly sharp but the seediness came out in a hurry. Within 3 minutes of entering, the local girls descend on anything wearing a Khaki shirt. I thought the women in Cuba were aggressive, these ladies made them look like Puritans. Some of them were fairly fun to talk to though and the people watching was great, nothing beats watching British tourists trying to pick up the local women and female Japanese tourists bounce back and forth between being quiet & demure and screaming & tearing up the dance floor. In the process of bouncing from stool to stool in the club to run away from the overly friendly, I ended up bumping into a nice Kenyan gal from Nakuru who wasn’t err… working it like the others. She was quite attractive with almond shaped eyes with the cheekbones that are distinctively Kenyan. We left the club and ate some egg sandwiches they sold on the street. For some reason, food always tastes great at 4am.

I woke up earlier than I should have the next day, jet lag was kicking in. Plus being incredibly thirsty had something to do with it also. And oh yeah, there’s music blaring through the walls and construction was going on one wall away. I got some food across the street at the Nakumatt shopping center and wandered around town. Walking around the River Road area was as dodgy as they describe in the guide books. Everyone was staring at me like I had chopsticks coming out of my ears, it was fun. I walked into the Scandinavian Express bus station. Didn’t see any Scandinavians but I found out that the buses to Arusha leave at 7am. I was planning on going out one more night in Nairobi so that ruled out leaving the next morning (Saturday), I can normally handle my booze ok but my hangovers don’t go well with moving vehicles.

Going against my better judgment, it was Friday night and I asked the front desk guys again about good but less seedy bars to go nearby. The security guy from the previous day comes out with a smile and escorts me down the street again. Somewhere lost in the translation, he thought I wanted to go back to Florida 2000 and we started walking towards there. When I told him I was looking for a place with less umm…. women with questionable motives, he took me to some place called Seemas(sp?). I should have explained I wanted to go to a place with less men looking to pickpocket you also. I was there maybe 5 minutes when while passing some guy near the crowded dance floor, he tried to fish out the contents of my left pocket. I grabbed his hand and gave him a good shove in the back. His response was to point to and try to blame the guy in front of him. Some guy in a suit saw the altercation and pointed to the guy as if to ask “did he try something?” I nodded and the next thing I know they are throwing him out of the club. I got a beer and was poked and prodded by the local gals again, and I wasn’t even wearing a Khaki shirt, somehow they knew I was a tourist. The place was seedier than even the Florida 2000 so I jumped into a cab and thought I would try some of the spots mentioned in the Lonely Planet book. First up was Pavement just outside of downtown. It was a very nice setup. An airy restaurant on the outside and an edgy club inside. No hassles here, other than some guy in dreads offering me drugs but unlike some of the downtown patrons, he didn’t push when you said no. Ended up chatting with him a bit, he had some interesting things to say as drug dealers always do.

I had arranged for the cab driver that took me to Pavement to meet me back outside at 1:30 so I went out to meet him. I thought I’d also check out Simba Saloon since that was mentioned as being the hottest spot by Lonely Planet. The place kind of reminded me of Andres Carne de Res in Bogota. It’s a big rustic restaurant on the outskirts of town, with a dance floor in the center. Not bad. I hit the dance floor with some gal from Mombasa. I told myself if I’m not going to exercise during the day as part of my attempt to get in shape for Kilimanjaro, I’d dance at night. My legs are a little sore today so it must have worked. At 3:30, I went out to meet my cab driver again and just called it the night. I’m not as good at back to back nights of binge drinking as I used to me.

One thing I noticed from going around Nairobi is that you don’t see many tourists. Most people fly in and get out ASAP. I decided 3 days in Nairobi was plenty and I’ll be back later in the trip anyways so this morning, I booked my ticket to Arusha where I will meet up with a client and drop off my safari & mountaineering gear to hold while I head to the Tanzanian coast. I can’t wait to get some sand under my feet.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Africa, Boingo, etc..

Well I'm off to Africa, something I've dreamed about since I was a kid. Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar is the plan, along with a shoot for a travel agency that will take me on safari and hiking Kilimanjaro. This should be good.

With a 5 hour connection in Atlanta, I thought I'd buy a Boingo internet connection. For $7.95/24 hr period, you get a slow connection that will get blocked if you are using a lot of bandwidth. At least that's what happened to me while watching youtube and transferring files. Rebooting seems to get me back in though. Buyer beware, especially when buying things that ought to be free.

Editing to add: Seems like I didn’t have any problems with being locked out by Boingo in Amsterdam. Another communication problem popped up though and it seems AT&T did not enable roaming for my account and now my phone doesn’t work. I’ve been with them for years but in the absolute mess with their merger with Cingular, my account was transitioned from the old AT&T to the new AT&T and my roaming ability seemed to have dropped along the way. In trying to log into my account on their website, it seems like my old Cingular password didn’t work so I got locked out and applied for a new password. Instead of sending it through email, they text messaged me my new password. Brilliant idea on AT&T’s part for customers who are having service problems.

Today I tried calling their service number (long distance from Kenya), only to have my call dropped after I enter my phone number (when they try and transfer you to an agent). After getting dropped 3 times, I gave up. It just reminded me of my consulting days where I quickly found out that companies are often the worst at doing what they sell. The software companies had the most fragmented databases, the management consulting companies had the worst management structure, and here AT&T can’t seem to route my calls without dropping them. Now that I am thinking about this some more, photographers have the worst self portraits, I’m guilty here too. Agh....

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Dual Flash Umbrella Stand Adapter

As every Strobist knows, we're often working at the limits of what our flashes can put out, so anytime we can improve efficiency and output, it's a good thing. One way I wanted to do this was by using an improved umbrella stand adapter. The idea was to have an umbrella adapter that could mount 2 flash units to double the output and also allow them to lay perpendicular to the umbrella to minimize the amount of light that the flash bodies would block. Here is what I came up with:

Dual Flash Umbrella Clamp Adapter

Here you can see how much less light is blocked from the umbrella by laying the speedlights perpendicular (left) vs parallel (right) to the umbrella:

Dual Speedlite Umbrella Clamp Adapter

The components:

Dual Speedlite Umbrella Clamp Adapter

Here is a list of items you'll need to make one:

  1. Photoflex Shoe Mount Multiclamp.
  2. Mini ballheads with flash shoe mounts. I used the ones that came with my Novoflex Unimarm Flash Bracket but if you don't want to buy the entire Unimarm kit, these look like they will work also. They're pricey but they're nicely built and offer a lot of flexibility. This flexibility is useful not just for holding the flash units perpendicular to the umbrella but also if you want to manipulate the speedlites as independent lights with snoots (without the umbrella). Another advantage is the arc is shorter than if you mounted the flash on top of the multiclamp like it's typically done, this allows the flash to sit further back from the umbrella. Lastly, the flash shoe mounts are made from plastic so you don't have to worry about your flash shorting out.
  3. Reversible male stud that comes with the Photoflex Shoe Mount Multiclamp.
  4. A Bogen 3/8" to 1/4" adapter.
  5. A 5/16" lock washer (middle) to keep the stud and adapter from slipping. You can get these at any hardware store. This 5/16" washer will have to be reamed for it to be able to slip over the 3/8 threads. I used a Dremel with a cone shaped grinding stone to do this. In case you're wondering why not just buy a 3/8" lock washer, I tried these and they are just too big, the teeth protrude out from the stud which limits its ability to lock the pieces in place and interfere with the stud being able to slide in and out of the multiclamp.
  6. Two 1/4" lock washers to keep the Novoflex mini ballheads from slipping.
Putting this together is pretty straightforward (I hope). The only trick is to resist the temptation to Loctite all the parts together. You have to remember to keep at least one the mini ballheads off the stud assembly when you put it together so that you can pass the stud through the hole in the multiclamp.

The speedlites I used were a Canon 580EX and a 550EX but of course you can use just about any flash with a standard shoe. The umbrella you see above is the Photogenic 45" Eclipse Plus umbrella which I find to be more efficient than the Westcott collapsible umbrella but the Westcott is more compact so I'll use the collapsible umbrella when I'm tight on luggage space.