Iceland: Journey to Another Planet

After a full morning of foss (aka waterfalls) and basalt columns, we headed to Vik, the southern most city in Iceland, for a super truck tour through black sand landscapes to visit a glacier.

Our tour guide didn’t tell us much about the tour beforehand because she wanted us to be completely surprised about what would happen. After lunch we arrived at the Super Truck for our journey to another planet. We boarded the bus and started traveling through what was becoming a familiar landscape, expansive fields dotted with black lava rocks, covered with a mosaic of mosses in myriad shades of greens, yellows, browns, and whites.

It wasn’t long before the landscape started to transform to a black sand desert, splashed with chartreuse-colored moss patches. The longer we drove, the thicker the fog became, enveloping us in a soft, shroud of white mist.

We finally arrived and stepped out of the jeep onto a landscape I felt certain wasn’t on Earth any longer. Black sand stretched out in every direction. The fog largely obscured my view, but I could dimly make out some shapes like hills or mountains in the distance. After suiting up in safety gear (mostly just a helmet) and a short demonstration on the different kinds of rocks we would see, we descended into the terrain.

The black desert landscape, covered with fog.

It wasn’t entirely clear where we were headed, but after some time our guide led us to what appeared to be a smallish mountain with caves we could enter. Much to our surprise, we weren’t in a mountain at all, but the famed Katla Glacier so covered with black sand that it looked like rock instead of ice.

Entering the glacier.

My eyes adjusted and I started to see the ice formations beneath the black sand. I still didn’t really believe everything around me was a glacier until the guide started to chip at the ice to show us. He kept chopping up the ice until he had enough clean pieces for us all to enjoy a cold, refreshing shot of vodka named after the glacier.

Chilled shots of Katla vodka.

Our eventful day concluded in Selfoss. I captured this picturesque scene of the town the day before in the morning before we headed out.

The Autosave: When is it too much?

One default setting I’ve grown to appreciate is the autosave.  I have definitely been burned more than once by the computer, or internet, malfunctioning at a crucial time often resulting in me losing hours of work. Many times, I’ve been saved because the application I was working in automatically saved a version that could be restored in case of a random failure. When working with MS applications, the autosave is there to restore a previous version in case of a system glitch, but it isn’t retained unless I consciously decide to do so.

However, there are times when autosave has backfired on me. And other times when the autosave turns into an over-save, and too much is retained. I prefer to maintain a balance between intentionally saving, i.e., when I have some control over what I want to save and when vs. the autosave for restoration purposes in case of a malfunction.

What drives me crazy about autosave is when an application automatically saves each keystroke change as a new revision, such as when I’m working with Google Docs or Google Sheets. The benefit of this is that I can always go back in time to reconstruct an earlier version. Except when every tiny change is saved as a new version, it can be difficult to figure out when I made major changes. I want the ability to designate which revisions are worth saving as a version. I know with Google Docs I can go in and edit version names, or write comments, but that feels like more work to me than consciously deciding to save a document at a specific point in time.

The other time I’ve been burned with autosave is when it saves too fast, replacing what was there previously. I blogged about this before when I accidentally deleted something from a Google Note. The delete key moved faster than I anticipated, erased some information I wanted to keep and the Note autosaved with the modifications. Read about it here.

My preference is to have autosave designed as a built-in feature in case of a system failure. The latest version is saved automatically for restoring, but I’m still in control of when I ultimately want to capture the changes in a new version. Autosaving for a specific purpose, rather than over-saving every keystroke just because we can.

Resetting the World Right Again

No matter how crazy and stressful things feel in the world, or in my life, at any moment, nothing resets the world right again like going for a swim.

The beach at Cherry Grove on Fire Island. One of my favorite spots.

As a long-time lap swimmer, one of my favorite moments of each swim is the initial lap, when I transform from a clumsy, awkward land dweller to a sleek, nimble water creature. As soon as I enter a body of water, my first move is to bounce a few times and then submerge myself, swimming underwater for as long as I can, before coming up for air. Once immersed, my body begins to loosen up, my spine undulating to power me through the water. My ears relax to listen to the soft, swishing sounds around me. Even a pool, which is a lot less interesting than natural bodies of water, still provides a soothing soundscape for my workout.

I relish the time I spend gliding beneath the water’s surface. Feeling the world around me, and my own inner monologues, instantly succumb to the soft muting the water provides. I instantly sync into my water rhythm, which now feels as natural to me as breathing on land. A lot of people tell me they get bored lap swimming, but it feels meditative to me. The steady pulsing of my arms and legs coordinating together with my breath to propel me through the water feels instinctual after so many years doing it.

Swimming in the Mediterranean.

After a swim, the world is set right again, as though I’ve hit a giant reset button. Problems are magically solved, I feel calm and ready to face the latest disastrous news, a long commute, or cranky, irritable people.

I’m definitely looking forward to the day when I can safely swim with AR (augmented reality) goggles to alter the pool into whatever scenery I want. Coral reefs (as they used to be before all the bleaching and climate change), Antarctic ice bergs with penguins darting around me, the lush underwater seascape of the Galapagos Islands, or a kelp forest teeming with otters.

Kelp forest in Northern Vancouver Island.


I first heard the term “listicle” from a writer a few years ago. According to the dictionary, a listicle is “an article consisting of a series of items presented as a list.” I guessed that was the definition from the context of the conversation with the writer, but I was amazed to learn about their popularity.

As a professional writer, he was explaining to me that listicles were the thing that got published the most. He said they were wildly popular and it was all people wanted to read anymore, an easily digestible list of summarized things. Consequently, he spent a lot of his time writing listicles rather working on more substantive articles because he needed to make a living, and that meant producing things that would get published and liked/shared by others.

When I started examining my own habits and noticing the kinds of things I sometimes clicked on, sure enough, listicles were present. There was definitely some truth to what the writer was saying. In this era of information overload, having things presented in a succinct summary in a ranked order makes it easier to digest large quantities of information, but that doesn’t mean it’s good quality content. Or substantive enough to adequately educate one about a particular topic.

Admittedly, listicles can be kind of useful sometimes. Information is laid out with bold headers and sub-headers. It’s easy to understand the main points of the content with a quick skim of the content. I often find myself clicking on listicles for reviews, especially for restaurants or technology. Occasionally I’m attracted to a listicle for a quick overview on topics related to self-help or productivity strategies. It’s just enough to satisfy my curiosity and give me a launch pad to investigate something more thoroughly if my interest is piqued.

In an effort to find ways to process the vast amounts of information thrown at us on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis, we’ve developed a method to distill information down into digestible pieces. However, when we rely on these watered-down versions for everything, perhaps we’re also sacrificing substance and quality. I’ve blogged about this before in the “Irony of the Information Age” and “Information Distillation.”

Listicles are definitely one option for dealing with information overload, but are we compromising too much?

Iceland: More Foss and Basalt Columns

We continued our exploration of Iceland’s southern coast by visiting some very special waterfalls (“foss” in Icelandic). The first waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, offered us the opportunity to see its majestic cascade of water from two viewpoints, front and back.

I approached the waterfall, already in awe of its power and relentless motion. It was smaller than many of the other waterfalls we’d already seen (read here and here), but still magnificent. Making sure my waterproof gear was tightly sealed (pants and jacket!), I began the climb to walk behind the falls for a completely different perspective.

Instantly I was transported to a scene straight out of a fantasy film. Mist enveloped me. The sound of the fall’s gushing water was mesmerizing. The continuously changing patterns of the flow was hypnotic to watch.

The fall was the main attraction, but the scenery surrounding it was also spectacular. Lush, velvety patches of moss and other greenery clung tenaciously to the rocks, flourishing from the never ending supply of moisture.

Damp and exhilarated, we headed to the next foss on the itinerary, Skogafoss. We couldn’t walk behind this one, but we could get as close as we wanted, provided we were prepared to get wet from the fall’s powerful spray. The momentum and vigor of the water was bedazzling. Though the photo mostly shows a lot of gray, the rocks around the falls were covered in a downy layer of richly hued mosses.

We boarded the bus and drove to Reynisfjara, a black sand beach where basalt columns reached high into the sky. Basalt columns are formed when lava cools over a period of time, causing the columnar shapes to form. We had seen these columns earlier in the trip from a distance, but at the beach we could walk up and touch them.

My photos of the whole area are not that impressive, but I got one close up that shows the geometric formations and patterns of the columns. Growing out of the rocks were tufts of grasses, flowers, and other kinds of greenery. And of course all of this was set against a stunning panorama of a black sand beach. I was surprised how soft and smooth the black sand felt in my fingers, like grabbing a handful of crushed silk.

Here’s a bonus picture of Reynisfjara.

Persona vs. Person

When we connect online, it can be difficult to tell if are we connecting with a persona or a person. In an online world fraught with misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda, it can be hard to discern who, or what, is behind those posts. A genuine person, a person pretending to be another person, an artificial being?

If you were to meet the person behind the messages, would that person match their online presence? Now, we also have to contend with the possibility that we may be chatting with or following bots, an automated program that is sometimes quite successful in imitating humans.

Online resources are plentiful and come in myriad options for us to connect with one another. We can join chat rooms or discussions with other like-minded people, even participating in ones specialized on an obscure or rare topic, like an uncommon disease. These can be life-saving and life-changing for people who live in remote or rural areas and my not have opportunities to bond with others like them.

We can also participate in online dating or social networking, posting to our friends and followers to make new “friends.” I tried online dating a few times. After being surprised more than once when I met the other person IRL (in real life), who turned out to be nothing like his profile, I started pushing to meet with potential dates right away.

Of course people can also show us their personas when we meet in person. However, when we meet face-to-face, we have the opportunity to rely on non-verbal cues and use all our senses to get a better idea of who this person is that we’re dealing with. This, of course, assuming that we still retain and develop our social skills as humans to make eye contact, converse in person, and learn how to interpret body language.

Facebook has a policy that people must use their real names when creating a profile. Variations and nicknames are allowed, with some guidelines. Even if we are supposed to use our real names on Facebook, does this mean that we act the same online as we do IRL? The trend seems to be that most people only post the best and brightest FOMO-inducing moments of their life online. In other words, a persona, the role we play online.