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Scuba Diving in Koh Tao Thailand

It’s been awhile since I took this trip, but I still think this was one of the best trips I’ve taken in my lifetime. Koh Tao is a small island off the coast of Thailand. The main attraction there is scuba diving, in fact, that might be the only real attraction. The island is known for having some of the best scuba diving in the world. As an added bonus, it’s also one of the safest places for a solo female traveler.

https://youtu.be/x72Prf6GiBU

I traveled by myself to Koh Tao and had to take a plane, bus, and ferry to get there! I got in on the last ferry of the day and as the dock cleared out I realized the ride I had arranged had forgotten me. It didn’t matter too much though because a very kind group from a different scuba school picked me up and drove me to where I was headed.

I had a few bumpy parts to the trip, but as soon as I got into the beautiful waters and swam around the coral it was all worth it. The people were fantastic. My dive group was filled with people from all around the world. I learned a lot from all of them and we spent a great deal of time just wandering around the island after we were done diving for the day.

It was particularly comforting that Thailand, in particular, Koh Tao, was such a safe place to travel as it was my first international vacation I took by myself. I didn’t know the language (I’m terrible at learning languages) but I got around just fine. Even in some of the more remote parts of Thailand where the bus stopped people knew enough English to help. I never felt like I was in danger. The people of Thailand, and many of the visitors to the Koh Tao island, are friendly and genuine people.

I’ve been meaning to go back to Thailand. There was something just so amazing about the environment and the hospitality. Check out my brief youtube video and you’ll see what I mean. (And you’ll be planning your own trip!)

California Wine Distributor Premier Cru Under Investigation by FBI

If you’re unfamiliar with Premier Cru Wine, literally translating from french to reference the first harvest of a crop. Until recently, they were a large and well established wine distributor in Berkley, California. The company has since filed for bankruptcy stating it owned $7 million in assets, mostly wine, that would be forfeit to wipe out their $70 million debt. The huge discrepancy in the figures has launched a federal investigation into a supposed ponzi scheme.

The large majority of the debtors are actually customers who claim they never received the wine they ordered. This ponzi scheme was centered around the idea that customers were buying wine “futures” with the promise that these promised bottles were aging somewhere in Italy or France. A truly remarkable spin on the ponzi scheme, and with a name translating to “first growth,” I can only assume this was the plan all along.*

Last year, the company reported a gross earnings of $19 million with only a small $2,500 loss from one theft incident. Of course, the FBI is likely to continue combing through the documents until they can figure out where the owed money went. It’s been reported that the owners were so poor that they started offering to pay employees in wine before closing their physical location in California.

This is a heartbreak for wine lovers, but you know what they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Most of the individuals scammed were wealthy individuals, so no, not me. In fact, despite having a worldwide customer base many of the wealthiest to fall for this con were out of Asia, not North America.

The customers weren’t the only ones to get burnt by doing business with Jon Fox and Hector Ortega. Before filing bankruptcy, the owners of Premier Cru submitted a number of refunds through credit card companies knowing that the funds in their bank accounts were gone. This lead to another lawsuit against the company.

*If you’re unfamiliar with ponzi schemes, only the first people to get involved make out. They spread the word about a fantastic investment, and the following batch of people get ripped off.

Rochester Airigami Comes to an End

If you aren’t familiar with airigami, then you probably didn’t go to RIT. My college had a balloon artist on staff full-time and his fantastic work as well as the work of others has inspired a community of balloon enthusiasts in Rochester. Once a year, they all gather together to put together a huge balloon exhibit that can be viewed for free.


This years exhibit was on display all last week concluding Sunday evening with “the popping ceremony.” I couldn’t stay to watch that though, it would be too painful to watch!

   

I did however spend a good deal of time walking around admiring all of the great balloon creation. This year’s exhibit, “Journey on the Genesee” was pretty awesome. In previous years they had done a Jack in the beanstalk and a dinosaur display, but the local touch is nice.

One of the more interesting parts of the exhibit was in a small display case in the corner. It showed the 20 or so different types of balloons that were used in creating everything. My favorite was called like a geo-star balloon or something. It was a star with a hole in the middle! I had no idea a balloon like that even existed.

Top Secret Taco Bell Item Acquired!

You probably don’t know, but today Taco Bell released a sneak preview of their newest menu item to those who pre-ordered. For two hours they agreed to make the secret menu item for ticket holders (including myself!) The worst part is they required you to order the item before telling you what it really is. Clever marketing that of course I fell prey to immediately.

So I lined up a few minutes before the official release and anxiously awaited the surprise. This is what I had ordered:


Yes, this is in fact a pre-release of the quesalupa. The top secret project that Taco Bell food scientists have no doubt been toiling away to perfect.


Unfortunately, the Taco Bell employees were less excited than me. There seemed to be some kind of snafu with the order system (that confirmation email never actually arrived either.) Despite the somewhat poor execution of this promo the quesalupa was pretty tasty! It was mostly cheese if I’m being honest, but as my fellow Taco Bell companion pointed out, at $3 per quesalupa it’s got some competition on the menu.

Venture Brothers Season 6 Sponsored by NY State Taxpayers

I love New York and I love the Venture Brothers. If you’re keeping up to date with the show (no spoilers) you might notice an image of New York State and some text fly by in the end credits. Most people probably wouldn’t know what it’s for, but after working for the local Economic Development Center I can spot those logos anywhere.

Venture Brothers Season 6 End Credits New York State Taxes Credit Economic Development in NY

This is the logo for recipients of the Empire Development tax credits.

The Venture Brothers is just one of the many TV shows produced in New York, likely for some of our juicy film credits. The program known as Governor’s Office for Motion Picture & Television Development is part of the Empire State Development program. Empire State Development is an organization tasked with handing out tax credits and exemptions within the state of New York. The logo you see at the end of the credits indicates that the show received some of these incentives.

You might be wondering, what is the reason for this program? Well, a few years back, I attended the Empire State Development annual meeting where they announced that they would shift the majority of tax credits to this exact program. All of the smaller counties in attendance were a bit upset. In general, this program only helps New York City. (On occasion scenes will be filmed in other cities, Spiderman had a shot filmed in Rochester, NY and all of Bruce Almighty was filmed in Buffalo, NY, but it’s more common to see production in NYC.) The intent behind these tax incentives hinges on the idea that the economy of New York is stimulated in the short term by purchases made during production and in the long term by tourism dollars spent  as people visit NY. There may be some truth to the theory that people visit places they are familiar with from TV and movies. The influx of spending on these credits may be the reason for our increased tourism rates in NYC over the past decade.

Getting back to the Venture Brothers, there are a few different tax credits they could be taking part in for this program. The only one mentioned in the credits is the 10% tax credit from post production. In essence, the state government gave them a 10% discount on all qualifying post-production costs. Not bad, but the important thing here is that if you’re a taxpayer in New York State you can take at least a little credit for the continued development of Venture Brothers! You paid for part of it after all.

NIL A Land Beyond Belief: The Perfect Read During Election Season

NIL A Land Beyond Belief is a fantastic graphic novel I came across recently and it’s incredibly fitting for this election season. The graphic novel written and illustrated by James Turner examines the beliefs of people who believe in nothing. It’s hilariously tongue-in-cheek and takes logical arguments to the extreme.

NIL A Land Beyond Belief Funny Political Promises

The artwork is wonderfully modern while borrowing elements from classic propaganda posters. Anyone can pickup on the vibe of this book from page 1. It’s cynical, logical, and explores the worst parts of human nature while remaining comical. The character you follow through the story is named Pronoun Nul. Like most everyone else, Nul looks dead, but James Turner does a fantastic job depicting emotions for the skull and bone cast. Unfortunately, none of these people were all that good in life so they reside in Nil, a twisted version of our world and fantasy. This shit place of Nil has some special guests straight out of your history books including “Adog” himself.

NIL A Land Beyond Belief Funny Political Graphic Novel
I mention that this book is particularly interesting during election time because a large portion of this book revolves around politics, beliefs, and corruption. Without spoiling the book, there are a number of hilarious quips that are more relevant than ever to the current presidential election. The style of humor is something like what you find in Rick & Morty and JTHM, but less violent and more verbose. Perhaps if Quentin Tarantino guest wrote an episode of Rick & Morty…

Well anyway, if you’re looking for a funny read that will make you think a bit, NIL A Land Beyond Belief might be just the graphic novel you’re looking for.

Ilvermorny, the American Version of Hogwarts

J.K. Rowling is incredibly good at keeping the billions of people who read her books interested in them by releasing unrelated and unimportant tidbits that the books overlooked. I was marginally interested in the Dumbledore’s Gay announcement, but by the time Rowling declared Harry Should Have Married Hermione I was less than interested in her side commentary. The news of an American Wizarding School was interesting, but it wasn’t until today that J.K. Rowling revealed the name to be Ilvermorny.

It’s pronounced ill-ver-morn-ie, but I can’t help but call it Liver Money. I’m not really sure which is better to be honest. Ilvermorny sounds incredibly gloomy. Illness and morning? Did the black plague stop by the northeastern United States when this place was founded? I would have expected the American Hogwarts to have some Native American roots or just renamed something from Europe. If Rowling hadn’t noticed thats what 99% of the names of towns, cities, counties, and land masses are named after.

ilvermorny harry potter map sarah kohl nerdy blogs

This is it. Ilvermorny. Hope you didn’t wait 6 months with baited breath for this.

With a name that dumb, how could J.K. Rowling stop there? No, she came up with a whole list of schools around the world with shitty names. Mahoutokoro in Iwo Jima, Uagadou in “Africa” (no mention of where on the large continent,) and Castelobruxo in Brazil are among the 11 currently listed schools. If nothing else, Americans can take solace in knowing that they aren’t the only fans with a shitty wizarding school name. Of course, the exact fictional location of Ilvermorny hasn’t been listed, but it’s mapped out somewhere in the northeast. That should be a no brainer though.

I get it. People want the magic of the books to live on. They were exciting and enjoyable, but at some point you have to let go and move on. There are so many other great books to enjoy I just don’t see the point of this endless rambling about how the fictional world should have been. That being said, of course I’ll still be seeing Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them and whatever other Harry Potter movie or book garbage comes out.

The real important news of the day from Rowling though, is that you can now take the sorting hat test on pottermore again. For those who were worried, it was removed from the site for a time, but it’s now back up! (And yes, I may or may not have forced a whole office to take this test. I’m pretty sure that’s good management skillz at work.)

On Occasion, Paranoia and Reality Meet

John Lang was 51 years old when he died. Reporters and investigators have yet to determine the cause of death. His body was found with stab wounds inside his burning house the other day. The more interesting thing about this story, is the the man thought he was going to be murdered for some time and made public declarations of this on his twitter and blog. At first glance, this stuff is insanely crazy to read. He writes like a paranoid delusional nut job, there’s no doubt about that.

“Last Thursday January 7th, 2016 a current employee at my work had their phone go missing. That same day a homeless guy comes to the shop parking lot asking if we want to buy his cell phone because he is hungry. Coincidence? I don’t think so. ” – John Lang

This man had been speaking out about the police for awhile. It seems to have started after his marriage fell apart, but possibly that’s just when he started vocalizing these thoughts. The local news site The Fresno Bee is filled with supporters of Lang’s theory. Some believe that his neighbors were undercover cops sent to keep an eye on him while others planned his death.

In truth, an outside agency would likely have to investigate this to see if there is any validity to his conspiracy theory, but the fact that he ended up murdered is strange. If it wasn’t the police, he at least had some reason to worry about being murdered.

This is one of those strange news stories I just couldn’t let go, but isn’t it possible, that this guys strange behavior is what made him a suspect of the police? It could very well have been a self fulfilling prophecy that the guy spouting all of these crazy theories would cause some concern and unrest in the neighborhood.

Either way, it’s worth looking into if you’re the sort of person who likes a good conspiracy theory.

Once Upon A Time The Card Game

This weekend I got together with some friends to celebrate one of them buying a new home. While chatting, we started playing a great card game called Once Upon A Time. As you might have guessed this is a story telling game based around fairy tales. No doubt, right up my alley.

The game itself is easy to explain, each player has 6 cards. One is an ending and the others are either characters, places, events, or something like that. The goal is to complete the group story being told using up all the cards in your hand. If can be interrupted by other players as they try to use up the cards in their hand, which makes for funny stories.

It does require a good number of people to play, but it doesn’t require much table space. The six or so of us played on a coffee table and there was more than enough room. The other thing it requires is an imagination. The session we had was particularly fun and interesting because of the mix of people we had. It was also somewhat fun because some of the people didn’t know each other and others hadn’t seen each other for years.

The rules were balanced very well to make sure all players were forced to participate and the cards are descriptive enough that it doesn’t require an immense amount of storytelling ability to play. If you can play Pickles to Pluto* you can probably play Once Upon A Time without much trouble.

 

*I realize most people probably don’t know what the game Pickles to Pluto is so I thought I would explain that. Back in the 90’s there was a TV show called, Phred on Your Head Show. One segment of the show included a game where you had to connect pickles to pluto in 6 steps or less. For example, pickles are stored in the refrigerator, the refrigerator is cold, ice is also cold, pluto is mostly ice. Not difficult at all. This is pretty much what you are trying to do with your cards when you see crown, well, and stepmother. 

Get Your Money’s Worth From Amazon Prime

I’ve had my Amazon account for 10 years. In that whole time, I’ve never subscribed for a Prime membership despite all of the tempting offers Amazon’s made. This year I caved. I finally needed something so soon that it made sense to get Prime, but not soon enough that buying next day shipping made sense. In agreeing to subscribe I decided I would make the most of my new Amazon Prime membership though and really make sure that I got my $100 worth of value from it.

Most people don’t really know all the benefits of Amazon Prime. There are five different benefits, but most just know the service as free two-day shipping. Granted, that is still the best benefit, but if I want to make sure I get my money’s worth from Amazon Prime I figured I should try all five.

Amazon’s movie streaming service is okay. Granted, I did kind of want to see The Man in the High Castle, but I didn’t particularly want to spend $100 to do so. Most of the other movies available for streaming are the same as the ones I can get from Netflix. I did see a handful of movies available on Amazon that Netflix didn’t have, but I assume Netflix will eventually move to 100% original content so this will be less of an issue.

Amazon Prime also allows for book lending! That’s something I will certainly use. They have a huge library of books that you can borrow, however you’re limited to one per month. I have two libraries hooked up to my iPad and regularly check out books through them both. On occasion there will be something I want to read that isn’t available in either library so having Amazon Prime around could be useful. It’s also nice to know that the author’s of the ebook’s I’m renting will be paid a small amount of money when I check out their book. It’s something small like $2, but that’s still something.

Amazon Prime also has a music streaming service! I had to clean up my phone so I would actually have the space for the app…it’s a bit large. They offer streaming of albums from their library, which is pretty extensive, as well as pre-made channels of music by genre similar to say Pandora or Spotify. I haven’t come across any limits with it yet, but I image there must be.

Amazon Photo. I’ll be honest. I’m not going to use this. It seems mildly embarrassing that Amazon would even think someone needs a place to store photos in this day in age. Those who don’t have their own hard drives have already found cloud storage options like dropbox, box, or even google drive. I don’t see anything in particular that stands out as unique or interesting about this benefit so I’m skipping it. Let me know if you think there is something of value there and I’ll revisit though.

Anyway, if you’re not an Amazon Prime member and you’re thinking about joining you might want to give the free trial a shot. If you order fairly regularly from Amazon the free two day shipping will be nice and you just might be able to get some added value out of the other four services offered. Okay at least three, nobody is going to use that photo service. At the end of the day, it’s about as expensive as a Netflix account for the year and it’s got a bit more upside.

Making a Murderer Was Avery Guilty? Why Would Police Frame Him?

Like everyone else who watched the Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer, I was outraged at the incredible behavior of the police department, the lawyers prosecuting, and the lab technicians working on the case. So of course, I decided to dig around a bit and see what additional information I could get about the case. Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen it. It’s an engrossing story so I highly recommend watching it by the way.

The series claims that both Steve and his nephew were innocent of all charges made against them in the murder of Teresa Haibach. The defense for the case states that it’s difficult to say who actually did this crime because other suspects were not investigated throughly including a roommate and a boyfriend. To be honest, there is a lot of evidence that supports the theory that police framed Steven Avery. I’ll use bullet points to make it a bit easier to read.

  • Steven’s girlfriend at the time had a phone call with Steven at 5:30pm and 8:45pm night of the murder.
  • The police officer who called in Teresa’s plate number gave the dispatcher the description of her vehicle days before it was found.
  • No fingerprints were found in the car suggesting that the perpetrator wore gloves, however blood DNA was found and the only cut on Steven was on his hand.
  • Every witness who testified against Steven gave inconsistent testimony.
  • Teresa’s key is found on the 7th entry of the home, yet it’s in plain sight.
  • The blood sample from the 1985 case showed clear signs that it had been tampered with.
  • The car was found covered with tree branches though there is a crusher on property that had been in use that day.
  • Teresa’s roommate didn’t report her as a missing person even after she failed to show up or respond to calls for a few days.
  • The house and garage were filled with Steven’s DNA, but absent of any trace of Teresa’s DNA.
  • Experts explained the difficulty Steven would have had to clean up high velocity splatter on the cluttered premises.

Of course, the defense didn’t present the only theory that would absolve Steven Avery from the crime. The internet has gone wild with speculation about what actually happened. Everything from slight variations of the defense used in court, to more outlandish theories, such as Teresa had taken photos of a state-police-owned pot farm (or something like this) and that the state police were part of a satanic cult offering Teresa up as a sacrifice, have come up. While it’s true, there are a lot of unanswered questions and a whole pile of obvious lies, I doubt some of these stranger theories are the truth. In fact, I’m not sure I’m ready to absolve Avery of any guilt just yet. There are a number of things that suggest Avery could have very well been the killer.

  • Avery manipulates his family. You can hear it even in the Making a Murderer phone clips where he threatens to kill himself if his family doesn’t leverage every last asset and dollar to get him free.
  • The blood samples in Teresa’s vehicle were lacking the preservative, EDTA, which should have been present had the sample come from the 1985 case file.
  • Halbach complained to her boss that she didn’t want to go to Avery’s because previously Steve came out in a towel.
  • Avery put his sisters name down as the listing agent on the car for sale.
  • Halbach was specifically requested by Avery to shoot the photos for Auto Trader.
  • Avery described the rape-and-tourture of women to inmates he served time with.
  • Avery made statements of violence against his previous lovers both verbal and written.
  • Animal abuse, as displayed in the one instance where Avery was caught torturing the family cat, is an early sign that a child is mentally unwell and at risk of harming others.

To me, the only thing that is clear in this case is that everyone is lying. That may not be unusual for a court case, I couldn’t tell you. After thinking about this case more than I rightfully should, I think the most likely scenario is something like this.

In a small town, people know each other. There are real repercussions for reporting even small crimes. Can you imagine reporting your neighbor for animal abuse and then living next to them for the next 30 years? Or what about a bar fight between two people that everyone knows hate each other? You’d probably just brush it off as “business as usual” and tell your children or friends that these are the sort of people to avoid being. If you’re not from a small town, you probably don’t understand, but many small crimes go unreported. Instead this knowledge of who is a shady character is passed along through gossip. It’s highly likely that Avery committed other crimes although he didn’t get caught for anything other than the four occasions mentioned in Making a Murderer.

Child psychologists strongly suggest that parents who notice children abusing animals should be treated for mental illness. Even just the one documented case with the cat is enough to make me think Avery is capable of harming a person. I assume the town all agreed that these were no-good type people too from the gossip and rumors that got passed around. It’s clear that the police had this bias in their head too as they wrongful tried Avery for the crime committed in 1985 despite having evidence that would prove him innocent.

My theory is these police strongly suspected Avery was the murderer despite not having substantial evidence to prove it. I assume, like most people, they hated seeing someone they know as a bad person walk free so they planted the vehicle, the blood, the key, and possibly other things to ensure the charges stuck.

While I don’t blame them if that was the case, I think it’s important to point out just how incredibly flawed that logic is. A police officer’s duty is not to enforce justice. A police officer exists to establish and sustain order. The jury should be the only people aloud to pass judgement and stacking evidence against someone, while tempting, is still wrong. In my mind, I think the jury did a good job with a tough case, and I hope for everyones sake that Avery was in fact the killer.

Send Phuck-In-A-Box When You Have Nothing Good to Say

One of my readers contacted me the other day telling me about his latest humorous project. Jay is a writer and had this whole idea while working on a segment of dialog for one of his characters. In an obviously negative tone, one of his characters exclaimed, “If I were to give you a gift, it would probably be a fuck you in a box!”

Let me pause a moment to mention that there is no shortage of ways to tell someone to fuck off. You can do so as directly as shouting it with your middle finger in the air or as discretely as spitting on their lunch when they aren’t looking. I’ve seen a few different ideas over the years in terms of unknown-sender-type surprises, animal poop, glitter, a card, you name it. Of course everyone loved the idea of “craft herpes” being sent out aka glitter, but that’s been done and in internet years it’s just not funny anymore. (I’d also advise against sending poop because your mail carrier didn’t do anything to deserve that.)

So, the point of Phuck in a Box (originally fuck in a box, unfortunately it turns out you can’t register business names with explicit words in them in every state) is to tell someone they are a dick. What better way to do that with a literal bag of dicks? Gummy dicks of course, which is probably better since I don’t think it’s legal to mail male appendages. (Please correct me if I’m wrong, I’m not going to Google that one though.) I have a few people in mind that could use a harmless reminder that I hate them. If only I knew where my ex’s lived…oh well.

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