Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Capital And Its Southern Neighbors

From Tuesday afternoon to Monday morning

Lunch falafel and frosty $9.50
Airport Express bus shuttle $16
Jetstar one-way ticket from Auckland to Wellington with one checked bag $50
Airport Flyer bus shuttle $8.50
Cambridge Hotel Backpackers $26
Carrot cake and milkshake $12
Water bottle and smoothie $10.20
Chips and a vegetable pie $9.20
Atlantis Backpackers two nights $46
Apples, granola bars, water, pasta $7.29
Two-day car rental with full insurance $120
Panini and smoothie $13.50
Wrap $9
Bed, fridge, roof, shower, no blanket $22
Fresh strawberries and fresh real fruit ice cream made in front of my eyes $6.90
Hostel $26
Burger and fries $11.30
Gas $54.20
Omelet $13.90
Indian food $20
Shuttle $2
Museum donation $1
Nakedbus fare $30.98

Total cost: $624.47


My random thoughts recorded during the week:

  • Boarding passes should be smaller, like receipts, so they fit in your pockets without lots of folding.
  • Red always seems superior to green. Upper houses of government I have seen always have a red-based coloring scheme while lower houses always feature green schemes. New Zealand no longer has an upper house, but the chamber lingers as a conference room.
  • At the theater, it’s surprisingly weird how little you can find out about a movie if you don’t want to waste smartphone data. Why don’t the theaters think of people who come utterly unprepared and have no idea what they want to watch?
  • New Zealand gets serious props for it’s I-site system. America’s visitor centers are alright. Maybe I just haven’t visited many of them? But do they do accommodation and activity bookings on the spot? I-sites really take care of you. Not every employee is as knowledgeable as the next. You run into that in every business though.
  • I want a froyo machine and an ice cream maker, so I can grind fresh fruit in the machine and make fresh ice cream-like stuff.
  • Wellington’s central train terminal is awful. The two men who looked like employees or security guards were too busy trying to follow a guy skateboarding in the quasi-indoor space to deal with the beggar verbally harassing people for money. The station had no visible power outlets and barely any seats. All doors are super open letting New Zealand’s windiest city’s terrific gusts leave everyone inside chilled. Last, but definitely not least, an EFTPOS reader (aka credit scanner) was left on the outside portion of a ticket booth window counter. I didn’t notice any security cameras. A thief could have easily place a credit/debit card skimmer on the machine. I have sent an email to KiwiRail with my concerns.

Traveling New Zealand’s South Island

We arrived at the airport a perfect two and a half hours before departure time only to find that our flight would be delayed by 90 minutes because of heavy fog in Queenstown. Jetstar didn’t want to waste time circling the airport. What was perplexing was that the Air New Zealand flight to Queenstown still took off on time.

Tip #1: You don’t have to arrive super early if you are flying domestically in New Zealand.

I learned from a guy here who flies charter planes part time that Air New Zealand uses a GPS-based landing program whereas Jetstar relies on a radio frequency sonar-like system that requires a view of the runway eventually. All planes need the fog to be at least 300 feet off the ground but Jetstar needs more. The guy, who is a real estate agent in Auckland, also explained how he can make in a day what a pilot would earn in a week. He added that there’s only nine private charter planes in the country.

Tip #2: To travel domestically in New Zealand, you apparently don’t even need any sort of identification and you can bring a good amount of liquids. I didn’t bust out my wallet a single time in either Auckland or Queenstown.

Security is a breeze at the tiny little Jetstar section of Auckland’s domestic terminal.

The lake next to Queenstown is basically where a knight in shining armor burned an evil giant who kidnapped the princess. That’s probably the Maori legend I best remember from the South Island.

Wearing my USC sweatshirt everywhere in the first couple of days brought me into conversations with an Indian dude from new York who works in the financial services industry. He went to Matt Barkley’s rival high school.

A guy in Queenstown asked me if I went to USC, and then said he went to USC. Then he randomly walked away. A couple of Annenberg students studying abroad in Australia ran into us. I also earned a couple of fight-ons from travelers in Queenstown.

Queenstown seems to me like what a Swiss ski town would be like.

Bungy jumping wasn’t as thrilling as I was expecting. The guy at the jump didn’t really give me a chance to breathe. He said look up at the camera. I smiled. He counted down from three and gently shoved me out. With no chance to reflect or prepare, I didn’t jump correctly. Since I didn’t dive out, I had to come back up upside down. It was one of those things were the anticipation was almost better than the actual thing.

We dined at the two big and famous restaurants in Queenstown: Winnies and Fergburger. My Fergburger tasted like Indian food sandwiched between two buns. Perfect. The pizza from Winnies had pumpkin, almonds, olives and other vegetables on it. Not a bad combination.

Tuesday we did a short hike to a field full of sheep and rabbit poop. The sad thing about New Zealand is you don’t really see that many animals. It’s so different than Yellowstone for example. We ran into evil sandflies at one beach we stopped at. One hostel had an evil spider we were forced to kill. There’s the occasional bird, but that’s about it.

Tip #3: If you’re going to a beach along the Tasman Sea, use insect repellant. The sand fly bites will take more than a week to stop itching.

Climbing the Fox Glacier was like rock climbing except with ice. We climbed out of a cave and did a handful of other climbs. The guides get paid $130 a day, making the half day tours with about fifteen people to one guide the most profitable. Our guide is off to work in Iceland next.

Friday, we wandered a bit around the beautiful Wanaka with its autumn colors.

Saturday we stopped by Queenstown and learned another girl had her entire life robbed from their rental car.

Sunday we saw Milford sound. The mountains go straight into the water. It’s quite ridiculous.

Monday short hike by the lake in Te Anau then onto Invercargill. As big as the city is, it was quite boring. The city has a water tower that you can’t climb up. Even its court was closed on a Friday morning.

Tip #4: Invercargill’s library has free Internet access.

Tuesday, we saw yellow-eyed penguins from a small lookout box on the cliff above the beach. You can go on the beach during the day while the penguins are out at sea. But in the morning and late afternoon, people have to stay up in the “hide” as penguins hop up the hill to their overnight shelters.

Dunedin is very similar to Auckland. I thought the people had thicker accents. The city has fewer Asians and the food seemed a bit more expensive.

AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholarship Application Example

I sought some inspiration while applying for this award a few months ago but didn’t find much out there. Since I’m not eligible to apply again next year, I hope this helps someone out there in the future.

My project idea stemmed from a story I did for my broadcast journalism class, which was subsequently posted to Neon Tommy. I compared two schools — one in a rich area and one in a poor area. I wanted to do a follow-up about the school in the poor area to see how they were making use of dozens of federally funded netbooks. Seeing how tech-savvy these high schoolers in a low-income, minority-dominant area were, I wanted to figure out a way to get them to engage with the news through the technology they used. What followed was this proposal.

I wish:

  • I had gotten started on it sooner.
  • Been able to do some market research…aka interview some of the kids about my idea. Include the thoughts of the teacher I am working with at the high school.
  • Had some design outlines for what my product might look like.

As they say, preparation is the key in anything. The lightbulb went off late in the process, and my preparation was lacking.

But I really liked the distribution innovations I brought to the table, and the judges seemed too as well because I earned a phone interview in early March. After overcoming some technical glitches trying to connect to New York City from Auckland, I chatted via online phone with the Online News Association’s Irving Washington and the AP’s Shazna Nessa for about 30 minutes. Though generally pleased with the interview, I think I fumbled one question about my technical expertise in putting a mobile app together. There was silence on the other end of the line for a couple of moments. In hindsight, I would have liked to return to that question after the next one by saying something like, “I perceived my response to the previous question as being different from what you were expecting. Could you perhaps elaborate on what I may have failed to include my response?”

At the end of March, I received an email saying I wasn’t selected. This past week, the winners were officially revealed online.

I’m excited to see all the proposals come to life and learn from the final creations. It’s cool that the winners are very diverse range of personalities. I really like the idea about the Emmys. I thougtĀ  that was very out-of-the-box as opposed to the politically focused ideas. I wish the ONA posted the full entries online so we could all learn from them. Maybe some of the other finalists will blog about their experiences? Anyway, congrats to the big winners!

Why Are The Shops In New Zealand Closed For Easter And Good Friday?

Outside of gas stations and corner stores selling essentials, businesses can’t sell products on the two April religious holidays unless they want to face a $1,000 fine.

We found a Chinese take-out place conveniently selling fish, chips and burgers open. There was also an Asian grocery store. And some fast-food restaurants defied the ban. Outside of that, the city is pretty barren Friday and Sunday of Easter weekend while Saturday was bustling as ever.

This country is barely religious. I’ve seen only a handful of public crosses not attached to a church. Churches themselves are spread out way more than in America. This country’s religion is the All-Blacks. It’s not Christianity or patriotism. Only 16 percent of people, according to a poll in the newspaper, associated Easter with a religious meaning. Meanwhile, Kiwis in an informal poll were split 46 percent for keeping businesses open all weekend against 42 percent favoring the present shutdown order.

Draw Something, Kony 2012 And An Ocean In Between

So far, twice my two worlds have collided.

Days before the mainstream media really picked up on the hype around the original Kony 2012 video, my friends on Facebook were sharing the video on their walls. They were friends from L.A. and elsewhere in America. But they were also new international friends and acquaintances from New Zealand and Europe sharing the video. When people from a handful different of countries are talking about something, I suppose you have to know it’s going to get big. It’s now considered the most viral video ever. I quickly told our Neon Tommy news team to try and score an interview with USC alumnus Jason Russell, but the mainstream media picked up the story the next day and the rest is history.

A couple of weeks later, my friend in Riverside mentioned how an entire class was seemingly playing the mobile game Draw Something when he walked into the back of a classroom one day. Later in the week, a member of one my class groups talked about how he had become addicted to Draw Something. I heard others talking about and even saw some people playing it. I was surprised I hadn’t more about it. Lo and behold, it received the New York Times’ treatment the next week.