Trip To Singapore – Review (photos included)

I’m jet lagged, which is weird because I never get a jet lag when I travel. I was fine traveling to Singapore, but coming back really knocked me out. Maybe it’s because the trip lasted almost 36 hours (including the time to get home from the airport), which is a long time to travel when you go through eight, or more, time zones. Anyway, I’m not here to complain about my jet lag, as bad as it is. I’m here to share my experience with you.

I plan to divide my posts into two parts: food and photography. I took a lot of photos of the food we ate, and the places we visited, so hopefully I can share a large portion of them with you. I haven’t really conceptualized how I plan to do it (individual or aggregate posts), but I will definitely do my best to share it with you.

My first impression of Singapore: “WOW!” This country, or city-state to be more accurate, is really jazzy! There is an incredible emphasis on architecture, which is by far the most amazing manifestation of modern that I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s not just about the structure itself (as you’ll see in the photos that I will publish in the upcoming posts), but also the type of lights that accompany it; it’s about the location of the sun and shadows; it’s about the curves, the heights and so much more. It is, to put it simply, quite amazing! I was really taken aback the first time I visited downtown, talk about a jaw-dropping moment!

Getting Around Singapore

Getting around Singapore is really easy, which speaks to the well-planned and well-organized city-state. The main train and bus stations are massive, and are usually connected to major colossal malls (some of the mall are the size of little towns). This is another bonus, because you never have to leave the station, a bonus you can really appreciate given the humidity and heat that is so characteristic of this modern city-state. Most of the massive malls we visited are built underground, sometimes up to 4 levels deep! Here is a photo that illustrates how deep you get to go down (this is only one level down):

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The subway and bus systems are profoundly efficient! Something you can really appreciate if you’ve ever had experience with New Jersey Transit. Missed your train? Not a problem! The next train is only 4 minutes away! I think that’s why people don’t push each other, even during rush hour. Here’s another interesting part, which I found to be really useful, especially during rush hours: the train stations have passengers lanes directing the inflow and outflow. It made our life easier during rush hour, when thousands of people were walking in the tunnels trying to change trains or just trying to exit the station. What also amazed me is how clean the stations were; I guess a $5,000 fine for littering does work like magic. It’s not just the train stations, but the entire city-state that is impeccably clean (perhaps with the exception of Chinatown and Little India).

The train and bus system is the best way to get around in Singapore. If you’re only staying for a few days, I suggest that you purchase the Tourist Pass. It costs $10 a day, with a $10 refund when you return the ticket to the ticket office, so basically you get to pay $0.00! We bought the ticket for three days (the longest duration you can purchase), which cost us $20+$10 deposit, which we received back when we returned the ticket. It’s a great deal because it allows you to move freely using both SRT and LRT train and bus services. You can only get the ticket in specific locations.

Here is a typical train station in Singapore. Efficiency is a key here:

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Food Courts’ Experience

The food courts are amazingly rich with diversity in Singapore. Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, Moroccan, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Afghani, Pakistani, Japanese, and many more cuisines are there to explore. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the options that are available, especially since each option is a freshly cooked meal that is very inexpensive. My advice: resist the temptation to make your decision on the first food counter! My strategy was to focus on famous Singaporean dishes (such as chicken rice, Laksa, and others), and only after I was done exploring these dishes I made ‘room’ for other dishes. The part of all, these small kitchens are regulated in terms of hygiene and then graded, from “A” (excellent) to “D” (run away).

Food Courts Grading System in Singapore

Everything we ate was absolutely delicious and was cooked on the spot! You tell the cook what you want, and come back after 10 or so minutes. The system is very efficient, and the service is always with a smile. The owners take pride is what they cook, and for them it’s more about feeding you the best food they can offer than it is to make money. The philosophy is simple: if you liked what you ate, you’ll come back. With hundreds of options to choose from there is simply no room for mediocrity.

Don’t be surprised if you share a table with strangers in the food court. Everyone is polite and everyone is there to do the same thing: socialize and eat delicious food. So, enjoy it! There are a few unwritten rules you need to keep in mind, however, when entering any food court in Singapore. For example, if you want to reserve a table before you purchase your meal, you need only to leave a napkin (or a book, or a bag) on that table.  Needless to say that this rule goes both ways, and if you don’t honor it, you’ll get dirty looks!

Below are few pictures of different food courts we visited:

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Spotless Streets

Check out the streets below. Notice how clean these streets are?

This is part of Chinatown (the slightly dirtier part of town). Spotless!

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The same results on Arab Street. Very clean streets.

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And even the food court in Little India…

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Everything is spotless! Why you asked?

Singapore Is a ‘Fine City’

“Singapore is a fine city,” said our taxi driver from our ride from the airport to the hotel, adding a laugh before explaining what he meant. It has a double meaning, he noted: “fine” in the sense of a great country, and also in the sense of a country that “fines” you for almost every violation of rules of conduct. I can see why so many people I spoke to (mainly Americans) were a bit put off by the harsh penalties for chewing gum in public, littering, spitting in the street, excessive hugs in public, hacking internet hotspots, not flushing public toilets, and many others. Some may refer to this as a lack of freedom, but after being in Singapore for two weeks, I came to appreciate it as necessary, at least if you wish your environment to be pleasant. Can you imagine if NYC enforced such rules?

Here’s an example of another penality:

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Attractions in Singapore

There is a lot to do and see in Singapore, and you need to plan in advance if you want to see a large part of it, thought it is impossible to see it all in just a few days. The hot weather limits you from walking outside during the day, and taking the train from one spot to another does take time. Your best option is to plan your sightseeing according to the train lines, this way you can move from one attraction to another without repeating your steps. For example, traveling from Marina Bay stop up the red line can cover the following attractions:

  • Gardens by the Bay
  • Singapore Flyer
  • Marina Bay Sands
  • Science Museum
  • Little India
  • Arab Street
  • Downtown
  • Orchard Rd

This is only a short list. Each line will take you to more attractions. Look out for my forthcoming review of some of the attractions we visited in Singapore!

Here’s an image I found on Flickr of the MRT & LRT system (photo credit: Pete):

Singapore MRT map

 

Overall, we had a great time!

More to come…

 

 

 

 

 

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Upcoming Trip to Singapore

Those of you who know me know that I love three things in life: photography, food, and exploring new cultures (and their cuisines). With this in mind, my ideal job would be traveling around the world taking photos, exploring different cuisines, and interacting with different people (hmm, I’m looking at you Samantha Brown, Andrew Zimmern, and Anthony Bourdain). Luckily for me I get to do all of these things tomorrow, flying  all the way to Singapore.

I’ve been preparing for this trip for over six weeks, and by preparing I mean searching for photography locations, restaurants, local dishes, familiarizing myself with the main and side streets, and understanding the public transportation system, which by the way is considered to be one of the most efficient public transportation system in the world (I’m sure that Singapore being a small country, or a City State as they call it, helps).

Don’t let the words City-State fool you. Singapore is small (it takes 45 minutes to drive from east to west), but it has one of the most diverse population (and cuisines) you’ll ever find. This is good news because one of the main reasons I am flying there is to explore these cuisines. In my notebook (I have a special notebook for this trip) I listed 25 different dishes that I must try. Most of these dishes are Seafood dishes, such as Laksa and Curry Fish Head, but many are not. It will be interesting, that’s for sure. You can read about some of the dishes here.

The other important reason I’m going is to do photography. The one challenge I faced when preparing for this is what type of photography should I go with? Is it street-photography? Landscape photography? Food photography? All of these types require different approaches (both your mindset and choice of equipment), and staying ‘married’ to only one type is critical. I decided to go with landscape photography. Due to the short duration of this trip (three nights), I’m afraid I won’t be able to squeeze it all in. This also makes my choice of equipment a bit easy:

  • A mini Tripod (night photography, and long exposure photography for clouds and water)
  • two prime lenses
  • light bag

I have no desire to carry heavy equipment in a 90F degrees weather. :)

Needless to say I’m super excited. I’m hoping to the take a lot notes so I can then write all about it (both for my own memory, and for sharing with the readers of this blog). I’ll leave you with a few pictures of Singapore:

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Singapore

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Singapore

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Street Photography: Rules I Learned in New Orleans

I recently visited New Orleans for the first time in my life. When I asked friends who visited the city what to expect, they all said the same thing: great food, lovely streets, plenty of drinking, and homeless people on every corner. The parts that interested me the most, as a photographer and food enthusiast, were the food and streets parts. I’m going to write about the food part in a different blog post. In this blog post I’d like to share some of the street photography rules that I learned during my visit. I’m not a professional photographer, but I do strive to become one as I move forward in this journey. I wrote this post to share with the readers of this blog some of the knowledge I learned. It’s also a good reference for my own personal use to go back to in the future.

Rule Number One: Keep your camera in the bag

The French Quarter offers a unique set of colors and architecture that can easily overwhelm your senses and stimulate your mind. My immediate reaction when I first walked on the famous “Rue Des Royal” was to lift my camera and start taking as many photos as I can. My senses were overwhelmed with the beautiful architecture, the colors of the buildings, the beautiful galleries, the artists on the street, the happy people, and the general European feeling that the street projected. I felt that I was in a different country. No matter how large was my urge to take photos, I kept myself from doing so.

When your mind is stimulated by the beauty you see, you tend to ignore small details that can make the difference between a good and brilliant photo. The rule of thumb for every photographer is to always take your camera with you, true. However, it doesn’t mean that you should take photos of everything you see immediately. Instead of taking my camera out, I started to take notes in my heads of what I want to take photos of. I looked around me and tried to make sense of what I saw. I explored the French Quarter for two days before I started seeing what I was missing the entire time, which leads me to the next rule.

Rule Number Two: Explore the Streets and Look Up for Themes 

The best time for me to explore the city (and this apply to any city you visit) was right before sunrise. There are three reasons why I followed this rule. The first reason, and the most obvious one, is the “golden hour,” the time of the day where the light is soft, balanced, and produces the most amazing photos. The second reason, which I find very important, had to do with the number of people that are on the street. The more crowded it got, the more likely I was going to miss some of the important details that make a good photo. The third and last reason was the level of noise on the street. I’m not sure about you, but personally when I’m exploring sites to photo-shoot I like the place to be quiet. It helps me compose the photo better in my head.

Now that you know the reasons, let’s talk about exploring the streets. Exploring doesn’t mean taking photos, rather, exploring means taking notes of what you’d like to photo-shoot. Sit down and ask yourself these questions: Are you after B&W photos? Do you prefer dramatic images? Are you trying to show poverty, or maybe wealth? Are you after colorful images? Do you want empty streets? Crowded streets? These questions, or themes, are an important part in the process of photo-shooting a moment, and will help you have a clear mind on the day of the photo-shooting.

I gave myself two days to explore the city. I woke up every morning 40 minutes before sunrise, grabbed my camera and notebook, and left the hotel room to explore the streets. I took a lot notes, and had a clear idea of what I want to photo-shoot. By the time I was ready to take photos (third and fourth days), I knew exactly where to go, what angles to take, and what settings to use on my camera.

Rule Number Three: Timing is everything

Do you remember reason number one, the “Golden Hour”? This Golden Hour moment lasts for only about 30 minutes or so, which means staying organized is key to being efficient while out on the street. What do I mean by staying organized: do you have the right lens attached to the camera? Did you check the settings on your camera? (I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to reset the ISO back to 100.) The last part leads me to the last rule.

Rule Number Four: Pick only one lens

I don’t like to carry too many lenses with me when I walk out there. It’s too much weight to carry around, which can easily demoralize you from walking around and exploring the city. When I develop my themes (see “Rule Number Two: Explore the streets and look up for themes”) I keep in mind two important questions: 1) do I want to photo-shoot people? 2) do I want to photo-shoot streets?

For photo-shooting streets I choose the 28mm prime lens and just use that to take photos. For photo-shooting people on the street I choose the 50mm prime lens. Ideally for photo-shooting people I’d use the 70-200 lens, but I don’t own one. I use what I have.

There is another reason why I choose only one lens when I go out on the street: it helps me stay creative. I know I only have one lens, one option, which pushes me to use a variety of creative ways to photo-shoot a moment.

Conclusion

I hope this information helped you get an idea of how to plan your next street photography session. I’d leave you with some of the photos I took in New Orleans below (Click to view this set on my flickr account):

 

A Morning Walk

Rue Des Couleurs

Sunrise on The Mississippi River

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Current Events in Egypt Compared to Pakistan

I came across an excellent comparison between Egypt and Pakistan vis-a-vis the current events in Egypt (AKA “the second Egyptian revolution”) that I had to share. It was written by Irm Haleem.

The events in Egypt seem to me very reminiscent of the political history of Pakistan with its pendulous swings between military and civilian governments. Here are some general comparisons:

1. Civilian government, either overtly Islamist or comprised of a coalition of Islamist parties, is declared incompetent.

2. Military takes over.

3. Military, as an institution, is by far the most consolidated, cohesive and organized entity in the country, relatively speaking.

4. Interim government is appointed by the military, as currently in Egypt and the many, many times in the history of Pakistan.

5. Intermin government really plays a ceremonial role, allowing the military to fiddle with the constitution in a way that it’s political significance is maintained or increased without attracting too much unwanted attention.

6. New laws for elections are instituted, under the watchful eye of the military, most likely such that they effectively exclude from the electoral process any entity — such as the most uncompromising Islamists — that the military considers hostile to its political and institutional interests.

7. Enter indirect praetorianism!

8. Despite this, significant public opinion favors the military take-over, in both its direct and indirect manifestations.

9. Some of the most vociferous Islamists are excluded from the electoral process through the institutions of technicalities that ultimately will or do lead to the morphing of these groups into extremist parties. Likely in Egypt and currently in Pakistan.

10. Meanwhile, the opposition to the erstwhile government is frayed, fragmented and desperate to the point of having glaring fracture lines that seem to reduce the likelihood of the formation of any cohesive and viable government.

11. And therefore, again, the military’s political and institutional interests are bolstered.

DISCLAIMER: Of course, any country comparison suffers from some level of generalizations and can thus be criticized on those grounds. My comparison above cannot therefore escape this criticism.

I found this comparison to be very intriguing.

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Restaurant Review: Men Tei

I was first introduced to this place 12 years ago by a good friend of mine. I re-visited Men Tei (literally means “noodles hut” in Japanese) last week during the Inbound 2012 conference, and was happy to discover that it hasn’t changed since the last time I was there. I guess it is something you can expect from a family-owned small business. The quality (usually) stays consistent throughout the years.

I visited Men Tei twice during my time in Boston, and on both visits the food was excellent. The kimchi was nice and spicy, and the quantity of the main dishes (see pictures below) was more than I could handle, which says a lot because I do like food and I do normally finish what’s on my plate. :)

The prices are (very) reasonable for a place located two steps off Newbury street, and in fact I’ll go further and say that this place is really inexpensive. I guess I lived in Princeton, NJ for too long that I am used to pay $20 for a bowl of chicken-noodle soup, I’m not sure, but overall prices in this restaurant are cheep.

If you are in Boston and looking for a nice Japanese place, Men Tei is a good option. Keep in mind that this place is geared toward students (I would assume), so expect fast service, casual dressing, and not that many seats. In and out…

Spicy Tofu Over Rice
Spicy Tofu Over Rice
Men Tei- Chicken with Noodles
Men Tei- Chicken with Noodles

This is how to get there:


View Larger Map

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E-Book Review: 8 Types of Natural Light That Will Add Drama To Your Photographs

This is a fast read free e-book written by photographer Anne McKinnell. I liked this book very much because it really explains (in a clear way) how to identify various types of light, and how to use these types of light to your advantage as a photographer. She also has a nice Blog I follow that you can find here.

One thing I would have liked to see in this e-book though are more visual examples. The author provides some sample photos for each type of light, but I think more examples would help the reader conceptualize what each type of light does, and how to identify it.

Overall I think it’s a great book every begineer photographer needs to read. It certainly helped me understand light better.

Download your free e-book here.

8 Types Of Natural Light That Will Add Drama To Your Photographs
8 Types Of Natural Light That Will Add Drama To Your Photographs

 

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Changing Your Workout Routine. What You Need To Keep in Mind

Working Out
Working Out

As a rule of thumb you should change your workout routine every three to four months. You can choose various methods to go about it, methods such as: changing the number of reps (high versus low), changing exercises (bench press versus dumbbell press), changing days of the week that you work out, and doing HIT instead of steady cardio. All of these methods can, and should, be included when designing a new workout.

I have to admit that the last time I changed my workout was a while ago. So long that I forgot about the outcomes of changing a workout. I don’t talk about results though. Rather, I talk about aching muscles, feeling lethargic and an overall feeling of weakness.  All of these symptoms are normal and should expected.

 

The first thing you need to understand is that these are positive signs. Signs that indicate that the change you made affected your body and forced it to adjust. This adjustment is what makes your muscles grow and fat to incinerate (on a side note, you need to take the term “muscle grow” very loosely. Muscles don’t grow that fast. Especially with a poor diet). With this in mind there are few rules you need to keep in mind:

Always listen to body

  • Changing your workout is great. It makes you feel empowered, but as I mentioned earlier it can also make you feel tired. When this happens your body is signaling stress. Listen to your body and give yourself an extra day or two to recover. Remember that shifting into over-training can only result in negative consequences.

First week is the hardest

  • I cannot stress this enough. Your body is in a transition mode. It’s adjusting to the new weight, exercises, routine and stress. It is important that you keep this in mind before getting demoralized and quitting your new routine. The first 10 days are your “adjusting period”. Make sure to listen to your body during this period.

Don’t over do it

  • The older you are, the longer time it will take for your body to adjust (read: recover). Understand it, and accept it. The tendency of most untrained trainees is to jump head first into the pool without testing the depth of water first. Take it slow, and again listen to your body.

 Not all changes work 100% the first time

  • There is a good chance that the new workout you chose to follow is not the right workout for you. If after 10 days you still feel lethargic (and extra sore), you probably need to rethink your new routine. For example, reducing the number of sets or days you train during the week will be a good (and safe) start.

In sum, changing your workout is important, and by keeping these few rules in mind you can keep your body injury-free and enjoy a safe transition. On a personal note, I really enjoy the new routine I created. I did feel lethargic and sore during the first three days, but by listening to my body and taking a day off on the fourth day I now feel rejuvenated.

 

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Movie Review – Free Men

Free Men Movie
Free Men Movie

We watched an excellent movie last night titled “Free Men”. It is hard to describe it extensively without revealing all the twists in the plot so instead,  here is a short quote from a detailed review I found on the web:

“Inspired by true stories,” as the opening credits claim, Free Men follows the travails of a young Algerian immigrant, Younes (Rahim), who at the start of the film tries to make a dime peddling black market goods during the Nazi occupation. When he’s arrested and threatened with torture or worse, Younes accepts to spy on the elite community hidden with the pristine walls of the Mosque of Paris, whose rector, Ben Ghabrit (Lonsdale), is suspected of providing Jews with false identification papers.

I like movies that offer twists in the main story and this movie certainly offers lots of twists. On a personal level, I never knew that North African Muslims helped Jews escape the Nazis. In all the years I was taught about the holocaust stories when living in Israel, this was never mentioned to me. It is a shame, because I am sure most of Israelis Jews don’t even know it happened.

One of the main characters in the film is singer Salim Halali. I am not going to give any spoilers here, but just say that his voice was amazing. Check out the video below to here a sample of his voice:

 

Storyline aside, the movie itself is very pleasant to watch in terms of scenery and videography. The director did a brilliant job with filming some of the Parisians sites.  Some of the scenes made us want to book a ticket and fly to Paris, which we’ll probably will anyway :). Nicely done!

Overall it is a great movie to watch and I highly recommend it. Watch the trailer below:

 

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Trip to Edinburgh – A Collection of Food Reviews

Trip to Edinburgh - A collection of Food Reviews
Trip to Edinburgh – A collection of Food Reviews

One of my true joys when I travel abroad is to walk around and experiment the local cuisine. Granted, I won’t try all types of food (for example fried spiders, or a bowl of stir fry worms don’t appeal to me :) ), but I do try to enjoy most dishes that the locals have to offer.

In Edinburgh it was a dish called Haggis-a kind of savory pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs) minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. I know it sounds repulsive, but I can assure you it tasted very good.

Haggis
Haggis

On my previous post I mentioned how expensive the food was, and on most occasions not really what you’d expect from such an expensive meal. However, we did come across a restaurant that is definitely worth mentioning. The name of the restaurant is Hanam’s. It offers Kurdish/Turkish dishes for a reasonable price. The portions are generous and satisfying, and the ambiance is absolutely beautiful. It cost about £50-60 for two people to get a full meal (appetizers, main course and a dessert). The meals are absolutely delicious. Highly recommended!

Hanam's Restaurant, Edinburgh Scotland
Hanam’s Restaurant, Edinburgh Scotland
Hanam's Kurdish/Turkish Restaurant. Edinburgh, Scotland
Hanam’s Kurdish/Turkish Restaurant. Edinburgh, Scotland

The desserts are what you’d expect from European style bakeries. Small and to the point, as I like to call it. Especially the mini chocolate croissants, which I have to admit were absolutely addictive! The only odd ingredient, if you can call it odd, is the whip cream they use in cakes. Here in the States we are used to a somewhat sweeter whip cream, which is entirely the opposite in Europe, or at least in the UK. The cream is just cream, with no particular flavor associated with it. They do, however, look very good. Some pictures I took:

Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland
Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland
Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland
Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland
Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland
Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland

 

Of course we had the traditional fish and chips, and some other local snacks, but what was engraved in mind was a little store called: The Fudge House. Have you ever tried a Whiskey fudge, or Raisins and Rum fudge? Or maybe: Pecan and Chocolate Swirl; Butterscotch; Marzipan and Amaretto; Lemon Meringue Pie? The list goes on and on.  If you are in Edinburgh make sure to pay a visit to this small (somewhat hidden) store. It is located on the Royal Mile. Check out their collection of fudge.

The Fudge House, Edinburgh Scotland
The Fudge House, Edinburgh Scotland

In sum, Edinburgh offers a collection of flavors from many regions in Europe and the middle east. Make sure to experiment them all.

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Trip to Edinburgh, Scotland

 

Edinburgh
Edinburgh

Last week we flew to Edinburgh, Scotland. Irm presented a paper at the BISA conference, so we decided to take this opportunity and turn it into a mini vacation.

We ended up staying in Edinburgh for 5 nights, which proved to be enough time to explore all the tourist attractions the city has to offer. From Edinburgh castle to Holyrood park. From the old town to the new town, Edinburgh is a beautiful place to be.

Beautiful, but also expensive. Plan to spend around £50 a day per person for meals. This excludes visiting the tourist attractions which range between £10-£20 per person (per attraction). Most (national) museums in Edinburgh are free and worth the visit. Other attractions, such as the castle and the whiskey tour will cost you money, but they are all worth it. Definitely pay a visit to Holyrood park where you’ll get a chance to climb Arthur’s Seat. According to the locals, if you haven’t climbed Arthur’s Seat, you haven’t really been to Edinburgh. If you do decide to climb, and I hope you do, make sure to bring proper shoes with you. A good pair of athletic shoes will be fine (climbing shoes will be ideal as it tends to rain most times). A backpack is also recommended.

The weather in Edinburgh was not what we expected (or wished, depends how you look at it). It rained most of the time, and the temperatures were in the low 50s during the day dropping to high 40s at night. Not the kind of weather you’d expect during the month of June. We had two consecutive sunny days, which we’ve be told was a rare occasion. We felt lucky.

As I mentioned earlier, the food is quite expensive in comparison to the States, even fast food such as falafel sandwiches (£7-£11!). There are many grocery stores in the area, which I recommend to use to buy water and other snacks. You’ll save money this way.

Overall it was a great trip. Edinburgh is such a European gem, and we’ll definitely go back there. Check out some of the pics we took below (Click image to view in slideshow mode)

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Ravagh Persian Grill – Restaurant Review

Ever since I was invited to a Persian dinner at my best friend’s house in Israel (yes, there are plenty of Iranian Jews in Israel), my obsession with this rich cuisine has grown immensely. NYC is known for its culinary diversity, and exploring this diversity was always on top of my list ever since I started working in the city.

A few weeks ago our friend Roni traveled from London to visit her family that lives in the city. Irm and I thought it would be a great idea to meet over dinner and have some great time together, which we did. I checked Yelp for the closest Persian restaurant in the vicinity and came up with Ravagh Persian Grill. Sure, why not. We were hungry, and didn’t feel like taking the train (rush hour) or walking too long (too hungry).

One thing I always look at when going to a restaurant that serves specialized food is how authentic the diners that sit around the table are. As a rule of thumb it is always good to see people from the same ethnic group dining at the restaurant. It shows (in most cases) that the food is closer to ‘home’. It certainly true for our favorite Turkish place. This place had plenty Iranians dining in that looked like they were having a good time.

The food was good. I ordered the sultani kebab and Irm ordered the Koobideh kebab. Both were good. The rice was good as well, but in retrospect I should have asked for the “green rice” (dilled rice cooked with fava beans). I love (a good) Persian rice and this would have been a great opportunity to taste something I really like. Our friend Roni ordered the lamb shank, which by the way looked great.

Overall it was a pleasant experience. We will come back.

The images below is something I found on the web.

Sultani Kebab
Sultani Kebab

Lamb Shank
Lamb Shank

As a side note, one of my favorite Persian dishes is the Gondi dumpling (see image below). This is a dish I had at my friend’s house, and only recently found out that:

Gondi is said to have originated in the Jewish ghetto in Tehran, although Jews from the other Iranian cities also claim to be its inventors. Gondi was a special food prepared only for Shabbat because ground lamb or chicken was expensive. While Iranian Jews have over the centuries eaten the same types of foods as otherIranians, Gondi has been one of their few culinary innovations that they can claim their own

Gondi
Gondi

Go figure…

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MET-Rx Protein Shake Review

MET-Rx Protein Shake
MET-Rx Protein Shake

If you don’t consume any protein shakes to supplement your training, I suggest you skip this post. I write it mainly because I think it can help some readers of this blog save some money and also get a good product :).

Over the past decade+ I ‘ve consumed many types of protein powders from different brands to supplement my post-workout meals. Some were okay, some were meh and some were horrible. To be frank, I never really found the right formula that left me with a”wow” feeling. All brands were pretty consistent with how they tasted, as if they were all made by the same factory ( hmm, that’s an interesting point…).

Today, while I was grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, I came across a brand that pioneered the MRP industry, MET-Rx.  I was short on protein shake and decided to give it a chance. I picked the chocolate flavor container and hoped for the best. To be honest, I didn’t really have high hopes but since I needed a protein shake, and this one was right there, I decided to purchase it . And I am glad I did!

The chocolate shake tasted like ice cream, and it was thick and very tasty. Delicious actually! In fact, my first reaction was to pick up the container and re-read the ingredients/nutrition facts label. I was sure I made a mistake and accidentally selected a MRP (a powder loaded with fat, carbs and protein) instead of a protein powder. I didn’t. It was a regular protein powder, which was low on carbs and fat, and high on protein.

This is how I prepared my shake:

  • 8oz of 1/% milk
  • 8oz of cold water
  • 1 scoop of MET-Rx chocolate protein powder
  • shake
  • drink

I highly recommend this powder! It is by far the best protein powder I have ever tried. 

 

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NCLD/Blogging/Everything I Ever Wanted in A Job

Transition
Transition

Last time I blogged was over three months ago, when I first started my ‘new’ position at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). Lots of things have happened since then, all positive and exciting.

The NCLD Experience

“So, how is your new job?”, I got asked numerous times since I left Princeton. I think the best way to describe my new job is this: if someone came to me and asked me to write down the ideal job (in terms of things I want to do), I think it would have come out similar to what I do now. I get to do inbound marketing, which I love, but I also get to be creative and I am encouraged to stay innovative. For those of you who know me, creativity and innovation are the essence of me.

And then there are the people, or the NCLD team as we like to call it. “Team” is indeed the correct word to describe the collegiality, friendship, common interests and overall positive vibes that flow in the office. From the Executive Director to the intern level, we all get along, we all laugh together, we all enjoy what we do and every person brings a unique set of skills to his or her position. There are no overlaps. Our executive director, James Wendorf , told me during my interview with him that “everyone in NCLD is like family”. I couldn’t conceptualize what he meant back then, but I do now. It is true. Everyone at NCLD IS indeed like family.

Working for a nonprofit (at least at NCLD) is like working for a Startup, minus the profit. The excitement, the pressure to perform, the exhilaration when your community reacts to your effort and the feedback you get from the founders. These are all there, on a daily basis, and it is something that is very addictive. I like it, some won’t, which is fine. That is why we are different :)

Blogging

I am hoping to slowly get back to writing on my blog again. The transition to a fast pace, fast-think environment required me to use a lot of brain-power, which meant that something had to give. Now that I (hope) have things under control I can try and blog again. Some marketing stuff, some personal stuff.

Before I end this post I would like to share this video with you ( You’ll find me in this video, btw). It was shown during NCLD’s 35th anniversary benefit dinner, where we managed to raise more than 2.45 million dollars! An all time record! Money and records aside, what is more important are the changes and hope we give to children with learning disabilities. You will notice in the video that Lee Hirsch, the director of the eye opening documentary Bully, also talks about NCLD’s work. It was an amazing experience working with the Bully team, but this one I’ll save for another post.

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Goodbye Princeton University, Hello NCLD.org

NCLD.org
NCLD.org

Today is my last day at work. Five years of working at Princeton University are coming to an end. I have been offered, and have accepted, a managerial position at the National Center for Learning Disabilities in NYC.  I am both excited and sad to leave. I feel sad because I am leaving behind a great group of colleagues with whom I connected, on both a professional level and a personal level. However, I feel excited because I will be joining an amazing team of talented people who are passionate about making a positive change in the lives of children and adults with learning disabilities.

My position will require the application of a vast spectrum of Inbound Marketing approaches. I will be a part of the online-marketing and engagement department and will be using methods such as SEO, content-creation, email-marketing, social media, lead-nurturing, and much more, to establish NCLD.org as a hub of information for parents, educators and children who seek information about Learning Disabilities. I always wanted to use my inbound marketing skills for a good cause, and now I get to do just that.

Of course, my new job will require me to commute to New York, with the help of NJ Transit rail system. I read, and heard, of all the horror stories about NJ Transit (stories such as standing all the way to NYC, delays, and whatnot), but I have also heard good accounts of NJ transit. I am hoping that my experience will contribute to the latter accounts and not the former.  I hope that using the early morning express trains will somehow reduce the chances of getting stuck inside a metal car with other angry commuters. Regardless what might be said about NJ transit, I think it will be a great way to catch up on my reading, unwind, or simply process ideas in my mind.

I am very excited about starting my new job tomorrow. There are a lot of challenges facing our team, but that’s what makes this opportunity so thrilling. This is particularly so since I am a person who thrives in a challenging environment!

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The Strongest Man in The World. How Do You Define Strength?

How do you define strength?

Most people will define strength by pointing out an individual human being who is lifting some ridiculous weight for N amount of reps. They will even tell you that currently the strongest man in the world is Zyndrunas Savickas, which is all true. But, do you define strength by sheer power, or rather by sheer courage?

Let me give you an example: look at the two pictures below. Who do you think has more strength? Is it the 300lb behemoth that is pulling this massive track, or rather the anonymous man who is standing in front of a column of Chinese Type 59 tanks the morning after the Chinese military forcibly removed protestors from in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989?

Is this the strongest man in the world?
Is this the strongest man in the world?
Or maybe this is the strongest man in the world
Or maybe this is the strongest man in the world

What do you think?

Let me give another example: we are all familiar with the Arab-spring that began on December 18, 2010. Aren’t these people who decided to stand up against decades of dictatorship by ruthless, corrupt, ‘leaders’ and fight for their freedom the strongest men in the world?

Is this person the strongest man in the world?
Is this person the strongest man in the world?

This goes back to the question I asked in the beginning: how do you define strength? You can argue that strength can only be defined by sheer power, but I beg to defer. I think strength can also be defined by how courageous one can be. Standing in front of a tank in the middle of a chaotic situation shows a different type of strength. The type of strength most of us will never have the chance to reveal.

I would love to read your opinion on this one. Comments are more than welcome.

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Increase Your Chances of Landing a Job With Resunate

Resunate
Resunate

Landing a job in this tight market is very difficult. Thousands of candidats send their résumés every day, hoping to hear back. Some do, but most don’t, which is why using a tool such as resunate may actually increase your chances of landing a job that fits your experience (disclosure: I never used this tool myself. It received good reviews on some of the social media websites, so I thought of sharing it with you).

Before You Start

I am sure there are dozens of tools out there that can help you build your résumé to match almost any position, which is all fine. However, I think there is one important thing you ought to keep in mind: applying to jobs that you are under-qualified, or even over-qualified, is not going to do you any good. Most likely you will find the position to be either boring, overwhelming or both. Before you use any résumé building tools, make sure you are 100% passionate about the position. Passion should be the main drive to get the position, not money.

What is Resunate

Resunate is a tool that scores your résumé against the job description. This is how it works:

Resunate
Resunate

The higher the score, the more likely your résumé will pass the screening. Again, I have never used this tool before, but it looked interesting enough to share. The video below does a good job describing the service. Good luck with your search!

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New Book: The Essence of Islamist Extremism (By Dr. Irm Haleem)

The Essence of Islamist Extremism (By Irm Haleem)
The Essence of Islamist Extremism (By Irm Haleem)

Dr. Irm Haleem’s book is finally out! The Essence of Islamist Extremism is a

conceptual analysis of radical Islamist rhetoric drawn from temporally and contextually varied Islamist extremist groups, challenging the popular understanding of Islamist extremism as a product of a ‘clash-of-civilizations’. Arguing that the essence of Islamist extremism can only be accurately understood by drawing a distinction between the radical Islamist explanations and justifications of violence, the author posits that despite the radical Islamist contextualization of violence within Islamic religious tenets, there is nothing conceptually or distinctly Islamic about Islamist extremism. She engages in a critical analysis of the nature of reason in radical Islamist rhetoric, asserting that the radical Islamist explanations of violence are conceptually reasoned in terms of existential Hegelian struggles for recognition (as fundamentally struggles against oppression), and the radical Islamist justifications of violence are conceptually reasoned in terms of moral consequentialism.

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Why am I so thrilled about this book you ask? One good reason is because Irm is my wife. I was there throughout the process of writing this book. I watched her spend hours at Widener library (Harvard University), and later Firestone library (Princeton University) conceptualizing her ideas, reading hundreds of articles and books and devoting her entire life to finishing this masterpiece. There were many obstacles along the way, but she didn’t give up. She kept fighting. I am so proud of her!

The book itself introduces a fresh approach to the Islamist Extremism discussion. A lot has been said, some more racist than others, but no one really provided an analysis of the real big pink elephant in the room. The Essence of Islamist Extremism does just that!

Follow this link to order your copy of the Essence of Islamist Extremism (amazon link)

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WordPress 3.3 Erased Social Media Sharing on My Site

Wordpress 3.3 Erased Social Media Sharing on My Site
Wordpress 3.3 Erased Social Media Sharing on My Site

The new WordPress 3.3 upgrade offers some nice features, no doubt. The team at WordPress did a great job polishing their CMS. But there was a cost, for me anyway, to this upgrade. Apparently, ALL the Google+, retweets, and Facebook sharing that my posts accumulated over the years are now gone. Vanished.  Man, I thought to myself, that sucks! Nothing I can do about, right? I wonder if anyone else suffered the same problem. hmm…

Anyway, a friend sent me this video that made me feel a little better. It features some astounding moments (hence the name…) that I am sure will make you smile. It is too bad Yahoo doesn’t offer the option to embed videos.  The most astounding moments of 2011. Enjoy!

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Twitter is Dead, Long Live Twitter!

Twitter
Twitter

Today was a very exciting day for all marketers around the world. Today was the day Twitter reinvented itself with a new design, updated its iPhone app AND launched (limited to a few companies) the most anticipated feature of the year: Twitter brand pages for businesses. I spent most of the day in NYC so I was late to read all this exciting news (and maybe it is better this way), but when I did get to read it I was so thrilled. Especially the last part, Twitter brand pages for businesses.

There were rumors about twitter brand pages for businesses back in April, but I must admit that I never even thought it was going to be this exciting.

I think this post summarizes everything you need to know about the new Twitter brand pages for businesses. There is no point for me to repeat it.

The feature that I think is the most exciting one is the embedded tweets feature. Giving your readers the ability to reply, follow, favorite and re-tweet without even leaving the web page is a huge advantage. I cannot wait to see how companies and bloggers are going to leverage this one. Below is an example of what I am talking about:

 

That’s all people. It is time to hit the bed. In the meantime, enjoy the video below. It tells today’s story in less than two minutes.

PS: I might have some exciting news to share with you soon… :)

Posted in Inbound Internet Marketing | Tagged | 2 Comments

Google’s New Changes to SERP Do Work!

Google
Google

I finally had a chance to test google’s new changes to SERP with a blog post I wrote yesterday. I wanted to test how ‘fresh’ content that appears in SERP really is. I was taken aback. I typed “Pro HDR App”–the title I used for the blog post–in the search box 12 minutes after I published the post, and lo and behold, it was right there! 12 minutes!

Google's New Changes to SERP
Google's New Changes to SERP

Takeaway

This is really a no-brainer. Blog more often. Pick good keywords. Be relavant. I know it sounds simple, but to do so, as a marketer, you’ll need to develop a good content-creation strategy. Personally, I really think a good content-creation strategy is one of the hardest thing to do as a marketer. Don’t get be wrong, you can create crapy content and publish dozens of articles each week, but what do you think is going to happen? Nothing! No conversions. Low to none CTR. A total disaster to your brand. There are many ways to create a good content-creation strategy, but that’s is a topic I’ll need to cover some other time. The point I want to emphasize though is that Google’s new changes to SERP do work, and as a marketer you need to learn how to turn these changes into an advantage over your competition.

How Do You Do It

There are a few ways you can use these changes to your advantage. These are just a few examples I can think of, but feel free to add yours in the comments:

  • Product launch: if you are a blogger, you can take advantage of a new product launch event (let’s say iPad 3, for example) by creating content around this event, and strategically choosing your keywords.
  • Breaking news: do you have a new product you are planning to announce? Good. Now get to work and start creating content around this product.
Can you think of more examples? 


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