Earth to Echo Millennial Version of ET (Review/Video)

Earth to Echo Millennial Version of ET (Review/Video)

Watching the screening of Earth to Echo, it became apparent that this was the millennial version of Steven Spielberg’s ET. While this may have seemed like a good idea at one time, the decision to make the film in the same “guerilla” style as Cloverfield detracted quite a lot from the enjoyment factor of the movie.
Read more at http://guardianlv.com/2014/06/earth-to-echo-millennial-version-of-et-reviewvideo/#sYiO3jWGuta6Ezs1.99

FAA Decides Kindles Will Not Cause Plane Crash

FAA Decides Kindles Will Not Cause Plane Crash

After years of being told that all electronic devices have to be turned off while taking off and landing during a flight, the FAA have finally decided that Kindles, and other small devices, will not cause a plane crash. The actual ruling states that passengers can use devices like Kindles or tablets, like the iPad, anytime during a flight.

Remembering a Year Ago Today

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My body remembered, even if I did not. While setting up my calendar for appointments next week, I forgot to set the calendar back that resides on the front of my fridge. Being naturally scatty sometimes (Sometimes? I hear you cry. Only sometimes?) I glanced at it on Thursday and decided that today, Friday, was the 27th.

I decided to do yet another blog post on my 30 August experience on the actual day. I even had a title for it. Anatomy of a Heart Attack. Catchy, no?

But even though my conscious mind had made the anniversary date two days in the future, my body did not. I actually called it an early-ish night. Stopping at around 03:30 in the morning. I finished up some projects that I was “multi-tasking,” or attempting to. I shut everything down; locked the downstairs windows; double-checked the doors and took myself, the iPad and the fan upstairs.

After checking all the windows upstairs, I then went to bed.

I was tired.  I had walked over five miles yesterday at varying paces and had written five articles. Feeling both body and brain tired, I started that pleasant drifting off feeling that usually preempts my entry into the land of Nod.

Suddenly, at around 05;45,  my stomach decided to swell and cramp with a combination of indigestion and gas. The end result was up and down to the bathroom the remainder of the early hours of the morning. I finally gave up trying to sleep and went downstairs. Turning on both laptops, I then went to make a coffee and start writing.

After the coffee had been sorted, I sat in front of my MacBookPro and signed in. The first thing I noticed was the date: 30 August 2013.

I suddenly got very tired and shut everything down again. I left the coffee and went back upstairs. It was 07:45, the exact time that I woke up last year on the 30th and went downstairs to wait for the electric chap to come fit a new meter.

I lay back down and drifted off to sleep around 08:30, waking up about one-ish. Fully awake now I went back down to make another coffee, make breakfast and remember last August when I almost died.

Twice.

As I said before, I’d set my alarm for 07:45. The electric guy was coming around between eight and a twelve to hook up the meter. I went downstairs in a pair of sweat pants and put the kettle on for a cup of coffee. While it boiled, I turned on my old laptop to check my emails and my blog. A few days previously I’d been Freshly Pressed and I wanted to see how many views my post was getting and to answer any comments.

Once I made my coffee, I lit my first cigarette of the day and stood in the back garden drinking coffee and smoking. I then went inside and sat in front of the laptop. As I reached for the keyboard I experienced pain in both of my hands. The best way to describe the pain is to liken it to how your hands, and arms, feel after doing a particularly heavy session with weights. Like when you’ve really crunched out a set of arm curls.

Your arm muscles and hands feel like they are going to explode. If you look at them after the set, they look bigger because they’re full of blood. My hands felt like that, but worse. It was incredibly painful. I sat looking at my hands as I opened and closed them. Making a fist and then releasing, like that would help the pain go away.

I stood up and walked out to the back garden and lit another cigarette.  While I pondered this pain, I finished my coffee and the second smoke and went inside to boil the kettle again. I had an earache in both ears and thought that I might be getting a sinus infection.

Second cup of coffee made and back down in front of the laptop. Reaching again for the keyboard  the pain returned, this time not just in my hands but in my forearms as well. The pain has cranked up a few notches. I went back out to the  garden, coffee in hands that felt like they were going to explode, along with my forearms. Lighting my third cigarette. I decided to “wait out” the pain.

In my mind, the entire time,  I was  thinking I had done something like pinched a nerve or  somehow strained muscles  and that this would  pass.

I finished my second coffee and checked my cell phone, I’d gotten a text from the electric guy. While going to make my third and final coffee, the pain came back. This time it is in both arms and spreading towards my chest and back.

I stand there in agony and wonder, “what the hell is going on?” I’d had my arteries and heart checked out a year or so before and everything was “normal.” So I’m thinking, “It cannot be my heart…So what the hell is it?” The earache has returned and I’m having trouble thinking.

I then realise that I must be having a heart attack, or something very close to it. The pain was now so bad that I cannot stand. I crawled up the stairs to my daughter’s bedroom and knock the door open with my forehead.

She sits up in bed, eyes wide and startled.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m, I think I’m having a heart attack. Call 999 and tell them to get here.”

She grabs her cell phone and calls. She talks to them calmly, only a slight tremor surfacing in her voice. She turns to me and asks what are your symptoms? I try to explain and offer to take the phone.

The emergency operator, says no, sit down somewhere and wait for the ambulance.

I went into my room and got dressed in my summer trousers, after putting on underwear as I had not been wearing any, (my grandmother would have been proud as they were a freshly cleaned pair)  and put on socks, shoes, and a shirt. I got my wallet and went back down the stairs by sliding my ass down over each step till I got to the bottom.

I unlocked the front door and went to  sit on an armchair.

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The ambulance arrived and the two paramedics came in. By that time, I was sitting   on the floor as I felt like I could pass out. I was not that lucky. The pain was increasing steadily and I have never felt pain like it. Sweat was pouring out of me like some kind of comedy skit with freshets of the stuff spurting out of my pores.

One of the paramedics asked me if I could sit in the chair. Out of breath I answered no. He stopped, confused, “Does it hurt you to sit in the chair””

I replied, “No, but it’s a lot further to the floor from the chair if I pass out.”

He nodded and  started trying to attach the sticky pads to me to get an EKG or EEG or whatever they call it. I was sweating so profusely that the pads would not stick. They could not get a reading.

Everything became a blur. My world had shrunk to just me and the pain and the sweat. I concentrated on trying to make the pain go away. At no time did I not believe that they wouldn’t  have something in their ambulance that would give me relief.

They did not.

On the way to the local hospital, they give me shots of morphine and “spritz” nitro-glycerine under my tongue. Nothing helps. My daughter watches me with eyes the size of Texas.

We get to the hospital with sirens wailing, that to me, sound very far away. We get there and I’m carried quickly into the emergency room. A lady doctor comes over and after what seems like hours, the sweat drys sufficiently to get the pads to stick. I’m asked to “breathe normally.” I want to laugh at that, but I’m in too much pain to do more than snort.

They get their reading and ask if I’d rather go to Papworth Hospital at Cambridge, an hour and a half away, or Basildon. I don’t care either way and the decision comes down to lack of bed spaces at Cambridge; so it’s off to Basildon.

I find out later that the drive should have taken over an hour and twenty minutes. We got there in 45 minutes. Meg, my daughter, told me that they drove through the thunderstorm from hell. Sirens screaming as they swerved around traffic. On the way, they gave me some sort of gas.

It was magic. Unlike the morphine or the nitro-glycerine, this stuff makes the pain bearable. So bearable that I am able to breathe somewhat normally and the sweat begins to dry up. When we arrive at the hospital, I ask everyone if I can have some more of that magic gas.

The rest you already know. How close I was to dying. The emergency stents and then stopping everything bringing me back to consciousness and the emergency aortic dissection aka bi-pass.

My sleepless night in the wee hours of the day I had my heart attack a year ago, because of  my “stomach ailment” must have been some sort of “carry-over” from that event. Even though, in my mind, I thought Sunday was the 30th.

Funny how the mind and the body remember things that we’ve chosen to forget, or have forgotten to remember. I hold my hand over my heart (pun intended) and promise that this is the last time, for a very long time, that I’ll be writing about my “life changing” experience.

I decided to chronicle the day’s events as I remembered them. I will point out that I  did relate it in time slots. The time I got up and the time I got the text are imprinted in my memory. I do know that by the time we got to the first local hospital, it was almost four  hours, if not  more, from when I first started having my symptoms.  I also believe that I’ve left a cigarette out…Like I said, it was sort of a blur.

I’ve written the account in both past and present tenses. It seemed appropriate to help get the confusion across that I felt on the day.  I would also like to point out that, at no time did I think of the possibility of dying.  It never entered my head. There were no moments of praying for God, or whoever, to make it all stop or to “spare” me. I just “knew” that the doctors would help me.

And they did.

Michael SmithPhoto on 30-08-2013 at 13.50 #2

United Kingdom

30 August 2013

South Africa My Personal Journey: Day One

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I arrived at Johannesburg International Airport roughly between 21:15 and 22 :10 (9 p.m. and 10 p.m. respectively); the large gap  in time is due to my lack of sleep and forgetting to double check it. Arriving at the airport, I was pleased to find that the staff were welcoming and friendly and not above having a joke with you. British and American customs take note.

I meet my contacts D and L.  Before they came to meet and collect me at the airport, D’s shed was set alight by someone. The car they used to transport me had  a broken window; crime is so rampant that they had to hire an airport car park chap to watch the car. If they had not done this it would have been stolen.

*Note: Because of the nature of my trip, I will refer to my contacts by initials only.  Reprisals against any who have helped me to uncover information are a very real threat.

I was taken to where I would be staying for the next four days via the scenic route.  L was the driver and took us along the back streets to show what the area looked like and past a local “government” hospital. I was told that if you go there to be treated, you’ll probably get worse or die.  Everyone has to go private for their treatment and not use the government hospitals

We drove through a section of town where some  drug dealers and prostitutes live.  All the houses  have bars over the window’s and doors and are behind gates and fences with sharp spikes on the top of the fences or razor (concertina) wire strung across the top.

While we drove through the neighbourhood, we reached a couple of blocks where there were prostitutes hanging around on the sidewalks. Some were in pairs, but most stood alone.  One young girl was standing by herself on the corner of a sidewalk and she looked about twelve. All of the young woman, and at least one obvious young man, were black.  I was told that as it was almost eleven o’clock at night, it was too late for the while prostitutes to be out. Apparently the white ones get picked first.

The house where I am staying is right next door to a drug dealer and prostitute “den.” The drug dealer is Nigerian and the Nigerians are not well liked in the Johannesburg area. They are the new “crime lords” of the area. In a short time they’ve taken over as leaders in the drugs trade. C and L have no problems with the neighbour. L is a huge intimidating sized chap and the drug dealer is actually afraid of him.

Like most of the houses in this area, the one I will be staying at is a bungalow style house (single level) and it is surrounded by a high fence with sharp implements on the top to discourage thieves. All the houses have this type of wall topped with razor wire, electrical fencing or sharp metal stakes, et al.  They have also put bars over every window and door.

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All houses have high fences except for those who don’t worry about theft. Author Photo.

The more “expensive” homes have electric all round and D’s house is a combination of electric and wire topped fence as well as the bars over the windows and doors.

The only houses that do not have the high fences and bars are the ones belonging to the drug lords.

Just before you drive onto the block to get to the where I stayed during my short trip, there is a fairly big house that has been vandalised and burnt. It is full of squatters and nothing can or will be done about it.

On the drive from the airport to the area that I will be staying in, D and L tell me the rules for driving in Johannesburg. These are especially important if you are a female driving or you have females in the car with you.

The rules for driving in Johannesburg: 

Lock all your car doors.

Keep all your windows rolled up.

Do not slow down or stop if a car (or two, or more) are stopped by the side of the road and people are standing by them.

If you are a woman, you never drive down the road with your purse or handbag in plain sight most will put them on the floorboards out of sight to stop smash and grab theft.

If you look ahead and see rocks stuck in the road, do not approach them, as it is a trap. If you stop or attempt to drive around the rocks you’ll become the victim of a smash and grab or car theft…or worse.

Remember to check.

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Pictures through rolled up windows is the order of the day. Author photo.

We finally arrive to our destination. The bungalow style house I am staying in is lovely. It has huge rooms and high ceilings. The bathroom is actually bigger than my kitchen back home in England, and I have a good sized kitchen. My bedroom is also quite large and ready for me to occupy.

C and L are lovely people who immediately make me feel like a long lost relative. Like everyone, it seems, they have dogs. One is the size of a small shetland pony, or at least in my tired state he seemed that big, and all the dogs take to me instantly. The couple were afraid that the dogs might overwhelm me. But they weren’t a problem.

It is winter in South Africa. Their winters make me think of Southern California winters; warm, sunny days and chilly nights. I am glad I packed a short, light jacket along with my short-sleeved shirts and trousers. The daytime temperatures get up to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit but drop down quite low once the sun goes down; around an average of 41 degrees. As typical in winter, the days are shorter and the nights longer.

I have a cup of coffee with my hosts and soon amble off to bed. I am too excited and tired to sleep so I start making notes on my Macbook about the first leg of my journey. After an hour and a half, I finally drop off to sleep.

My first day in Johannesburg has been electric, edifying, and enjoyably adrenaline filled.  My first impressions are of a people who are friendly, welcoming and adaptable. I will meet my first “interview” the next day and I’m anxious that all goes well.  As I was a “last minute” substitution for our World Editor (his flight cost was extortionate) I am concerned that I get all the information I came for.

I’ve been told to take lots of pictures so that our paper’s critics realise that I am really there. As I lay in bed still feeling ill from my Hepatitis A injection I’d had the day before, I sunk slowly into a deep dreamless sleep that ended as the rest of the house woke up at seven in the morning. Looking at my iPad, when I opened my eyes, I saw that I’d had just over four hours of sleep.

My first “full” day in Johannesburg as an investigative journalist had just begun.

(To be continued)

Gold Mine Dump
Gold Mine Dump Author Photo.

South Africa: My Personal Journey Schiphol and Beyond

KLM mock-up at Schiphol Amsterdam
KLM mock-up at Schiphol Amsterdam. Photo by author.

During my 11 hour lay-over in Schiphol,  thoughts of South Africa trudged through my mind like a tired Army marching resolutely towards the battle line. My personal journey was taking a very long time. While I was there, my boss contacted me on the intermittent “free” broadband via Skype and asked  me to take pictures. That was easy and you can see them on my previous post. I wandered the airport and attempted to sleep in-between pictures while I waited to go beyond the airport’s restraints and fly out to South Africa.

The Dutch are a very friendly nation, the airport’s employees in each of the shops and restaurants (that were open at that un-Godly hour) were helpful and easy to speak to. In the Netherlands English is taught from grade school and their versatility in the language still impresses me. When I lived in Holland, I would be asked if I spoke Dutch. My answer, in their language, was “Een klein beetje.” Which means, “a little bit.”

And I meant that literally.

If you asked them about speaking English, they would respond in kind. But their version of “a little bit” was vastly better than my poor efforts. The only difference being that they spoke the Queen’s English instead of the garbled “bastardised” version that we American’s usually speak. I could speak both versions of English having lived and worked in both the US and the UK. There is a difference between the two countries in the area of English language!

When it was time to board my flight to South Africa, I left almost reluctantly. I’d not been back to Holland since I left it in 1990 and I was reluctant to leave. I have many fond memories of the place and its people. I will go back one day and walk the streets of the places I lived and worked. And visit the hospital where my daughter was born.

On the last flight, I managed to find sleep at last. I fell into a fitful dozing state that eventually led me into a deeper sleep that lasted roughly an hour and a half. My mind would not stop long enough for more rest than that. I was excited to be travelling the world again after such a long break.

When I was much younger, my plan was to visit many countries and learn about the people who lived in each one. I got off to a good start, but getting married the second time made me sedentary. Having a wife and child makes the aspect of travel an unlikely option. Too many responsibilities and bills to pay.

After the plane had landed at the Johannesburg Airport and taxied up to our disembarkation area, I walked slowly towards the passport control area. I silently thanked whoever had put in the moving sidewalks, or paths, as I could stand there immobile; clutching my now overly heavy backpack that was full of laptop, iPad; various work tools and my heart medication.

Finally I joined the line of international and local passengers waiting to get permission to enter the country. Luckily, the staff that manned the control area, never trained in the UK or the USA. They were friendly, welcoming and ready to smile or joke with you. Perhaps the best advertisement for the country of South Africa “man” those passport control kiosks.

Life saving moving sidewalk
Life saving moving sidewalk at Johannesburg Airport. Photo by author.

After chatting with my passport chap, I made my way to the luggage collection point and was delighted to find my bag already going around the carousel. I grabbed it and went to find my local contacts. The paper’s local correspondent had said that her son would meet me at the airport. I started looking for signs with my name on.

As I moved around the throng of people waiting for loved ones to greet, or business contacts to pick-up, I heard my name called and as I glanced over I saw our correspondent.  I’d arrived at last.  Safe, exhausted and jet lagged, but so excited that I could hardly stand it.

My personal journey was about to begin, while I investigated and learned about a country that has fascinated me since learning of the Livingstone expedition as a boy in school.  My latest job had taken me to Schiphol, in Amsterdam, and beyond. I was now in South Africa, a country often depicted in films as dangerous and deadly.

I was there to learn what I could about a specific news event, but before my short four-day jaunt had finished, I learned much more and made a number of new friends and contacts.  I forgot all about Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and slogged through the world of investigative journalism.

I am now addicted to this world. My boss declared me an adventurer by nature and I have to admit being hooked on the adrenaline surge and I’m constantly looking for ways to replicate it. With all my senses cranked up to the uppermost level on the dials, I left the airport with two people who would become fast friends and comrades in our search for the truth.

To be continued…

Gold Mine Dump
Gold Mine Dump Johannesburg, ZA. Photo by author.