The Center of People

Via Joost Bonsen, whose Development Ventures Class in the MIT Media Lab was among the best course decisions I made in grad school, a graphic that’s trending on reddit showing the world’s population by longitude and latitude:

From the graphic alone, I would have guessed this was in northwest India, but after looking up the coordinates, it turns out the center of people is just over the border in Pakistan:


Coincidentally, as a direct result of Joost’s course, I ended up conducting some research on food waste in India right by the border, just 100 miles from the above coordinates in Pakistan. Here’s what it looks like:

Samuel Kornstein: India &emdash; Haryana Cow

A Few Thoughts on Rhinos

I just learned that yesterday was World Rhino Day, an annual initiative to raise awareness about Africa’s big poaching problem. National Geographic has a nice series of pictures and history, including a picture that’s clearly from a very different time of a zookeeper feeding peas to a rhino while it’s carrying a woman on its back.

Having just been to South Africa last month, where over 80% of the 26,000 rhinos in Africa live, I thought I’d share some of what we saw and learned. Previous posts on South Africa are here and here.

While I had known that poaching has historically been and continues to be a huge issue, I hadn’t appreciated the extent of it. Over 1,000 rhinos were poached in South Africa 2013, the largest number in recent history, and this year it looks like the number might be even higher. That’s almost 5% of the population poached, every year, and doesn’t include rhinos that die of old age and other natural causes.

I had also always assumed that poaching was most prevalent in less populated areas with few tourists and little infrastructure — somewhere deep in the bush away from conservation areas and managed parks/reserves. That couldn’t be more wrong. Most of the poaching happens in Kruger National Park, the largest and arguably most well-known and visited park in South Africa. Despite the fact that it’s only open from 6am-6pm, has a team of dedicated anti-poaching police, and that the entry/exit points appear regulated with only a handful of well guarded gates and frequent car searches, rhinos in Kruger aren’t well protected at all. About one per day is poached.

In some ways it seems the parks and reserves just need to do more of what they are doing — searches and dedicated anti-poaching patrol — and maybe be a bit more tactical about it. The first very small private reserve we visited had four rhinos as recently as a year ago. Now there are three — poachers cut through the fence in the middle of the night, killed one, and cut off his horns. We saw the bones, which the reserve kept in place to raise awareness.

Apparently at the time it was well-known that the anti-poaching police weren’t on duty from about midnight to the early morning, which in many ways defeats the purpose of having them for the other ~20 hours per day. Obviously more resources are needed. But making the hours and routes less predicable would seem to help. However, my understanding of the context is limited to a few conversations, so I’m hesitant to assume too much about which aspects of protection failed.

In the parks, our car was searched a few times, but not every time, despite the fact that we were stopped for five minutes or so at each entry or exit point. There didn’t seem to be any reason why the guards couldn’t have quickly looked in our trunk each time. Maybe they were profiling us as tourists, but they seemed more interested in finding out whether we had alcohol than guns. And given the recent arrest of some park employees for walking around with a hunting rifle, it sounds as though guns coming in and out of the park should be a focus.

At many of the parks, we did notice a culture of secrecy around the rhinos. We often asked rangers and guides how many rhinos were in parks we were visiting, and the most common answer was that they don’t disclose the information. Also, many of the parks had boards at the visitor areas where people can mark recent sightings of elusive animals such as lions, leopards, elephants, hyenas, wild dogs, etc. Rhinos would have been an obvious addition to that list, but we never saw their locations marked.

Maybe this already happens on a limited scale, or is more challenging than I appreciate, but it would seem to me that anti-poaching efforts could be improved with a bit of technology. I’ve read about parks using motion sensors. But what about adding some cameras along key roads, maybe even streaming them to the web, and crowd sourcing the monitoring. People from all over the world could check out various parts of the parks, and report anything that appears suspicious. There’s clearly a large global network of people who care. When we visited the Tembe Elephant Reserve, we learned that they have a very popular 24/7 webcam covering one of the watering holes, and there’s something similar in popular spots in Kruger. Why not take this exact model and replicate it a few hundred times over using satellite internet in different parks? I suppose there’s risk of poachers using the cameras to locate rhinos, but I think the added monitoring of the areas would more than compensate.

We also learned of some innovative approaches to reducing demand for rhino horns that have been tested on a limited basis and sound promising. One example is to inject poison and pink dye into the horns — a practice that doesn’t harm the rhinos, but would be apparent to poachers and would make anyone consuming the horn fairly sick. This sounds like a promising approach, but it would likely have to be expanded on a much larger basis before it could really reduce demand rather than shift poaching to different areas. Time will tell — hopefully it helps.

I’ve included some shots of some of the rhinos we saw below.

The first two are from Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park, where we saw about 15-20 different rhinos throughout our day-long self-drive. I didn’t notice at the time, but after reviewing the pictures closely, it’s clear this rhino has large wounds on both sides. It’s difficult to be sure, but they look like gunshot wounds (especially the one on its left in the first picture) suggesting he or she may have escaped an attempted poaching:
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

A couple others from the same park:
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

And here are a couple more from a reserve near Hluhluwe:
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

If you’re interested in donating to anti-poaching efforts, I found that has a bunch of great programs across Africa, including one at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park.


African Cat Rehabilitation Center

Continued from my previous post here. On our second day in South Africa, we took a ride about 10 miles up the road from our lodge to the Emdoneni Lodge Cat Rehabilitation Center. The center takes in injured and orphaned cheetahs, servals, African wild cats, and caracals, and provides care for them, generally with the hope of releasing them back into the wild. In some cases the cats become too tame and comfortable around humans and can not be safely released, so these guys live out their days at the center.

Somewhat surprisingly, after speaking with one of the center’s staff members, we learned much of the funding for these centers comes from hunting organizations. My understanding was that they typically want to help support sustainable population levels, across many species, such that “responsible hunting” does not pose a risk. These are obviously longer term objectives for currently threatened animals, and the dynamic seems nuanced and complex, but it felt a bit odd knowing a lot of the support for a great animal protection program had these underlying motivations.

Fascinating all around. With that, I’ve included a few highlights below.

Here’s an African wild cat:

Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

Shots of well-timed yawns always look viscous. They resemble house cats, and apparently house cats were bred from domesticated African wild cat ancestors beginning about 10,000 years ago, but these guys are just a bit more dangerous.

Here’s a caracal, named Bar One:

Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

A cheetah:
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

And finally a serval:
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

We were able to go into the fenced enclosures and walk right up to the all of animals. The cheetahs actually weren’t the most dangerous — apparently the caracals are most unpredictable and prone attacking if threatened. The guide wouldn’t let any children into the caracal area, and said that if Bar One started running around everyone’s legs, we should just remain still and let him do his thing as we wouldn’t want to see his reaction to fast movements.

First Few Days in South Africa

Laura and I recently returned from a visit in South Africa, planned around a package we “accidentally” won in a charity auction. The Auction was for Girls’ Leap, an amazing organization Laura volunteers with that provides self defense and empowerment training to girls and young women in the Boston area. By “accidentally,” I mean that we weren’t the high bidders and didn’t necessarily intend to win, as it was clear the other bidders were more enthusiastic. But once the highest bidder won, the auctioneer had a “surprise” for us. She happened to have more than one package on hand and conveniently offered it to us — in front of 200 or so other people — for our bid. It’s obviously a great cause, was a great deal, was the price we bid, (and was a great auctioneer technique), so quite unexpectedly and without much thought, we were going to South Africa.

We planned the trip around the package, but took the opportunity to rent a car and explore the country a bit. Our first few days were in KwaZulu-Natal and Zululand, near Hluhluwe (pronounced shlushluwee) at a private reserve and lodge that were part of the package. We then traveled in and around St. Lucia and iSimangaliso Wetland Park, spent a day in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, then drove through Swaziland up to Kruger National Park.

The entire trip was incredible, especially for shooting, and it’s taken me over a month to sort through and edit my photos. Below I’ve included the first batch from the first few days. I’ll likely have some new presets to post as well, as I definitely came up with a few good combinations editing these.

Here was a sunset on the first night from our room:
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

The private reserve at our lodge was small compared with the national parks, but still had some incredible wildlife and landscapes:
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

On the second day we “spotted” one of the cheetahs in the reserve, along with her cub:
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

Apparently elephants keep cool in the afternoon by filling their trunks with dirt and spaying it over their backs:
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;
Samuel Kornstein: South Africa & Swaziland &emdash;

More to come soon.

Wimberley Texas

The day after Thanksgiving, I went out to Wimberley with my girlfriend’s family, which is a small town about half an hour outside of Austin. I didn’t know what to expect, and was very pleasantly surprised. We started the day the Blue Hole regional park, a nice area with some hiking trails where we successfully found a geocache by a creek. This was one of the toughest ones I’ve done — and I can’t take credit for finding it (I’m not so sure I would have):


We then went to the square, which is filled with lots of artsy stores selling many locally made “things”. I say “things” because while there were plenty of more normal crafty items such as food, pottery, candles, and clothing, there were also some more unusual items which made for a pretty unique local culture. Here are a few highlights:








Afterwards, we drove down the street to the Middleton Brewery, where we all got pints of locally made beer. They don’t post much on their site, but I would first recommend the cream ale:


With the Belgian coming in a close second:


Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón and Back in 1 Day

I recently spent three days in Iceland with my girlfriend. We rented a car, so we had a bit of flexibility. We first did the obligatory trip to the Blue Lagoon, and then spent a day driving the Golden Circle, both of which were worth the hype. Then we were left with one more day, and we weren’t sure how best to use it.

I had heard that the glacial icebergs at Jökulsárlón were a must-see, but at a 782km round trip drive, it seemed a bit ambitious. I read quite a few forums and posts that all recommended going, but they also recommended spending the night somewhere in the South. I did find some posts from a few who had done the round trip drive in a day, but they didn’t give me confidence that it wasn’t a crazy thing to do. But after mulling our options, we decided to go for it.

Our experience: if you have a car and only an extra day to spare, it’s undoubtedly worth the drive. Stop thinking about it and just go. For us at least, this day was the highlight of our time in Iceland, as there’s a quite a bit of varied landscape and there are plenty of worthwhile stops along the way. You will just need to aware of how much time you spend in each place. We made it there and back in about 14 hours.

Here’s what we did:

View Larger Map

We left Reykjavik around 8:00am and headed to Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, two amazing waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss is the waterfall you can walk behind, and Skógafoss is just plain impressive (at a 60m drop, it’s twice the height of Gullfoss on the Golden Circle). We probably spent half an hour to and hour at each.

Then we headed right for Jökulsárlón. We got there in the early afternoon, and signed up for a boat tour. We were a bit worried about not having made reservations in advance, but it turned out to be pretty easy to get a ticket on the spot (they seem to leave every 30-45 minutes). And it was nice to not have to worry about getting there by a certain time for a reservation. The boat is definitely worth it. For those who have seen a Duck Tour boat in Boston, it’s essentially a jumbo-sized Duck Tour vehicle that can drive on land and in the water. The view from the water was great, and the information from the tour guide was surprisingly interesting. Glaciers are just awesome.

Afterwards, we headed back, with a stop at Reynisfjara, a black sand beach near Vik with some gigantic rock formations. I liked this beach much more than I expected I would. It’s is often referred to as an inverse beach because of its dark sand and frothy waves. It made for great black and white photos. We easily could have spent a few hours here alone, but we kept it to about an hour.

So that was our day. We got back into town around 10pm. Essentially four stops, and a lot of driving, but once you’re all the way in Iceland, I’d say without a doubt it’s worth it.

Here are some highlights:

Samuel Kornstein: Iceland &emdash; Iceland-26

Samuel Kornstein: Iceland &emdash; Iceland-28

Samuel Kornstein: Iceland &emdash; Iceland-29

Samuel Kornstein: Iceland &emdash; Iceland-31

Landscape between Skógafoss and  Jökulsárlón:
Samuel Kornstein: Iceland &emdash; Iceland-33

Samuel Kornstein: Iceland &emdash; Iceland-54

Samuel Kornstein: Iceland &emdash; Iceland-40

Samuel Kornstein: Iceland &emdash; Iceland-48

Samuel Kornstein: Iceland &emdash; Iceland-59

Samuel Kornstein: Iceland &emdash; Iceland-65


More pictures here. And definitely feel free to email me with any questions.

South American Road Trip

A very well done South American video compilation. From the artist’s Vimeo site:

“Early 2012, we started a journey to Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay and Southern Brazil in our old and rusty Landrover. Once again, we brought our DSLR cameras and some gear to capture every great moment of this trip. Lots of winds, emptiness, pampas, bustling cities, animals, deserts and waterfalls – all wrapped up in just under 6 min. Enjoy the ride!”


I was in Vancouver with my Dad last month visiting my brother who’s studying sound design at the Vancouver Film School. The pacific northwest seems to have a great seaplane culture, where cities zone a portion of the local harbor for seaplanes to take off, land, and dock. Some are used for short commutes between cities (e.g., Vancouver to Victoria), and others for sightseeing tours. I think it’s a great use of space, and much more practical for short commutes than going to an airport, as you can just walk from an office downtown right up to the dock, show an ID, and get on. I’m surprised this hasn’t caught on in the northeast.

My Dad and I went on one of the 20 minute sightseeing tours, which was very enjoyable with some amazing views. I got to sit in the copilots seat, and shot some pretty crude videos on my iPhone. I put them all together, and here’s what I came up with: