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Jim Letourneau's Blog

Investing, Technology, Travel, Geology, Music, Golf. I think that covers it.

Lunch at Contramar

Lots of great fish options.  

Mural above the bar at Contrimar

Mural above the bar at Contrimar

I had the octopus. 

400 grams of grilled octopus cooked in a mole sauce. 

400 grams of grilled octopus cooked in a mole sauce. 

...and a margarita! 

Natural margarita with a thin jalapeño slice.  Handily outperforms the watery jalapeño margarita  Blanco  Colima. 

Natural margarita with a thin jalapeño slice.  Handily outperforms the watery jalapeño margarita  Blanco  Colima. 

Day 3 - Tlatelolco, Teotihuacan Pyramids, Basilica de Guadalupe

The highlight of our third day in Mexico City was a visit to the Teotihuacan Pyramids. These are about an hour away from The Four Seasons and they are a very popular tourist destination so we opted to meet our guide at 7:00AM to avoid the rush. This plan worked perfectly. An added bonus was that we didn't have to climb a pyramid in the heat of the day.

We pulled over briefly for a quick early morning view of Tlatelolco.  This square is also known as the Square of Three Cultures where an Aztec ruin, 17th century church and a modern office complex are juxtaposed.

Getting up early paid dividends as we almost had the pyramids to ourselves. 

 

Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the Sun

Many hot air balloons were in the air but only the first one made it over the Pyramid of the sun. The rest were pushed off course by shifting winds. I edited the audio on the above video to remove my laboured breathing. 

We stopped for a bite at a place with a great view

We stopped for a bite at a place with a great view

Julia then insisted that we visit a cave, which is unlike her, but I played along.  

La Gruta brochures

La Gruta brochures

We drank a bottle of wine in a cave. Just like my ancestors did 

We drank a bottle of wine in a cave. Just like my ancestors did 

After a short drive back towards Mexico City (where we both napped off our wine) we hit up the Basillica de Guadalupe. 

Carrillon tower

Carrillon tower

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Moving walkways help with crowd control

Moving walkways help with crowd control

View from the back

View from the back

There were some great geological things to see including building subsidence and a holy spring that spontaneously appeared. 

Day 2 - Chapultepec and Centro Historico

Our day started with a tour of Chapultipec (which means grasshopper hill). Downtown streets were closed for cyclists and a running event. We walked through a very large park to the base of long wide ramp up to the castle/palace/museum. 

Great murals, landscaping, artifacts and views of the city, 

 

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Landscaping at Chapultepec Castle.

Landscaping at Chapultepec Castle.

Inspiration for the Calgary Sky Deck™

Inspiration for the Calgary Sky Deck™

  View down Paseo de la Forma

  View down Paseo de la Forma

Our next visit was the Centro Historico of Mexico City. We started across from the Supreme Court and then walked along the Zócalo, or main plaza in front of the National Palace. Since it was Sunday, it was very busy.

Moneda Street near the National Palace

Moneda Street near the National Palace

We lined up to get inside the National Palace and it was well worth the brief wait. The chaos outside the building was left behind for a tranquil inner courtyard. We saw The History of Mexico mural by Diego Rivera 

Portion of The History of México by Diego Rivera. 

Portion of The History of México by Diego Rivera. 

Colonnade in the National Palace. 

Colonnade in the National Palace. 

Our brilliant guide, Sergio, took us to a second floor restaurant that overlooked the excavations of the Templo Mayor. I tried some grasshoppers for lunch since we had been in Chapultepec in the morning. 

Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor

After lunch we visited numerous interesting buildings including the Palacio Postal, Bellas Artes, a Moorish themed former house that had been converted into several restaurants and a bar (Sanborns), and the Palace of Mines which featured several awesome meteorites.

Sanborns' courtyard dining

Sanborns' courtyard dining

Space Rock

Space Rock

Our day ended with an Uber trip to a parkade where our guide's car was parked. They use a valet system to bring the cars to the exit which was interesting to watch. As soon as we got into the car, it stated to rain. Good timing!

Mexico City Day 1

Our first full day in Mexico City started with breakfast in the hotel. There were menu items available in addition to a nice buffet selection. While we could easily just hang out in the hotel, we scheduled a guide to get us off our asses and out into the city.

The Four Seasons - Why would you go anywhere else?

The Four Seasons - Why would you go anywhere else?

Our guide, Sergio, picked us up at 9:00AM and took us to UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico which is built on a lava field of the Xitl volcano. Our first stop was the Estadio Olímpico Universitario which features a large Diego Rivera mural. 

 

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The University, the Mexican family, peace and youth sports,

The University, the Mexican family, peace and youth sports,

Then we explore some great architecture and murals on the university campus. 

The Central Library at the National Autonomous University of Mexico

The Central Library at the National Autonomous University of Mexico

From there we headed to the Frida Kahlo House which is easily recognized by its brilliant azure colour. 

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We walked a few blocks to a large covered food market that was very busy. A personal highlight was getting a chicarrone sample with some pulled pork on top... delish.

We walked a few blocks to a large covered food market that was very busy. A personal highlight was getting a chicarrone sample with some pulled pork on top... delish.

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I had a nice coffee from Veracruz at Cafe el Jerocho afterwards. 

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Then we walked to the Iglesia de  San Juan Bautista where a baptism was taking place. We had lunch at the San Angel Inn which is right across from the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House Studio Museum. They lived in separate houses connected by a bridge!  

Famous San Angel Inn Margaritas. 

Famous San Angel Inn Margaritas. 

After lunch we headed to a large art market and bazaar that had fantastic art pieces at good prices. Julia loved the shopping.

 I don’t need a wrestling mask. Or a picture frame with red flower trim, or a pendant made of thinly sliced agate with silver trim but I will have some of these things in my luggage. And I don’t like pictures of Frida Khalo but I can see why the feminist social justice warriors would have raised her profile over the last few decades.

The rains came just as we were finishing up at the market. 

I tried some new foods including chicarrones in spicy green tomato sauce and tongue in Veracruz sauce for lunch. We had dinner at Maximo Bistro where my highlights were the jamaica margarita and the veal sweetbreads.

 

Four Seasons, Three Ways

Late afternoon, evening and early morning views of the Four Seasons Hotel courtyard in Mexico City. Great photographers plan their shots based on expected light conditions. I take them when I can. 

Late afternoon

Late afternoon

Evening

Evening

Early morning

Early morning

The courtyard has a bar called Fifty Mil and an amazing seafood restaurant, Zanaya. 

It even has a  “secret garden”... with a neon sign  

 

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Up in the Air Photos #1

I love looking out airplane windows and while an aisle seat has a few alleged advantages, I usually nap and get dinged by the beverage and food carts as they go up and down the aisle. So if it is a daytime flight,  I’m usually on the window. Today’s flight flew over Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas before entering Mexican airspace  

  

Pakowki Lake, Alberta.

Pakowki Lake, Alberta.

The sky was hazy in Alberta due to forest  fires (but that smoke created an awesome red sunrise). 

Mount Brown - Sweetgrass Hills.

Mount Brown - Sweetgrass Hills.

Erosional headlands south of Milk River, Montana?

Erosional headlands south of Milk River, Montana?

Texas oil field east of Ozona, Texas.

Texas oil field east of Ozona, Texas.

Rio Grande and the Amistad International Reservoir.

Rio Grande and the Amistad International Reservoir.

Inliers near Piedras Negras, Mexico.

Inliers near Piedras Negras, Mexico.

Descent into Mexico City.

Descent into Mexico City.

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Off to CDMX

This morning, Julia and I are flying to Mexico City. We are nearing our 10th wedding anniversary being married on 08/08/08, the one important date that I can easily remember.

I was up at 6:00AM and managed to catch the fire red sunrise.  

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I can’t remember if I’ve been to the new International section of YYC or not but it seemed new to me.  It is fairly easy to mix up the USA security entrance with the International entrance when the lines are long. Fortunately for us there were no lines and we had some time to be in the Aspire lounge. I had the spinach egg cubes and pea meal bacon. When properly defrosted and heated up, those seemingly unappetizing green egg squares approximate the texture of Starbucks Sous Vide Egg Bites. 

I’m on a plane.  

I’m on a plane.  

The flight is 5 hours so I have downloaded some Spotify playlists and I have “The Years with Laura Diaz” by Carlos Fuentes on the Kindle. I got lost on the first page Googling famous murals. Hopefully reading without an Internet connection will boost my reading speed. 

2017 Live Music

The popular music world is very fragmented these days. Talk to a friend about what their favorite music of 2017 was and be prepared for a struggle. You probably don't know much about your friend's favorite bands. Below is a list of bands that I saw live either in concert or in review/awards shows in 2017. I've rated my favorite performances with *, ** or *** ratings:

Kings of Leon, Big Sandy*, Dawes**, Sloan*, Hey Ocean**, Arcade Fire*, John Fogerty**, Ben Folds**, Tall Heights, New Pornographers*, Born Ruffians, Coldplay*, Kyemara, Jamtown, Webb Wilder*, David Olney*, The Grahams*, Drive-by Truckers**, Tony Joe White**, Robyn Hitchcock*, A.J. Croce, Wynonna and the Big Noise, Low Cut Connie***, Tim Williams, Michael Kuwanuka***, Mbongwana Star*, Couer De Pirate, Tanya Tagaq, Birds of Chicago, Yola Carter, The Cactus Blossoms*, Rodriguez, Trooper, Jason Collett*, The Reverend Horton Heat*, Gregory Porter**, Toots and the Maytals, Ron Burke and a Little Voodoo*, Tom Phillips*, Camie Leard Band*, Lee Fields and the Expressions, Car Seat Headrest*, The Lemon Twigs (Todd Rundgren guest)*, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (Richie Sambora guest)*, Father John Misty**, Placido Domingo, Shane Gaalaas**, Ana María Martínez, Sting*, Huey Lewis and the News**, Los Blenders, Jann Arden, Alabama, The Mocking Shadows, TR3, Snoop Dogg, Dino Martinis, Lily Hiatt, Allah-Las*, New Order, Billy Cox, Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Dweezil Zappa, Chris Layton , Mato Nanji, Noah Hunt, Ana Popovic, Henri Brown, The Slide Brothers, Scott Nelson, and Tim Austin, Radiohead, Mac DeMarco*, The XX, Celine Dion, John Legend, Little Big Town, Pentatonix, Ed Sheeran, Tavares, Keith Urban, Stevie Wonder**, Kelsea Ballerini, Andra Day, Nick Jonas, Tori Kelly, Demi Lovato, Panic! At The Disco, Thomas Rhett, Jason Derulo, DNCE, Katharine McPhee, Old Crow Medicine Show, John Prine, Iris DeMent, Rhiannon Giddens, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives**, Amanda Shires, The Lumineers*, Graham Nash, The Milk Carton Kids, Margo Price, Jason Isbell*, Van Morrison, Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm*, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Joe Henry, and Billy Bragg.

Plus during AmericanaFest 2017, I was able to see Mike Judge premier Tales from the Tour Bus and have friendly chats with Holger Petersen, Steve Dawson, and Mojo Nixon.

 

Forswearing Facebook

Last week I had an email from a friend with the subject line "you left facebook."  I took some time to respond as I didn't sound like a crazed conspiracy theorist. Here is why I left Facebook.


At first I thought that there was no specific incident that caused me to leave Facebook on June 5, 2017 but upon quiet reflection, it was my sampling of Scott Adams' Persuasion Reading List.

Exposure to the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky ("Thinking, Fast and Slow" and "The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds") primed me to examine Facebook more critically. A quick summary is that System 1 “is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach" and System 2  is “the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates.” It turns out System 1 runs the show. People will tell you that they are rational but they are often guided by the irrational System 1. Just like Michael Lewis and "Moneyball", you've written about irrational behavior. He wrote "The Undoing Project" partly in response to a review of "Moneyball" by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

Also, there was a promo article for a book called “The Hacking of the American Mind." that came out in early June.  While the book wasn't published until September 12, 2017, the title was enough motivation for me to pull back from social media. I subsequently learned about hormones from the hacking book. Dopamine is bad and serotonin is good. Facebook triggers dopamine. I'm also pretty sure there was a nice morning shot of cortisol in my morning Facebook hormonal mix. According to hormonal obesity theories, cortisol can trigger weight gain. 

My experience was that in spite of my efforts to control my news feed, it was controlling me instead. If I want to argue about something on Twitter, I have to put in some effort.   

I was still on the fence about rejoining Facebook until I saw a headline zip by about a speech Mark Zuckerberg gave in Chicago on June 22, 2017. 

“It’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, the network reported. “That’s a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else. People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.”

“A church doesn’t just come together,” he continued. “It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A Little League team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us. […] If we can do this, it will not only turn around the whole decline in community membership we’ve seen for decades, it will start to strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together.”

It was obvious to me that he was blatantly lying and that put me into the Facebook is evil camp. I'm sure some of the problem is with me, but I haven't seen the world brought closer together by Facebook. I have seen seemingly normal people get instantly radicalized on subjects that they have not taken the time to reflect on.

In the red corner, sounding the alarm, are people like Tristan Harris and his Time Well Spent project:

“How do you ethically steer the thoughts and actions of two billion people’s minds every day?”

In the green corner is piles of money money money (insert an O'Jays, Abba or Pink Floyd meme here):

  • Facebook - $531 billion
  • Google - $724 billion

  • Plus Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest LinkedIn etc. that run $10-30 billion each. They're all fighting for our attention. 

The negatives of quitting Facebook are that it is harder for my parents to see what I'm up to. It is harder for me to see what my friends are up to and vice verse. I had to change how I login to most of my Internet services. Once every few days or so, Julia shows me a photo of friends or family members. Sometimes they are interesting. 


My decision wasn't random or reactionary. I just wanted to feel better while I'm using the Internet.

Now Sean Parker, the former CEO of Facebook and billionaire, is conveniently claiming to be a  “conscientious objector” of the platform. In a recent Axios interview "Sean Parker unloads on Facebook "exploiting" human psychology", he makes the following points:

It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.
— https://www.axios.com/sean-parker-unloads-on-facebook-2508036343.html
How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?
— https://www.axios.com/sean-parker-unloads-on-facebook-2508036343.html
And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you ... more likes and comments.
— https://www.axios.com/sean-parker-unloads-on-facebook-2508036343.html

I can always go back but just like the casino,  I know I will be giving up something if I do.

My Favourite AmericanaFest Moments

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Low Cut Connie at the High Watt. Adam Weiner is a captivating front man and guitarist Will Donnelly has a few moves that rival the Lemon Twigs. Best live show 

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Mojo Nixon in the Ryman lobby during the Americana Music Honors & Awards. 

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Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives - one of the best sounding live bands out there.

Wynona - sparkly red hair and a great band. 

Wynona - sparkly red hair and a great band. 

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A.J. Croce

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Some stories write themselves... not really but thankfully Mike Judge has documented some great ones in his animated Tales from the Tour Bus.

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Robyn Hitchcock with Emma Swift. I find him delightful.

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Tony Joe White.

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Drive-By Truckers

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Webb Wilder

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The Grahams at HatWRKS. They have great hats from a great hat store. Great music too.

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Jamtown lived up to their name by having numerous guests.

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Amazing guitar playing by Duane Betts and guest Jack Pearson at The Cannery Ballroom.

Food in Japan

The more I travel, the more I realize that the majority of ethnic restaurants in North America are not serving up what the locals would eat back home. Sometimes this can create issues when travelling. A dish might have the same name but be prepared differently from what we're used to. This has been steadily happening to Julia on this trip.

I'm not always 100% sure what I'm eating and once in a while I'll say a little prayer before biting into something (whew, it was only a potato)Lots of fish, rice and pickled vegetables.  Many restaurants will have plastic replicas of the meals they are serving inside. 

Fake food in Japan photos 
 

Eating Like a Tourist

A highly recommended restaurant in Zurich, The Zeughauskeller, is located in the old armoury. Schitztel, sausages, potato salad, and seasonal asparagus dishes were featured. The place had a beer hall atmosphere and was filled the a mix of locals and international travellers. 

 

I saw a trolley with 3 giant glasses rush past. Then some kind of alcohol was poured into them and lit on fire. Hot blue flames quickly shot out of the glass which were quickly quenched with beer. This bit of theatre was capped by the waiter sprinkling a tablespoon of roasted malt. 

 

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Dining at Ecco

One of the nicest restaurants in Zurich, Ecco, is in our hotel. We enjoyed a wonderful meal with wine pairings and at the end we got to meet Chef Stefan Heilemann. He is 35 and trained in Germany where he worked 18-20 hour days. His staff works 10 hour days which sounds more sustainable. He has earned two Michelin stars after 18 months.  

Rather than pick items from the menu, we were able to order a set number of dishes and allow the Chef Heilemann to surprise us.

I don't have the culinary vocabulary to adequately describe all the dishes. However, each one was truly a surprise and I'm getting hungry just looking at the photos. 

First Day in Zurich

Julia arrived last night around 6:30PM and we opted to dine at our hotel. We were both pretty tired so we called it an early night.  I am experiencing some functional jet lag which means that today  I woke  up at 6:00AM, as many good people do. However, I'm often sleeping until 9:00AM so I'm not fooling anyone.  I see far fewer sunrises than sunsets. Breakfast opens at 6:30 AM and I was an early bird for a change. 

 

Julia was tired from her hiking trip in Sicily and needed some down time so we opted to take the short train ride from our hotel to old town Zurich. Since I had breakfast at 7:00AM and Julia ate at 10:00AM I was more interested in eating lunch than she was.  I went to the world's oldest vegetarian rerestaurant, Hitl, while she shopped. 

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Fried tofu.  

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Potatos, cheese and veggies.  

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A crazy big vegetarian buffet at Hitl.  

Flying to Zurich

Schipol is an impressive airport but I did t have time to enjoy the people heading to Gate D faced a very long passport control line. Maybe more passport lanes and less mall stuff guys?  Fortunately there was a person rounding up passengers with tight connections in 10 minute increments (flights departing at 9:30, then 9:40 etc.).

It is difficult to predict where a bottleneck will occur at an airport but they show up regularly. 

its looking good to get to Zurich. 

Almost in Amsterdam

I skipped all the "free food" on the flight apart from a micro-bag of salted almonds and a couple of glasses of sparkling water.

Premium Economy seats recline further and have more legroom and the cost was less than what was posted on the KLM check-in site. There were lots of empty seats in the back but I was a little anxious about my connection to Zurich . Sometimes 95 minutes  between connections turns into a crazy sprint to the next flight. Sitting near the front gives me a head start.

My deepest sleep was between takeoff and the first drink service unfortunately. I peaked too soon. I used an eyemask, sleeping pillow, and ear plugs for most of the flight which helped drown out the cute babies in the row ahead.

By 5:00AM Amsterdam time I had given up on pretending to sleep any longer. I know it is wrong but I signed up and paid for some WiFi. Mostly out of curiosity.  I learned that the Mb numbers they were showing weren't per second but total data usage. Oops.  Luckily the cabin lights turned on shortly thereafter and breakfast is being served at 6ish.

I devoured breakfast while trying to reset my biorhythms. I'm meeting Julia in Zurich and I don't want to be sleepy. 

Almost in Amsterdam

I skipped all the "free food" on the flight apart from a micro-bag of salted almonds and a couple of glasses of sparkling water.

Premium Economy seats recline further and have more legroom and the cost was less than what was posted on the KLM check-in site. There were lots of empty seats in the back but I was a little anxious about my connection to Zurich . Sometimes 95 minutes  between connections turns into a crazy sprint to the next flight. Sitting near the front gives me a head start.

My deepest sleep was between takeoff and the first drink service unfortunately. I peaked too soon. I used an eyemask, sleeping pillow, and ear plugs for most of the flight which helped drown out the cute babies in the row ahead.

By 5:00AM Amsterdam time I had given up on pretending to sleep any longer. I know it is wrong but I signed up and paid for some WiFi. Mostly out of curiosity.  I learned that the Mb numbers they were showing weren't per second but total data usage. Oops.  Luckily the cabin lights turned on shortly thereafter and breakfast is being served at 6ish.

I devoured breakfast while trying to reset my biorhythms. I'm meeting Julia in Zurich and I don't want to be sleepy. 

Airports

Living downtown makes getting a ride to the airport pretty seamless. I tried the Checker Cab app and I could be picked up in 1 minute but it also said I had to pay cash. Even a taxi business with an app can have some legacy issues. Being a modern consumer, I opted for Uber. It took 3 minutes for the driver to get to my front door. We made some small talk and when I told him I had lived in Peace River, he told me that he had been up there. Why? He was a geologist.

There were old jokes about geologists driving taxi cabs. The new jokes will use Uber. The general population tends to gets resentful when people in the oil business start making stupid money. It used to stop with "it serves them right". Now the survival of the planet is on the line. It was on the news.

Check-in was a breeze. KLM has self-serve kiosks but they also had a ton of agents who were very fast. They'd have several people checked through before I got my passport scanned.

People in the airport business often say "If you've seen one airport, you've seen one airport". Airports today are like malls, but with fewer teenagers and more seating. You can never take your airport experience for granted. Security protocols change. What about my shoes? I'm pretty sure that even the settings on metal detectors vary depending on threat level. I wore the same belt numerous times without issue and then one time it set off the metal detector alert. After that, I always take my belt off but I secretly wonder if it would be detected or not.

One recent trend is to run all passengers through a giant duty free mall on their way to their gates. I don't understand how adding carryon clutter serves the airline business but there's lots of whiskey and perfume for sale if you need it.

Calgary's new International Terminal (who will this piece of infrastructure be named after?) was birthed during an oil boom so there is plenty of capacity. Security uses a system that allows people to fill trays on both sides of the conveyor belt. Most of the delays in security lineups revolve around people loading up trays. More people putting their items in trays at the same time should be faster in theory. It was super fast for me but there weren't any international flights leaving for a few hours (there was more activity on the US side). My goal is to sleep for most of the trip and not eat any thing until Friday morning's breakfast. .