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Jim Letourneau's Blog

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

Paul McCartney at Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown - October 13, 2016

All it took was 12 hours and 50 bucks.

An exceptional concert can be as moving as a first kiss, the birth of a child, or playing on a team that finally wins a championship. This was certainly in that category. It has been nearly a week now and I'm still buzzed from seeing one of the most exclusive shows on the planet.

I was supposed to be on a Coachella Valley Water District bus tour heading off to Yuma. I slept in. I had been on Vegas time and the early morning start got the best of me. I was doing my best to not beat myself up about failing at the ONE thing I had to do.

I was looking at Facebook on my iPad and saw the announcement. Paul McCartney at Pappy and Harriet's. I've been there before. I had a free day. I showered and headed up into the high desert. I first learned about Pioneertown from the Cracker CD, Kerosene Hat. It said it was recorded on a soundstage there. Somewhere in California. This was before Google Maps and the ability to pinpoint locations. I remembered the name. Later on I had the good fortune to attend a Cracker Campout. I’ve managed to take in a handful of indoor and outdoor shows there since. Outdoors is magical. Indoors is nice but the sight lines are poor if there is a crowd. If you go there, and you probably will now, you can check out Cracker’s gold record on the wall. 

I drove straight to the venue.  There was light traffic on a road that doesn’t have any traffic most days. I was not the only person wanting to attend this event. If I couldn't get in, I knew I could make a nice loop back to Rancho Mirage through Joshua Tree. What could go wrong?

 

Lining Up

I was lucky to band together with a group of fans who thought it was the right time to start a line. Safety in numbers. I was with Nate and his buddy from work, Kelly, Tim, Todd, Rebekah and her Dad. I didn't get to connect with anyone further behind but I'm sure they all made some new friends over the hours spent waiting for the show to start.

It was a long wait. Eventually Paul McCartney's security team led by Brian Riddle walked us to the entrance. They started handing out blue tickets which meant we were definitely getting inside! A lady who worked for the Coachella Valley Weekly handed out snacks and water to people in the lineup. We were extremely grateful.

The Hi-Desert StarDesert SunCV Independent and Coachella Valley Weekly were present and reported on the show.

Pre-Show

I couldn't believe being able to walk into the venue and get right to the very front on the security rail. There were no VIPs in site. There was a technician responsible for every piece of equipment on the stage. Todd came in behind me. I spontaneously gave him a hug. We knew how lucky we were.

The Show

I'm relying on Setlist.FM for the list songs that were played as he deviated from the setlist that was taped to the floor and I wasn't writing anything down. Paul's band was amazing and they knew when to ham it up for photographers. 

Post Concert

Once the crew started making neck slashing motions and the lights went on it was pretty clear that this amazing experience was coming to an end. Nobody left their position immediately. We were all basking. 

 Mark Flores asked for “Just one pick!” from any roadie who was within earshot. One of the roadies carefully picked pealed the setlist off the stage and folded the duct tape back so that it wouldn’t be sticky. He handed it out to a lucky crowd member. At this point I thought it would be nice to hit the washroom (since it had been over 12 hours). 

I wandered to the back of the bar. There was a merch table! I bought 2 t-shirts. As luck would have it, they still had my size. Then I saw Brant Bjork with a drink in his hand. I said hey - I know who you are! How did you get here? He’s as local as they come. 

You can buy great experiences. This one could not be bought. All it took was 12 hours and 50 bucks. 

Dumbest Headline Ever

Citi Warns on Gold as Bank Boosts Odds of Trump Win to 40%

There are many things wrong with this headline. Firstly, Citigroup is not in the political forecasting business. Their number of 40% is low compared to Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight site that currently has the chance of Trump winning at 47.5%. We know how Hillary does in televised debates (lost to Obama) when compared to Trump (trounced all opposition).

Their odds number is garbage. 

Secondly, predicting an increase in volatility in anything before a presidential election is like predicting that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. 

 

 

Quiet in Kyoto

Our hotel in Kyoto was about 30 minutes west of the downtown either by taxi or train. It was literally the end of the road on the north side of the Hozu River. The Suiran hotel includes a daily sunset wine/champagne tasting on a veranda overlooking the river. Creaky-oared blue rental boats were mixed with longer silent tour boats propelled long poles. There were only a few very quiet motorized boats. On Saturday night we were able to see a long elaborate cormorant fishing demonstration involving numerous spectator boats, food boats and two fishing boats distinguished by splashing birds working under the light of  large hanging bonfires. 

For our first night in Kyoto we ventured out for dinner after hitting the free champagne. It turns out this part of Kyoto shuts down very early. Imagine if Banff, Alberta, Canada shut down at 8:00PM. That's what happens in the westernmost portion of the Arashayama district. There were no open restaurants at 7:30PM and the stands at the train station were starting to shut down by 8:00PM. Lesson learned. During daylight hours this area was completely maxed out with dozens of tour busses taking up every available parking space. 

Good luck finding a parking spot in Arashayama.

Good luck finding a parking spot in Arashayama.

For our second evening in Kyoto we went for sukiyaki at the highly regarded, Mishimatei. Our taxi driver was seemed excited that we were going there. "Shabu shabu! Number 1 restaurant in Kyoto! Shabu shabu!" I didn't have the heart to tell him that we had to pre-order our choice at the hotel and we picked sukiyaki (which it is famous for as well). I'm sure they don't enjoy tourists agonizing over the menu so they pin you down ahead of time. Our driver couldn't take us right to the restaurant as it was in a pedestrian only area. Once he determined that we would struggle finding the place he amazingly jumped out of his still running taxi and quickly walked us half a block to the entrance. Uber isn't going to disrupt the taxi business here in the same way it has in North America.

We took our shoes off and walked up a flight of stairs. A half dozen people bowed as we were led to our table. My neck has been sore on this trip and I'm not sure if it is from using hotel pillows or all the bowing.  Our food was cooked in a big pan on an electric burner in the middle of our table by our server. A raw egg was provided. I was instructed to mix it in the provided bowl and dunk my meat into it (I think).  The beef melted in my mouth, an experience I am not used to but it was very pleasant. I didn't find the raw egg dip a detraction but I started skipping that step later in the meal. We were in and out of the place in 60 minutes flat. 

We put our shoes on and headed out into the evening. Our restaurant was at the north end of a four block long covered pedestrian mall called Shin Kyogoku so we walked of our meal by checking out the stores. 




 

Monkey Butt Fire Sign

Japan has an abundance of signs telling people how to behave in public spaces. Many taxis have signs with a two horned person illustrating what not to do. Some signs seem self evident, like don't electrocute yourself with a selfie-stick. I searched for videos of bullet trains hitting selfie sticks but nothing came up. I honestly felt relieved, I was sure I'd find one. I did find a recent article about a disgraced train driver...

These signs all made pretty good sense.

This sign did not.

Monkey butt fire sign.

Monkey butt fire sign.

I ran this through Google Translate and now know that the main message is "Protect Arashiyama from fire". 

Sumo Day

We decided to eat in the bowels of our hotel where there are numerous nice restaurants  connected to the subway.  Julia opted for an Italian place. We noticed numerous curry and Italian restaurants in Tokyo. I did not want to be eating Italian food while in Tokyo however the food was perfectly prepared and I'm glad we tried the place. Our waiter was French, surprisingly. I think they needed at least one caucasian at the front of the house for authenticity. He had been working in Tokyo for 15 years and went home about once every 5 years. 

The subways in Japan are timely, colour coded and English friendly but I have visited the Calgary Zoo on my way to the Saddledome more than once. We had one transfer to get to the Ryougoku Sumo Hall. I was distracted by a series of rectangular ponds and a lone man fishing. Tranquility.

Are they biting?

Are they biting?

The outside of the stadium was nicely marked but we almost went to the adjacent museum. Fortunately it had little in the way of garish coloured signage and we were able to turn around.

DSC04613.JPG

The inside of  the Ryougoku Sumo Hall seats 13,000 (see Google Maps Street View of the interior). We had box seats which consisted of a metal rail enclosed area with 4 red floor cushions. A box seat will sit 4 people but sitting cross legged for several hours is not common in North America for a reason. We didn't fill our box and were able to stretch our legs out nicely. In most sports it is preferable to be close to the action but in Sumo, I don't think the front row is very safe. The loser is often pushed out of the ring with great force into the crowd.

There was ample pageantry.  As the better wrestlers squared off later in the afternoon, parades of sponsor banners preceded each match. There were some unique pre-match salt throwing moves that showed just how much more confident the better wrestlers were. The concession stands sold beer and bento boxes. Most of the real food was sold out so we had chips, nuts and crackers with a few real fish sprinkled in (hard, salty, silver and green, about the size of a guppy). At the end of the day a flurry of seat cushions filled the air as fans threw them towards the ring. Apparently this happens when there is an upset. I love watching sumo but not to the point of handicapping the matches. 

While we were preparing for dinner, we felt a pretty serious earthquake. Being on the 33rd floor has many advantages but I couldn't think of any while the building was swaying. Fortunately it was a new building and the best course of action was to do nothing.

Before we went out to eat, we had a drink in the amazing Levita Sky Gallery Lounge. We had to walk down a flight of stairs to get to the bar. One of the bartenders stood at the exact centre of the long bar and made a welcoming gesture while the other two bowed. I had a Japanese whisky on "the rocks". My ice cube was a perfectly clear large rectangle the just fit into the glass. We watched a bartender take a large square block of clear ice and methodically sculpt and wash it down to the size where it fit perfectly into a glass. Then he started on a second one. I'm not sure what drinks got the big perfect round ice cube but I might have to order one before I leave. I have some spherical ice cube molds that I previously loved. Now I feel shame for having served cloudy ice to my friends.

Dinner in the Sky

Today we opted to go for a long walk that included checking out the shops connected to the subway in the base of our building. Two things grabbed me:

  1. A fish place with perfect looking oysters.
  2. A convenience store with an international beer selection that was mind blowing. 
Yes please.

Yes please.

Our first destination was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Unfortunately it is closed on Mondays. It did look very serene from outside the fence. There was a noticeable cooling effect as we walked along its northern edge. We saw a thorough group of gardeners working on an area just outside the gates and it was inspiring to see them trim the foliage with rakes and small pruning shears. 

Pachinko!

Pachinko!

On our journey to the Harajuku district we ventured into a pachinko parlour. While I only heard one car horn honk today. The din inside this place more than made up for it. Even though they provided an instruction book at the door in several languages, including English, we were pretty clueless as how to play. My Uncle Ed somehow acquired an old pachinko machine in the 1970's and he left it in Peace River for us to play.  I enjoyed playing the simple version of the game. There was a lever and you shot small stainless steel balls up to the top of the game where they bounced down through a maze of brass pins. A ball falling into the right slot would reward you with more balls. Modern pachinko looks similar except you dial a knob to determine how forcefully to shoot the ball  AND there's a big video slot machine overlay behind the game. I put my money into the machine and I had no clue how to get anything to happen. The attendant was patient and helpful. Eventually some balls fell down into a rack. I had no idea how to start the game. The attendant gently took my hand and helped me turn the dial like I was a small child. Balls started moving and lights started flashing so I was mildly entertained. Julia was playing beside me and ran out of balls in a few minutes. I managed to hit some kind of strange jackpot. Julia returned my tray of balls to the counter and eventually we got our money back plus some candy. Getting the cash required a trip across the street to a tuck shop. 

The we headed towards the Harajuku district noted for extreme Japanese teen girl fashion trends. 

Takeshita Street.

Takeshita Street.

Julie did not like the teen fashion of Takeshita Street one bit so we continued onwards into the grown up fashion area that had a pretty amazing roster of luxury item stores. We didn't go into very many but I was impressed with the unique architecture of each store. 

We took a taxi back to our hotel and regrouped for our big night out at the New York Grill at the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel. I've you've seen the movie, Lost in Translation, you've seen this place. We had a window seat and a lovely meal. 

The New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo.

The New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo.

Breakfast in the Sky

We decided to have breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. It was a gorgeous hotel and the view was stunning (even from the men's room).

It was also strategically located next to my favourite skinny building on the corner of a big development and the Mitsukoshi department store and . I am now the proud owner of a fashionable ladies Issey Miyake silk jacket (for tax purposes).

They did not sell out.

They did not sell out.

We then opted for the Mori Art Museum.

Untitled by Jia Aili. 

Untitled by Jia Aili. 

The current exhibit is The Universe and Art which included first editions of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Issac Newton and On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. There were fossils and meteorites and a fascinating high magnification video of the bugs captured in an amber crystal (De-Extinction by Pierre Huyghe - you can see some of his test footage for a taste.)

We took a taxi back to our hotel and I actually heard someone honk their horn once, something that is extremely rare in Tokyo. It is also rare to hear anyone speak when riding in an elevator. There is something very calming about public civility. Nobody has tried to sell us anything apart from a smile and wave from a friendly person in front of a restaurant. There is no haggling over prices and there is no tipping.  I really like the quiet.

 

First Full Day in Tokyo

After landing at Narita we picked up our bags and whisked through customs. We managed to find the fast train into Tokyo courtesy of some solid directions from our amazing neighbour, Vicki, who was born in Japan.

Then we hopped into a spotless taxi with faux lace seat covers and a few minutes later we arrived at our hotel. The hotel is new and occupies Floors 30-36 of a glass office building. We havea stunning view of the Emperor's Palace and can see the Tokyo Skytree in the distance. Our spirit of adventure was starting to wane after being on the go for nearly 20 hours so we ate at the hotel. The view was amazing! Bed time was early.

A typical Tokyo taxi.

A typical Tokyo taxi.

I woke up pre-sunrise which is rare for me. However, it was perfect because the Tsukiji Fish Market is an early morning place. The closer we got to it, the more uncomfortably busy it became. Dozens of turret trucks circle the inner market which is surrounded by market stalls and small sushi stands that seat no more than 10-15 people. There was a massive line for the more popular places so we decided to move away from them towards some of the more friendly quieter places. 

Being hangry is a symptom of jet lag. It was great to see the sun rise. It was great to get to the market in the morning. However, we weren't capable of basic decision making.  In spite of being in one of the worlds largest fish markets, we had a hard time choosing a sushi place that was just right. Some had big line ups, some were just full,  but we didn't want to wait. Others had photos of things Julia didn't feel like eating (and for a while she was not wanting to have fish for breakfast). 

One of my travel mottos is ABC - Always be Charging! While WiFi is everywhere in Tokyo, free WiFi is not and there are often hurdles (like providing your passport info) to setting up accounts. I pre-ordered a WiFi egg on the advice of Andy Richter via twitter.

I also ordered a portable charger to keep the WiFi egg going all day. I also have a portable charger for my iPhone. You can't play Pokemon go without one. You also can't be wandering around a strange city for 12 hours without one either. I like using Google Maps to navigate but if my battery dies, I'm going to have to look at the map and that is a conspicuous thing to do in the modern era. People are going to gawk at the lost Luddite couple with their tree killing guidebooks and paper maps. Navigating is hard enough when a wave of jet lag rears its ugly head. 

We managed to navigate from the Tsujiki Fish Market to the Ginza shopping district pretty easily. Most of the fancy stores stores don't open until 10-11AM  so we were there early. The streets were quite and uncrowded. The luxury market in Tokyo appears soft. 

After a light lunch of sushi (two meals in a row!) in a nice department store, we opted for a Hop on bus tour. It was good to see some different areas of Tokyo. Serious architecture and numerous small footprint tallish (~7 stories) buildings no doubt built on a piece of land that didn't become part of a property package. We basically went from the east side of the Imperial Palace out to the Tokyo Skytree and back.

The entire block, except for this building, is a big construction project.

The entire block, except for this building, is a big construction project.

The Tokyo Skytree.

The Tokyo Skytree.

We were tired and thirsty after from being in the open air on a sunny low 30°s day so we took a break at a Starbucks. This is where my ABC strategy paid off as I was able to find a fun restaurant called Andy's Shin Hinomoto that was only 9 minutes away. It was located under train tracks, and had good food. They served big mugs of beer and lots of seafood, including King Crab. Horribly behaved children fathered by expats were running around and plates were crashing at the adjacent table. Across the narrow dining area, a large gathering of what I made out to be British wrestlers gathered. A loud graphic description of someone's neck injury and instant relief after treatment provided some entertainment. As I was cracking my fifth piece of crab, Julia pointed out that "this is a place for eating, not dining". I had no rebuttal as my mouth was full of delectably sweet crab meat. Adjacent to Andy's were a bunch of people smoking and drinking beer on the street, all from vending machines. Julia walked briskly past so I wasn't able to get many photos. We opted to walk back to the hotel on the pathway around the Imperial Palace. It was full of runners but otherwise quiet and safe. I heard more crickets than sirens and in spite of being close to 6 lane roads. I like the quiet.

Andy picked a low ceiling venue for his eating establishment.

Andy picked a low ceiling venue for his eating establishment.

It is Sunday morning here and we're off for another day of adventures.

Calgary to Tokyo

I pack better than I used to. Under 40lbs for two weeks. I still don't finish packing until about an hour before the start of the journey. I even toyed with using carry on only but I try to be in sync with my wife. She knows that she can usually negotiate an option on 10-20% of my bag. I will sigh and roll my eyes but she's a wicked negotiator and I like to go with the flow. Neither of us want a dreaded airport check-in repack on the floor in front of a long line of passengers. I did pack a pair of hiking boots and a pair of blue jeans that I could do without.  I was zippers closed at 10:25AM because we agreed that we should leave the condo at 10:30AM.

Taxis in Calgary have really upped their game. Yellow Taxi has an app. If you call them on your landline they'll automatically recognize your address and ask if that is where you want to be picked up. They also give you an approximate ETA. They're also supporting a local charity that is plastered all over their cars. Uber has got their attention. I hope our taxi driver will be allowed the freedom to choose which business model he participates in.

Not many people who fly business class will blog about it. It would hurt their brand. It is not a "man of the people experience". The business check-in line must have had 6 people ahead of us. The economy class line was shorter! A temporary breakdown in the class system.

We backed out of the line and asked for assistance we were whisked away to a small office with 3 desks where they rapidly checked us in. I was expecting sighs and eye rolling but they were fast and friendly. I think we had a brief taste of what the Super Elite travellers take for granted.

We also have Nexus cards which got us into a security station with no one in front of us. It is worth the mild inconvenience to get a Nexus card. The single most useful piece of advice I have for travellers is get a Nexus card.

I'm a happy pod person on this trip. The front of the plane is a wonderland of comforts. The seats recline and offer a massage option. I had a great time trying all the buttons out. Food and wine and snacks are generously offered. My wife is also happy.

Julia catching up on her reading.

Julia catching up on her reading.

I opt for the Japanese meal and receive a wonderful array of appetizers with at least 20 different ingredients (mushrooms, flavoured gelatin, tofu, shrimp with grapefruit, tuna, tiny cubes of pork?). If something is foul tasting it will only be a small morsel. The highlight for me was two thin strips of lightly pickled carrot that were perfectly tied together in a reef knot (the only knot I remember from Boy Scouts).

Micro veggie fly tying. Who thought of this? 

Micro carrot sticks tied together by a reef knot. Chopstick holder for scale.

Micro carrot sticks tied together by a reef knot. Chopstick holder for scale.

Unfortunately, a boozy seemingly consequence free lunch near Calgary is the equivalent of getting tipsy at 7:00AM in Japan. I'm not against day drinking but I find it effortless to avoid alcohol in the 3AM-11AM time slot. I start my nap before they dim the cabin lights. I wake up groggy with a mild headache. Suddenly it's 9:00AM Friday morning (in Japan). Time for coffee and water and a trip to a bathroom that has a window in it! I see a glacier below.

My Spotify synchronization to my iPad was not a success. I don't know why. My guess is I tried to download too many songs at once. However there's plenty of content on my iPad including a list of juicy magazines on Texture. I really enjoy reading on airplanes.

We are flying near Amchitka. When I was 8 years old I remember seeing protest signs in Edmonton about stopping Amchitka. I could barely pronounce it. I didn't know where it was. Once I learned about nuclear testing I was all for stopping Amchitka. Yesterday I saw an interesting headline 7 Nuclear Test Sites You Can Visit Today. All that worrying for nothing. Wait, aren't we flying over Russian airspace?

Later I read a disaster porn New Yorker article about how the Alaskan Inupiat way of life is being threatened by climate change (warming). I choose to ignore the doomsayers. Will the glaciers come back? Most likely, and soon according to most geologists. "Soon" on the geologic time scale could be a few thousand years. It is currently fashionable to imagine what the world will be like when the glaciers are all gone. The other side of the coin is that most geologists believe that many northern cities were covered by a mile of ice during the last ice age and we're due for another one to start "soon". It cuts both ways. 

On Vancouver Real Estate - Remain Calm - All is Well!

I'm not an expert on Vancouver Real Estate but I hear things. I wanted to learn more. Especially after a  "no evidence of housing bubble" report from Mortgage Professionals Canada was released. Talk about a red flag.

Marc Cohodes had the most rational comments (From Vice - July 5)

But here's what you know for sure: you know China has capital controls on—they restrict their citizens from pulling more than $50,000 out of the country. So when a college girl buys a $31 million place in Vancouver—who has no income, who can't answer questions about what her father does for a living, who can't answer questions about where she gets the money—you know the Chinese don't want this going on. They're pissed about capital flight into YVR. Toronto as well. At any point in time, the Chinese can crack down on people, on Canada—they can do whatever behind the scenes to make it end abruptly. Without warning or notice... At some point a cool mind should say, "Hey, why don't we just have open disclosure of who owns all these properties?" That's a real solution.

The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) has been reluctant to track suspicious transactions as requested by the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada or FINTRAC. 

CREA has not hesitated to push back against regulations it deems to be too onerous. In its most recent annual report, it credits “three years of sustained lobbying” for significantly reducing the administrative “burden” of FINTRAC requirements. (see Real estate group peeved over email asking for ‘suspicious’ records just hours after gunman stormed Parliament.).

The train kept a rollin' until this June when the Province of B.C. took away the Real Estate Council of B.C.'s right to self-regulation. This basically meant that the real estate industry in British Columbia could not be trusted to manage itself (even with a reduced administrative burden).

There's no Vancouver housing bubble IF we assume that Chinese money will flow into the market UNIMPEDED, FOREVER. However, on the Canadian side of the Pacific all three levels of government are finally starting to pay attention and putting resources into enforcing existing laws as well as considering policies that will discourage real estate speculation. Across the pond, China is also irritated by obvious violations of their strict currency regulations. 

There is not going to be an easy fix. It won't end well. The ripples will be felt throughout the country, including the Canadian stock market. The individual stories collected below are pieces of a very big elephant in the collective Canadian living room.

It is a slow motion train wreck but for now, remain calm, all is well. 

 

2012

Time to Cash Out? Is the Vancouver Real Estate Market heading for another crash? 

2013

Great Canadian real estate crash of 2013

2016

February 22 - Infographic: Vancouver Real Estate Mania

March 10 - ‘We’re not realtors!’ Former ‘wholesaler’ reveals hidden dark side of Vancouver’s red-hot real estate market

May 9 - China is buying Canada: Inside the new real estate frenzy

 June 29 - Mortgage Professionals Canada says there's no evidence of housing bubble

June 29 - B.C. real estate reform: What you need to know

July 5 - Meet the Wall Street Short Seller Betting Against Canadian Real Estate

July 8 - Vancouver Real Estate May Already Be Crashing: Stats

July 15 - CRA leak about crackdown on B.C. real estate tax cheats heats debate

 

Chip Diller says remain calm, all is well.

Pop a Top - Beer Can Evolutionary Endpoint in Sight

The evolution of the beer can has been ongoing since 1935. As humans evolved to be lazy and stupid,  the ring-tab design began to be phased out in 1975, after injuries were caused by people swallowing the metal tabs.

From - http://westerndigs.org/ring-tab-beer-cans-are-now-officially-historic-artifacts/

From - http://westerndigs.org/ring-tab-beer-cans-are-now-officially-historic-artifacts/

I ran across what must be close to the evolutionary endpoint of beer cans at Calgary's Royal Canadian Legion #1 recently. The entire top of the can pulls off!  An added bonus was that the beer inside was from Big Rock.

It turns out that Big Rock is using Crown Holdings' (formerly Crown Cork and Seall) new 360 End® can.  I'm sure there's a correlation between the size of the hole in the top of the can and beer consumption so why wouldn't a brewer embrace this amazing new aluminum can tech? 

The bartender pointed out that her patrons were consistently spilling the contents of these cans as the night wore on. This unintended consequence is probably doing most of their patrons a favour. I know that I usually don't derive any extra benefit from my last beer of the night. Once I'm awesome, there really isn't anywhere to go but downhill!

As awesome as the 360 End® can is, John Kaiser envisions an even better world where ironic "fancy cans" for hipsters are made from hydro-formed Al-Sc alloy cans. A little bit of scandium goes a long way.

Something to think about the next time you pop-a-top!

Paris Sirens

In many ways, my experience of the Paris Attacks was the same as the rest of the world’s, except for the sirens. Julia and I had gone out for a nice dinner a few blocks away from our rented apartment. It was our last evening in Paris, but not our last evening together. Normally I wouldn’t need to add any clarification. I now know that the Paris Attacks were happening as we were walking back from dinner. I stopped to take a photo of a golf bag that had been converted into a planter at 9:44PM. Paris is full of surprises.

 

Most of the killing was already over. All I  knew then was that there wasn’t the normal break between the sirens... but it was Friday night in Paris.

Back in our apartment, I saw a news piece about “Shootout at Paris Restaurant Leaves Several Dead” in my Facebook feed. This was just after 11PM. I quickly put together an email letting our families know that we were OK. Julia had just gone to bed and I thought to ask her if there was anyone I should add to the send list.

Of course shortly thereafter there was more news. Facebooks’s Safety Check feature magically popped up allowing me to notify friends that I was safe. Next came phone calls, emails and text messages. There were more sirens. When sirens equal victims they take on a deeper meaning. Twitter messages started popping up about contacting the Canadian Embassy. I sent them an email. We were as safe as we could possibly be but every noise took on meaning. It was obvious that the some Parisians were not obeying any curfew. Sleep was fitful but soon there was a bird calling and the noise of a garbage truck. It was a relief.

I am impressed how politicians, actors and musicians are able to get in front of these events. We must do more. We must do less. Stay human. Kill humans. Shows are cancelled. The show must go on. 

I’m just a traveller. I did not see any blood. I heard sirens until 2AM.

 

 

 

Packing for a 3 Month Trip - Part 2

The emperor's new clothes are probably made of Merino wool. It is impossible to look up travel clothing and not see raging endorsements for undergarments made out of this amazing natural material.  The people selling these pricy undergarments make wide ranging claims. A Merino wool t-shirt will keep you warm, it will keep you cool and it will never smell of body odour. One clerk told me that she wore her t-shirt for a week. "Oh it didn't smell as fresh after a week but it wasn't a bad smell. It just smelled off. I just needed to air it out."  Some people can do 30km day hikes in flip flops and not sweat. I'm not one of those people so I had more realistic expectations.  

A nice pair of wool socks really does make a difference and they wash easily in the sink. My half price Merino wool t-shirt is not immune to body odour but it is holding up well. Wool dries quickly which can be a consideration when travelling in cooler climates.

My view on body odor has become more liberal and accepting. If someone else smells like a gym locker, it means that I'm probably not too badly. My acceptable level of personal hygiene is lower. I don't need to impress anyone. I'm not getting stared at. All good.

Julia and I have both noticed that individual items don't seem to smell bad in the suitcase but the barely detectable odours are additive and noticeable when a larger pile of laundry accumulates.

Here's an excerpt from an interview with the bass player for The Waterboys on how he handles packing for a long trip.


So, how does a traveling rock star pack for the road?

“I take one medium-size suitcase, two to three pairs of jeans, and as much underwear and socks as I can stuff in it,” Hood said. “You have to be careful about taking anything heavy.”

Getting laundry done on the road can be difficult because the band is on the move almost daily. He also said it can be expensive.

“It costs a lot of money to get laundry done in a hotel,” he said. “We have someone in the crew who will take it and get it done. You just hope you get all your socks back.”

http://www.timesdaily.com/news/local/hood-in-last-and-longest-leg-of-waterboys-tour/article_987cc36f-1e6f-59f9-921c-b7f96d48ded3.html


So far I haven't had any laundry done by a hotel but I am keep that option open.  Sending things out has its own set of risks. Since I needed a suit and a blazer to accompany my wife to nice places, I opted for fewer socks and shorts. On a longer trip, hand washing becomes an integral part of keeping the volume of luggage manageable. Shower gel seems to work pretty well as a detergent as long as the volume of laundry doesn't get too large. This week I had to plug up the shower drain and do some stomping around in 5cm of water to agitate a large batch of laundry. After it dried on the deck it smelled better than before so I'm considering my foot stomping method a success.

Packing for a 3 Month Trip - Part 1

The travel clothing industry is large and growing. There are no shortage of travel vests and travel pants with numerous pockets and sub-pockets to store money, supplies and electronic devices along with  "conduit systems" for all the wires. I still can't operate all the compartments in my travel wallet. I'm dumping change on airport floors while looking for my boarding pass. It is just a matter of time before I lose my passport while paying for an ice cream.

My extensive research has led me to the the biggest breakthrough in travel clothing is... wait for it... putting the pockets on the inside (as seen on Shark Tank and Kickstarter). Instead of looking like a lost fly fisherman on the plane, now you can look like a drug smuggler with subtle rectangular outlines on your body that are barely visible to the untrained eye. Just because it looks like you are wearing body armor doesn't mean that your iPhone can stop a bullet (but it might). If your office can't afford to rent sumo suits for team building, you can get by with a couple of borrowed travel vests with the inside or outside pockets filled with bubble wrap. 

These modern miracles of textile development and design are all the rage in Silicon Valley and I think they might work well at a Las Vegas convention where you don't want to lose a briefcase or pack. You won't find a single negative blog post about them. Any blogger who was sent one of these travel garments for review thinks that they're game changers.

However, they won't store two liters of bottled water for a day hike or two pairs of shoes during an emergency airport luggage weight rebalancing so I opted for my day pack. My buddy Mike's day pack dates back to 1980 and it still looks great. Mine is a bit newer but it has been around the world. 

 

 

The Asti Randomizer

I tend to default to geographical landmarks when I'm in unfamiliar territory. I can often do quite well just knowing where the mountains are and where the water is. Uphill vs. downhill is often all you need to know. Unless you're on the outskirts of Asti.

This monster intersection ensures that any knowledge about the lay of the land becomes irrelevant. We usually encountered at least 3 forks and a toll gate before finding out we were going the wrong direction. 

Catalan Independence Rally

We arrived in Barcelona the night before the National Day of Catalonia holiday. I didn't think much of it apart from wondering if there would be museum or restaurant closures involved. Julia and I did a long city walk and encountered hundreds of people flying the Catalan flag. 

Hundreds of thousands of supporters gather for Catalan independence rally

Many were headed to a very large peaceful demonstration that included all ages. If there is strong opposition to Catalan independence I didn't detect a whiff of it on the streets. I don't think I've seen a Spanish flag here. I did see a persistent surveillance helicopter presence that got on my nerves. I can't imagine what that the demonstrators were thinking but it all went down peacefully.

Road Trip Castell'Alfero-Genoa Return

In theory, the trip from Castell'Alfero to Genoa can be done in 90 minutes. We took a wrong turn at Alba (querque) and got off the Autostrade and it took some effort to get back on it. As a cultural note we did manage to see a stretch of road with Nigerian prostitutes out in the noon day sun. It was surreal. Imagine driving from Sylvan Lake to Drayton Valley and seeing a working girl instead of a mailbox at every minor road intersection or culvert crossing. It wasn't the best of Italy and it definitely wasn't in the shadows.

Fortunately, Julia navigated us back onto a 110 km/h road until. Since we were approaching hour two of our 90 minute journey, we had to make a pit stop at a rest stop. Very similar to a North American truck stop but the food was prettier. How do we make ham and cheese taste meh?

Eventually We rolled into Genoa through a series of tunnels and bridges and worked our way down to the seaside. Our destination was the Grand Hotel Savoia which was located opposite the train station. It is reminiscent of the Grand Budapest Hotel in terms of color and the interiors. We eventually gave up on our paper map after driving 10 minutes on the equivalent of Genoa's Gardiner Expressway. We got off the elevated road and booted up our Google Maps and backtracked for 15 minutes. We didn't feel too ambitious but hit up the stunning rooftop bar after unpacking. We had a great view of the harbour.

Wednesday morning we were up in time to catch the free hotel breakfast and ambitiously take public transportation to scenic Portofino. The train stop we needed was Santa Margherita Ligure. On route, we were asked to present our tickets. It turns out that we had not validated them. This led us to be fined by a train official for 5 Euros each. Julia insisted on paying her share by collecting all of her loose change. She can be very "stick it to the man" sometimes.

We had a lovely afternoon in Portofino.  Some massive yachts were moored in the harbour leading to what I like to call "yacht pollution." Don't get me wrong, I'd love to hang out on one of these monsters but they are a bit large for Portofino.

Yacht pollution in Portofino.

Yacht pollution in Portofino.

Given our train issues going to Portofino, we were both nervous about returning to Genoa. We made sure to validate our tickets but we ended up rushing onto a train that was headed for Milan. Some of the crazy thoughts that Julia and I shared included:

  • Is the train non-stop? What if it doesn't stop at Genoa!
  • Is the train going in the right direction?
  • Are we in the right class of rail car?

Given that our hotel was right across from the main train station in Genoa, our odds were pretty good that things would work out, and they did. 

The next day we had to drive home and there was some tension between driver and navigator upon leaving our hotel. Consider driving the Pacific Coast Highway vs. the 101 and you'll get the nature of our conflict. I chose the slow road along the Italian Riviera instead of  taking the Autostrade but we hadn't really discussed exactly how we would be getting to Savona. The coastline was gorgeous and every rock beach was dotted with colorful umbrellas. I'm glad we took the long way. My navigator was as well... eventually.

At Savona we headed upland and drove past some major industrial locations including a town that first made explosives and then color film (Ferrania) and a little bit further along a steel town (it looks black on Google Earth). The further upland we went, the fewer people we saw to the point of it being almost eerie. Eventually we started seeing hazelnut trees and eventually vineyards and soon we were back in populated territory. We made it home without incident. 

Find the steel mill...

Find the steel mill...

What I love about the English version of Google Maps is that it pronounces all the Italian road names incorrectly, just the way I would. It works pretty well.

 

Grape Harvest!

We made a point of returning to the Relais and Chateaux hotel at San Maurizio and enjoyed three nights there. The service was wonderful and the views from the property were stunning in all directions. I got a little obsessed about the grape harvest. There were tractors on the road with wagons full of grapes. It was awesome!