Category Archives: Travel

Sunday surprise in Santiago

I purposefully didn’t plan much for this weekend; I had a quiet day yesterday, with a bit of shopping and a Spanish-subtitled horror movie, and I planned to spend part of the day working. My coworker was eager to get out and see a bit more of the city, so we ended up spending the day exploring– and it was quite a day!

Like many other cities, Santiago has a tourist bus service called Turistik that runs a circular route around the city. You get on the bus, get off wherever you want, and linger at each stop, or not, as you see fit. We decided to use the bus to get around, so we paid CLP$20.000 (see what I did there? about US$40) for an all-day pass, then caught the bus right in front of the hotel. It first stopped at Parque Arauco, a very large and verrrrry upscale outdoor mall where I had dinner and my movie last night. If you’ve been to Redmond Town Center, Levis Commons, or Fallen Timbers, you’ll get the idea (except that Parque Arauco has a car dealership too, so take that, yanquis!) We stayed on the bus and went to Cerro de San Cristobal, where we’d planned to hike the trail to the top. Unfortunately, as we found out after a long walk to the trailhead, the trail on the side of the hill where we were was closed, so we ended up taking the funicular to the top instead rather than hiking around the hill to the other trailhead. The weather was still fairly overcast, but there was a very refreshing breeze on the top of the hill, and the haze wasn’t as bad as it was last weekend when I was there.

After a short walk around Bellavista, we caught the bus again to Mercado Central(the Central Market), an indoor market that combines several large restaurants (we had lunch at Donde Augusto, which was excellent), a fish market, fruit and vegetable stands, etc. It’s completely touristy but was still pretty interesting.


From there we walked to Plaza de Armas, which contains the central cathedral of Santiago, the main post office, and several other major buildings. They were setting up for a concert of some kind, so the square was crowded and busy.


The Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago


a Rapa Nui-inspired statue in Plaza de Armas

Most of the museums and other public facilities were closed, so we didn’t get to do much of the traditional tourist stuff. We walked back to the Mercado and caught the bus again; when it stopped opposite Cerro Santa Lucia, Dave said “hey, that place looks neat; let’s go check it out.”


the fountain in the courtyard

The whole hill is layered with stone staircases and various structures, including several small gardens, a church built in 1872 by Benjamin Vicuna McKenna, and two forts originally built for defense of the city. The views from the top of the hill are spectacular, too.


Pedro de Valdivia, first governor of Chile


city view from the top of Santa Lucia; you can actually see mountains in this one

As we were exploring, we could hear what sounded like a marching band off in the middle distance– a little unusual, given that they were playing an assortment of songs including movie themes. They didn’t seem to actually be marching, though. We made our way back down toward the street and I noticed something unusual: there was a medium-sized crowd of people thronging the street, and at a nearby underpass there were big arches of purple and white balloons. We watched for a few minutes and watched as a group of dancers in what I presume was traditional Incan dress (given that their jackets said “Atahualpas de Paramonga”, preceded by a group of drummers, danced their way up the street.


A dancer; not shown: non-traditional tennis shoes

As the dancers moved down the street a larger group came into view, carrying a large, flower-bedecked bier and preceded by a group of women in what looked like purple habits. The women were walking backwards and swinging censers, producing a cloud of smoke such as I haven’t seen since the last concert I went to at Shoreline.

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a mysterious object borne through the streets

As they passed, I was able to read the sign on the nearest corner of the bier and learned that the bier was carried by members of Hermandad del Señor de Los Milagros, or the Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles. We had lucked into part of the annual procession honoring the Lord of Miracles, which takes place on the last Sunday in October. The tradition started in Peru but has spread worldwide. As the procession neared the underpass, the waiting spectators dumped glitter and balloons on the celebrants below, who gleefully stomped on the balloons to pop them.


fire in the hole


I was able to capture a balloon intact.. before stomping on it

After the procession left, we walked back to the bus stop, but the bus was long gone. We walked for about a mile and a half until we found a cab, then headed back to the hotel, where I passed a quiet night working on slides for the webcast I did yesterday.  All in all, it was a day very well spent, and it was fun for a change to go prowling around the city with someone instead of kicking it solo. Thanks, Dave!

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Santiago, day 2

It’s a measure of how much I’ve been working that I am just now getting around to posting a travelogue from last Sunday. This week has passed by in a blitz of activity, which is good. My team has gotten a lot accomplished, which, after all, is what we came here for. But before all the work started, I had the pleasure of having a day to explore.

I’d planned to meet my coworkers Todd and Dave at the hotel after their flight arrived, then drive to Valparaiso with fellow MVP and well-known Chilean Jorge Patricio Diaz Guzman. Unfortunately, Jorge had a work emergency to tend to, so I kept the rental car I’d gotten on Saturday. I rented through the hotel by asking the concierge to find me a rental car, because this seemed to be the fastest way to get a car. Sure enough, within 20 minutes or so Maxima had delivered a car to the hotel: a tiny Chevy Spark with a manual transmission and almost enough room for 3 adults. (It has 4 seats but it is wishful thinking to imagine that four normal-sized American men could fit into it; luckily we only had 3 people.)


they see me rollin’, they be laughin’

After Dave and Todd arrived and had a few minutes to unpack and freshen up, we set out for Valparaiso. The route to get there is very straightforward: get on highway 68 going west and keep going for 120 km or so until you hit the ocean. It’s a lovely drive, with two large tunnels and some long up- and downhill grades that our car could barely handle. The speed limit ranges from 70 km/h to 120 km/h, but no one except American tourists and people in underpowered cars like hours follow it, especially not big trucks. We made it to Valparaiso but decided, since none of us had any firm plans to do anything there, to go back to a restaurant Todd knew of in Concon, another 20 or so km down the coast. The weather was pleasant and there were great views along the coast, so off we went, braving significant traffic along the way. Both sides of the narrow coastal road are packed with restaurants, shops, and rental property but there is little parking, so we spent lots of time waiting while other drivers maneuvered in or out of parking spaces. We also made frequent stops for photos, both on the route out and back.


a view of the coast while standing on a rock in a tidal pool (Nokia 920)


ocean view (Nikon D5100)


action shot! rock climbing + sailboat

Eventually we made it to the restaurant Todd had recommended, Punta del Este. It was well worth the trip– think Dave’s Cajun Kitchen, or your favorite hometown restaurant for those of you who aren’t from Houma, and you’ll get the idea. We had an appetizer platter of razor clams, conger eel, and several kinds of fish. I had tilapia with shrimp sauce, which was also excellent. Then we drove back, stopping at a few different places to take pictures; there was one gorgeous house that Dave was particularly smitten with.


We haven’t picked out a name for this other than la casa de Dave

On the way back we needed gas, so we stopped at a highway rest stop that would be familiar to anyone who’s ever traveled the New York or Ohio Turnpikes. Fuel here is expensive, but at least you get full service at the station in exchange for your hard-earned CLP$. After returning the car (a simple matter of giving the keys back to the concierge), we walked over to Costanera Center, the nearby mall, to find dinner. We had an excellent meal at Le Due Torri, an Italian-and-seafood place that delivered very well on both fronts, then back to the hotel. e were all pretty worn out by that point but it was an interesting way to spend the day. I’d love to come back to the Vina del Mar/Concon area during the Chilean summer; the views are gorgeous.

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Santiago, day 1

Yesterday was my first day in Santiago, Chile, which means it was also my first day in South America. I’ve previously visited Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe, so now all I need to do is contrive some way to get to Antarctica and I’ll be all set.

To get here, I flew on Delta’s flight from Atlanta, about which I can say that only that it was adequate. My Economy Comfort seat was decent, and I slept for a good six hours or so, waking up just in time to watch the sun rise over the Pacific.


sunrise, before it got too bright to actually take pictures of

Upon arrival at Santiago’s airport, I found that Chile, like Brazil and Argentina, charge incoming visitors if those visitors are citizens of a country that charges Chileans an entry fee. For example, Chileans visiting the US must pay a $160 fee, so Americans visiting Chile have to pay the same fee. This is handled via separate set of stalls at customs: first you pay the fee and get your passport stamped, then you go through immigration, then you claim your luggage and go through a customs inspection. During this process, I learned that you are not permitted to import beef jerky (or other kinds of smoked meats) into Chile, which is too bad because I had packed a bunch of it for quick protein. Alas.

I’d already reserved a taxi through, as recommended by our travel department. After baggage claim, a quick stop by the payment desk netted me a receipt that I handed to the driver, who whisked me off to the Intercontinental in the business district. The hotel is well situated right near a major highway, a large mall, and, well, lots of businesses. I checked in, took a quick shower, unpacked, and set out to go exploring.

First, though, I rented a car. This was recommended by, a web site I found while at the hotel. (Oddly the hotel wifi seems to block Bing, but allows Google.) For about $60, I got a manual-transmission Chevy Spark, the smallest car I’ve ever driven. However, it proved to be adequate for my needs, since all I really needed was basic transportation. First I drove to the Bellavista area so I could go up Cerro de San Cristobal. (ed note: I’m typing this on a Windows machine that doesn’t make it easy to add accent marks, so I’m not adding them. Just pretend like they’re there.)  I parked in a public garage on Calle Pio Nono and walked about 8 blocks to the entrance of the park, from which you can take a funicular railway to the top, hike up a trail, or ride on a bike path. I elected for the funicular, which was a good call, as I got some excellent pictures on the way up. As you can see, it was a typically hazy/smoggy day, so the mountains were visible more as a suggestion of mountains than anything else.


looking down onto the city from the railway

The funicular, which cost CLP$2600 (or around US$7)  stops halfway up so you can go to the zoo; I declined and went all the way to the top, whereupon I was able to climb up to the top of San Cristobal. There’s a chapel there, along with a large statue of the Virgin Mary, which you’ll see often in images of Santiago. However, from one angle I spotted something unusual—a ladder running all the way up the statue. I was sorely tempted to climb the scaffolding next to the statue and ascend this ladder, but since I didn’t think going to jail in Chile would be much fun, I decided not to.

After taking the funicular back down, I walked through part of the Barrio Bellavista area, more or less following the walking street-art tour that SantiagoTourist recommended. This turned out to be time well spent; some of the art was amazing, while some was just good, but there’s a lot of it. A few samples:


A few of the many murals and street paintings in Bellavista

After Bellavista, I drove back to the hotel to plug in my gadgets for a few minutes and plan the rest of my day. (I made another stop en route, thanks to a suggestion from my friend Anne, but it’s classified until Christmas.) A quick glance at the map showed that I was close to Parque de las Esculturas, a large  open-air sculpture park and botanical garden, so I headed out to walk it and see what’s what. The park itself is right next to the Mapocho River, the level of which varies greatly according to how much snowmelt and/or rain is nearby. The park was full of people, mostly couples apparently looking for a place to smooch away from their parental units. Lots of stray dogs, too; that’s sort of a hallmark of Santiago (one night I saw three dogs in the middle of a six-lane road chasing each car as it passed; miraculously none of them got hit.) None of the sculptures especially resonated with me, but the park also has little islands of trees, most native to Chile and/or Argentina, and it was neat to see the differences in the native flora and the kinds of trees I’m used to. As an example, here’s a picture of an ombu treefrom the park.


I’d never heard of an ombu tree before

After the park, I walked back towards the hotel, stopping at the enormous Costanera Center mall. It’s basically just like an American mall: it has a Dunkin Donuts, an Applebee’s, and a ton of other US-centric shops. That made me want to leave, since ordinarily I avoid malls like the plague. It was moderately crowded, so I could people-watch, and I was hungry, so I decided to stay. Luckily there were some local restaurants; the top-floor food court has a very nice assortment of sitdown restaurants, American fast food, Chilean fast food, and snack shops. I decided to sit down and have a steak… but took the waiter’s advice and ordered without looking at the menu, a mistake that ended up costing me $87 for what was, admittedly, an excellent steak, a platter of jamon and mozzarella, and a pisco sour. Still, I was surprised; Santiago is pricier than I’d anticipated. Apart from that, there was nothing remarkable about the mall except for its size; it has five huge floors with several hundred stores; if I don’t go back that will be fine with me.

By that point I was pretty tired, so I headed back to the hotel, read a bit, and went to bed. What I should have been doing was planning my trip to Valparaiso for the next day, but hey.

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Off to Exchange Connections 2013!

Off to Las Vegas I go! I am en route to Exchange Connections 2013, where I’ll be presenting 3 sessions: one on Exchange ActiveSync with the folks from BoxTone, one on Exchange 2013 and Lync 2013 integration, and one on Exchange 2013 unified messaging. I also plan to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, beer, snacks, or cuddles (well, OK, probably not cuddles) with as many members of the Exchange product group, MVP community, and world at large as possible. If you’re there, by all means please come by and say hello! (and if you want to go lift weights together, even better!)

Sadly, my book won’t be on sale there because it is still being printed. However, I’ll be giving away a copy or two in each of my sessions, so if you’re feeling lucky, come on by.

In related news, registration opened for the 2014 edition of the Microsoft Exchange Conference, or MEC. I am ridiculously excited about the return of the return of MEC, and not just because it’s in Austin and I might finally get to meet some of my Dell coworkers. The product group has been sharing a bit of what they’ve got planned with the MVPs and I can say, with conviction, that it will be just as good, if not better than, MEC 2012.

But back to now. Somewhat unusually, I am flying United, connecting through Houston both ways. Normally I wouldn’t, but scheduling dictated it and with luck I’ll be in Houston long enough to have some of my favorites (plus: Channel 9!)  Then it’s a ridiculously short return to Huntsville– basically, long enough to change suitcases and grab my running shoes– before I head to Vermont to run the Leaf Peepers 5K with my lovely sister (note: subscribe to her blog; you’ll be glad you did), thence to Hoboken to meet with customers.

See you at the show!

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TechEd Europe day 2, or, “A side trip to Segovia”

I woke up on time, showered and dressed, and took the shuttle bus to the convention center so that I could give my presentation on developing Exchange Web Services applications on iOS. While the talk itself went well, my demos failed, and I don’t know why– it didn’t seem to be the proxy issue I mentioned yesterday. I learned a valuable lesson, though; from now on I will always have a pre-recorded backup demo. In fairness, Navin Chand suggested that all speakers have backup demos, but I foolishly assumed that my demo would work (and, in fairness, in the nearly 15 years since my first presentation at a Microsoft event, they always have). Lesson learned.

Afterwards, I had another “ask the experts” session, along with Tom Kaupe from the Exchange Online Protection team at Microsoft. We got a few more good questions for the list of things I need to write about, but overall the session was fairly quiet– the attendees were obviously busy attending the day’s breakout sessions. When my shift was over, I took off for the metro station because I’d decided to make an afternoon trip to Segovia. Why? It’s full of good stuff, that’s why, including a Roman aqueduct, a huge cathedral, and the Alcazár de Segovia, a historic castle.

Getting there turned out to be fairly simple; RENFE, the Spanish national train service, has a high-speed express train that goes directly from Madrid’s Chamartín station to the Segovia station. The trip only takes about half an hour, so I jumped on the subway from the Campo de Las Naciones station adjacent to IFEMA, took it to Chamartín, and found that I had no idea how to buy a ticket for the commuter train. There is a ticket machine adjacent to the exit for the metro, but the trick turns out to be to exit the metro station and go aboveground to the actual train station. At that point I was easily able to buy a ticket for about 30€. With a bit of time to kill before the scheduled departure, I was able to find a shop selling sandwiches, where I had an excellent jamón serrano poboy– jamón on a baguette. It was delicious. Too bad it’s so difficult to import Serrano ham back into the United States.

To board the train, I scanned my boarding pass and sent my laptop bag through a metal detector. That done, I took my seat on the train, waited about 10 minutes for our delayed departure, and then watched the countryside (and two very long tunnels) pass by. Sure enough, in about half an hour we arrived at the Segovia train station, which can charitably be described as “on the outskirts of Segovia.” The #11 bus runs directly to plaza de Artilleria, which is on the southeastern edge of the actual town of Segovia. For 1€, it was money well spent. There isn’t much to see along the bus route, but as soon as the bus gets within a few blocks of its terminal stop, you can see the aqueduct, which looks much like this:

DSC 1309

In the central plaza there are numerous shops and restaurants, including a Burger King. Many of them were closed for summer vacation, though– it looks like much of the town shuts down from mid-June until early July.

As far as I could tell, there’s no way to (legally) climb on top of or walk along the top of the aqueduct; it’s possible that I just missed the directions on how to do so, but I don’t think so. Adjacent to plaza de Artilleria, there’s a tourist information office where for 0.20€ I was able to use the bathroom, after which they gave me a handy free map. The clerk outlined a walking route down XXX street to the cathedral, then along YYY street to the Alcázar. I set out with her estimate of a 30-minute walk fresh on my mind and a 25-pound laptop bag on my shoulder. I may have neglected to mention that it was just under 90°F when I got there…

Despite the heat, though, the walk was quite pleasant. The Cathedral itself is stately on the outside but doesn’t have the overwhelming feeling that Notre Dame, for example, always imposes when I see it. It is still quite an impressive piece of work, as you can see here:

DSC 1327


However, the real magic comes on the inside, for which I had to pay another 3€. Oh, and I stopped along the way for a frozen yogurt; the clerk asked me for a choice between mango and “sandía,” which I chose because it looked tropical. Surprise! That word means “watermelon”, yuck, spit. Actually, because European frozen yogurt doesn’t have anywhere near as much sugar as the American equivalent, the combination of the yogurt flavor and the watermelon was actually quite good… but I’ll be more careful next time. But I digress. Whatever your opinion of the religious beliefs which motivated it, it is hard not to be impressed with the craftsmanship and effort that went into the interior of the cathedral. I am not sure, for example, what this display is all about but it is certainly fancy:

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I think my favorite part of the cathedral was the architecture itself. For example, this walkway had a very welcome breeze blowing through it; it was quiet and cool, with a glimpse of the inner courtyard’s garden. I enjoyed the interplay of the lines and shadows with the patterns of stone on the ground.

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After another 10 minutes or so of walking,  arrived at the Alcázar de Segovia itself. You can’t really see it from far away because it’s set adjacent to a ravine which serves as a dandy natural moat. There’s also a pleasant park with large trees screening it. Walking past the park quickly brings the castle itself into view.

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Stepping off to the side really makes clear how the original structure takes advantage of the terrain– you can see that the ravine descends well below surface level. (It goes deeper still but the lens I had wasn’t wide enough to get it all). 

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The castle itself is full of all sorts of nifty artifacts, including a museum dedicated to artillery– the castle used to be the site of the royal college of artillery. There are also several suits of armor, cannons, and so on. I finished my tour by climbing the Torre de Juan II, which requires navigating 157 very narrow, very steep steps up a spiral staircase. Along the way you can see the engineering features that helped provide defense in depth for the castle: downward-facing arrow slits, holes for pouring burning oil, and the like. It was well worth the climb, however, because the view was superb. My favorite picture from this part of the excursion was this shot of the cathedral and the city of Segovia. I also had a good time taking pictures of various tourist couples who wanted their photo taken with the city as a backdrop. One of them returned the favor (notice my spiffy Exchange shirt; its presence makes this post TechEd-related).

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After my tour of the Alcázar and tower, I went to the small café located on the grounds. It’s located in the building that used to be the royal chemistry lab, and I can believe it; I’m not sure what kind of crack they put into the hot chocolate but it was the best beverage I’ve ever had– like drinking liquid chocolate pudding. Sadly they were out of churros, but that’s probably just as well. So fortified, I walked back into town, caught the #11 bus again, took the train back to Madrid Chamartín, then took the metro back to the hotel. All in all, a day well spent!

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TechEd Europe, day 1

TechEd Europe opened on Tuesday, while I was still in transit. I missed the keynote, which is pretty much par for the course. I think the last TechEd keynote I attended was the 2005 version that included BattleBots.

My first assignment for the day was working in the Ask the Experts area. That’s not necessarily what it’s called, but that’s what we all call it. ATE is my favorite part of attending conferences such as TechEd and MEC because you never know what kind of questions you’ll get from attendees. They range from very simple to incredibly complex and environment-specific. The interpersonal dynamics are fun too, because different attendees have different attitudes towards the product and their experience with it: some positive, some negative, and some befuddled. I always enjoy meeting live customers and finding out what kinds of challenges they face, and ATE is the perfect venue for it. (I have a separate post planned in a day or two summarizing the questions I’ve gotten while I’ve been here.

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After working ATE, I went and had a delicious lunch of grouper in some kind of salsa. It was certainly better than the normal convention-center food. And speaking of better, the event staff here has been fantastic– uniformly cheerful and helpful.

After lunch, I went to find the speaker’s lounge. Along the way I noticed a sign for the prayer rooms, something I’ve never seen at TechEd before. I considered going there to work on my demos, but good sense won out and I went to the lounge instead. While there I found the same problem I’d noticed at TechEd in the US: my demos didn’t work. The code they run attempts to do an Exchange Autodiscover connection to, which a) should work from anywhere because b) it’s hosted by Microsoft. However, it didn’t, and I couldn’t figure out why, so to do my New Orleans demos I tethered to my cellphone and used the network. I had the same problem here, sad to say,and I assume it’s because there is some upstream proxy or router stripping out a header that my code needs… but darned if I know what, and I didn’t have time to run through Fiddler to see. I decided instead to download NetShade, which fixed the problem pronto. 

Demos done, I went back to the show floor to walk around. There I had a great talk with Kemp Technologies’ Bhargav Shukla, who is one of my fellow MCM instructors (though he teaches both Exchange and Lync). Among other interesting topics, I learned that Kemp has a prototype load balancing appliance for Windows Azure– not a device that goes on-premises and directs some traffic to an Azure network, but an actual VM that runs on Azure and does load balancing natively there. Microsoft isn’t quite sure how to package and sell Azure objects that are not applications, but I’m confident that they will figure it out. Bhargav also let slip that Kemp is in the process of adding PowerShell support to their load balancers, which marks a first as far as I know. It speaks well of them as partners in the Microsoft ecosystem when they embrace Microsoft’s technologies in such a comprehensive way. (The other takeaway from our talk: I’m jealous of the two days Bhargav spent driving a motorcycle around metro Madrid!)

I also got to meet Ed Wilson of Microsoft, the original Scripting Guy. He offered me the opportunity to write a couple of guest columns, and I eagerly accepted. Look for more news on that soon.

In the evening of the first day, TechEd historically holds a reception n the expo hall where attendees can mix and mingle. We had a great turnout at the combined Exchange/Office 365 booth; I gathered several good questions from attendees that I’ll be writing about a bit later. The energy of TechEd Europe is always quite a bit different from the US show; it’s smaller, so it feels less formal and less rushed. The exhibitor mix is different, too. Even large companies such as Dell and Intel which have a presence at both places typically send different staff. Microsoft is no exception; in addition to many of the folks I’d seen in New Orleans, Nathan Winters and a host of other European and UK Microsoft staff were on site.

I finally got back to the hotel about 9:30pm after a short but slightly confusing ride on the Madrid metro system. This seemed late, but of course by Continental standards it wasn’t even dinner time yet. I took care of some administrative baloney with my bank and mortgage companies, then remembered: someone had suggested I visit Madrid’s old post office (better known as Palacio de Comunicaciones). Although  I could have taken the metro again, it was nearly 11 before I left my room and I was in a hurry, so I took a taxi there, shot a ton of pictures (my favorite is below) and then taxi’d back.

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I noticed on the return that the area around the Melía Castilla has a surprising number of tall, slender, very attractive women just loitering on the street. I have no doubt that they are there to serve as tourist guides for anyone who is lost and needs help. Madrid is lucky to have so many fashionable ambassadors in such a convenient location, but since I knew where I was going I was able to make it back without any of their help.

After all that activity, I was pretty well exhausted, so I checked in to tell the boys goodnight and hit the rack– though it has many other charms, I can say that the hotel beds at this particular hotel are not unlike sleeping on a brick sidewalk. Then it was time to get up and get ready for day 2!

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TechEd Europe: day 0

As I started writing this, I was in the back of a Delta MD-80 heading to Atlanta, thence to pick up Delta flight 109 to Madrid. The process reminds me in many ways of the first real set of international business trips I made, back in 2000-2002; Many aspects of the travel world have changed since then, but some have not.

For example, I have two laptops. Back in the day, I carried a ThinkPad for running Windows apps and a Powerbook for everything else. Now I’m taking my MacBook Pro because I need it to do demos in my TechEd session and my Dell-issued laptop because I need it for Dell work. All of the attendant weight, volume, and hassle constraints that come about from dual-wielding laptops are the same as they ever were.

Then there’s my cell phone. I have carried a Nokia 920 running Windows Phone 8 as my daily phone since November of 2012, and I am very happy with it. Unfortunately, AT&T wouldn’t SIM-unlock it for me, so I won’t be able to use it with a local SIM in Spain. That meant I had to dust off my iPhone 4, which is SIM-unlocked. I started using it last night and found it to be terribly clunky and slow compared to the 920. I don’t mean the data speed itself is slow, although it is; the phone UI itself is terribly slow compared to the 920. However, I like having iMessage available to chat with the many, many iOS users among my friends and contacts, and I am also toting my Pebble, which is completely unsupported and therefore essentially useless with Windows Phone. (Side note: I am eager to see what kind of Windows Phone announcements come out at Microsoft’s Build conference this week; I’m looking forward to more details on Nokia’s Amber and on Windows Phone Blue, or 8.1, or whatever it’s called now). So on balance, I’d have to say that the taking-a-US-cell-phone-to-Europe story is pretty much unchanged as well.

Delta surprised me with what’s known as an “operational upgrade,” or op-up, on the Atlanta-Madrid leg. That is, I didn’t buy a business class ticket, and I was not eligible for an upgrade based on my fare class, but Delta wanted to make more room in coach for paying passengers, and they had some empty business-class seats, so they moved me. I certainly wasn’t going to complain; this is the first time I’ve ever gotten an op-up and I was glad of it. I slept almost the entire way in the seat pod; by mashing buttons you can convert it into a narrow flat bed that ends up just about at floor level. The experience was oddly like sleeping in a mummy sleeping bag– the pod is only about 12″ at the footwell, and since I wear a size 13 shoe it was a bit of a tight fit.

We arrived on time at the Madrid airport, and I took a taxi to the hotel that Microsoft arranged for speakers, the Meliá Castilla. It’s gorgeous: very stately and European. Apparently it is near a bunch of nifty stuff but I was only there long enough to take a quick shower and catch a shuttle to IFEMA, the large conference center where TechEd itself is being held. I worked a shift at the “ask the experts” area and got a few good questions; more to say about that in another post. Then it was off to the speaker lounge to check my demos for tomorrow’s session. More to follow… 

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Weekend wrapup

Paul robichaux net 20121209 002Tom is putting our Elvis ornament on the tree. Yes, that Elvis. I’m flying back from a short but eventful weekend with the boys. During this whirlwind visit, we bought a small Christmas tree and decorated it with our favorite ornaments. These ornaments all have some kind of sentimental or event connection; for example, there’s a Rushmore ornament from our long road trip with my dad; there’s the Marine Corps logo ornament, and so on. We also sponsored two Salvation Army “angels”: a 12-year-old boy and a veteran living in a local nursing home. We had a terrific time picking out clothes, toys, and other items from their wish lists. This is something Arlene and I used to do before we even had kids; over the last couple of years it had fallen off my radar but I was really glad to renew the tradition with the boys. Plus: Oreos.


On this trip, I also got my first taste of wireless charging, courtesy of the “free” Nokia DT-900 charging plate that AT&T was giving away when I bought the 920. It’s magic: you put the phone on top of the little charging puck and it charges, as advertised. The rate of charge seems to be slower than a regular USB connection, but the convenience can’t be beat. Sadly Windows Phone doesn’t (yet?) support wireless sync, but the ability to plop the phone down to let it have a snack, then pick it up and go without fussing over cords is delightful.

And speaking of delightful: I mentioned a few posts ago that I would post an example of what the Lumia 920′s camera can do. Here’s one of my cousin Adam.

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And, as a bonus, here’s one I took indoors, with no flash. The color reproduction and sharpness is excellent. I’m very well pleased with the 920 as a camera, as well as as a phone.

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In other power-related news, I finally broke down and bought Apple’s airline power adapter. Many American Airlines planes (and some on Delta) still have 12V sockets at their seats, and after running out of battery on my last flight I thought I’d give it a try. The in-seat outlets can’t provide enough current to both charge a MacBook Pro and operate it; all they do is slow the rate of discharge. I got on the plane with 76% battery; after nearly two hours of moderate activity, plus having a phone plugged in, I’m down to 58% with the adapter in place. This is better than nothing, although inferior to the 115V outlets on newer 737-900s and other planes of similar vintage.

Finally, today at the Chinese buffet, here’s what my fortune said. I am choosing to take this as a good omen for my check ride next week!




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Voodoo Music Experience 2012

VOODOO sculpture


The boys and I just wrapped up a visit for New Orleans for the Voodoo Music Experience 2012. What a fantastic time!

Friday morning I picked them up in Birmingham and we had a pleasant drive down to the city, stopping at Charlie’s Catfish House along the way. The boys were a bit nonplussed to be served whole catfish but that didn’t really slow them down. We got to the festival about 3:30pm and immediately started exploring. I was surprised that security didn’t turn me away because I was carrying a “professional camera” (you know, the kind with a detachable lens) but I wasn’t about to complain. After some wandering, David and Tom went to the EDM stage to see Nervo while Matt and I headed off to go see Thomas Dolby. We were no more than 10′ from the stage for the show, which was outstanding. I’ve been wanting to see Dolby in concert for 30 years and thoroughly enjoyed getting to do so at long last. Bonus: he has a new album and played a couple of cuts from it. Extra bonus: he was joined on stage by Michael Doucet, who plays a mean fiddle. (Set list: “Europa and the Pirate Twins”, “One of our Submarines”, “Airhead”, “Pulp Culture”, then “Spice Train”, “Evil Twin Brother”, and “The Toad Lickers” from his new album, then “I Love You Goodbye”, “Hyperactive”, and “She Blinded Me With Science.”)

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After the show, I got to see my pal and (fellow Exchange MVP) Jason Sherry at the Thomas Dolby show. This was his 16th Voodoo show– an enviable record. I think he should win a prize. Matt and I also checked out Christian Ristow’s Face Forward sculpture, a giant metal head with an articulated, remote-controlled face, plus a giant metal crawfish whose antennae emit fire after dark.

DSC 0926show me your war face

We wandered around a bit more until it was time for the next EDM acts: JFK of MSTRKRFT, followed by Kaskade. (Actually, Die Antwoord was on stage but no way was I going to let the boys go see them; they are incredibly NSFW.) JFK put on a pretty good set but was not very engaged with the crowd. Kaskade, on the other hand, killed: fantastic set, good crowd involvement, and a great vibe. He was actually pretty laid-back; not really what I was expecting for an EDM set. Matt was able to talk us into the VIP area on stage rights so we were pretty close to the action, which was fantastic. David and Tom got right up front, too, which was a treat for them.

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Notice the cool hat he’s wearing

As you might be able to tell from the photos, my night photo technique needs some work. Most of the concert pics I shot were with my D5100 and Nikon’s 55-200 f/4. This is a great all-around lens but I need to remember to aim the focus points when I’m shooting from a distance. EDM stages are tricky, too, because there are often large backlit screens behind the performer. This wasn’t a huge problem when we were off to the side in the VIP area but it was a problem for Metallica, as you will soon see.

Anyway, we went to bed exhausted but happy Friday, slept in a bit on Saturday, then skipped breakfast and went straight to Deanie’s Seafood. Of all the many restaurants in N’Awlins, this is one of the most resonant for me; it was one of my Aunt Betty’s very, very favorites and I have many happy memories of eating there with her when visiting the city. I wanted the boys to see it, and we had a delightful meal with bonus Aunt B storytelling thrown in. Then a quick drive back to City Park put us in position for another day of music. Saturday’s weather was quite a bit different– mid-50s with a steady chill wind and heavy overcast for almost the entire day. Luckily we found the one food stand that was selling hot chocolate, Quintin’s, and patronized it heavily.

Saturday’s lineup was pretty strong. We had planned to see DJ QBert and Metallica as our two main acts; Tom wanted to see AWOLNATION, and there were a few fill-ins that we’d decided to try (like Jim-E Stacks). We briefly stopped by for Carmine P. Filthy’s set (prominently featuring this guy, so Matt and I didn’t stay for long); it was pretty repetitive. I caught a few minutes of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, enough to decide that I’d give them a shot on Spotify. We connected with my cousin, world-famous sound guy and international man of mystery Chris Bloch. He got us into the mixing truck for Chicano Batman‘s set, where he spent a good chunk of time answering our stupid questions about audio production and mixing. As a bonus, I found that I quite liked the band’s mix of Afro-Brazilian-surf funk, so they’re now in my Spotify rotation. Another neat discovery: The Features put on quite a show near the hot chocolate place (though it took me a while to figure out they were singing “Golden Comb“, not “Golden Cone”).

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Chris hard at work; yes, he really does know what all those knobs do.

Tom went to the AWOLNATION show and went crowd surfing, which excited him no end. The rest of us used the time to explore the food booths; I had a couple of really delicious crawfish pies, while David had shwarma and Matt a hot dog. We migrated over to the Metallica area about 30 minutes before their show and got decent seats in front of the sound tower (though the two older boys didn’t stay there; they ended up in the mosh pit.) As for the Metallica concert itself: it exceeded my expectations, especially given that they were replacing Green Day, a band I’ve never really liked. They deployed some awesome pyrotechnics for “One”, and gave us a nice mix of old and new(er) stuff, including “Master of Puppets,” “Wherever I May Roam,” “Enter Sandman,” and “Nothing Else Matters.” For their first encore they came out and started playing “American Idiot” by Green Day then stopped– James said, with mock sheepishness, “That’s all we had time to learn” before launching into some back-catalog stuff, closing with “Seek and Destroy.”

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rock is serious business

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Lars looks suspiciously like my friend Scott Mikesell

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they were having almost as much fun as the crowd

After a solid two-hour performance, all of us were flat worn out. We went back to the hotel and got to bed about midnight, which was lucky given that we had made plans to meet Chris and Beth at Café du Monde the next morning at 7:30. The promise of beignets was enough to get the herd moving, and we enjoyed our bounty sitting on the levee steps overlooking the river and watching the sun right near Jackson Square.

IMG 1248After breakfast, we went back to the hotel to shower and pack; the stage acts weren’t scheduled to start until noon, so I figured we’d have time to go to Radosta’s for poboys. Nope– they’re closed on Sundays, so we drove back to the Quarter to go to Coop’s. Nope, they’re a 21-and-up place. We ended up eating more festival food, to which absolutely no one objected. We’d planned to see Dev, who never showed up– she couldn’t get out of NYC because of Hurricane Sandy. No one announced that to the crowd, unfortunately, so we waited around for a while and then eventually wandered off. (The excellent Voodoo mobile app did have a tiny scrolling ticker at the bottom of its main page that announced the news, but I’m not sure anyone actually saw it.)

We were soon back to the EDM stage for Modestep, self-described as a “live four-piece bass-heavy band from London.” They sure were! However, there was enough swearing that I made Matt leave about half an hour into the show, which was too bad– it was excellent otherwise. Plus they were playing in full sunlight, which was not only very pleasant but provided superb lighting for taking pictures.

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 this makes me think of John McEnroe saying “you cannot be serious”

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More festival dinner, then it was time to head over to Skrillex! The crowd for his show was huge– probably 2/3 as large as Metallica’s, but in a much smaller area. We all packed up towards the front, which was fantastic until the crowd started squeezing us. Even that was OK because we were all dancing more or less in unison. Even the crowd surfers were fun… until one of them got dropped more or less on Matt’s head. After that, he and I watched the rest of the show from a more open space towards the back of the crowd. I was far enough away that after it got dark none of my pictures were really spectacular; this is probably the best of the lot.

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He played an absolutely killer set, including a remix of the theme from “The Fresh Prince” and a variety of his own songs. I was worn out from dancing by the end of the set, which is a sure measure of how good it was– it takes quite a performance to get me to shake my groove thang. (But don’t take my word for it; see this review.)

Immediately after the Skrillex set, we went back to the parking lot and drove straight through, arriving back in Huntsville about 2:45am. Matt and Tom slept pretty much the whole way; David lasted until about 12:45 and he zonked out too. Great time, and maybe we’ll do it again next year. The End.

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Travel roulette: do you feel lucky?

luckypunk Well, do ya?
That’s the question I am asking myself right now. I’m scheduled to fly to Huntsville Friday, on American. Only American is having a bit of an issue with their pilots.
See, the pilots are angry (not without justification) that AA has abrogated their contract and imposed a new one. Under the National Railway Labor Act, airline pilots can’t strike without jumping through a bunch of hoops. What they can do, however, is work strictly to rules. That means customer-friendly actions like calling in sick, slowing down taxi speeds, and refusing to leave the gate unless every single open maintenance item, including things like broken armrests, are fixed.

“We’re just following the rules,” say the pilots.

“Grrrrr,” say the passengers.

The result is that American’s on-time performance has cratered. Yesterday a whopping 54% of their flights out of SFO were delayed, with nearly 25% of the delays being longer than 45 minutes. A full third of American’s flights ex DFW were delayed longer than 45 minutes.

Having already done their worst to threaten the pilots, American’s options are limited. They’re proactively starting to cancel flights. This, of course, causes all sorts of problems for passengers… like me.

Here are my choices:

  • I can stick with my existing flight. It might or might not be delayed due to “maintenance” or other shenanigans. (Of course, since I’m flying out of SFO there’s a non-zero chance that it’d be delayed anyway.) The problem here: a pilot who calls in sick on the, say, BNA-DFW run might delay the airplane that’s supposed to come to SFO and get me, so even if the crews assigned to SFO are behaving themselves I might still get hosed.
  • I can switch to an earlier flight on American, thus giving myself some insurance in case shenanigans come to pass. I still might get hosed. That would mean I’d miss the planned flyover of Endeavour at Moffett Field, which would really aggravate me; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Plus I might still get delayed.
  • I can cancel my American ticket and buy a $400+ one-way ticket on Delta or United (there are no frequent flyer seats available except on the redeye). I wouldn’t get delayed, but I’d probably have to miss the flyover.

None of these are great choices, which is why I still haven’t decided what to do. I guess I’ll keep an eye on FlightStats and see what the cancellation / delay rate looks like tomorrow. The Wall Street Journal’s air travel columnist is telling people to book away from AA, and that’s what I’m leaning towards doing at this point even though it’s expensive; if I have to take a 12+ hour delay and miss that time with the boys, well, you can’t put a price on that.

Historical note: back in 1998, Northwest Airlines went on strike, stranding a member of my then-wife’s family at our house for two excruciating weeks. I swore to stop flying NWA, and I didn’t for nearly 7 years. Hose me, American, and you’ll be next.

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A strong recommendation for TripIt Pro

I travel a good bit: not as many as some folks I know (such as Scott Schnoll, Tony Redmond, or other members of the far-flung Exchange tribe), nor as much as I used to, but at least a couple of times a month I’m on a plane heading somewhere– often to Huntsville to see my sons.

On my last trip I had a bit of hassle occasioned by a crew availability issue. The problem: I have to be at my office all day (long story), so I need as late a flight as possible on Friday. That means the 2:20p departure from SFO to Dallas, then a connection on to Huntsville.. but with only a 40-minute connection time, any serious delay ex-SFO means I’m going to be stuck.

I thus decided to try TripIt Pro. I have happily used their free service for several years; it’s the best way that I’ve found to organize and keep track of travel itineraries. All I have to do is forward confirmation mails to and they magically appear in my mobile client, neatly sorted by trip and time. The Pro service costs $49 a year, but it offers several interesting features, including an alert service that promises to notify you of delays and the ability to notify you if the fare for a trip decreases.

This morning, I called American at about 9:45a to request an upgrade for my 2:20p flight. I got that done with no problem. By the time I got back to my desk, here’s what I saw in my inbox:


Sure enough, due to SFO weather (which was delaying inbound aircraft), my outbound flight was delayed by long enough to make me miss the Huntsville connection. The “Alternate Flights” link showed me all of my flight options, and I was able to call American and get an agent to rebook me to an earlier flight. Notably, at no time did American themselves send me a notification of the delay– no text message, no e-mail, no nothing. This is despite the fact that I’m signed up for, and usually receive, flight status updates from AA.

While I admire the potential of getting a notification telling me “oh, your fare decreased,” the notification feature just saved my bacon for this trip– well worth the $50. If you travel more than a few times a year, I strongly encourage you to look into TripIt Pro (which has a 30-day free trial). I am now a convert.

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A tough travel experience

If you travel often, then you know something that more casual travelers often never learn: the law of averages always catches up with you in the end. Case in point: this weekend I went to Huntsville to visit the boys. I was scheduled to fly on American SFO-DFW-HSV on a Friday afternoon. My outbound flight was scheduled to leave at 2:20pm, and I had about a 40-minute connection for my DFW-HSV flight– the last one of the day.

This particular afternoon, SFO was windy– 31 knots gusting to 36. When I got to the airport, I noticed my outbound flight was delayed. Even though the airplane itself was there, the flight attendants were coming in on another flight, which had been delayed because of the wind. The delay was long enough that by the time the flight left, I would have missed my Huntsville flight and thus been consigned to spend the night in Dallas. The American gate agent helpfully offered to put me on a United flight SFO-DEN-HSV, so I let her and took off at a dead run for Terminal 3, where United/Continental’s SFO flights (mostly) leave from (some are now in Terminal 1, as I soon learned.) However, I only had about 25 minutes to exit terminal 2, enter terminal 3, clear security, and board the flight– clearly not possible. I found a helpful United agent who led me to the “additional services” desk. After a rather lengthy wait, which gave me a good chance to see how disorganized UA’s current SFO operations are, I spoke with an agent who told me I’d have to go back to American to get rerouted again… so I did. I ended up on the redeye SFO-ORD, which connected to a Huntsville flight that got me in about 10:20 the next morning– so only about 12 hours later than planned.

The flights were uneventful, but then when I got to Huntsville I discovered that my luggage was still in Chicago. Ooops. I gave the ticket agent a delivery address for my bag, picked up my rental car, got the boys, and went to the hotel. Later in the day, I noticed that large clouds of white smoke were coming out of the rental car whenever the engine exceeded about 3500 rpm. I called Avis and they quickly sent over a replacement, so that went well. It ended up being quite a good weekend, but it certainly reminded me that when you travel, you will occasionally, and inevitably, end up with a trip with a much higher than average hassle factor. Such is life. All things considered, this one wasn’t too bad; I was only 12 hours late and didn’t have any real major problems, just a string of annoyances. Hopefully now things will revert to the norm of trouble-free travel.

(Oh, and as I write this, I’m on an American flight DFW-SFO. It’s a new-ish 737-800, which means that it has in-seat power in coach. For some inexplicable reason, though, it does not have Gogo wifi. For some reason I always assume that such a new aircraft will have wi-fi. Delta has spoiled me in that regard, I suppose…)

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“See something, say something” stupidity?

This week a Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit to Chicago was quarantined upon arrival by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why? Because CDC thought the woman might have monkeypox. Why on earth would they think that? Therein lies the story.

First off: according to the CDC themselves, monkeypox kills between 1% and 10% of people in Africa who contract it. So, it’s worse than chickenpox, but not up to the level of Marburg or ebola. 

So, Lise Sievers went to Africa to work on her pending adoption of two special-needs children. During the four months she was there, she developed what the Minneapolis Star-Tribune  describes as a “bad rash” that she thinks was caused by bedbugs. One of the boys she’s adopting also has what her son, Roger, described as “pus-filled bumps.” Still with me? Lise has a rash. Her son-to-be has bumps.

In a phone call with her mother, Lise mentioned the rash and the bumps. Her mother, no doubt with the best of intentions, called a local hospital and asked them (and I’m paraphrasing here) “What kind of treatment do you need to get if you’ve been in Africa and have pus-filled bumps on your skin?” I’m sure that the hospital staff jumped at the chance to make a diagnosis over the phone; I hear doctors love that stuff. Anyway, somehow the story got garbled until the hospital staff thought that Lise, the passenger, had the pus-filled bumps. At some point, a bright star at the hospital decided “hey, this might be monkeypox,” so they did the natural thing: they called CDC… who then quarantined the airplane for a couple of hours. 

Is this a “better safe than sorry” thing, or an ignorant overreaction?

I don’t blame Lise’s mom; here’s what Lise’s son Roger had to say (a textbook example of “Minnesota nice” if I’ve ever seen it):

“It was all misinformation from a speculative call that my grandmother made,” Roger Sievers said. “She’s just a concerned old lady. As sweet as can be. And she makes a mean banana bread, I can tell you that right now.”

It should be said that I bow to no one in my respect for the CDC, particularly their Special Pathogens Branch, nor my desire to avoid a pandemic. However, if I recall, we weren’t even quarantining entire airplanes when there were known cases of H1N1 or SARS aboard. This seems like a bit of an overreaction to say the least. The CDC’s page on airline travel sets out their requirements for cabin or flight  crew aboard an airplane who suspect that someone aboard has communicable illness: basically the pilot’s supposed to call ATC and tell ‘em that someone aboard has Belgian waffle disease or whatever. Seems reasonable enough.

On the other hand, it sure does seem like the hospital people jumped the gun a bit. This seems like a textbook case of “if you see something, say something” carried to an extreme. At least I can take some comfort from the fact that the TSA wasn’t involved.

(Bonus for those who read to the end: The Last Psychiatrist’s review of Contagion. Contains spoilers.)

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Thursday trivia #55

  • The Marines have landed in Darwin, Australia, and the situation is well in hand. I had an interesting discussion with a coworker about whether this was a provocation of the Chinese or a necessary move to register our continued interest in the Pacific Rim. I lean towards the latter, but not everyone agrees.
  • I’ve finally started watching Game of Thrones after having read all of the books. So far I’m delighted, in particular by the characterizations. Barristan Selmy, Syrio Forel, and a host of other characters are very much as I imagined them, and the set design is superb. (However, I did wonder why all the characters have British accents. The BBC has one possible answer.)
  • Why’d I take the plunge? U-Verse had a promotion: 3 months of free HBO. I signed up and immediately fired up the HBO Go app on my Xbox. It works superbly, including Kinect integration for voice control. The HBO Go app also works well on my Mac, so I connected it to the hotel-room TV here in San Diego and watched Game of Thrones on it too. WELCOME TO THE FUTURE.
  • I really like the new Trending app for iOS. It combines stock data with news about the companies in your portfolio. Since it’s free, go get it.
  • Fascinating story on ferries in Alaska. There’s more to it than you might have suspected.
  • Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation: fun, quick read. Recommended.
  • Today’s fun cloud computing game: anyone can play.
  • Tuesday and Wednesday I went running at Shoreline Park in San Diego. It was beautiful: sunshine, sailboats, a few SH-60s. Here’s a panorama I took with Photosynth:

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Happy Mardi Gras

The boys and I are just back from a wonderful trip to South Louisiana for a mini-family reunion. Missie started the ball rolling a few months ago, so I made precautionary hotel reservations just in case. Things worked out beautifully– the boys had Friday and Monday off, so I picked them up in Montgomery Thursday night, and we stayed overnight in Mobile. Friday morning, we got up and drove to Houma; along the way we stopped at the National World War II Museum. I’d been there before, but the boys hadn’t, and they were pretty much wide-eyed throughout the entire tour. A stop in Luling for a shrimp poboy, and poof! we were in Houma.

That night we went to the Krewe of Aphrodite parade. In case you hadn’t guessed, this krewe’s court is all-female, and all the floats were crewed by women. I’m not sure if that was a factor in the boys’ massive haul of beads, but it could have been. We all had a grand time; we then joined Doug, Shawn, Missie, Jody, and the girls for Mexican.

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the boys ended up heavily laden with beads, plus all sorts of other random paraphernalia.

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sadly, Piranha Rentals doesn’t actually rent piranhas.

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not actual size

Saturday drove around to check out Houma, which has grown quite a bit since my last visit– to say nothing of how much it’s grown since I lived there. Terrebonne Parish as a whole had about 94,000 people in 1980, shortly before I moved away. The 2010 census says it now has around 112,000 people, but that seems low based on the size and bustle of what used to be a fairly quiet small town. We were supposed to marshal at Mr. Poboy (which I highly recommend), but we had some time to kill. I decided to drive out towards the airport, and what a good decision that turned out to be!

As we were driving, I saw what looked like a DC-3… then another one… then some other large propellor transport, all parked behind a hangar labeled “AIRBORNE SUPPORT.” We drove over to their hangar, and after a little poking around a gentleman (whose name, sadly, I didn’t write down) came out and offered us a tour of their operations. At first, he asked if we were with the media; I later learned that various media organizations were using shotgun mikes, pole-mounted cameras, and other surveillance devices to eavesdrop on their operations during cleanup of the BP Macondo oil spill. Once he was satisfied that we weren’t part of any sinister plots, he could not have been more helpful and friendly. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Airborne Support is a contractor that provides aerial spraying services to Clean Gulf Associates, an oil-industry-funded non-profit that maintains emergency response equipment and staff for spill cleanup. I’ll have to read up more on both of them when I have time.

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The aircraft shown above is one of the DC-3s we saw (its web page is here.). More properly, it’s actually a C-47A, the military variant of the DC-3. This one was built in 1944 and is still flying! That’s not uncommon, as aircraft have a much longer life than most people realize. It’s fitted with a large tank that holds chemical dispersant; the spray plane flies at low altitude (30-50 feet above the water) and sprays in a pattern determined by a spotter plane flying at a higher altitude. The interior is bare-bones: there’s a big tank for the dispersant and that’s it. The cockpit below is mostly original, too, with the addition of a Garmin 530, some 1970s-vintage radios, and an overhead-mounted agricultural specialty GPS. The seats, yokes, and so on are all original, though.

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my sons have the rare distinction of having been both in the cockpit of an operational DC-3 and the captain’s chair of a Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier

After the tour, we joined the family at Mr. Poboy for an excellent meal. I had the fried shrimp poboy, which was served with excellent soft French bread. The shrimp were apparently fried in Zatarain’s, which is my go-to seasoning, and were plentiful and of good texture. (I wasn’t sold on the fries, though; our Luling gas station fries were better). Then we went over to Ricky’s house, where Ricky and Carey cooked up two huge pots of food: seafood gumbo and pastalaya respectively. Both were superb, as was the lemon icebox pie that someone made (I’m not sure who, but it was certainly good).

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Carey’s pastalaya pot is almost, but not quite, big enough to cook a small child in. Sadly you can’t see Ricky’s epic two-burner cooking stand but it was busy too.

One of the things I love about visiting my family is that it’s a given that all the men can cook well. I am by far the worst male cook in my family, but I’m working on it!

We stayed at Ricky’s until well after dark; the steady, heavy rain didn’t dampen our spirits, although it did force cancellation of the scheduled parades. We were too full to care, however. Sunday morning we had breakfast en masse at Waffle House, conveniently located next to our hotel, then went in search of another parade– this one the Krewe of Terraneans. We stayed for the first four or five floats, then headed west for A Cajun Man’s Swamp Tour, run by Black Guidry. I’d taken the boys on it before several years ago, and I don’t think Black’s jokes have changed much since then, but we got some great looks at wildlife, including turtles, young alligators, and nutria. The weather had cleared by the time we left the dock and it was clear, sunny, and very pleasant out on the water.

DSC 0699Capt. Guidry playing his Cajun accordion

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A third turtle decamped the log just as I was pressing the shutter button.

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He looks pretty comfortable, doesn’t he?

Sunday night we had dinner at Boudreau & Thibodeaux’s in Houma. The food was excellent, and the wait staff did their best to feed all 30 of us in a reasonable amount of time. I had some delicious grilled catfish and a small number of Tom’s two pounds of crawfish. He certainly did them justice, as you can see in the before-and-after pictures below.

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Monday all we did was drive back: Houma to Montgomery for me to drop the boys off, then back to Pensacola: just under 500 statute miles all told. Great trip, and we’re all looking forward to doing it again next year!

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