Tuesday, December 28, 2010
I don't know what was worse, the pork taste in my mouth or the fact that the waiter was claiming we were delusional. This is clearly a place in which the customer is not always right.
It caused us to recall yesterday's ride to the airport in Vieques. Our American innkeeper was driving us, talking about life on the island. He mentioned the island's new W resort. When they first opened, in hopes of giving back to the community, they hired 60 percent of their staff from the island. Well, that didn't turn out too well so they expanded, pulling that 60 percent from the larger Puerto Rico area. That didn't work either, so they now recruit internationally. Turns out the Puerto Ricans aren't so great with the customer service, something we could have told them.
Thankfully, the night ended well. Back at our favorite bar, The Patio, I was able to order my favorite Puerto Rican snack, fried cheese balls. Warm, gooey cheese encased in a hard fried shell. It worked wonders eliminating the bad taste of pork and poor service.
Monday, December 27, 2010
The bio bay itself was memorable for its remarkable beauty, the tour was also memorable...It all started when our group had assembled for the tour and the operators realized that they had too many participants than spots in their van. As they explained, their other van had broken down as had one for another bio bay tour operator. "Does anyone here have a car?" they asked. We were the only respondents and were immediately assigned to transport ourselves and a lovely Indian couple from Minnesota.
As the rest of the tour participants, 15 or so, piled into the wreckage of their functional vehicle, we were pleased to have our own ride. Their van had limited seats, no side doors and the back door was latched with a piece of wood from the outside. The more than 15 passengers were crammed in like refugees.
Once on the road, we followed that van, driven by our trusty guide Samir (who kept asking us: "are you ready for adventure?"). We quickly turned off the main paved road onto a dirt path. The road--or perhaps we should call it adventure trail--was uneven, full of gut-wrenching turns, massive puddles, and mini ravines. We were relieved that the rental agency had not assigned us a Dodge Neon and wondered why the tour operators had not asked if we had an off-road vehicle. Michael, meanwhile, was loving this chance to return to his boy scout adventure days.
Once at our destination, Samir handed out our life vests and paddles, at which point he realized there were not enough paddles for all participants. I was left without a paddle. Thankfully, Michael agreed to paddle me around. At this point, our fellow participants are joking that we not only had to transport ourselves but also were paddleless, suggesting that our bio bay tour was more like a bio fail.
But we all ended up in our kayaks, were able to paddle around in the crazy illuminated waters, and even swim--until that unfortunate moment where that one girl was stung by a jellyfish.
Ready for adventure we are!
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Making a u-turn across four lanes of highway traffic
Backing out of a parking lot into a five-way intersection across three lanes, then stopping
Driving with the hazards permanently on for no reason
Driving 30 in a 55, in the left lane, while everyone tries to pass on the right at 60, except for the guy doing 45, whose left turn signal is jammed and whose radio is tuned to Reggaeton at maximum volume
Driving on the wrong side (narrowly avoided a head-on)
Appropriating the technique commonly referred to as a Polish road block--all lead cars in each lane drive at exactly the same speed, preventing anyone from passing and creating a moving barrier
Not driving at all; it's common practice to simply stop in the middle of the street--not in one lane, in the middle--to chat with one's friends
Parking anywhere you damn well please: in the street, on the lawn, in the driveway
Of course, the population can't be held to entire account. Consider the state of the infrastructure:
We have six different maps; all show the island and indicate that it has roads. After that, the similarity ends. Even for the major thoroughfares, there is significant disagreement.
Speed limits are posted in mph; distances are given in km. I shit you not.
Rentals charge by the gallon; stations pump by the liter.
Lanes are marked only on the biggest highways.
Many roads feature sinkholes. They are always unmarked and noticeably not recent.
There is always a dog in the way.
However, if one is able to achieve a transcendental driving state, a special case of relativity comes into play: one does not transverse the island; one simply enters a vehicle and allows the island to transverse you.
We spent the 23rd recovering at a beach resort in Combate--Karen and possibly Jonathan have contracted what I got--before driving to Ponce yesterday. Nice city--good size, quaint center, great art museum. Though we ate at what might have been the only restaurant open on Xmas eve, it was one of the best meals we've had.
Not unlike the one MD and I shared this morning. Off 52, near Guavate, lays what's known as the highway of pork. Dozens of lechoneras, each roasting multiple whole pigs on spits, hack into the beasts with machetes and serve it up in gut-busting quantities. Besides the pig, there's chicken, blood sausage, rice, plantains and macaroni salad. We split a plate (it was only 10:30) and it was still too much. But the best part was the skin: after roasting on a spit for 10-12 hours, the fat hardens into a crispy, toffee-like wafer that's crunchy and salty and porky and good. Bourdain had it right: this does not suck.
Karen was grossed out and waited in the car.
But the locals were stocking up for tonight, Puerto Rican mothers and grandmothers walking out with pounds of the stuff for tonight's feast. Lechoneras: the Honey Baked Hams of Puerto Rico. But better.
Merry Xmas, and enjoy whatever's hitting your table tonight.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Mad Dog: Medalla Light (there is no regular).
K-ron: Tostones. Are they hockey pucks? Could they be more oil-saturated? Could they lack more flavor? Could they be more ubiquitous?
Miguel: Answering machines. They don't exist. Need to make a dinner reservation, rent a car, or call the hotel? Better hope there's a live person 'cuz you ain't leaving a message.
MD: AC. It is never cold enough outside to not crank the AC and put on a sweater.
K: How many puertoricanos does it take to make a latte at Starbucks? Apparently no less than four, and not in less than nine minutes.
M: Asks waitress who works across from market, "Is the market closed on Sunday?" "Apparently."
MD: Many cultures are known for their sauces: salsa verde, nuoc mam, chimichurri; but the secret is out in PR: a ketchup and mayo mixture grace every table. Depending on the level of refrigeration (or AC) it comes in blanco, reposado and anejo.
K: Renting a car takes three days, ten people, 18 phone calls and memory reconstruction therapy.
M: Guide book says museum is open Sunday. Guard at museum says that it's closed Sunday, but open tomorrow. Upon return, it is still closed.
And that's the end of round one! All our contestants are still in the game, so let's move on to round two!
MD: The only three redeeming aspects of the Bacardi tour are the drink ticket, the other drink ticket, and that it's 10:00 in the morning. Oh--151, which can be used to clean vinyl records and remove nail polish, undergoes a charcoal filtration process to ensure easy drinkability.
K: Cave tour crowd control: get a ticket so you can queue for admission, which entitles you to wait in line for entry, after which you stand around waiting for the tram. Total queueing time: 2:00. Total cave time: 0:45.
M: Cuba Libre. It's a drink. If you ask for a Cuba Li-brA, every one acts like they don't know what you're talking about. If you order a Cuba Lib-ra, out it comes. Keep in mind this is only in the context of a bar, not a political debate.
MD: The local Chinese restaurant is called Han-Cream.
M: We are in possession of three guidebooks. Not a single one could be considered accurate.
And that's it for round two! Drinks are on K-ron. Final question for all our contestants: what's the single most permanently retarded thing about Puerto Rico?
Unfortunately, that's all the time we have today. Join us next time for PR: Permanently Retarded: Driving Edition!
Thanks again to our sponsor--Bacardi!
Thursday, December 23, 2010
After picking up the rental car (finally), and setting up Miguel comfortably in the back seat to sleep off his cold/flu, Jonathan and I were off. First stop: the Bacardi factory tour. Now, I've been on a fair amount of brewery/distillery tours in my lifetime, but this rates the worst. They don't let you in the factory, but instead tour you through a barely functional interpretive display. The best part was the fact that they forced us to board a ridiculous kiddie-tram to take the 1/2 block distance to the center. Other highlights included the poorly produced and barely informative video that was punctuated by the worst Bacardi commercials imaginable (featuring all the subliminal imagery we learned about in junior high plus butts, butts, and more butts, along with a weird scene in which a scantily clad bimbette was shaving a guy with a razor that we are still confused about). At least we got cocktails at the end.
Thus fortified, we began our journey into the forest. More on the Puerto Rican conception of driving to come, suffice it to say that we were very afraid.
Once arriving at our remote and rustic retreat, Miguel continued his napping while Jthan and I hiked and yogad. This was the view from our cabin.
The car rental experience didn't help. Our plan was to pick up in San Juan and drop in Fajardo, once we'd circumnavigated the island. For whatever reason, such reservations can't be accomplished online. Also, you can't pick up before 1:00. And there's no official drop in Fajardo, even though that's where everyone's trying to get to for the ferries to the islands, and they won't let you take rental cars on the ferries. This was the first indicator that we'd soon be writing a post entitled "PR: Permanently Retarded." Look for it subsequently.
But we got it done. We even convinced them to let us leave the car on the lot and pick us up at the hotel the next morning (you don't want to drive or park in Old San Juan). Of course, the manager who had agreed to this--in person, 16 hours prior--completely forgot and it took ten minutes on the phone the next morning to jog her memory and convince her to pick us up.
Once we were in possession of the car, I knocked myself out on NyQuil in the back seat and turned driving and navigation over to team Kienzle. Which I'll leave to them to describe.
(BTW, the photo is taken from the San Critobal fortress looking west toward the big old one at the mouth of the bay.)
Monday, December 20, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Mad Dog's been camping on Culebra the past week, eating local deer and deep fried pork chops. He'll be keeping the backseat warm on our drive around the island.
Which commences Tuesday with stops at the Bacardi factory and the Aricebo radio telescope. Stay tuned.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
It's much nicer here--80 with what Karen describes as "the kind of humidity that's good for your skin and hair." I guess I only get half the benefit.
Walked the old town after checking in; currently sipping rum drinks and plotting tomorrow before we head to dinner.
We're four hours ahead of our west coast readers for those keeping track.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Met up with my friend Trac at Fette Sau in Williamsburg for the meat extravaganza--you place your order by weight. Here's a sampling of brisket, sausage, ribs, belly, butt, pulled pork and burnt ends beans. There was something green, but I ignored that. It all comes on one parchment-lined tray.
They also sell beer by the gallon and offer the most extensive bourbon collection in New York. And they were playing Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison album, the most metal record ever. Not to be missed.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Hope you're all eatin' well.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
started simply enough, with handshakes and introductions and inqueries
into the other's profession. He's an app designer from LA; my badge
labels me a consultant.
"What kind of consulting?"
"Communication and design strategy."
"Give me an example."
"Executives giving keynote presentations, start-ups pitching to VCs,
the speakers here at TED. Everyone needs a story, and they need
graphics to support it. Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth is a great
example of the medium."
And then he said something weird.
"I don't buy into that extreme left-wing global warming stuff. I'm a
Which is the sort of thing that catches you off-guard. In a kind of
same-planet kind of way.
"You mean the idea of man-made climate change that every credible
"Not every one. Have you read Ayn Rand?* The economics don't work.
There's no profit in climate change. I'm not explaining it right but I
I was baffled. Was this a rebuttal or some kind of tea party mashup?
Where does one start to deconstruct this? Realizing I was about ten
years too late (much like actions on climate change), I excused myself
to another venison sausage and other, saner conversation.
(BTW, he crashed a Fellows party later and tried to sell his app
services to everyone. Tres uncool.)
Does this sort of thing happen to anyone else? I mean, people
rejecting established, scientific fact because it doesn't fit with
their ideology/Glenn Beck said so? I may not encounter a lot of people
like this in my travels, but I fear they're out there in large
numbers. And they're going to fuck things up for all of us.
* Author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Libertarian darling,
though her economic philosophy has been thoroughly discredited. At
least among the reality-based.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Great week, great people. More than one fellow TEDster described it as "Summer Camp for Nerds." Which is pretty accurate, considering that the talks spanned topics as diverse as sustainable agriculture, neuroscience, Muslim comics, gaming, astronomy, voting systems, computer science, ethnic conflict, education and entomology.
For whatever reason--I started doing this at TED India--I usually hold off commenting on the speakers until the end of the program. Their talks are being edited and uploaded to the TED site as a write this, and all of them will be available soon. Here are my picks (bearing in mind that I missed a few sessions due to a massive headache):
Matt Ridley, looking on the bright side
Naif Al-Mutawa, bringing superheroes to the Arab world
Eben Bayer, whose team uses mushrooms
Adrian Dolby, likes to play in the dirt
Marcel Dicke, who has a new diet for you (that you're not expecting)
Peter Eigen, founder of Transparency International
Sebastian Seung, mapping mouse brains
Sugata Mitra, on educating kids (if you watch only one, make it this one)
Chris Anderson, on the future of TED
Ze Frank, who will make you laugh (and more)
Long list, but they're only 18 minutes (so you could pack in three in the same amount of time it takes to suffer through So You Think You Can Dance).
As usual, TED also makes the most of its surroundings, hosting receptions in venues like the Ashmolean Museum, chock full of European history. Great place for a party.
And, of course, punting. Which is packing up to six people in a Mekong Delta-style boat, giving one of them a pole, and hoping everyone can swim. After a barbeque. No worries: no one ended up in the drink.
There's one final TED Fellows dinner tonight that I'm off to now, likely some pub-crawling after that, and a 9:00 am train back to London with my name on it.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
It wasn't hard to spot the congregation of Fellows toward the rear. From right to left (the first four):
Olatunbosun Obayomi of Nigeria--the bio-energy inventor mentioned in previous posts.
Boniface Mwangi of Kenya--bringing reconciliation to his country through photo-activism.
Nina Dudnik of USA--a geneticist dedicated to supplying students of developing nations with lab equipment deemed obsolete here.
Roshini Thinakaran of USA--founder of Women at the Forefront, journaling the lives of women in war zones.
I told you these people were awesome.
Su Kahumbu-Stephanou and Joseph Foster Ellis. He's an American artist working in China; she's an organic food entrepreneur in Kenya. For whatever reason, the East Africa delegation has adopted me as their coach/spokesperson. I'm not saying it's my next trip, but I've practically been invited to Kenya to do whatever it is I do. I wouldn't turn it down.
And then there's this. Freud's. An old converted church in the Roman style. Johnny Walker sponsored the party.
And it was a party. Those who followed TED India know of what I speak. BTW, the guy front-and-center in the last picture is Tom Reilly, Community Coordinator for TED. He also runs the Fellows Program. Great guy. I don't know when he sleeps. The typical TED schedule starts at 7:00 and runs to 1:00 the next morning. And he's still gotta take care of all the logistics, speaker considerations, lost and found, etc. I don't envy him.
Don't worry, though: TED will be posting them to the site in the near future. The names you want to look for are Joseph Foster Ellis and David Gurman.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Here's the more detailed version:
I've never been to Oxford before, but it's as picturesque as you might imagine: grand old buildings, cobblestone sidewalks, pubs tucked away in quiet alleys. The weather is cool and the beer is warm (though I've developed a taste for cider somehow after popping into the Lamb & Flag, which has more than a few local labels on tap).
TED itself--to this point--has been centered at Keble College, just north of the town. Oxford is composed of a series of colleges, each with its own character and history, but the charm is universal.
Each comes with its own chapel as well, outfitted with the usual decor.
Saturday night, after all the Fellows and Senior Fellows arrived, TED hosted a welcome dinner at Jamie's. Didn't know it until we got there, but it's one of Jamie Oliver's restaurants. The food wasn't anything special, but Oliver is notable for having won the TED Prize last year for his work on children's school menus. It's definitely worth a watch, as you wouldn't believe how much sugar we're packing into the next generation.
The Fellows are new at each TED event, but the Senior Fellows return over the course of a few years. Nice having the chance to catch up with a few folks I met last November at TED India and hearing about how their projects have progressed.
Back at Keble the next morning, we were treated to English breakfast in the Harry Potter-style dining hall. Actually, "treated" may not be the right word as it seems a plate full of sausages, rashers, eggs and beans is standard every morning. I'm usually not much of a breakfast person, but I love this. With tea, of course.
As I mentioned, Sunday was filled with Fellows workshops. From nine until noon, TED co-host Rives and I worked with the group to polish them up (while many of the Fellows are accustomed to the limelight, a few have never been on stage or at a conference like this before--you might imagine the pressure when you're a 20-something who's just been flow in from Kenya and you need to describe your biotechnology endeavor that recycles organic waste as a means of energy production--in four minutes). In the afternoon, we ran through a full rehearsal, all 22 of them. There was the good, the bad and the ugly, but that's what rehearsal's for.
As in India, the Fellows are open to--even hungry for--any kind of input that will make them more effective communicators. For many, TED is a rare opportunity to share what they're doing and make connections with people who can offer support or make introductions.
As usual, these long days end with mixing and mixed drinks, this one held at Exeter College. In the background is the library where JRR Tolkien studied while at Oxford.
Then it was World Cup time. I set myself up to provide last-minute help to anyone who wanted it and got about half a dozen interested parties--everything from story advice to design help. Oh, and I was in it for Spain, so it was a good night.
And then it was Monday morning. Showtime. Great talks, all of them. From recycling banana waste as a means to extract heavy metals from drinking water to fighting censorship in Yemen with new web tools to the experiences of women who live in war zones to instillation pieces commemorating civilian Iraqi casualties to open electronics manufacturing to the story of an embedded photographer in Afghanistan who's using social media to bring the war home in the same way that television did during Vietnam four decades ago--the breadth and depth of these individual's experiences inspires, saddens, awes and humbles. For the complete list of speakers and topics, look here.
I shot video of two of the best as well, but Oxford's connection is slow, so I won't be able to upload those until I return. Check back next Sunday or so.
In the afternoon, as thousands of attendees arrived for the main conference, TED set up for the welcoming party. Life-size chess boards, flamingos, Red Queen playing cards. Is this Alice in Wonderland?
Friday, July 9, 2010
It's about 80 degrees here, with a forecast of 84 for tomorrow. That's warmer than Mountain View. Good thing I've got some lightwight clothes for the trip up to Oxford. Oh, wait...
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Wait! We're going the wrong way!
Sure enough, the captain comes on--something won't close and there's no way to pressurize the cabin. And breathing is, you know, important.
So back to SFO for a two-hour repair job, then back in the air. Air Canada must be commended for comping everyone drinks.
The net result is that we got into Toronto 15 minutes after my connection departed. So I'm stuck here, where it's about 90 degrees at midnight with plenty of humidity and it feels like Texas. But in Canada. Yet, I've got to say, Air Canada came through again. I got off the plane and was immediately greeted by their staff:
"Here is a voucher for the hotel, plus dinner. We've booked you on the earliest departing flight tomorrow morning. Please clear customs, pick up your bags and proceed to this shuttle location."
I love the Canadians. I think American carriers don't do this just so people have an opportunity to get it off their chests at the expense of some poor night-shift employee, but this makes much more sense.
Anyway, the fun began when I noticed passengers off the same flight standing at the wrong baggage carousel, so I guided them to the right one. Then the London luggage got delayed so the group grew and, once the bags were secured, tried to find the shuttle stop. No one wanted to ask for directions. So I did. Then we picked up some stragglers. Then the shuttle didn't arrive for 30 minutes and guess who called the hotel. Not to be all Den Mother about it--I enjoy helping out where I can--but it was like accounting for ADHD ducklings.
Anyway, departing Toronto 8:50, arriving London 21:00. I just hope Fergus Henderson's place is still open by the time I get in.
continent at TED India (and if you don't, just jump back to this
blog's very first entries). Well, it's happening again, this time in
merry old England at TED Global. Once more, I'll be addressing the
Fellows, TED's next generation of world changers, offering my
perspective on effective communications or, as I think of it,
advertisements for yourself. The title of my talk? Distill and Enjoy:
Your Life's Work in Three Minutes that Don't Suck.
That's on Sunday. After that I've got the rest of the week to enjoy
all that TED has to offer.
Unfortunately Karen wasn't able to join me on this one. Maybe next time.
Above is flight #1. Never flown Air Canada before. Hoping the in-
flight meal is poutine and Labatt's.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Saturday, July 3, 2010
fabulous. In between her insightful factoids about Chicago
architecture, she was able to highlight the attractiveness of our
captain, as well as frequently emphasizing how much she needed and/or
how much better she would sound, with a drink. The architectural and
alcohol humor abounded--thankfully the boat had a full bar for its
Friday, July 2, 2010
and the afternoon at the Fields Museum where Sue the T. Rex holds
court. She's the biggest and best preserved of her species, making her
the perfect match for the smallest and worst behaved of ours.