Off to the Boonies

Posted in Travel at 1:04 pm by Administrator

I’ve been radio silent because we’ve been on a frenzied dash to buy all the crap ( another technical trekking term) to head out to the weeds. Tomorrow we go, and when and if we see a WiFi signal before our return is a subject of much speculation. Today there is a general strike in Kathmandu so we had to contend with closed shops on strangely empty streets – so recently the locus of such mayhem.

Yesterday, we found ourselves in the maelstrom of a Ganesh ( the elephant god – remover of obstacles) festival which involved women and girls dressed in fine blood-red Sarees as some sort of tribute (or perhaps rebuke) to their husbands. We were swept up into a fulminating sea of humanity pushing along into a narrow pathway by Durbar Square and under a 4 foot high tunnel with the doors to restaurants branching off into the darkness. The weirdness, we-aren’t in Kansas Toto factor was cranked to 11.

This burgh is off-the-scale cool, put it on the bucket list stat!

Hopefully, more soon.



We’re in K k k k k Kathmandu

Posted in Travel at 4:18 am by Administrator

We’re in k k k k k Kathmandu
Kathmandu Nepal, nirvana Hotel, Sept 10, 2013

Yesterday we landed in Kathmandu. It was partly cloudy and hot. The 3rd World Hustle started right away. A porter hefted our luggage onto a cart and rolled us out. HE was searched on the way out as we were waved through with a smile! This porter wanted $10 US to roll the bags 50 feet! I gave him $2. We found our guy with a sign with our names – he took us to the van. He too wanted $10, I gave him $2. The cabbies mobbed us, not taking “no” for an answer. We escaped in a Munchkinville tiny white beat up van. What followed was a long dirt road, pot holed, bouncing ride past Indiana Jones quality crowds. There were cows in the street, construction by hand, rubble, children, families on mopeds, bicycles groaning with goods, women of all ages with umbrellas against the sun in cheerfully bright Salvar Kameez, brown skinned beautiful calmly about their business in the noisy chaos.

After the clutter, constant honking, death defying right hand drive traffic in narrow pedestrian crammed “streets” (really alley sized) the Hotel Nirvana was an oasis of cool tranquility with a smiling clerk who promptly installed us in a charming, if a bit ramshackle room. There was a balcony overlooking a large calming garden.

More later,



Temple to Duty Free

Posted in Travel at 1:13 pm by Administrator

Bangkok’s Temple to Duty Free

Emerging from a Thai Airline’s 777-200 like weasels fleeing a flooded den, we emerged blinking, insensate, with only one goal defined with flawless diamond clarity – find “Louis’ Tavern Dayrooms Hotel” and lapse into a death-like fatigue coma. We had been brutally whipsawed by time such that neither my irritable wife or I were even sure what the date was. Having crossed the International Date Line, today became tomorrow, I think, and yesterday became what was once obviously today. Jet lag and trying to sleep curled up on three seats with a seatbelt anchor jabbing me in the kidneys did nothing to facilitate my understanding of the current time save that it was definitely night outside.

Bangkok’s Airport is of a size that brings to mind North Korean synchronized pagents to the Dear Leader plazas, it has literally miles of identical shopping mall meets Blade Runner blindingly lit hallways. Where O where to find our day room oasis and collapse? Nothing to do but head for the attractive young ladies in severe tightly bunned hair styles and uniforms under the big question mark sign.

The differences between the Thai Language and English is a vast gulf. The first booth lady seemed to think we needed to go to Concourse C but she might have said D or E or even G. With her accent I couldn’t be sure, and it was clear from her helpless non-sequester responses that she didn’t really understand us either. Ever resourceful, we marched in the direction she had been waving resolved to interrogate each information booth lady we encountered and average out the results. How could that fail? The initial results were promising, with two consecutive info ladies waving us in the same direction. But at the third booth we hit a snag and the lady insisted we had to go back the way we came! I began to sweat heavily. Dutifully we retraced the quarter mile back through the throngs of bag rolling travelers and glittering Duty Free shops to info lady number two. She, as expected, waved us back the way we had retraced. In desperation we tried to find the hotel phone number but there was a “free WiFi” procedure we needed to follow which in our fatigue was at the boundaries of our mental abilities. After 15 infuriating minutes I got the WiFi up and running only to discover the response time was in the 300 baud dial up range. My sweaty foul clothing felt like it was going to disintegrate off my unwashed carcass. Info lady two called the hotel and again after a rapid-fire Thai consult reiterated that we had to go back. “through security”.

Staggered to my knees with fatigue about ready to stroke out with piss off I told info lady 2 that I had been lead to believe that the day hotel was INSIDE the secure zone. To make a long story tedious this confusion resulted from the fact that we did NOT have to clear customs and enter the Kingdom, but inexplicably we DID have to go through a security checkpoint, just because.

To my extreme annoyance the security checkpoint was directly behind info lady number THREE whom you recall had us (unnecessarily) go back to info lady TWO.

Feeling like hammered shit and looking worse we staggered into the day room hotel. Fortunately it was worth the trouble to find the place. Instead of trying to nod out on seats in a glorified shopping mall we instead showered, brushed our teeth, plugged in our depleted electronic devices and slipped between clean sheets for 5 hours of comfy oblivion. I awoke refreshed and as an added bonus had a nice Contental Breakfast which bucked me up so I could worship at the Temple of Duty Free Shopping which is the Bangkok Airport.

As I write this we are spiraling down in a widening gyre to the Kathmandu Valley and I can see Mt. Everest so I will sign off for now.



Aggregation of my fecal material

Posted in Travel at 7:08 pm by Administrator

We hugged everyone good-bye and got a lift from Richie to SFO. Isn’t that the airline that just crashed here? Why, yes, it is! Disrobe for security, get X-rayed, prodded, poked, and eye-balled by TSA. Grab a bite to eat while CNN rolls appalling video of nerve gas victims over and over. Try to keep lunch down. Cruise the Duty Free and book stores. Get stuffed into a tube and sit for 12 hours. Emerge in Korea. Wait 5 hours. Get crammed into another cylinder for 6 hours. Emerge in Bangkok. Wait 10 hours. Get into yet another plane and sit for 3 hours. Emerge in Kathmandu. That’s all you gotta do and you’re there!

And yes, we are singing ” We’re going to Kathmandu, we’re really really going to, we’re going to Kathmandu” . . . Repeat as needed.




Ass Kicking Contest

Posted in Travel at 1:48 am by Administrator

Ass Kicking Contest – Off to Nepal

I am the proverbial one-legged man in the ass kicking contest! Getting ready to travel overseas involves a shitload (that’s a technical term we travelers use) of organization. But nooooo, my life is more complicated. There is construction going on at the house, we have friends staying at the house because their attempt to move to North Carolina has gone sideways and they have no furniture, and we have friends from Montreal coming to stay with a 9 month old baby!

Not content with this, I decided to get an iPad Mini (upon which I type at this moment) to take with me to Nepal. It’s light, I can read e-books, I can do my e-mail and besides I just wanted one. But, the new device requires some significant effort to setup, with apps to download, e-mail to test, blog entries to test, and so forth. I confess, some naughty words were uttered as I struggled through this.

Anyhow, I’ve got a pile of gear ready to go and soon we’ll pile into a United Airlines (shudder) aircraft and turn our lives over to their tender mercies for 36 hours. I’d rather poke my eardrums out with a rusty knitting needle – but I digress.

Stay tuned to find out what happens next.



The Copyright Bruhaha

Posted in About Technology, Political Opinion at 12:37 am by Administrator

Is making a copy of a digital movie theft? How do content creators get paid for their work in the digital era? These questions have polarized people into roughly two groups; The status-quo group is of the opinion that people who don’t pay for digital content are “thieves”, The pro-free information group is of the opinion that “information wants to be free”. Occasionally, in the midst of the law suits, raids and fulminating polemics there will be the voice of reason, but not often.

Let us look dispassionately at the issues. I see the issue this way:
1. Artists need to be compensated for their efforts.
2. Consumers want content in a cheap convenient way.
I don’t think it is any more complex than that. Notice, I did NOT say “Middlemen need to make large profits off of creative content”.

The Middle Man

The real problem is the middle man. Before the digital era, the music and movie industry needed an infrastructure to create and distribute songs and movies. Let’s take the pre-digital production of a music album. A record label would identify a talented band, arrange for the recording of an album in an expensive studio, produce the album, market the album and arrange for the band to get advances on earnings. The band in turn would often sign away the rights to some or all of their music in consideration of the benefits of being sponsored through the then-expensive process of getting their music out to the public. Today, it is a different landscape. Let’s take the post-digital production of a music album. First of all, an album is no longer the quantum of consumption. Now consumers can and do buy one song that they like. The band can product their own music with low-cost off the shelf computers and software. The band can design their own art, put the music on a public web site for download and even process their own payments from customers. Most importantly, once the music is digital it can easily be passed from person to person at no charge. To be sure, the issue of marketing their music and making their product visible to the public is still difficult. But it is clear that the middle man no longer has the central role in the selection and production of music.

The now-obsolete middle man still has a formidable, yet dwindling, infrastructure and fortune to expend on trying to stop this change in entertainment consumption. It is something akin to the buggy whip industry using it’s resources to force each new automobile owner to buy a buggy whip. The auto owner doesn’t need a buggy whip! Eventually, inevitably, the buggy whip industry will die. It won’t matter how many congressmen they pay off, or how many law suits they bring against “criminal” automobile users. Buggy whips are no longer needed.

This Has Happened Before

What’s even more interesting is that this has happened before in the entertainment industry. Not once but several times! Before any recording technology existed a singer would sing to a live audience and get paid for that performance. Music was copyrighted and published on paper so people could play the music in their homes on a piano. Then the record player was invented. Some people certainly must have believed that this was the end of live music. In fact, quite the opposite happened. The dissemination of music allowed more people than ever to enjoy a performance. The sale of records brought even more revenue to the industry. The renown of a singer was enhanced so live performances were more lucrative. But what should not be overlooked is that the recording technology added value to singing. It made music portable, reproducible and available in locations previously impossible. This is important. The new technology brought new benefits. The new technology didn’t harm the music industry, indeed it made it more lucrative and ubiquitous than ever!

Following with our music example, next came radio. There was a concerted effort to prevent music from being played on the radio “for free”. Once again, the new technology had a positive effect bringing more music to more people in more places. The money poured in.

More recently, it became possible to tape music. Again, the industry was up in arms, warning that this technology would allow people to “steal” music. And again, the technology had the opposite effect. More people heard more music in more places arranged as they wanted to hear it and more money poured in. I won’t go through the tedious exercise of repeating how this process occurred when CD-roms, mp3s, iPods and now the Internet came along. Each of these new technologies does the same thing. It brings more music to more people in more places in the way the consumer wants to experience it AND more money will pour in. However, the money will not pour in to the obsolete middle men unless they embrace the new technology. The buggy whip industry is dead.

Substitute ‘movie’ for music, ‘television’ for radio, ‘VHS tape’ for cassette tape and one sees what happened in visual entertainment.

Now E-Books Join the Fray

Now we are seeing the same thing with books. I love books! I like to hold them and collect them and read them. But, e-books offer enhancements that are impossible with bound books. For example, I can immediately get the definition of a word I don’t understand. I can instantly translate a foreign language passage or I can link to Wikipedia and get details about an historical character. I can carry hundreds of books with me on vacation. I can loan a book to all my friends instantly. Yes, I just wrote that! Is it stealing to take advantage of the flexibility of the new technology? To my mind it is not stealing just as listening to a song on the radio is not stealing.

Digital Benefits

Here are more benefits of e-books (and e-music and e-movies). If I like a song (or book or movie) I can easily find similar works and procure them instantly. I can share my opinions about a song (or book etc.) with my friends. And, this is interesting, I can share my opinions about a song (or movies) with strangers. As a consumer I can find out what other people think about a work. I can find out what other works the artist produced and I can download them. I can even sample a bit of those works to try and determine if I find them entertaining.

For a producer, the barriers to creation of new art have been significantly lowered. Will this mean that more crummy art will be produced? Certainly. Tell me you haven’t watched a crummy commercially produced movie! Now, in the digital realm, I can read reviews, sample and otherwise vet the quality of an entertainment product without going to the effort of going to a movie theatre and paying to see the movie. The nature of digital media make sorting through the content very easy.

Certainly, all of these systems for determining the quality of music, book and movies have been available for years. After all we have had critics for as long as the human race has existed. What we haven’t had is the brutal efficiency of the digital realm. I no longer have to depend on a handful of critics in the press. I can be my own critic and I can find friends and strangers who are critics I trust. I can also sample a product in the comfort of my home, as I sit in my PJs.

In short, digital products offer extensive new benefits. Sound familiar? So did every other new technological innovation throughout history. Each time a new technology appeared, a different revenue model had to be worked out. Which brings me to the next item; How does the artist get paid for his or her creation?

How Does The Artist Get Paid?

How then does the artist get paid for his or her creation? Again, we need to cleave off the obsolete middle-man. Apple Computer came up with a viable system for music, which they are expanding into video and books. By using iTunes, and allowing customers to procure music instantly at an impulse-buy cost, Apple has created a vast working market place. The money is pouring in, just like it did with each new innovation: vinyl records, radio, television, VHS tapes, CD-roms, DVDs, MP3s, iPods, iPads, laptops and now The Internet.

As a customer I no longer need to drive to the record store, the book store, the library, or the movie theatre, unless I really want to. As a customer I no longer am paying for expensive distribution and production, unless I really want to. As a customer I select that which is pleasing to me and I no longer have to pay for content that is bundled on an album, unless I want to. Why then, as a customer, shouldn’t I benefit from the lower cost associated with putting digital content on the internet where I can get it? I no longer have to pay for the paper, the book binding, the bookstore, the trucking of books, the overhead of unsold remainders and so on, unless I want to.

The artist can sell me product directly now. Or select a low cost new middle-man, such as iTunes. The irony is that more money than ever is to be made. The only loser is the middle-man who is unwilling to provide the consumer with the new benefits from the new technology. The only loser is the middle-man who insists that things shouldn’t change. Things will change.


The existing dying infrastructure in entertainment is going under kicking and screaming. Their ill-advised prohibition of digital music worked just as well as the prohibition on beer. It forced law abiding consumers underground and pushed the new profits directly into the hands of criminals who provided the obvious. Pirated music is no bargain, really. What the customer really wants is a high-quality well-organized digital product at a fair price. If it is easy and priced as an impulse-buy, then most people will take the path of least resistance and pay. And, here is the interesting part; when the digital consumer is better able to evaluate more music, and find music similar to his or her tastes that they might normally never encounter, more music will be sold.

There will be a limited amount of piracy when music is well organized and all the benefits of the digital format are available at the fair price. When this happens the volume of music sold and the increased satisfaction of the customer, will more than replace any losses associated with the new technology. Substitute the word ‘book’ or ‘movie’ for music and the same thing is true.


It makes no sense to make criminals out of your customers! The way out of this mess is for music, movies and books to be made available for a reasonable impulse-buy price. Indeed this seems to be happening with outlets like iTunes and Amazon.com. The distribution mechanisms need to provide every benefit of the digital realm, such as crowd-sourced criticism, instant availability, product sampling, the ability to locate similar pleasing products and, it has to be said, no Digital Rights Management. The existing industry needs to resist the temptation to sue their customers for simply obtaining a desirable product the industry is unwilling to provide. And the existing industry needs to understand that this new technology is making the old distribution and revenue models obsolete. A new way of selling entertainment to the public is happening and the smart content owner will take advantage of the enhanced revenue the digital technology can provide.

Take a lesson from history and see how each new generation of technology was actually a positive development for the entertainment industry. Digital media is a positive development for music, books and movies.


Under My Tuscan Sun

Posted in Travel at 5:47 pm by Administrator


We’ve had the most incredible three days in recent memory!  Our friend and host Gerard not only lives in the most mellow place I’ve ever been, but he also loves to cook and bake and eat in the Tuscan style.  We’ve sucked down life-changing wines, packed away cheese, prochuttio, wild boar and a memorable thin crust fungi pizza that made we want to sink to my knees and weep with gratitude!  As I write this the kitchen is animated with the sounds and smells of the preparation of bistecka Florentina to go with freshly-baked bread.  Two bottles of local white wine are nestled in ice.

Earlier, in the cooler morning air we ambled down the dirt road with a cheerful little fluffy white dog named “Attila” to the earth-toned medieval village nesting on the hilltop over the valley.  We joined the locals sitting at the outdoor cafe in the cobblestoned piazza and lingered over our €1 capuchinni. Back at the villa, during the hottest part of the day we cooled off in the pool, dried ourselves in the sun then read in the shade.

A restored stone Tuscan farm house, the villa sits on a hillside surrounded by heart-breakingly stunning rolling wheat fields with patches of woods full of a very tasty variety of wild boar.  There is a deep quiet here and warmth that makes one want to walk about naked.  A wooden table outside is where we dine in the warm night by candle light. We enjoy those long rambling wine-fueled discussions under the brilliant constellations.

The culture here is about living well; things should be beautiful, food must be excellent and everyone seems happy.  What’s more Gerard and his wife Heddy have designed the place to be rented out, which means that anyone can come here. In my opinion this is what an enlightened Renaissance society engineered as proper living.  Who are we to argue?


Vesuvius burps and you’re fried

Posted in Travel at 3:18 pm by Administrator


We are sitting by the pool with Mt. Vesuvius (of Pompeii fame) glowering at us with dark menace just across the Bay of Naples. One burp and it would fry us where we sit, although I’m not sure the oily tourists grilling nearby in the brutal sun would even notice.

Whoever said “It’s the journey, not the destination”, has clearly never flown Iberia Airlines. I’ve registered a few complaints with various airlines over the years, but this was the nadir of the genre.  I’d rather pull out my molars with a pair of rusty pliers then ever put myself at their mercy again. Things went right to hell starting with the checkin – where an angry clerk took our bags and only once they were safely out of our reach, announced with undisguised glee that we were 17 kilos over some limit specified in the fine print and at 10 € per Kilo that would cost us the equivalent of almost $250 –  And “no” we couldn’t have the bags back and in fact she was “doing us a favor by not charging us more”! After a few moments of distress where I almost blacked out with rage, I got the supervisor who dismissed our petty complaint with the infamous Gallic “fuck you” shrug of the shoulders.

Once aboard, the duct tape holding together parts of the interior did nothing to improve my mood (yes I have photos). With our knees up near our chins, as if preparing to give birth, we sweltered in the un-airconditioned craft while the Spanish speaking crew tried to communicate with the French tourists heading to Italy. The drink cart flashed by without stopping which was a small kindness considering the bloated prices. 

Short of crashing I can’t imagine a worse flight. But I digress.

Once we made good our escape from Iberia we proceeded on the next leg of our Batan Death March to Sorrento. Without boring you with the hideous details, we wound up pulling our (overweighted) suitcases down the dark cobblestone streets of Sorrento, sweating like marathon runners, as we plaintively begged people (none of whom seemed to speak English like God intended) on the street if they knew where our hotel was.

Even though we finally arrived we’ll need years of intensive psychiatric therapy to be fit for public society.


Paris smokers

Posted in Travel at 7:51 pm by Administrator


Its a miracle that French people aren’t keeling over dead in the streets from lung cancer! If a French person isn’t smoking, (s)he is either tossing a smoldering butt into the street, stylishly poking a coffin nail into his or her mouth, blowing smoke into someone’s face (preferably a non-smoking foreigner, but anyone will do in a pinch) or hand rolling another death stick. Naturally, the best seats at the numerous Parisian Cafes, namely the ones outside in the sun and fresh air, allow nicotine addicts to blanket the area with the foul cancerous stench of tobacco as one attempts to tuck into his gourmet meal and delicate wine. But, we are visitors in a strange land so we say nothing, smother our hacking and dab at our watering eyes to be polite.  Which begs the question; why exactly does French cigarette smoke unerringly make a twisting blueish thread directly to my nose? I just chalk it up to one of life’s unanswerable deep mysteries.

And speaking of mysteries, who are these tourists dumb enough to play three card montey with greasy-haired hulking scar-faced men working off the top of a cardboard box? This laughably transparent sleight of hand scam draw clouds of out of towners here in Paris, even taking into account the “shills” acting as accomplises who disguise themselves as players who win.  I thought anyone with the IQ greater than that of a flush toilet would know to avoid such rank knavery.

Well, thats the news from Paris.  Oh yeah, we saw some museums (they seem to have an awful lot of pictures of Jesus), old churches (I mean, come on, can’t they afford some new churches?) and had some good meals too.




A wee dram for Mary Queen of The Scots

Posted in Travel at 6:49 pm by Administrator


Edinburgh, Scotland is a beautiful city with much of its medieval architecture intact.  We arrived to celebrate our 25th anniversary of wedded bliss – for you see we were married in Edinburgh and haven’t been back since.  By coincidence we were there for The Military Tattoo (a bunch of marching bands as far as I could tell). Imagine our joy when we found out that at the same time the far more to our taste Fringe Festival was being held. The latter we had never heard of and were charmed to find Operas, plays (over 2 thousand of them!), symphony performances (including one by San Francisco conductor Runnicles), jazz, comedy, and street performances – all on an “open source” basis!

Every night the castle on the hill had torches flickering ‘or its parapets, with the plaintive humming wail of bag pipies drifting on the breeze.  Then, explosions and fireworks – but we barely noticed as we wandered the dark rain-slicked cobblestones led about by Adam Lyle (deceased) looking very much dead as he showed us the places witches were burned, bodies dug up from fresh graves for the medical school, and the ever popular hangings.  The Scots, polite to a fault, would allow the condemned a final fortifying drink at the “The Last Drop” Pub before the neck stretching, which was a popular form of entertainment in the “good old days”.

At the-still operational Palace of Holyrood, we saw the exact spot where the hapless Mary Queen of The Scots found her closest advisor stabbed 52 times by her new husband (one Lord Darnly).  She returned the favor by blowing up a house with her husband in it, but when that proved insufficient to dispatch the poor fellow he found himself mysteriously strangled in the smoldering wreckage (talk about your marital spats!).  Enraged, the good citizens of Edinburgh ran her out of town (she 9 months along with the fetus of the future James 1st) on horseback. She escaped to England where Queen Elizabeth had her head chopped off!  Who says they didn’t know how to show a lady a good time back then?

On to England!



« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »