Friday, March 28, 2008

Pictures from the Netherlands

The Netherlands

We lived in Amstelvein, a suburb of Amsterdam (1989 & 1990). Most of these pictures (click to open) were taken by my son Trevor about 10 years after that. For more of his work see here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Science of Airplane Seating

On airplane flights, your seat can have a significant impact on the comfort of your trip. Some basics, that we have learned through the years:

Seats to avoid

  • The rows right in front of exits don’t recline (because they would block the exit)
  • The last row in the plane often don’t fully recline
  • Seats right by the bathrooms, always busy places, and on long flights can become really smelly places
  • Middle seats, unless of course you are traveling with friends or family

  • On 737s row 6 has no window

Mixed Bags

  • Bulkhead seats. They provide more leg room, but there is no place to stow stuff, so everything must be overhead at take-off and landing.

  • Exit rows. They definitely provide more leg room, but oftentimes offer no stowage under the seat in front of them. On wide-body jets these areas are wide enough that people will hang out in them, talking and stretching their legs. Plus, they tend to be close to the bathrooms.

  • Rear of the plane. Generally noisier and it takes longer to get off the plane. However, I’ll go there to avoid a middle seat.

Personal Preferences

  • I prefer window seats

    • You can look out the window

    • You don’t have to fight over one arm rest—you own the one by the window

    • You can lean against the window if you are trying to sleep

    • You won’t be disturbed if you are trying to sleep by someone needing to get up

  • Aisle seats

    • Easier to stretch out (into the aisle)

    • Don’t have to bug anyone to get up

    • You don’t have to fight over at least one arm rest—you own the one by the aisle.

    • Get bumped by passengers and drink carts as they come down the aisle

Seat Assignment

  • When Booking. It is easy to forget, and sometimes not possible, but the best time to get seat assignment is when you book your ticket. All of the on-line reservation systems I use have the option to do this. Sometimes it is not obvious (e.g. a little seat icon you have to click).

  • On-line check-in. I highly recommend you do this anyway to avoid lines when checking in, but when you do on-line check in you usually have the option to set / change your seat assignment.

  • At the gate. Sometimes they will change your seats at the gate if you ask the people at the counter. If the flight is lightly loaded or you get there early your odds are better.

Seat Etiquette

  • Please don’t recline your seat all the way back if there is someone behind you. In my opinion this is just common courtesy. How do you feel if someone does it to you? Also, recline it fairly slowly, I know people who’s laptop display has been broken by someone slamming the seat back.

  • If the person next to me is big, or likes to live large, I will concede the armrest to the—but that is the limit. Encroaching into my space between the armrests will result in gentle, but firm shoulder/arm pressure. This has always worked for me unless they are huge. In the case they are physically unable stay out of my space privately ask the stewardess/steward if there are other seats available. You should not have to put up with this is there is an open seat available.

Seat Tricks

  • Changing seats. With some restrictions, (e.g. you can’t move up to Business Class from Economy) you can move to another open seat on the plane. The trick is figuring out what seats are really open and which ones belong to late arrivers. Some people will just pick a seat and wait to see if they get kicked out. This is for gutsy people. Once the plane’s doors are closed then it is ok to move to an open seat—don’t ask, just jump up and move. If you ask a stewardess/steward beforehand you might get some priority on an open seat.

  • Blocking Recliners. If you know, or suspect the person in front of you wants to recline their seat all the way back you can brace your knees against it so it won’t go all the way back. This requires a good sense of timing and ability to convince them that their seat is broken.

A User’s Manual to Seat 21C

Friday, February 22, 2008

Recommendations on Napa Valley

  • We stayed at the Silverado in Napa Valley
    • They offered a great package which included $20 towards lunch and free wine tasting at 5 or 6 different places
    • Our first room was right by the parking lot, which is used by the golf course too. Very noisy. They switched us to a much quieter place when we complained
    • The have a very nice spa with hot tub, swiming pool, and exercise equipment which is included as part of the deal
    • Very convenient location

Wine Tasting recommendations

  • We received the following recommendations via a friend of a friend. We made it to both of the "musts" and they were very good.
    • Musts
      • Corison
      • Bremer, appointments required. Very pretty site
    • Recommended
      • Martini -- Lots of choices available
      • Caymus -- reserve

      • Cakebread -- good bar
      • Frank -- family owned, free tasting
      • Artesa -- beautiful site, good wine


  • Terra -- French and Asian fusion, very good 1345 Railroad Ave, St Helena, CA
  • Taylor's Refresher -- famous hamburgers 933 Main St. St Helena, CA
  • Mustard's Grill -- 7399 St. Helena Hwy Yountville, CA

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Recommendations on Paris


  • Notre Dame (be sure to check out the Roman ruins under the church)
  • Sainte-Chapelle (stained glass)
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Jim Morrison's grave is in division 6)
  • Musee de O'rsay (Impressionist art)
  • The Sacré-Coeur Basilica
  • Neighborhood of Montmartre
  • Wander through the Jardin des Tuileries
  • Wander through some Paris neighborhoods
  • Lunch at a local cafe away from the touristy areas

Other Suff

  • Louvre interesting but too big. Mona Lisa viewing is very crowded
  • Eiffel Tower, good view, nice overview of the city

Restaurant recommendations (from comments on Sandwalk )

  • La Coupole, in Montparnasse, to eat. Famous brasserie, was frequented by various early 20th century literary sorts.
  • Lunch: Pouch-la on the rue Mandar in the 2nd arrondissement. It is cosy.
  • La Palette, rue Seine: an artists' hangout.Chez George, rue des Canettes: old style and lots of wine.
  • Le 6, either rue des Canettes or rue Princesse: lively bar/restaurant.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Impressions of Shanghai

Don't come to Shanghai to learn about Chinese history—go to Beijing or Xi'an for that. Shanghai is about business. In this city of 18 million capitalism and communism are bound into a vibrant combination. Traveling from the airport to your hotel you can board the fastest commercial train in the world (peak speed of 267 mph) and experience first hand that China doesn't shy away from technology. What impresses me the most about Shanghai is the skyline. Already home to the 6th highest building in the world the 2nd highest is already at its full height and is being fleshed out. These monster buildings don't really stand out because there are so many skyscrapers—there are more than 140 buildings over 300 feet tall. Far from being cookie-cutter boxes almost every building has a unique top or feature—adding an artistic element absent in modern western cities.

The Chinese government has embraced a free market economy in the sense that advertising is pervasive and the selection of things to buy, and eat is huge—but the communist system is still there. Gas prices are mandated and neighborhoods are leveled to make room for new buildings. With some things deemed undesirable a hybrid approach is used; rather than ban things, the government makes it very expensive. For example, a dog license within the city limits is 2000 RMB (approx $270) annually—which is more than many people make in a month. Asking people if they have brothers or sisters is at best an awkward question because in 1979 China implemented a one child policy. In urban areas couples having more than one child can be heavily fined—so many of the younger professionals don't have siblings

I don't know how the Chinese government has managed to fuse a free market economy with communism, but it clearly works for business.

Guidebooks, Hotel, Nearby Restaurant's

  • A guide book with a good overall balance of content: Fodor's Shanghai
  • Hotels
    • In my recent visits to Shanghai I have only stayed at the Intercontinental—which is in the Pudong area of the city. It is a 5 star hotel that typically runs in the $150 to $200 per night range—depending on corporate discounts, time of year, etc. I recommend it. The rooms are elegant and clean, the exercise center is good, and if you want a big breakfast you are in luck. Sometimes the breakfast is included in the room price, other times it is extra (over $15). The breakfast buffet includes American, European, Japanese, and Chinese cuisines and it is first rate stuff. The line 2 subway has a stop Shiji Avenue only about a quarter of a mile away so it is convenient for commuting, or getting to/from the airport.
  • Restaurants within walking distance of the Intercontinental that I recommend
    • Charme Casual family oriented restaurant
      Shanghai Uncle
      Wagas Not a gourmet meal, but if you just want something western it's decent and has a good atmosphere
    • Starbucks—pastries for breakfast are good. They don't open up until after 7:30AM (really!)

Tourist stuff

  • Shanghai Acrobats When I saw it years ago it was excellent
  • The Bund (Pedestrian walkway, tourist zone on both banks of the Huangpu River)
  • Day trips Hangzhou

Recommended Resturants & Bars

  • The Bin Jang One on the east side of the Bund. Check out the snow bar. They give you a parka before you go in...
  • Cloud 9 -- Supposedly the highest bar in the world (~ 120 RMB minimum)
  • Tapas Bar Spanish Tapas (in the French Concession)

Travel Hints

  • Airport to town: Maglev train (show your boarding pass or travel itinerary and get a discount in either direction) Buy a one way ticket, the round-trip is only valid for one day
    Town to Airport: Maglev terminal is at Longyang Road stop on the line 2 subway

  • For traveling on the subway get a "Shanghai Public Transportation Card". You charge these up with money--maybe 50 RMB, (a typical ride might cost 10 RMB) and just wave them over the turnstiles when entering / exiting. You can't share them. The fare is automatically deducted and it shows you how much money you have left. Obtain these at the information counters.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The German Trash System

We lived in Germany near Stuttgart from 1999 until 2002. I wrote this towards the beginning of our stay there.


Well I’ve only been in Germany for a few months, it’s too early to tell, but right now the hardest thing to do is: deal with the trash.

I had some foreshadowing of this when I looked through the kitchen drawers in our new house and found 4 separate, color-coded trash compartments. This suggested more than the "toss it in the bag under the sink" approach to trash management would be required.

Step one: Getting the trash can (or rather cans).

It turns out that there are only two officially approved trashcans in this Kreis (district) of Germany; the black "Mulleimer" and the green "Grune Tonne"’ can. The Mulleimer comes in two sizes, 35 and 50 liters, and the Grune Tonne comes in 120 and 240 liter size. As luck would have it, these can’t be bought at the same place. The Grune Tonne is only sold at the central recycling center, and the Mulleimer only at the local Target equivalent –the "Multi-Center". Sensing I’m in trouble, I decide to buy the biggest damn Mulleimer made.

Unfortunately, although the Multi-Center has plenty of 35-liter containers, there isn’t a 50-liter to be found. When I asked the relocation specialist what other stores carried Mulleimers she was stumped and said she would have get back to me. Ok—the Grune Tonne it is. It was easy enough to find the recycling center, which looked reassuringly like something you would see in the USA—a bunch of labeled dumpsters (e.g. Dosen) with people parking their cars nearby, unloading junk. There was even a section with brand new Grune Tonnes apparently for sale. After wandering among the cans for a few minutes looking bewildered (something I’ve been practicing the last few months), an attendant walked up to me, pulls out his wallet (to make change), and helped me buy my first German garbage can.

Step two: Putting trash in the cans

I asked the relocation specialist what sort of trash could be put in the Mulleimer. She paused and said this was a difficult question—uh oh. It turns out it easier to say what sorts of trash shouldn’t be put in this particular can. Specifically you shouldn’t put in:

  • Newspaper
  • Regular notebook sized paper, or correspondence
  • Batteries
  • Aluminum
  • Clear glass
  • Brown glass
  • Green glass
  • Cardboard
  • Biodegradable stuff
  • Or plastic

Realizing that it would be pretty silly if she couldn’t come up with some example of acceptable trash, she suggested that a piece of old cheese stuck to a paper wrapper could be tossed in. I started thinking that the 35-liter container might be big enough after all.

Acceptable contents for the Grune Tonne are easier to describe—biodegradable stuff. No plastic bags are allowed, my relocation specialist suggested the biodegradable stuff be wrapped up in newspapers. I now visualize German dump workers as professionals, dressed in spotless white overalls, stacking trash in neat piles. My USA dump experience is more along the lines of a bulldozer pushing an oozing refrigerator through piles of McDonalds wrappers with a kid’s bicycle caught in its tracks.

Step 3: Getting the trash picked up

This part was theoretical with the Grune Tonne for a long time—six weeks. My first concern was that the trash crew would find some reason to not empty my trash cans. My fear was that they will open the lid, immediately discover forbidden trash material, and walk off shaking their heads. However, before I actually put the trash out to be collected I had already avoided one trap. I had stickers. These stickers, when placed on your can, indicate that you have paid the appropriate fees to for having your trash collected. The part that gave me trouble was that trashcan types, green or black are collected on alternative weeks. If you happen to be gone on alternate weeks you can accumulate quite a trash problem.

Later I learned that the trash crew is far more sophisticated about rejecting trash than just taking a look. My neighbor’s Grune Tonne was rejected for pickup. When she complained they explained that their metal detector had found metal in her can. She had to dig out a piece of old metal that had gotten stuck in before they would take it.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Stuff near Half-Moon Bay, CA

Half-Moon Bay area, CA

  • Big, well protected tide pools North of the town, check tide tables first
  • Nice cliff / beach area near Karen Brown's initial B&B Cypress avenue towards ocean
  • Cooler, be sure to bring your jacket!
  • Ate at cash only restaurant on pier in Santa Cruz. Good oysters+ Guacamole