I've Changed My Terms of Service

I'm sure you've seen--or rather, skimmed past--the Terms of Service that govern services like Facebook, LinkedIn and the like.  Similar to End User License Agreements, these are the things you skim over so you can quickly click Accept and move on.

Well I've decided to change my terms of service, at least when it comes to LinkedIn networking.  More accurately, I've decided to revert to something closer to my original terms.

When I started on LinkedIn, I took seriously their advice to "only connect with people you know."  I even remember an email exchange with a (somewhat distant) co-worker who wanted to make sure he really new me before he accepted my connection request.

This advice from LinkedIn was in contrast to the "LION" (LinkedIn Open Networker) approach, which was much more promiscuous about connecting.  Their argument was that you never know who you're going to want to know or be able to help.  OK, that's a valid point.

Maybe a year ago, things at LinkedIn seemed to change, in two important ways

  • LinkedIn made it much easier (a one-click experience) to request a connection.  Click the button and someone receives your connection request, with a stock "I'd like to connect with you on LinkedIn" message.
  • LinkedIn seems to have changed its stance on curating connection requests.  It seemed (and seems now) that anyone who's a member of a group with me can send me a connection request.  There doesn't seem to be any more of the LinkedIn "show me you know this person" hurdles to jump over.

In a fit of pique, I decided to go ahead and accept these connection requests.  Hey, if LinkedIn was going to make it that easy, then I was going to oblige them.  Often I would notice that the requester would show up on my "who's viewed your profile" list, making me realize they were mass-mailing these connection requests and really weren't even aware that they'd sent me a request.  So for a while I would write to them, explain that I wasn't sure if they intended to connect but I was happy to accept.  Sometimes people would write back and say that, indeed, they wanted to connect.  And I've built some good relationships out of these kinds of blind-date connections.

More and more, however, things have been getting a bit spammy.

  • Susan sends me a connection request
  • I accept
  • Susan sends me a message, pitching me on her/her company's services (lead generation and outsourced software development being the leading examples)
  • I explain that I'm not in the market for these services (something they could have surmised had they bothered to check), but hey, good luck with it
  • Susan never contacts me again

After a while, people like Susan (and their associates) show up in my news feed, and I have to work to remember:  is this someone I have a professional relationship with?  As with other social forces, the noise starts to overcome the signal (what?)

So as of today, I've started purging my connection lists of people that seemed to want to treat networking like a one-night-stand.  And I'm turning back people that have no connection to me, and haven't included a personal note with their connection request.

I've had some great conversations with people I didn't previously know, so I'm certainly still open to requests from out of the blue.  But if it looks like you're just following the LinkedIn Path of Least Resistance, and it looks like you want to sell first and help later, then I can say "it's not you--it's me."

As in, "I have this strange desire to know first and sell later.  So find a way to connect with me, show me that your interest is more than transactional, and we'll talk."

When Love Wins

Last week was a momentous week, especially with the Supreme Court affirming the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.  I happened to be driving past the Facebook campus on Friday, and noticed that their "like" sign had been covered in the rainbow-colored gay pride background.

Twitter no doubt went crazy (I stayed away) but when I checked in to Facebook there were scores of posts celebrating the news, and lots of people changing their profile photos to include a gay pride background.  As I said in my Facebook post, I thought this was a big day for America.

I also noticed what was missing: reaction from those who didn't favor the idea of same-sex marriage.  Some of these friends are prolific posters, so I knew it wasn't because they had nothing to say.  More likely, they were holding off.  This got me thinking that it might help to explain my position on the matter.

First off, living in the San Francisco area, we're used to "live and let live" being the dominant ethos.  It can be easy to forget that what seems normal here is far from normal in many other places.

Second, my happiness had to do with empathy for the gay and lesbian friends and co-workers I've known over the years.  Seeing someone have to avoid sharing their personal life for fear of rejection or retribution just seemed like a terrible way to live.  For me, this ruling was about being able to say, "this is who I am!"  I couldn't be happier knowing that this roadblock to living a genuine life had been removed.

I have friends who object to homosexuality on religious grounds.  I get that, and I'm not here to change their minds.  I don't think the Supreme Court ruling threatens their beliefs.  Freedom of religion is a strong value in our country.  What you choose to believe about others, as a result of your religious beliefs, is up to you.

I also think there are those that equate marriage to a religious institution and event.  It is that, but that's not the "marriage" that is in question here.  I focus on the ability to obtain a marriage certificate--a legal document from the government.  This ruling doesn't mean that churches are now going to be obligated to conduct wedding ceremonies for people living a life those churches don't believe in.  I had the opportunity to get married in a church, and the religious leaders made it clear what was required of me (and my spouse) for that to happen.  It was in essence a business transaction:  you do this for us, we do that for you.  Even the fact that I belonged to the church didn't grant me any special privileges in that regard.

Having just finished reading a book about the struggle for ensuring voting rights for black Americans, I see this ruling in that context.  This was a great victory, but the struggle to grant equal rights to those whose sexual preferences are different than my own is a struggle that continues.

I'm not into culture wars.  I don't celebrate the unhappiness of anyone who thinks this ruling is wrong.  I'm glad I have friends with diverse opinions; it makes like more interesting.  I don't expect to convince anyone to think differently about the same-sex marriage ruling after reading this.  I do hope they'll have a different understanding.

Ten Days in Paradise


Sometime back in the fall, the family is sitting around the table discussing options for our winter vacation. The default option is to use our timeshare week in South Lake Tahoe and go skiing.  But this year Sean, Danielle and Brian (who all live in places where it snows in the winter) want to go somewhere warm.  I can understand that.  We check out numerous February vacation options and the one that seems to pop successfully out of the linear optimizer is Hawaii; specifically, The Big Island.  The last time anyone was there was for our friend Kaui's funeral, so there are some emotions to navigate.  But eventually everyone is on board and we're ready to go.  Brian is heading out first (and in first class--what a brat!), Sean and Danielle next, and Crystal and I last.  

Here's our account of the trip, complete with pictures of course.  So sit back, grab a Mai Tai or bottle of Longboard Ale, and enjoy!


Crystal and I fly from San Jose to Maui, and then on to Hilo. We stop in at Café 100 for some Loco Moco. Not too early to get into Hawaiian style! I ask the car rental agent if I need four-wheel drive to go across Saddle Road, and she gives me a "you haven't been here in a while, have you?" look. Turns out Saddle Road was recently renovated (thank you, Senator Inouye!) and is one of the best roads on the island. Our rental car seems to be having transmission issues, so I take it back and get upgraded to a practically brand-new Dodge Durango. Off we go.


This is my first time crossing the island this way, and it really gives you a good feel for all the different climate zones that exist on the island. We cross the summit and drop into Waikoloa, just in time for the weekend going-home traffic. Even in paradise…

We catch up with Brian, Sean and Danielle at the Sheraton, where we're staying for a night before our condo is ready the next day. Lots of excitement as we catch up and talk about what we want to do for the week.

First up, dinner in Waikoloa at Roy's. The food is great, service OK. It's a great way to start our vacation.


Check-out day at the Sheraton Kona and check-in day at the Kona Coast Resort just up the road.  The place is a little dated, but there's plenty of room and we're near the pool, restaurant, bar and barbecues so we'll take it.  It's right on a golf course (yeah!) which is closed for renovation (dang!).  After check-out we head down to Keauhou Harbor, to Akule Supply Company, for breakfast. Sean, Brian and Danielle have already been frequenting this place and like the food and atmosphere. This means another chance to sample the Loco Moco, which is fantastic.

Next up, we head to a local farmer's market to pick up fruit and vegetables for the week. (We always start out thinking we'll cook most of our dinners, but it never seems to work out that way.) It's amazing to see how many varieties of avocado and papaya there are on the island. Then there's the jackfruit, which is like a punk-rocker version of a watermelon.

After the market, we check into our condo and then head down the road for lunch at Da Poke Shack. I'm not that big of a poke eater, but this stuff is outrageously good. They serve whatever kind of fish they get that day, which in our case is tuna. There are a variety of preparations, but it really doesn't matter what you choose, because they're all good. And the Primo beer (the big dog in local beer before the craft brew revolution) is a nice touch.


We reach Steve Doyle and invite him down for dinner. About the time I head to KTA to pick up some fish for dinner, a windstorm hits the island and knocks the power out. Good thing I have cash… Steve and I pick up on our mutual joke-telling while I grill up dinner. Mai Tai consumption is trending upward.


Steve sleeps over, and we convince him to join us for brunch at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. This is one of those memory-lane events we've all been anticipating, since this was a favorite activity on earlier trips. We remember all kinds of great food, from sushi to fruit to all kinds of breakfast choices… all served in an open-air lobby. But first, it's time for a papaya breakfast, supplemented with Ahi jerky. Hey, those farmer's market fruits won't eat themselves!

This year's version of brunch doesn't match up to our memories. The venue has moved to another area of the hotel, apparently because that part of the Mauna Kea was damaged in the 2006 earthquake. The food's still good—very good—but the atmosphere is a little lacking and the overall feeling is this meal isn't going to live up to our expectations.


After brunch we head over to Hapuna Beach, one of the best beaches on the island. Normally this beach has a wide swath of white sand.  But with the waves up and stormy conditions, most of the beach is gone. We spend lots of time in the water, but it's tough to catch any waves with the water so churned up.

After time at the beach, we head up to Kawaihae Harbor so Sean can show Danielle where he used to work. We head to the bar above the former Harbor Grill and Sean immediately reconnects with the owner. We have pupu's and Mai Tai's, judging the Mai Tai's to be some of the best on the island.


We return to Kona and head to Humpy's Alehouse for burgers and beers. Crystal and I get into a conversation with a couple from Washington state who have retired and bought property on the south end of the island. They're telling us about starting out with no running water and no electricity. Crystal and I are thinking "oh, hell no!"


Today is our Big Adventure, a snorkel cruise to Kealakekua Bay on board a catamaran. It reminds me of sailing with Pam and Malcolm through the Greek Isles. The ride down to Kealakekua Bay turns into an impromptu whale watching trip as we see all kinds of humpbacks breaching a few hundred yards away from the boat.


Snorkeling is great (I even saw an octopus) although crowded. It's a great ride back to Keauhou Harbor, with lots more whales to see and the waves crashing up against the shore. After we get back we head down to the Kona Coffee district. We make a brief stop at the Painted Church, then drive down the hill to Pu'uhonua Honaunau, aka City of Refuge; one of my favorite places. If you broke one of the many kapu's and had a hoard of angry warriors trying to chase you down and kill you, your one shot at redemption was to get to this place.  Here the local religious people would perform the rituals that would get you a reprieve.  (Confession would be a lot more popular if the alternative was being eviscerated.)  A lot of the grounds are under restoration so it's not as fun as we remember from past trips.

After that it's back to Akule Supply Company for dinner; awesome short ribs and (of course) more Mai Tai's.

We hear about an earthquake in Japan, and are happy to hear that the tsunami warning is cancelled.


Today's surf lesson is postponed, since the instructors are fully booked. So, on to Hawi, at the north end of the island. We take Highway 190, which traverses the mid-altitude side of the saddle, into Waimea (aka Kamuela). There's an awful lot of ranch country up that way. Sean is pointing out many of the highlights to Danielle, who has heard the stories of Sean's horse training days up country.

Next stop is Parker Ranch store, where we stock up on Hawaiiana. I see an agricultural theme and pick up a number of t-shirts. We head to Hawaiian Style Café for breakfast/lunch. Hawaiian Style is known for its large portions, which should only be eaten by paniolos before they start their day. It's interesting to note that the menu lets you know you can't order a split dish,  but any leftovers are fed to a local hog farm… lucky hogs!

We go on to Hawi, for a short walk through the center of town. The Batman rides outside one of the local stores are long gone, but in other respects Hawi seems about the same. 


I want to go to the heiau there because it definitely gives you "chicken skin" but everyone else is ready to get back to Kona. We stop at Kapa'a Beach but it's too rocky for swimming. On the other hand, there's lots to see with the whales offshore. At some point we imagine them saying, "oh yeah?! Watch this!"

As we make it past Waikoloa Village we hit a horrendous backup on the road (there's only one) into Kona. Mostly it's just the traffic from everyone who lives in Kona (or south of there) and works at one of the resorts along the Kohala Coast. But there's also a delay due to people setting up a fresh memorial for those that died the past weekend in a head-on collision on the highway. So sad.

Eventually we make it into Kona and head to the Kona Brewing Company (yes, that one) for some brews and dinner. They actually have a large variety of beers (one of which features Kona coffee) and the food is OK; bar food. After that, we stop in at the Kona Inn (another Malcolm Brown recommendation) for Mai Tai's. We're not sure they're the best on the island (we're voting for the Seafood Bar in Kawaihae) but they're still quite good.


Today we learn to surf. After check-in and a pretty funny on-land practice getting up on a surfboard, we head down the road to Kahalu'u Beach. We're learning on long boards, which are pretty forgiving. There's not much surf, but we eventually decide to give it a try anyway. The beach has a rock jetty that protects a cove and coral reef, but there's a break to the right where we can sit and wait for the waves. Everyone manages to get up on the board and catch a wave at one time or another; Danielle seems to be a natural at it. As for me… let's just say there were some spectacular face plants into the water, and that I was advised at one point to not use a skiing stance on the board. We were joined at one point by a local surfer and his retriever (who swam out in a doggie life vest). At least the dog was kind enough to not show me up by surfing back into shore.


After surfing we head into Kona to Broke Da Mouth Grinds for some lunch. Danielle found this place, and it's a winner. It's small and non-descript, in a business park. So the only thing it can have going for it is awesome food—which it does. The menu is a combination of Hawaiian and Philippines and it's good.

After lunch we head back to Kahalu'u Beach, this time for some swimming/snorkeling. It's a bit crowded but the sea turtle that decides to haul out and sun himself near us makes up for it.

Dinner find us back at Akule Supply Company for dinner. Then we walk back to our condo, stopping long enough to enjoy another wonderful sunset. After that, it's a game of Hearts. Brian correctly points out that I'm hard to play with, as I have a "go big or go home" strategy, meaning I try to run the board almost every hand.


Last day in paradise for Sean, Danielle and Brian. We're off to Kona for Acai Bowls (another Danielle find) and Three-Stone Blend from Java on the Rock (thank you for the suggestion, Malcolm Brown!). Everyone wants some beach time, so we head to La'aloa Beach, aka White Sands Beach aka Disappearing Sands Beach. The surf is too rough for swimming, but it's fun to watch the waves.  A local snorkeler bags an octopus and asks us, "did you see that shark?"  When we say "no" he says, "neither did I!"  Ummm, k.


We head over to Keauhou Harbor since it's the only nearby beach with decent swimming conditions today. Apparently the sea turtles agree, and we're happy to share space with them.

And naturally, since we're here, we stop in at Akule Supply Company for poke and burgers (along with more Lava Man Red Ale).

After swimming and a break, we're on our way to Kawaihae for dinner with friends Steve and Diane, at Café Pesto. This was always a must-do item when visiting Steve and Kaui, for goat cheese pizza. Then we're off to the airport to drop off Sean, Danielle and Brian. Crystal and I head back to our condo, which feels much larger and quieter than we'd like. We find a local cooking show to watch while we finish off the last of the papaya.


It's a little strange to wake up with our kids having gone back to the mainland. We head into Kona, to Island Lava Java for some fantastic coffee and breakfast. Suddenly we have to make our own choices about where to eat and what to do.  Where are the tour guides?


The weather is great today. The winds have turned around and the surf is down at Kahalu'u but it's coming up elsewhere.

When we were in Havi, I learned about a program to grow all of the area's vegetables and fruit locally; apparently they import a lot of it, which makes no sense.  I roll the thought around in my head that maybe I could help the North Kohala food security program via CGNET, or SITIA. It's an interesting thought.

Crystal and I decide to head south, to coffee country. We stop at Greenwell Farms and get a personal tour of the operation. It turns out the "we're accepting cherries" sign refers to coffee cherries; it's roasting time! From Greenwell Farms we head over to the Painted Church, which is beautiful inside despite showing its age. And the view of the ocean from the church entrance is enough to make you not look and trip on the steps leading to the parking lot.


After the Painted Church, we head down to the Kona Pacific Farmer's Cooperative.  Whereas Greenwell Farms buys coffee cherries from local farmers and processes them (as well as their own coffee), the Kona Pacific Farmer's Cooperative is more of a hippie-style shared resource setup.  Here, farmers come and use the equipment to process their own coffee (as well as macadamia nuts).  These guys have been around since 1910 and the tour is decidedly un-touristy.  They do have a nice garden with examples of common trees and plants from the island. I'm fascinated with all the chickens roosting in the shade of the trees.

We head down to Napo'opo'o Beach to see about swimming. It turns out this is the beach we had come to with Sean and Brian the first time we visited nearby City of Refuge. I remember them boogie-boarding. Now, the beach is gone. Hurricane Iniki sideswiped the island here, and took all the beach sand with it. We're at the other end of Kealakekua Bay, and can see the monument to Captain Cook at the far end, where we were snorkeling earlier in the week.

Heading back to our condo, we stop in at Sam Choy's for a drink, and to check out the view. The restaurant has a killer view of sunset over the ocean, but we've come a bit early to avoid the crowds. The hostess asks us if we want to sit inside or outside (outside, please) but seems confused when we tell her we don't want to sit in the sun. Apparently "outside in the shade" is not a combination she recognizes.  It's happy hour, and there's an incredible whale show going on out in the ocean. I think the difference between locals and tourists here is that the locals don't turn around to check out the whales breaching offshore.

We head back to Keauhou Harbor to swim, as the surf's been too rough elsewhere on the island. Our decision not to scuba dive tonight with the manta rays is a good one, as the dive boats are fighting five to six foot swells as the snorkelers and divers get ready to head into the water. We take tons of pictures of the surf crashing on the lava outside the Sheraton.



Today we travel to Hilo, where we will depart tomorrow for California. After checking out of our condo, we head in to Kona for coffee at Java on the Rock . We tell the server to say hello to Malcolm's sister-in-law. After coffee we're on our wait to meet Steve in Waimea. Try as I might, I still miss the turn-off to Steve's house. Steve takes us to the coffee house in Waimea, where they have a picture of Kaui on display. Sigh.


Steve's going to drive with us down to Hilo, and Crystal has several stops planned along the way. Right on schedule, the mist kicks in when we get about a half mile out of Waimea. But then the mist doesn't go away as I had thought it would. And what I then think is a brief shower shows itself to be a persistent, heavy downpour. At one point it's raining about one to two inches per hour. We stop at Tex's Drive-In in Honaka'a, but with the rain and the long line we decide one less plate lunch will be OK.

We drive on, and stop at Akaka Falls. It's still raining like crazy, but Crystal wants to see the falls. I kind of wish we could have reproduced the picture of Sean and Brian standing next to the sign at the falls, but that wasn't in the cards. I'm ready to get annoyed at Crystal for not following the suggested route to the falls, when—of course—her intuition or memory is correct and we've taken the short route to the falls. Despite saving so much time, we're still soaking wet by the time we get back to the parking lot. Steve, wisely, decides to wait for us and stay out of the rain.


We drive on toward Hilo, and stop just outside of the city. We're at the cemetery where Kaui's ashes are interred. She's buried alongside her mom and grandmother. The spot overlooks the ocean, and (on any other day) would provide a great view of a large tree and the ocean beyond, very serene. Steve leaves the flowers he picked up in Honoka'a. The inscription on Kaui's headstone reads "Love One Another.  Rejoice Evermore.  Pray without Ceasing." The headstone is for both Kaui and her mom. Steve tells us the story about how Kaui was supposed to get a headstone for her mom, but never did. So it was up to Steve to rectify the situation, five years after her mom's passing. We all have a good laugh about that, such a typical Kaui story. Spending time at Kaui's grave was emotional, as expected. I sort of felt like we were holding our breath all week, waiting for this moment. But in the end, "turn the page" becomes the phrase that captures our feelings. Hawaii isn't the same without Kaui. Neither is Steve. Neither are we. But Hawaii would have changed regardless, and we have changed as well. It feels good, in an odd way, to feel like I can end this chapter and go on to the next one. I'll always miss Kaui, and I'll always remember so many good times we had with her. But I'm ready to live in the present.


We drive on into Hilo, and check in to our hotel along Hilo Bay. We head over to Uncle Billy's for a Mai Tai, as Crystal's father had suggested. But the bar is closed, for good. Clearly, it's time to move on.

Back to our hotel to change out of our wet clothes. Steve and I are watching some comedian on Comedy Central, laughing our heads off. Seems like old times. We head out to Pineapples, a restaurant Steve recommends, for dinner and drinks. The restaurant is an open-air style, typical of Hawaii. So it's a bit cool, since the rain is still coming down hard. The overhang is keeping the rain out so we're OK. But there's something surreal about being in a restaurant in Hawaii in the pouring rain, while we watch an outdoor hockey game being played at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara.



The rain from yesterday has diminished to a drizzle. It's hard not to miss Kona, on the sunny side of the island.

Breakfast with Steve and Crystal at Kuhio Grille, "home of the one-pound lau lau". Sounds like gut bomb to me! One of the local high school basketball teams is at the nearby table; interesting to see what the players choose for their pre-game meal… Breakfast of Champions as they say.

On to Longs Drugs for some gift shopping before we head to the airport. There's an interesting only-in-Hawaii episode involving Crystal, a CVS discount card (or not) and the cashier. In the end, she gives Crystal the kamaaina discount, saying, "this really is the best island."

On to Hilo Airport. Steve decides to hang out with us until we need to get to the gate. One more opportunity to have a Lava Man Red Ale.

Time to check in. Hilo is a tiny airport, and every passenger flying out of Hawaii has to go through agricultural inspection, so I'm a little nervous about the time. As it turns out, we're two of about twenty people all told that are flying at this time, and the whole ticketing/baggage inspection/security routine takes about five minutes.  After that we're off, quickly leaving Hawaii below the clouds.

It's been a great trip.  We love traveling with our adult children; it's fun to see what they find fascinating and how they choose to spend their time.  It's great to see that Steve is doing well.  We went to Hawaii to relax and recharge.  Mission accomplished.

Goodbye, 2014, and Thanks for All the Fish

Departement of Obscure References

On this final day of 2014, it's time once again for me to yell, "You kids get off my lawn!" and publish the list of words, phrases, ideas and people that I'm done with.  And it turns out I'm not the only one publishing these kinds of lists.  Here's one example I heard about this morning.

But since this blog is All About Me, let's get to my favorites to hate on:

  • Onboarding
  • Selfie
  • The use of "hashtag", in word or symbolic form, anywhere outside of Twitter
  • And then the most amazing thing happened/you won't believe what happened next/this made me…
  • Share if you agree
  • Internet trolls
  • Event meaning sales event
  • Violence against women
  • Energy as a euphemism for oil
  • Institutional racism
  • Combining mental illness with easy access to guns
  • "Who's got it better than us?" (Turns out, lots of other football teams)
  • Enhanced interrogation techniques
  • Any Kardashian (a perennial entry)

Seems like a short list.  Maybe it's because fewer and fewer things bother me these days.

Happy New Year to one and all!

2014 Holiday News

So I tried something new this year.  Yes, it's a Holiday Newsletter (you either love them or hate them; kind of like fruitcake). But I created it using Office Mix, a new mashup of PowerPoint and audio dubbing.  I would have done more "inking" (free-form drawing) but I lost the stylus to my Surface tablet for a while.

Hope you enjoy it.  It's not the worst way to spend 2 minutes and 9 seconds.

Click and enjoy.

Sales Managers on the Road, Haiku Edition

I took a day trip to Southern California this week, to meet with a potential customer.  We were selected as one of the finalists to conduct an IT assessment, and we headed down to meet with the President and a few other executives.

Normally, my posts like this are more in the style of "and then I did this" but that seemed boring, so (for no reason) I decided to catalog the day's events in haiku format.  Hope you like it!

Which route to San Jose?

85 often beats 101

But Google map's red


I will use CLEAR card

Even though the lines are short

Keep your shoes on, sir


Soon call with Ghana

Hope I'm through security

The travel sales life


Three excited girls

Disney taping in LA

What to ask the star?


Bob Hope or Burbank?

Small airport by any name

Like SJC's past


Lunch with customer

Head says salad heart says beef

But no micro-brew


Please increase your quote

Surely a buying signal

Too early to cheer


Cruising Victory

Back to Burbank end of day

Porque no freeway?


TSA Pre-yeah!

But metal in my shoes-dang!

Barefoot after all


Computer pass fail

Board only with paper

Now low tech is best


Scotch on the rocks-nice

Peanuts make me think of Sean

Always brought him nuts


Town car takes me home

Another successful trip

Now rinse and repeat

A Week at Sea

Caribbean Cruise 002

Cruises: love them, hate them.  They're certainly perfect for those "intersection of the life stories of ten people" movies.  Our good friend and budding travel agent Malcolm arranged for us to join him and some of his college buddies on a cruise through the Western Caribbean.  Crystal and I are not huge cruise people, but we love traveling with Pam and Malcolm and the decision to join in was made after a few glasses of wine, so there you go.  Plus, the itinerary included diving at Grand Cayman--a bucket list-worthy activity.  So, in early April we found ourselves meeting up with our BFF's for the week at the San Jose Airport, as we headed to Houston and then Galveston to start the cruise.  What follows are my notes, for your enjoyment and amusement. 

The cast of characters:

  • Connie and Bob, from Malcolm's Cal Poly San Luis Obispo days
  • Greg and Leona, also from Malcolm's Cal Poly days
  • Pam and Malcolm, our partners in crime
  • Crystal and Dan, your humble narrators

Day One:  San Jose/Houston/Galveston

Our plane to Houston is two hours late taking off, since the crew hasn't shown up. It has to with United/Continental flying different planes and not being able to swap crews.  Malcolm's head is going to explode.  Connie tells the gate agent: "You WILL be taking care of this… either get us there on time or fly us to Jamaica and put us up in a hotel until the ship arrives." Malcolm happens to be approaching, with all papers at the ready.  Connie sends him away.  Perfect good cop/bad cop routine.

Houston. Magically, our bags are the first off the plane.  Our driver gets us to Galveston with minutes to spare.  He is a Texas gentleman all the way, but pushes the limits of what Texas State Troopers will allow with respect to speed.

The nice thing about arriving so late: no lines at check-in.  Could this be the new trend?

My first thought on arrival in Galveston: the smell of hydrocarbons. It takes me back to high school and visiting an oil refinery as part of our Chemistry class.  I'm pretty sure breathing this stuff isn't healthy.

On board the cruise ship.  First up:  mandatory safety drill.  Due to intercom problems, it sounds like a Peanuts cartoon: "wah wah wah.. Wah wah, wah wah wah wah.  I get the essentials about how to put on the life jacket.  I'm looking around for Rose and Jack.

On to our room, then to the Two Poets bar to meet up with our other traveling companions, Greg and Leona.  Despite having purchased the cruise line's all-you-can-drink pass, I stop at two Manhattans.  A man's got to know his limits.  Our traveling companions carry on, until our dinner at 9.  I'm definitely not going to be able to keep up with these people.  A tough thing for an Irishman to admit.

Dinner at the resident steak house.  Lots of fantastic wine.  Stuck my finger on the wrong Italian wine description when ordering wine, cost me an extra $40.  You only live once--if you're lucky.

Great dinner, much conviviality.  But eating meat late at night--not such a good idea. In to bed for a full nine hours of sleep.  Considering I never went to bed before we left for the cruise, I'm improving my average quickly.

Day Two:  At Sea

Coffee on the mini-deck, watching the ocean go by.  No worries here.

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Into the gym for some self-imposed penance.  That felt good.  FitBit was happy.  Plus, now it's lunch time.  Out on the pool deck (in the shade, let's be sensible) and on to sample the drink of the day.  It's got blue Curacao in it, and you know what I think about what blue in nature means--pain.

Don't tell anyone… but it turns out they do have Wi-Fi on the ship (at exorbitant rates, of course). I'm going to pretend I didn't know that.

Day 3:  At Sea

Best sighting of the day: a T-shirt reading "Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles." This addresses a favorite pet peeve of mine regarding that other baseball team based in Southern California.

As this is our second day at sea, today definitely qualifies as an "OMG, I wish I didn't get sunburned yesterday!" kind of day.

Day 4:  Falmouth, Jamaica

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Finally, land!  I can't wait to get off the ship.  Malcolm has arranged for a tour of the Appleton Estate rum distillery.  Since it's in the interior of the island and we have limited time, he has arranged for a driver and tour guide.  This leads to an immediate immersion in the language and culture of Jamaica.  For instance, our tour guide says "ting" instead of "thing", "hear" instead of "year" and "Otre Rios" instead of "Ocho Rios."

Our first stop, by the side of the highway, is to point out the high school where Usain Bolt graduated.  Our tour guide is clearly proud of what Bolt has done for the country.  She points out that he purchased a school bus for the high school.  I marvel at the fact that the track is just dirt covered with a little bit of grass.  No wonder these guys are fast, if these are the training conditions!

We're on a two-lane road up and over the mountain to a high mountain valley where the Appleton distillery is located.  With one lane each way, Orville, our drivers, is doing a lot of passing and then jamming back into our lane to avoid head-on collisions.  I did not realize a thrill ride was included in the tour!  Could this be the origin of the reggae song, "we be jammin'?"

Going through the countryside, we see lots of small shacks, with wood or cinder block construction.  Other houses are simply shipping containers with cutouts for windows and doors.  It seems like every town has its bar and jerk take out place.  At the distillery we learn that Appleton makes an over-proof rum, called Jamaica's Best.  Most of it never leaves the island, and given all the bars advertising it along the way, I can see why that would be the case.

Back in the van, as we have to hoof it to our next stop for my request: jerk barbeque.  After asking several Jamaicans for a recommendation, we settle on the most popular choice--Scotchies.  This is exactly what I was looking for in a jerk place.  It's flimsy, made from concrete blocks, corrugated metal and palm fronds.  It's sooty from all the barbeque, with great aromas.  There are guys cooking chicken and pork on top of pimiento logs placed over the wood coals, with pieces of corrugated tin roof used to hold the smoke in.  The food is fantastic--jerk chicken with a side of grilled breadfruit.  And the heat means that the Red Stripe beer goes down easily.

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We learned at the Appleton estate that the Pimiento tree provides the berries that we call allspice, which provides jerk's unique flavor.  Our tour guide says they crush the berries and use them for jerk seasoning, and use the leaves to flavor other dishes, including something called bammy.

After getting our jerk, we head over to a gift shop that is primed for our arrival.  We're whisked away by sales clerks offering us all sorts of stuff.  Most of our group opt for the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.  I go for the package of jerk spice.  Greg, waiting outside the shop, is offered ganga by one of the locals.  Greg gives him his, "you do realize I used to be a prison guard, yes?" look and respectfully declines the offer.

Day 5:  George Town, Grand Cayman

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Crystal can't dive today, due to a sinus blockage; that's a shame.  So she's off with some of our group to go see sting rays and dolphins.  That turned out to be super fun.  Our dive group is walking around George Town, killing time before our dive boat leaves.  There are lots of backyard chickens.  Since George Town is a cruise ship port of call, we start noticing that it seems like every port has a Margaritaville, KFC, Burger King and Domino's Pizza.  And there is always lots of shopping for jewelry and cheap T-shirts.

Our first dive is a wall dive, across from the Great House.   The water is beautiful and clear, with at least 60-80 feet visibility.  I'm a little more "buoyant" (ahem) than I used to be and have some trouble getting down to the bottom.  We're at 80 feet, and the wall drops off to… nothing. We learn that it's 3,500 feet to the bottom.  Between my struggles getting down and swimming against a strong current, I'm using air like crazy.  In no time at all I'm back on the anchor line of the dive boat, slowly ascending.  Even so, I saw lots of beautiful corals and sponges, in all kinds of colors.  I also saw a turtle munching on something.

Our second dive is on the wreck of the Oro Verde.  There are many stories about how the ship met its demise.  I like the story of the captain who tried to smuggle marijuana along with the bananas and got tossed overboard when he wouldn't share with the crew.  The dive book says something else entirely--that the ship was sunk on purpose--but where's the fun in that story?

Either way the ship is all broken up, scattered across the sea floor.  There are a couple of bikes down there for good measure, which many of the divers attempt to ride.  We see more wildlife on this dive:  lobster, a nurse shark, an arrowhead crab, and lots of corals and sponges.  I do a much better job managing my air consumption.

Day 6:  Cozumel, Mexico

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Today's agenda includes a trip to the Tulum archeological site and Mayan ruins.  Tulum is actually located in Playa del Carmen, about 20 miles south of Cozumel.  But there's a reef that runs along Playa del Carmen that protects the coastline from hurricanes.  So we have to dock in Cozumel and take a tender (think big, smelly water taxi) down the coast, then disembark and take a bus to Tulum.

We heard the story of one city that carved a break in the reef to allow cruise ships to enter and dock.  The city was later wiped out by Hurricane Gilbert.  That will teach you to mess with Mother Nature!

Armando and Julian are our tour guides.  They're both Mayan, and clearly proud of their heritage.  They claim that Mayans are probably descended from the Chinese, owing to similar body types.  The physical anthropologist in me objects.  It's also clear they're still ticked off at the Spanish for that whole Conquistador thing.  Armando and Julian tell us that the temple is aligned to capture sunlight from the summer solstice.  The engineering is pretty amazing.

There are iguanas all over the grounds--lots of iguanas.   Armando says they're "like backyard chickens."  I am not pleased.

In suggesting explanations for the disappearance of the Mayan civilization, our tour guides point to poor resource management.  They say there were more than 5,000 cities, and it took 20,000 trees to build each temple and city.  The Mayans stripped the land of its resources and died out as a consequence.  Another morality tale!

Despite being on the Gulf coast, it's very hot when the wind stops blowing.  Cold beer never tasted so good.

We're back on the tender for the trip to Cozumel.  They're selling blankets and other trinkets. Talk about a captive audience!

Day 7:  At Sea

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I fall asleep on our stateroom couch last night.  I guess I just like sleeping on couches.  I slept in--until 8:30 AM.  After that, I put in a nice long workout in the gym.  Those Margaritas won't go away by themselves.

Later that evening, it's NCAA Final Four time!  Both games were very exciting.  It was fun to be in the bar with the Florida Gator fans, who were whooping it up early on, but ended up skulking away once their team fell behind to UConn.

We had a great dinner at Sabor, an upscale Mexican restaurant on board.  There were very arts-fartsy margaritas (that were nonetheless very good) as well as guacamole made table-side.

Day 8:  Galveston

Hurry up and wait is the order of the day.  Our bags were packed and left outside the door the night before.  Now it's up for one more breakfast on the ship.  We have to come to grips with the fact that tomorrow we'll be clearing our own dishes and making up our bed--and not every day.

After breakfast it's down to the assembly areas to wait for our turn to disembark.  Things drag  a bit owing to the time needed to get through customs and immigration.

Off the ship and back in Houston, we drop Greg and Leona off and have some time to kill.  We decide to go to the Johnston Space Center.   It was a very cool experience, especially if 1) you're a technology geek and 2) you lived through the era.  Seeing the Saturn V rocket up close (Connie estimated it at 510 feet long) as well as some of the capsules really brought the times to life.  The Mercury capsule looked a lot like a garbage can mounted on top of a rocket.  And as Malcolm said, just remember you're strapped to a rocket provided by the lowest bidder.

Next we're off to the airport for a reasonably relaxed time through baggage check and ticketing.  One or two more beers and we're on our way back home.  It will be nice to get back home and the 542 messages I no doubt have waiting for me.

Would We Do It Again?

Our travel style is a little more toward the hang-with-the-locals approach, and we generally would rather stay longer in one place than see several places for just a few hours at a time.  That said, we couldn't beat the company on this cruise, and have made some new friends that we're already meeting with on other adventures.  So while we generally opt for other vacation formats than "cruising," it certainly works if you go with the right people.

Random Thoughts

  • Flotsam and Jetsam--where'd that term come from?
  • A boat is still a boat.  I don't care how big the cruise ship is, when it's in the ocean it feels like a boat.
  • It's interesting to see how people get all competitive at the start of a cruise.  Parents are rushing to get in line for towels, deck chairs, a spot by the window… Fortunately, after a bit people start to relax and realize there's enough of everything to go around.
  • Stairs are a life saver for staying in shape on the ship.  Walk up and down several flights of stairs each day and you'll get a workout without noticing.
  • The "port of call" culture is interesting.  It seems like every stop featured the same chain restaurants, along with a jewelry store, maybe an art store and some place where you can buy an "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt.
  • With all the bad press about people getting Norovirus on cruises, it was interesting to see what the cruise line had done.  Purel hand sanitizer stands were everywhere, and you were encouraged to clean your hands before and after every meal.


Been on a cruise lately? Let me know what you think!

Memorial Day Thanks

Thank you, Norman Callahan, and rest in peace.

Thank you, and thanks from a grateful nation, Nathan Sandersen, and rest in peace.

Thank you, and thanks from a grateful nation, my namesake Daniel, and rest in peace.

Thank you, Oscar Procell

Thank you, Joe and Jim McGuire

Thank you, Tony Procell

Thank you, Josh Booker, and rest in peace.

Thank you, Nicholas Booker

Thank you, Michael Booker

Thank you, George Turk

Thank you, Dan Cruz

Thank you, Paul

Thank you, Jimmy Kelliher's brother, and rest in peace

Thank you, and thanks from a grateful nation, Callahan brothers, and rest in peace

This Memorial Day I thought it was worth thanking those vets that I've personally known, for all they've done for me and our country.  We can all be thankful for the idea of those who've sacraficed for us.  But sometimes it's worth personalizing it.

2013: It's a Wrap

2013 words, phrases, ideas and people that can just go away 

  • Use of "hashtag" outside of Twitter
  • "Disrupt ___"
  • Selfie
  • Cancer
  • Mind blown
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Periods between every word in a phrase (a carryover from last year)
  • CNN news articles with spelling and grammatical errors
  • Like us on facebook
  • "Ninja" or "rockstar", used as an adjective to describe a desired software developer
  • Dysfunctional Congress
  • Crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, crowdanything
  • Yoga pants outside of yoga class
  • Affluenza
  • Big data
  • Warantless wiretapping
  • Skeumorphism
  • Hipster hats
  • Pajamas in public
  • Any Taylor Swift song about being wronged or having her heart broken

It's a Wonderful Life


The angels came, and saved my son. 

That's all I need to say about 2013.  Sure, lots of other things happened.  There were trips to new places, improving financials, a new (leased) car; even a vacation.  None of these things can compare to the miracle that happened. 

Sean went to the hospital in (when? It's all a blur) February or March, not long after returning from his honeymoon with Danielle.  He was in a lot of pain, and didn't know why.  After being misdiagnosed and ultimately released from the hospital, his employers swept in.  In no time at all Sean was in front of the leading doctors at Stanford, who immediately diagnosed him with testicular cancer.  What followed was nine weeks of intensive treatment.  Happily, Sean has cleared all of his checkup's since being treated and has returned to the work he loves on the ranch.

These angels did what I could not do, did not know how to do.  They brought the medical attention he needed to catch this cancer at a stage where treatment and a cure was highly likely.  They battled the medical/health insurance system for Sean.  They made sure he had the best chance to focus on his treatment and recovery.  They brought his ranch buddies down to visit him.  They arranged a welcome-home party.

They held our hands when we were scared.  They hugged us when we cried. 

Why did they do all this? Because they could. Because they're wired to help others.  They could have stopped at many points along the way, saying, "OK, we've helped enough."  But they didn't.  They helped until there was nothing more that needed to be done. 

And although we thanked them profusely, it's clear they didn't help for the grateful praise.  In fact, they refused every offer of thanks that would have put them in the spotlight. 

Yes, they had more resources to help than others might.  But it didn't start with resources.  It started with an orientation to help, to see through to a person's true nature and to respond with love. 

I call that miraculous. 

Remember how George Bailey, in It's a Wonderful Life, gets a chance to see what kind of difference he's made in the world?  That's kind of how I feel this Christmas season.  I hope I can pay that kindness forward next year, and every year after that. 

Merry Christmas.