A penny saved is not quite a penny earned.

August 23, 2005

Coinstar Logo A penny saved is 91.1% of a penny if you use the coinstar machine in my local super market. For the past 8 years I have been collecting my change and sticking it in a glass jar. Then I have been dumping the glass jar in to a gallon milk jug as the jar got full. As part of the final push to reduce clutter and save on moving and storage fees before my trip, I finally took the cash to a coinstar machine. I was dreading the fee. 8.9% seemed outrageous. When I got there I discovered that I could avoid the fee if I agreed to be paid in script, rather than cash. I had my choice of Starbucks, Linens and Things, and Amazon. I took my $708.06 payment as Amazon credit.

I got a printed receipt with a code number. I want to amazon.com/coinstar and typed in the code, and *POOF* a 708.06 gift certificate was added to my account.

Thanks, Coinstar!

A gamble too big for Las Vegas

August 18, 2005

The prospect of climbing Kilimanjaro has left me scared. Really scared. I read this great story about some other people taking the same climb and it did nothing to sooth my worry. I have lost 15 lbs. but I have a bunch more to go. While it is rewarding to have hit my first milestone, I still have a lot of work to do. I have been hiking frequently seeking out opportunities everywhere I can. I want to be sure to give Kilimanjaro my best.

Recently, I went to Colorado and climbed from 8500 feet to 10,000 feet past Ouzel Falls to Lake Ouzel (see our photos). I climbed Mt. Cardigan in New Hampshire. I took a hike outside Santa Barbara in California. I hiked the 9 miles of rolling hills in blue hills here in MA. Last weekend I even went camping, hiking 21 miles over 2 days with a 35 pound pack in the White Mountains! However, most amazing of all is that on my last trip to Las Vegas I went hiking.

Prior to this trip, I thought Las Vegas consisted solely of “The Strip” and its lesser sister the strip tease, err I mean “Fremont St.” I was amazed to learn that just 45 Minutes from Las Vegas there were real live mountains. My friend Dan, his friend Sandra and I climbed from 7,700 feet to 10,700 seeking the Griffith Peak Summit before the thunder made us turn around. We were all a little dissapointed not to have made the summit, but it was a great hike.

We went along the South Loop trail around the base of Echo Cliffs. We followed the base of one wall than up the other of a “side canyon” with Echo Cliffs on our right and the Harris Saddle trail running up the ridge on our left.

Eventually, we got to Echo Overlook, where we met a charming 79 year old and his wife just enjoying a pleasant walk (at a pace at least 20% faster than our own). They were a nice couple and told us how last year they had walked this route every week just for a little exercise. Later it came out that he had recently qualified for and run the Boston marathon. I hope I am doing half as well at 79.

Then we headed up to the saddle between Griffith Peak, our intended destination and Mt. Charleston (another 1000 feet above Griffith and several miles further). That’s where the thunderstorms forced us to turn tail and run down the mountain as fast as we could without slipping off the edge. If we doubted that lightening could hit the trail we needed only look at the still smoldering tree from the previous night’s storm that we passed on the way up. Lighting is a not a gamble I am interested in taking, even inVegas.

Photos from the hike are available here.

Take a trip and get laid too…

August 17, 2005

Jacqueline Passey is the women that I’d be shagging and traveling around the world with if I wasn’t already so happily married and taking my wife on my trip.

That is good news for you because Jacqui is “Seeking a travel companion and lover”. If you two team up you can save money and have lots of sex.

You’ll have to be: “intelligent, ethical, healthy and fit, monogamous, kind, generous, very affectionate and sexual… pro-choice and pro-gay rights.” Also if it is going to last long term you’ll want to be a libertarian with an interest in economics and online gambling.

Apply today and enjoy the ride (no pun intended) but hurry she is already working on a short list.

Poker is Meritocracy

Barge 2005
Meritocracy is rare!

  • Short people routinely get passed over for jobs.
  • Handicapped customers are considered a hassle by most restaurants.
  • Ugly girls get smaller tips even if they are better waitresses.
  • Blacks pay more for mortgages.

One of the joys of poker is that it is a meritocracy. You can be short, fat, and old with bad teeth and an eye patch. You may roll up to the table in your wheel chair speaking broken English but it just doesn’t matter. Not that you won’t get some looks, but at the end of the day, everybody gets 2 cards. How you play them is all that matters. Cash and respect flows to the winners and just as pity takes the place of a loser’s bankroll.

As I walked in to the poker room, the crowd was overwhelmingly male. Most people looked like they spent too much time at a computer (or a card table). They had big bellies, wore sweat pants and needed haircuts. They didn’t look even a little like Matt Damon or Ed Norton. No sir, these were the not the jet set high rollers and hotties you might image rolling in to Vegas. This was B.A.R.G.E.

For more than a dozen years I have been meaning to go to Las Vegas in August for BARGE, the big August Rec.Gambling Excursion. Long before the web became a synonym, for the Internet, I played in an annual poker tournament by email with a bunch of people from the Usenet newsgroup rec.gambling. Once a year these folks get together in Vegas to play cards, drink and meet face to face. I finally made it this year thanks to Dan, a friend of mine from my local poker game.

The seen was just what I expected, paunchy middle-aged nerds who love cards as much as I do. It was awesome! In fairness, not everybody was a paunchy nerd, but there were a lot of information technology folks that had been using the Internet before the web existed and it showed. The contingent from Alt.Drunken.Bastards (another newsgroup) proudly wore ADB baseball caps, but it would not have been hard to pick them out. They were the loud drunk ones making lots of noise at the tables. Go figure. Normally people play badly when they are drunk, but the ADB crowd had clearly never played sober. Hard drinking and hard thinking, they were on top of their game even as the cocktail waitress brought round after round of Rumplemintz shots.

Despite the nerdish tendencies in the group most people had well developed social skills and I felt at home right away. I met all sorts of nice people that I won’t embarrass by name. There was constant analysis of hands well played and misplayed. Dan was still obsessing over the hand that busted him out of the tournament the year before! While endless poker chat is the norm here, and I had to sit through the usually “bad beat” stories, the level of discourse was very high and I was immediately aware of how much I still have to learn about poker. I am told that the average level of play in the annual BARGE tournament is higher than in the world series of poker.

I met some poker celebs too, like Lee Jones (author of Winning Low Limit Hold ‘em.) and I had a really nice lunch with Andy Bloch and his fiance Jen, who runs pokerwire.com. Later Jen and I played at the same table in the BARGE NL Hold’em tournament, but after Andy busted out, she dumped her chips in a hurry and I didn’t get a shot at the WPT “play like the pros on your TV game” that she had brought to give to whomever busted her out of the tournament.

I finished 7th in the tournament which made me embarrassingly proud (but dubious that I could repeat the performance in the WSOP, average level of play not withstanding). I played a ton of poker and it wasn’t enough and I had a great time! Even more surprisingly I did something I never thought I’d do in Vegas. I went for a hike (more on that shortly)! I’m sorry that I’ll be traveling when next year’s BARGE rolls around, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.

Man versus Mall

I have been experiencing a bit a of blog paralysis because I have so many things I want to discuss and I was trying to maintain some semblance of an order. I give up. I am going to dispose of my remaining Colorado musings since it was more than a month ago. Maybe then, I can start to catch up on everything else.

In Colorado I was staying near one of the many enormous “Lifestyle Centers” (read overgrown mall with brilliant designers) that abound in the Denver / Boulder area. These are the sort of truly gigantic places that can only exist in places where land is affordable.

How big can it be you ask? Nearly a square mile! The photo shows the area, but only about half of the mall has actually pictured since the photo is a little out of date.

I wanted to hate the place (and did for all of the reasons below) but still, like Jason and the ill fated argonauts I felt myself drawn to its sweet, sweet call. It was right next to my hotel (shown in the bottom of the photo) and so I was actually there several times in just a few days.

It is such an incredibly obviously manufactured experience, and yet it is somehow oddly appealing. The designers manage to add all of these transparent ploys at making the place feel like a destination, and they sort of work. Even though I notice them all, still involuntarily I am forced to admit it is convenient and pleasant. It is a little scary.

The brand new faux old Spanish style architecture actually comes with faux decay. It is nice enough and (I am ashamed to admit) gives the plazas a sense of place. But then I notice real decay on the fake decay and I can no longer be a participant in the charade. Click on the photo to the left to see what I mean.

Public spaces with a central focus gives people a place to meet and the feel of a destination. I could hardly walk by this fire without wanting to sit by it and soak up the scene. Fire is so primal and there is something about siting around the fire that just feel right, except that it was 96 degrees. Notice how everyone is wearing shorts. I also think it is a lovely irony that the sign in the back advertises images of the wild. Click on the photo to see the details.

Here I was left to wonder if maybe the mall builders actually stocked the place with shopper much like you might stock a lake with fish. It is hard to believe that grown adults would match so well of their own free will, but if that is what they wanted to do, I guess this is the place to do it. Click on the photo to see the details.

A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!

August 10, 2005

Map of my Itinerary Palindromes are fun, but I really am a man with a plan, and the first stop is a canal in Panama.

I previously posted my best guess about an itinerary, but ultimately we could not fit it all in and still make it to Kilimanjaro on time. I am very disappointed not to be going to French Guinna and Suriname, but they are a short hop (relatively speaking anyway) from the States and we’ll have to try and get there on the back end, perhaps when we go to the Galapagos.

What follows is my actual ticketed itinerary for the first few months at least:

Now   - 09/04 Boston
09/04 - 09/14 Houston
09/14 - 10/06 Panama City, Panama
10/06 - 10/07 Connecting thru Santiago, Chile
10/07 - 10/26 Mendoza, Argentina
10/26 - 10/29 Easter Island. Chile
10/29 - 11/01 Santiago, Chile
11/01 - T/B/D Punta Arenas, Chile
T/B/D - T/B/D Ushushaia, Argentina
T/B/D - T/B/D Antarctica
T/B/D - 12/07 Ushushaia, Argentina
12/07 - 12/21 Buenos Aires, Argentina
12/21 - 12/23 Johannesburg, South Africa
12/23 - 12/23 Connecting thru Dar Es Salaam
12/23 - T/B/D Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
12/26 - 02/02 Climb Kilimanjaro
01/03 - 01/07 Safari
01/08 -            ???

Except for the Punta Arenas - Ushushaia - Antarctica - Ushushaia all the legs shown above are flights. Of course we’ll be doing side trips from many of the individual cities as well.

After the itinerary above the plan is to head South overland toward Capetown, S.A.

Finally, I’d be remiss in concluding this post if I didn’t mention another friend’s blog because of its palindrome title: “Yo bang a salami! — I’m a lasagna boy.”