The personal authentic travels of a world-wide drifter, you'll always see pics of me at the locations being described (if the other blogs you're reading don't do that, odds are they were NEVER there, just saying…)
My personal interactions with technology during my trips, so for instance the fact that I now own a car that practically drives itself, etc.
I strongly suggest that if you’re flying to the UK or Ireland from Chicago, avoid Aer Lingus. Sure it’s cheap, but it’s probably one of the worst, most uncomfortable flights I’ve been on in years… I’m pretty good at sleeping on planes and on this one I only managed about 2 hours even though it was during my normal sleeping hours.
While the puddle jumper from Ireland to the UK wasn’t too bad as it was only 2 hours, the trans-Atlantic flight was abysmal. The seats were incredibly narrow (both in width and depth) so I could barely get my ass in nor stand with ease (I’m fat, but I’m not THAT fat … in fact side to side I’m not all that big because my frame sans fat is incredibly petite). Additionally, the armrest doesn’t lift so you can’t stretch out even if the seats next to you were empty — which mine was… Also they don’t lean back all that far… as a result in spite of having a window seat where normally I sleep pretty well, on this flight I only managed about 2 hours of interrupted napping. Add to this the fact that my body clock was already turned around to UK time so that take off time correlated almost exactly to when I’d been going to sleep for about the last week… and you see the problem. My body SHOULD have just nodded off but couldn’t because of how incredibly uncomfortable I was in the seat.
More worryingly, I’d argue chairs like this are an example of why the feds are starting to get sufficiently upset about airline seating in economy so as to start to consider legislation to put an end to what’s been happening, namely, the rows of seats in economy becoming so close together as to be a survival risk in case of emergency. My experience — and I am NOT overstating this — was that it actually was extremely difficult for me to stand up (I have mild and very common old age mobility issues); the chair in front of me was leaning into my space even when its fully erect. As such, I couldn’t actually stand without coming into contact with the chair in front of me which is pushing back at my frame and forcing me to use one arm to keep myself from falling back into the seat when trying to get up. Add to that I have frozen shoulders (again common in the elderly) and it’s an accident waiting to happen.
Had there been an emergency that necessitated my jumping out of my seat quickly to avoid being burned to death, I could not have done it. People on the plane seeing how much difficulty I was in were actually volunteering to help me… which has never been necessary before on any other economy flight.
On top of that discomfort, the food was absolute crap. Honestly the worst airplane meal I’ve had in years. There was a girl sitting two seats away from me, and I wish I’d gotten a picture of her expression when she tasted… it was absolutely funny. So much so that I broke into a full belly laugh and we bonded over just how horrible the food was.
It was some sort of chicken and couscous thing that had an odd taste, and made me wonder how many of us we’re gonna be sick later (in fact that next day I had impressively loose bowels when usually flying constipates me).
Then there was some sort of feta and cucumber salad thing, which just tasted odd — like something was just seriously off about it. We were all joking about “how can you screw up chicken and couscous, let alone a feta and cucumber salad?” In fact the ONLY tasty thing on the platter was this chocolate mouse thing.
The breakfast sandwich that they gave us a few hours later had a bizarre texture but a fairly decent taste — some people can really be picky about texture and would have been put off by it, me not so much. It was advertised as an egg and provolone with a sauce, they called a bistro sauce (usually: ketchup, lemon juice, mayonnaise, spicy brown mustard, garlic, horseradish, parsley, Hungarian paprika, cajun seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce) — but to me it just tasted like a combo of a lot of mayo, flavored with Worcestershire and Sriracha.
Oh, and the video interface on the plane was ancient. In fact before the flight even took off the stewardess apologized in advance if ours didn’t work and promised to try to move us if that was the case. Mine sort of did, but was almost impossible to navigate. Rather than touch screen it had one of those old handsets that you pull out of the armrest … while using it the interface kept either clicking on the item to either side of the thing I clicked on, or freezing up entirely; at one point I got stuck on a song which just kept repeating and refused to allow me to leave it… and that was it, it would not do anything other than play that one song on repeat for the next two hours … I
The only good news was they didn’t loose my luggage.
Not that one was the result of the other, but this time around I bought and installed Apple AirTags into my bags, and was able to watch my luggage follow me though the airport till it finally rejoined me on the plane. While not necessary I have to say it was comforting to know in advance that the bag was on my flight.
The traditional Black cabs of London are in the process of being converted to all Electric Vehicles (EVs), but it is a change not without its problems. First introduced to London streets in 2018, there was some hesitancy on the part of the cabbies to make the transition; obviously, most wouldn’t be having to buy a new one till their current cab started falling apart; that said initially cabbies had a choice between the new EVs cabs and the older designed gas ones (not yet sold) and some, fearing the change, jumped to replace their cabs with a gas one before the new EVs replaced them in the marketplace, but that’s a choice that is no longer available. If they replace their cabs now it has to be with an electric one, or go without — a point I’ll get back to.
Last time I was in London, in 2019 (pre pandemic) I don’t remember seeing a single electric cabbie nor any charging stations for them. Yesterday I spotted this when walking with an acquaintance through London’s Southwark neighborhood, and it made me very happy.
Anyone who knows anything about Electric Vehicles (EVs) know that this is a BRILLIANT choice and HAS to become the norm in the future, especially for things like cabs, busses and trucks which spend ALL their time on city streets, running more hours than not and polluting the air while burning up non renewable resources.
Add to that the fact the Europe gets most of it’s oil from Russia, and you see the problem. That said, while England does have some of it’s own North Sea Oil sites, they still supplement that with oil from Russia … and with what’s going on right now over in Ukraine….
So let’s talk about why this HAS to happen:
Firstly, electric cabs run entirely clean, which will help reduce the horrible air quality in cities. London has some of the worst air of any city in the world, with 80% of that pollution coming from cars, and 20% of that traffic on London streets is just from the black cabs… so if all the cabs (let alone the busses and trucks) became electric that would be a big improvement in the city’s air quality right there.
And most of the old black cabs ran on diesel, which is even worse for air quality than normal gas. — blech!
Secondly while electric isn’t all that great on highways or really long drives, they are GREAT for short distance travel within limited areas (according to one of the drivers interviewed in the videos below, he recharges his electric cab at night while at home, and only rarely needs to top up at one of the currently rare charging stations around the city.
Thirdly… and this is crucial… stop and go traffic, and the constant repetitive hard breaking that is the bane of crawling through inner city streets actually HELPS EVs to recharge their batteries — without having to pay for a top up at an aforementioned station.
That said, when they cabs were released in 2018 the drivers of black cabs, who tend to be traditionalists had to be convinced. To that end I found the following video from 2019 (While it feels like a news piece its actually an advertisement created by the company that makes the cabs) designed to look like a news piece… This is the sort of PR news submission from companies that lazy news stations will put on air as actual journalism, when they’re not; in it a woman talks about the cabs and interviews a cabbie whose been driving black cabs for 10 years before switching to this new car…
But the first major hurdle to the transition was the price. These new EVs cabs cost the drivers 60K (over $78K) to buy, which is about 25K MORE ($32K) than what they are paying for the old fashioned ones. And in 2018 they are NOT government subsidized, even though you would think they would have been (a problem now fixed by the way).
Also, there are other hidden issues I wasn’t finding in the videos but that showed up in the comments left below said YouTube videos.
So for instance, there’s been some complaints about the quality…
TXE faults reported by owner drivers 2018 — by a guy called Graham Grey (posted in 2020) responding to the previous video on YouTube
10) meter problems were its showing to much or to little
11) excessive tyre ware
12) broken charger plugs
13) unable to unlock centre seat in the back
14) door handles falling off
15) battery completely under performing from day one
16, can not use heater due to excessive battery drain
17) various intercom problems
18) anti roll bar bushes need replacement
19) charging issues
20) back door lock problems
21) fuses blowing if both front windows opened at same time
22) cab surging forward when applying the break (few accidents reported)
And apparently above the obvious price difference there were also hidden price issues regarding the loans the drivers have to get to be able to afford buying them versus the promised savings to said drivers of the cost of running them:
“What they don’t tell you is the never ending payment plan that you are stuck on. The bubble payment after 5yrs is approx 19 grand, and the warranty on the battery runs out then also. Most of the drivers in London have the petrol range extender running all day, so the savings against diesel are not as good as stated. The idea is good, but with the current state of the trade. Stay well clear.”– Jumbo Mills (2019)
And then drivers found issues regarding the performance of these new EVs cabs:
“The electric cab does not do 80 miles on electric when u have air con and heater on it does 45 mils on electric when u turn on to to petrol u get 45 to the gallon the cost of buying is expensive u lose working time on pluging in for more electric so a lot of cab drivers run it only on petrol which u get 45 to the gallon so where is the savings it misreputation by the makers of the electric cab” — Jeff Rose (late 2021)
I then found a second video, this one from Fifth-gear, a British TV show devoted to cars enthusiasts. He talks first and foremost about the air pollution advantages, but also compares his experience of driving the old cabs, which were loud and uncomfortable especially for the drivers to this one which is quiet and according to him much more comfortable, even roomier in the back than the old cabs, allow customers to charge their phones and such while driving… and easier to drive for the cabbie, etc.
According to him the “London Electric Car Company” which produces is the cab is part of the same company that owns Volvo, and hence the car has a lot of the same interior features. Where the last video had one cabbie talking about it, this one pulls in 3 cabbies who’ve never driven the thing before and take them for test drives in it to get their opinions. At the end 2 of the 3 drivers say they’d make the change with one having actually put in a order for one to replace his aging cab.
So how has the transition been going?
I found a Taxi industry newspaper article from January of this year saying that since 2018, of the around 15,000 black cabs on the road, 5,000 have been replaced with the electric option; this “total number” of black cabs seemed low to me and the answer for why it is true is a bit complicated, but in retrospect it made sense. According to a mid-covid 2020 article from the same industry paper, this number was down radically since 2015 when there had been 22,500 black cabs on London’s roads. There are two major factors at play… firstly over the last few years I’ve read numerous articles talking about how black cabs were losing out to Uber and Lyft in the competition for customers, making it less appealing to young people to jump through all the hoops necessary to qualify to drive a black cab, when they could just go work for Uber or one of the other mini cab companies popping up around London’s suburbs — although all of those must be ordered, and can not legally be hailed on London streets, something that’s becoming less and less important in the modern age. These taxis don’t use the iconic “Black Cabs” but rather look like a normal American one, and tend to be driven by recent immigrants who barely speak English, let alone have the intimate knowledge of London’s city streets for which Black Cabbies are legendary.
For those of you who don’t know, in London, to qualify to drive a black cab you need to pass a test called “The Knowledge” a somewhat legendarily difficult test to pass of all the best ways to get from point A to point B in London’s maze of one way streets, dead ends, and roads that don’t go for more than few blocks. The learning required to pass it isn’t unlike that of becoming a doctor or lawyer, but for a heck of a lot less pay. While this was invaluable in the low tech age, making London cabbies respected, if not well compensated … now, with the invent of GPS, every Uber and Lyft driver has the equivalent information at their finger tips, and as such one can begin to question if it’s still a necessary requirement (although black cab drivers know where they’re going and as such can focus their full attention on the roads while the former are distracted because they have to keep checking their screens. which makes them arguably less safe). As such, there was attrition in the profession as older drivers retired, and younger ones couldn’t see the point when they could just go drive for Uber, which was attracting more customers anyway.
This changed quite recently for a combination of two reasons, government regulation and circumstance. Firstly, those upstart/disrupter companies were forced by the UK government to raise their prices. The finding, on the part of authorities, was that essentially their prices were artificially low (yet profitable to the companies) because the they had been ripping off their workers who didn’t fully understand the TRUE cost of driving their cars all day (wear and tear, taxes, etc). As such, Uber and Lyft were able to charge customers less than it cost to provide the service, and that was making them anticompetitive with black cabs. Now that the price difference has been fixed. After that, the only true competitive advantage other than price that the high tech taxi firms still had over the tradition London cabbie, in my mind at least, also had been leveled — essentially convenience. Black cabs finally got a little bit high tech, and can now be called via an app from customers smartphones, just like they upstart competitors, and with all the similar features of being able to track it’s arrival, etc.
And that’s when Covid happened. Suddenly, the black cabs which have always been designed so that there’s a Plexiglass divide between the driver and the customers, and more than a 6 foot separation if you sit in the forward facing seats at the back, had an advantage that all the of the various taxi services that were using normal cars, suddenly could not compete with… causing the black cabs to have a resurgence in popularity with customers — but at a time when the market was simultaneously shrinking because no one was going anywhere. Additionally, as anyone who has tried to buy a car recently can tell you… You just can’t. Covid has entirely screwed up the supply chain, and the more high tech the car, the harder it is to get your hands on. SO, just as the demand for black cabs was seeing a resurgence, drivers who needed to replace their aging cars couldn’t do it. At the height of the pandemic disheartened drivers were leaving the profession at the rate of 160 cabs a week, which was worse then before the government steps in to punish the likes of uber.
That said, the turnover from gas guzzlers to EVs in the Black Cab industry is a done deal. Only time will tell how well they do going forward.
Edit: April 19th
My black cab heading home was one of the new ones so I took some pictures of the inside￼…
I think the sunroofs are a brilliant addition
You can pay cash, which the drivers prefer, or with a credit card that does “tap to pay”, or apple pay….
The control on the door is for turning on and off the intercom with the driver and includes a sound level control
Sits 6 people total, all with seatbelts — and the back and front are separated with plexiglass, which makes them way better during Covid
A light switch, in case you’re in the cab at night
Good Morning from the UK!! (I write this at 3am while suffering jet lag)
After being in Illinois where everyone was vaccinated and masked (and even without the mandate most people neurotically continue to wear a mask indoors or in crowded outdoor areas), arriving in the UK was a bit of a shock. NO ONE here seems to wear a mask. Even in places like Borough Market at noon on a weekend, when the place is cheek to jowl with maskless people … most of whom are there because they won’t eat inside a restaurant, and are kidding themselves that because the market is semi exposed and not heated that means it’s safe… Dear lord people, music concerts and sporting events outdoors can be super spreaders… EEK!!!!
Anyway… After a bit of me going on about how I got here and where I’m staying, this blog post is started out intending to be about streaming American TV while in the UK, and do you need VPN? The answer in short is, probably not, but it depends who you’re signed up with back at home. For that bit, jump to the end….
After 2 years of being locked down in one place yours truly was starting to suffer the beginnings of depression. Just couldn’t do it anymore. So once the covid numbers dropped enough for me to feel the risk was worth it, I bought myself a plane ticket to the UK (like 2 days before flying — in an attempt to find the emptiest flight possible) and got the hell out of dodge.
With regards to the flight, I found if you buy a one way ticket instead of round trip there was no difference in price if I bought it for a flight this week or in a month from now. And the flight was in fact pretty empty. Ironically (or not), United’s business and economy plus zones were almost completely full. Economy basic was also kind of full, but United now charges an extra fee if you want to sit along the window sides rather than the center isle, and THOSE were almost completely empty. SO I bought a window seat in an isle where there was no one in the rows before or behind me, putting a nice buffer between me and most of the other passengers for the eight or so hours it took to get here, and I was able to lie down — go stuff it business class, which would have cost over a thousand dollars more!
I also found a place to stay with in a friend’s spare room. It’s in a truly stellar location, in fact it’s so central that if it were an Airbnb I’d normally avoid it because anyone with such a home is rightfully going to charge you just shy of what the local hotels would — because they can; and their mortgage payments/rent is probably obscene so they sort of have to. (If they didn’t need help meeting their bills they wouldn’t be offering up space in their homes to tourists.) If I’m going to pay THAT much for a place it’s often just a few dollars more for a hotel room. But this time I got lucky and hit up a friend with a spare room who agreed to let me stay for a few months as long as I chipped in for utilities and didn’t eat his food. … Granted those of you who read my page regularly know I normally stay at airbnb’s, because staying with friends for more than a week or so rarely works out, and when I do rent a place I never pay more than 2k a month if I can avoid it. But, because of Covid I needed someplace in London that was SO incredibly walkable that I could avoid rapid transit almost entirely after I arrived — and THAT you can’t find for less than 5.5k on airbnb. If he hadn’t offered I’d have probably ended up at a nearby hotel that rents out full apartments which was just a few bucks more than the airbnb’s I did find in the location I wanted (easy walking distance to the historic city).
That said, the trip from Heathrow Airport into the center of town via taxi is STUPID expensive, don’t do it unless you’ve got like a whole family you can load in … A few years back I once flew from Tel Aviv to London for LESS than it cost to take the Taxi from Heathrow to where I was staying in north London, which because of highways is a much quicker/cheaper trip than the one into central London I would have had to pay for this time — traffic and infinite traffic lights even in the middle of the night which would have made taking the taxi from Heathrow to here even MORE expensive than the aforementioned flight. At the time I had no choice because the plane arrived really late, like 2am, just after the trains and bus options to Paddington Station had stopped running.
So unless you’re rich, accept that you’ll need to take the train from Heathrow to Paddington. To reduce covid risk I suggest the more expensive direct train, rather than the underground… also it is MUCH easier to get suitcases on and off of that train and there’s way more room to store them, and a significantly lower risk of someone trying to steal your bags… an all around win that makes the extra price worth it.
That said I found a really choice location with a friend. It’s in a part of town that ironically I have spent almost NO time at all in during my 57 years of coming to the UK on a fairly regular basis (most of my family that I have any interest in staying in touch with lives in the UK so we came here almost yearly till the late ’70’s and I’ve come often since then — used to say I knew my way around London better than I did Chicago). The building (as you can see from the image above) is just on the Queen’s walk (an almost 4 mile promenade, built in honor of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the runs along the southern bank of the River Thames between the Lambeth and Tower Bridges). It is also directly just across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral and right across the street from both the re-creation of Shakespeare’s Globe theater and a bank-side pier where the ferries going up and down the Thames all stop.
I will write more about these later (once I’ve actually used them) but they’re ferries, that travel up and down the Thames like open air busses…. an ancient highway that during covid has become re-discovered by the city locals as a safer way to commute east to west. Business got so good that Uber bought a stake in one of the companies and you can now pay for it via the Uber App.
I mean seriously… I’m only about a 30 minute walk from a huge swath of historic London… not the Victorian England side, which is where I’ve spent most of my life in, but rather the Roman/medieval & Tudor parts of London… the walled city part of Shakespeare’s time and before, which during the time of Covid means I for the most part can completely avoid rapid transit and still keep my days full — and it forces me to do a lot of healthy walking …. my weight this week has dropped from 174.5 lbs to 168.9 lbs.
ANYWAY… before I get completely off topic.. when I got here I was of course in Jet lag HELL; I didn’t sleep at all on the plane, and in Chicago my body clock had me falling asleep at around 11am and waking at around 7pm … which meant for the first few days most of my sleep was during daylight hours… (just yesterday I had my first day of being awake while the sun was up, but I then crashed at sunset, around 6pm … slept till about 2am and then started working on this post.
Anyway, this means since I couldn’t go out in the middle of the night I was watching TV on my computer.
This leads me to my discovery which initiated this post….
I’ve noticed that when trying to stream (WITHOUT installing the new VPN software I bought just before jumping on the plane) that I ran up against inconsistencies…
Your NETFLIX account works in the UK!! They just bump you from the US version of the application to the UK one, which means the content is different but overlaps. Pretty much all the Netflix productions on offer are the same, the difference lies in content they didn’t produce … so that’ll offer up new stuff not available in the US along with stuff that is… but some of the shows you might have been in the middle of binging might not be there.
Amazon Prime: basically the same story only they will NOT bump you to UK content. Instead you’ll be able watch their content, stuff they made for their network … I just watched the new ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ episodes for instance … but not much else. BUT there’s a lot of that, so it’s not like you’re deprived.
HOWEVER, Amazon UK keeps trying to get me to sign up for a free 1 month trial of their prime membership, which I’m sure would widen what’s available there … and could be useful if you want to use Amazon fresh to have your groceries delivered so you can avoid going into grocery stores. You can still use Amazon fresh, or get free shipping from normal Amazon (rather than dragging my supplements I found most of them for sale on the UK Amazon, and when I got to the friend’s place, he’s a very tall guy and he didn’t think to buy any step stools and his closets are uncomfortably tall for me, so I bought a cheap step ladder and a bathroom scale — which is how I know I’m losing weight) without, but the amount of money you need to spend to qualify for free shipping almost doubles.
If I try to watch let’s say to watch Disney+ or HBO directly via their websites or apps I can’t do it, in both cases its says “you’re out of country” and tries to get me to sign up.
Interestingly Disney+ says, if you buy an amazon prime membership for the UK store you qualify for a full year of Disney+ for free… so again, it might be worth grabbing that trial 1 month membership (but read the small print… I have not as yet done it so I can’t tell you).
HOWEVER if I go to my Apple+ TV account, it also knows I’m traveling, but it STILL recognizes some of my other channels that I was watching through it when in the states on my Apple TV… It also allows you to watch shows that are part of Apple+
Even though I can’t watch HBO from HBO’s app, if I open it up via the Apple+ app I can IF its a movie I’ve already started, Ditto for Disney+ (I’m currently watching West Side Story). I was unable to start new movies but if I was 1/3 through or what have you they allowed me to finish. (Odd, I know).
this is NOT however true for HULU shows or Showtime or Paramount… that said, I’m wondering if it’s like on a timer where you get 3 weeks while abroad and then it says, “you’ve been away too long if you want to continue watching these other channels you’ll need to sign up for them in that country”
BUT… if you’re interested in the Paramount shows a lot of them, along with other US tv shows that wouldn’t show on back at home ARE shown in the UK on NETFLIX… so there’s that
ALSO, while here, download the BBC’s iPlayer it will allow you to watch the BBC live stuff plus the stuff they have available for streaming
IF you have VPN, which in this day and age you should (You’re going to want to use in hotels with unsecured networks, etc)… HULU will work… any other services you pay through VIA Hulu, (I have HBO, Starz, etc.) should work… I haven’t tried ALL of mine but so far HBO and Starz have both worked).
HOWEVER, Amazon prime seems to know full well that you are NOT in fact in the USA even if the server you’re connected through is… Hulu doesn’t care, Amazon seems to.
I just got off the phone with the liver doctor — telahealth, got to love it.
She said it’ll be a few days till all the results from my blood draw yesterday — they took EIGHT vials of blood and are running like 10 different tests — get back to her… 5 to 7 days in fact … and she’ll in some cases need two different results to come back before she can comment, but so far they’ve all come back normal and if that continues to be the case than we need to just wait another 3 months to know for sure what’s happening with my liver.
She basically agrees with me — I had come across a bunch of articles on line saying that seeing a spike in liver numbers during the first 14 weeks of serious weight loss is actually kind of normal, and that you need to wait 16 weeks to see that start to reverse itself and a whole 40 weeks before the liver numbers SHOULD be normal if the person had high numbers due to fatty liver disease caused by obesity. She agreed that (assuming the blood tests all come back normal) we will need to wait another three months and get another liver blood test at that time to see what my numbers are doing.
The fact that they are currently spiking doesn’t really worry her too much. That said…
One of the first things she asked me was “when you started losing all of this weight did you change your exercise routine?” And I said that “yes in fact I had gone from being completely sedentary to working out like three times a week”, to which she started nodding her head and smiling (jee I love video phones) and saying “yes that might’ve caused the spike. We tend to see this sort of thing in people who suddenly start working out a lot in order to lose the weight.” Ironic isn’t it?
So she wants us to wait three more months, for me to continue losing more weight and working out (as I have been) and then get another blood liver panel test. If at that point the numbers have NOT gone below 100 then we will have to do a liver biopsy — eeek. She walked me through the two options of how that might happen and it doesn’t sound TOO awful…
If they HAVE gone down, then it’s all good and no sticking needles though my ribs into my liver will be required.
I told her about how I want to start traveling again like I used to before Covid. That I am currently planning to travel with a friend after Christmas to the UK for 3 months. She didn’t see a problem with that… and then I told her how I intended to get the Pfizer Covid 19 booster shot two weeks before traveling — in order to maximize my immunity. I figure its currently good enough for my current life which is mostly staying home and walking around outdoors and maybe doing some grocery shopping, etc… but airports and planes are a different kettle of fish…
This was interesting: She told me to be careful to get the liver blood test BEFORE getting the booster shot. Apparently they’ve been seeing spikes in the liver numbers in some patients after getting the Covid vaccinations. I already knew about making sure I got my mammogram well after the covid shots, but this was a new one… she said the spikes they’re seeing are very temporary, and as its almost been 6 months since my 2nd shot, NO this spike was not the result of that…
We also discussed my eating habits and she was actually really excited that I had discovered Shirataki noodles (as discussed in my last post) as she suggests those to her patients, and eats them herself. She suggested her favorite brand which she found on amazon — she’s a rice eater and uses them as a rice substitute — and I told her about the ones I’ve been eating from Costco.
We discussed my salt intake and she said there’s no reason for me to be worried about that at this point — I had read all these web pages on liver health saying we had to reduce salt intake to 1,500 mg a day (that’s like NOTHING); she said this was especially true considering my issues with dehydration — she agrees with the advise of an ER Doctor I saw back in my 20’s who told me that ending up in the ER as often as I did with dehydration was not normal… and that best way to address it was just to eat more salt. (He basically said, we don’t say this to most people, but every person’s body is different and normal averages are not gospel and if I’m ending up in the ER on a semi regular basis with dehydration after drinking a normal amount of liquids, than clearly I need more salt in my system to retain it than the average person does.) She said until they start seeing certain very specific problematic things with regard to my liver, that I shouldn’t worry about reducing my salt intake.
This doctor as luck would have it is from Thailand, and there’s a particular food product that I’ve been worried about which is the oyster sauce from Thailand (makes ALL the difference when cooking Asian dishes at home, it’s like the missing secret ingredient to make your home cooked food taste like restaurant food). The one I have is listed on foodie sites as the BEST oyster sauce on the market, but one you almost NEVER see in American stores (got it from an Asian market in California that sells their stuff on eBay). The thing is when it arrived, it has a warning label on it from the state of California warning about cadmium and lead poisoning from the product. So I asked her is it OK for me to continue to use this one when making my noodle soup. She told me to go ahead, I shouldn’t be drinking it straight from the bottle but the occasional tablespoon of it once or twice a week wasn’t going to kill me or damage my liver.
We also discussed my use of supplements and we went through the list of which ones I had been taking (CoQ10 to counter the effects of the Statin drug I take for my cholesterol, and Glucosamine for joint health + Vitamin D) and she said none of them are a liver risk and I can go back to taking them regularly…. again I had read on line to STOP taking all supplements, so I had….
The Green tea thing however — I had read on the British and Canadian official health services web sites that address liver health that it is a good thing to drink 10 cups of green tea a day if you have liver issues, NOT to take supplements, but to drink normally brewed green tea — she wasn’t thrilled with (and keep in mind she’s Thai, where green tea is a normal part of any diet) … she said “if you want to have like 5 cups a day fine… but you don’t need to be doing chugging it like that, or any sort of liver cleanse things or making it the only thing you end up drinking all day” … and she was worried too much green tea could strain the liver.
Back on June 18th I posted about failing my blood test in a big way, how sitting on my ass for essentially a year of Covid lockdown while watching TV and eating comfort food delivered by UberEats (and every other delivery company, I was signed up with THREE of them) every day had resulted in my blowing up to 202 lbs (from a starting weight of 160) into a size XL; so that not only was I resorting to living in T-shirts inherited from my dad and sweat pants purchased from Amazon, but when I finally was fully vaccinated and went to the doctor for blood tests and stuff, my liver numbers (which I had already brought down into the healthy range back in 2018) were once again not only wildly out of control, but were actually WORSE than they had ever been… this was not a huge surprise because my liver was so enlarged that I could feel it like a football under my ribs pressing out — very uncomfortable — after almost every meal, and towards the end it was making it painful to sleep on my right side… so yah THAT bad
AND… just for shit and giggles, my sugar levels, which I had also dieted back into the healthy range in 2018 where now not just boarder-line diabetic, which is where I pretty much had maintained it for years … were now full out diabetic. The doctor said she was giving me a few months to get it under control before resorting to drugs or insulin, but that was where I was headed if I didn’t drop weight.
So that’s what I’ve been doing for the most part these last few months. Last time I posted about this, August 4, 2021, I had successfully lost 17.5 lb (like 2.5 lb a week) and today, Sep 19th, I’ve continued the trend … it’s slowed a tad to around 2.2 lb a week … so I’m now 174.2 (close to another 10 lbs lost). This was achieved on my own, no paying anyone else to help me. The method is a combination of things….
Partial Fasting: Firstly, I’ve been consciously doing something that I had also been doing unconsciously back in 2018, which is partial fasting… I wake up fully dehydrated, weigh myself… and THEN drink black coffee and water… so calorie free liquids essentially …. to rehydrate myself…. and then eat lunch snacks and dinner (in other words restrict all my calorie consumption to over the course of about 8 hours out of 24), and then make sure I STOP eating a good 4 hours before going to sleep (and making sure I get the full 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep a night, as needed). And when I say I stop eating, I mean not even so much as a grape (to paraphrase Oprah, who is where I initially got the idea)… Oh, and I stop drinking even water maybe an hour before falling asleep …. Be warned, this does tend to send you to bed feeling a bit wanting a snack, but you have to fight it.
From what I’ve recently read about the power of fasting, which is now ALL the rage — like I said I was doing it without knowing I was doing it back in 2018 — your body needs a 6 hour gap from your last calorie consumption to when it starts resorting to using fat instead of what’s in your belly… and the more time it has without food the more fat it’ll burn… so that 4 hours of not eating + about 8 hours of sleep, plus 2 more hours in the morning before I put any calories in my mouth = 10 hours of my day when my body has to burn fat for lack of my giving it anything else to burn.
Before I was eating right up till bedtime, sleeping maybe 8 to 10 hours and eating as soon as I woke up… so I only had 2 hours a day to burn fat … after a day of eating things like a cheeseburger, fries smothered in cheese, a chocolate shake with chocolate cake in it, and topping that off with dessert … and that was just dinner (so yah, no chance THAT was going to get burned away).
I have also found this not eating for four hours before going to sleep did wonders for addressing my acid reflex issues which resulted in GERD (and WITHOUT DRUGS… I had been popping TUMS® Antacid ultra strength before going to sleep during lock down)… because I had been stuffing my gullet till right before I went to sleep…
Splurge days: once a month I get a splurge day… just one… and I eat till I make myself sick. I’m talking completely blowing the diet with non stop shit I shouldn’t be eating till I’m asking myself why the fuck I did it. I’m talking fried chicken wings dipped in ranch dressing, pizza, ice cream, cheeseburgers and brats, go for it. Actors who have to lose weight for roles talk about this … and I find it maintains sanity and tends to line up nicely with things like thanksgiving, Xmas, Jewish holidays, being invited to friends for dinner, etc. It keeps you sane and provides your metabolism with a kick in the ass. Just don’t go kidding yourself that you can do it more than 1 day a month.
Weighing myself daily: The one thing I NEVER do when gaining weight is weigh myself. To be honest in 2018 I didn’t do that either… I just went by the size of my clothes. And I know they say NOT to do this… it can be entirely frustrating… and can discourage the average dieter who is denying themselves in order to lose weight. HOWEVER the “diet” I’m on is mostly medical (diabetes control and liver issues) so for me low carb and low fat is something I’m probably going to have to do for the rest of my life and if I HAD continued to do it the first time … LIKE I WAS SUPPOSED TO, instead of convincing myself that the problem was “fixed” I would not be in the situation I am now. That said, if you take away carbs and fat, there’s really not much left to gain weight on even on the days you do over eat. Additionally… there’ve been a few days where the weight went up instead of down or staying flat, so it keyed me into things I can no longer buy… Pistachios from Costco are on that list. I like them too much.
To date I’ve been using the same bathroom scale my brother bought me for as a going away gift (I was moving to SF) like 15 years ago. The thing still works, and its impressively accurate… only of late its become sporadically LESS accurate (as in radically different weights within a 15 minute period in spite of not eating or using the bathroom). So I figured it was time for an upgrade, one of the new ones with all the bells and whistles that measures way more than just your weight. At first I was looking at Withings body+ which is sold at the apple store (and amazon of course), ’cause I’m an apple person and it’s supposed to synch with apple health app and its the one a lot of my friends own, but paying $100 for a high tech scale which most likely won’t have the longevity of the my old scale, just didn’t rock my boat. After much hemming and hawing, I opted for Wyze Scale for 1/3 the price, which showed up on a lot of same lists, and sometimes was considered a better scale… especially when I searched for the most reliable scales rather than “best of year options”. Got it yesterday.
I unboxed it, did everything it said to set it up… happily both it and the old scale registered me as being the same weight, so I knew both were accurate, YAY! And then I went over the apple health app on my iPhone and of course, it did NOT synch as promised. Went to multiple web sites, worked my way through the instructions multiple times, tried various suggested fixes… nothing. I got and phone and called tech support but it being a Sunday evening, well no one was picking up, so decided I would try again today. Went to sleep, and when I woke up like 8 hours later… I did my morning weigh in on both scales, still got the same number both times…. but this time when I went to apple health to input the data manually, to my delight, it was already there.
Apparently it took the scale a few hours to get linked…. the scale comes with it’s own app, and it’s supposed to share with the apple health app, but I have no idea HOW it does that. Hopefully this was a one time thing and from now on going forward it’ll work like clock work… one can only hope. But it was nice to see things like BMI calculated for me automatically, along with metabolic age, a metabolic rate (it thinks I burn 1421 calories a day minimum), visceral fat, level of protein in my body (apparently it’s too low… I need less fat and more muscle tone), bone mass, lean body mass (apparently I should be weighing in at like 115, not 175… which I knew), body water %, etc.
It’s amazing what these new scales can do for $33 bucks! Granted they’re not 100% accurate but they give you a ballpark idea.
Carb control; Because of the diabetes, I’m not allowed to have more than 28g of carbs at any one time so as to not spike the sugar in my blood. This is highly limiting but do-able. Last time I did this (2018) the one thing I really missed was pasta. I love pasta. Granted I’ve tried the veggie substitutes, pretty much lived on riced cauliflower… but all of these leave you wanting and feeling like you’re denying yourself … which in fact you are. This time around I got super lucky… while at Costco (and my readers know just how much I love Costco) I stumbled across a new product I’d not seen before, “Healthy Noodles” manufactured by Kibun foods.. a product that for the most part they ONLY sell via Costco, except in a few limited parts of the country, mostly the South/East — and if you live in Colorado I’m sorry, they don’t sell it there.
With this new product I’ve been having every conceivable noodle combination, sometimes twice a day, and losing weight while doing it. And because unlike pasta/noodles this product has 6 grams of carbs, which is a LOT, it leaves you feeling full at the end of the meal. Add veggies in along with it and well… do the math. I’ve had spaghetti with meat sauce (I make it as low fat as conceivably possible, using ground bison instead of beef), fettuccine alfredo with various proteins and veggies added, beef stroganoff, Ramen/Chinese/Vietnamese noodle soups, chicken soup with noodles, macN’cheese, and 5 way chili….. all while losing weight.
For those unfamiliar with it, this is a variety of shirataki noodle, which is something you can pretty much find nation wide in any whole foods or organic section of a supermarket, but….and this is important… that usually doesn’t quite hit the spot… because firstly, you KNOW you’re not eating pasta; A) it doesn’t feel like pasta in your mouth, or B) it doesn’t SMELL like pasta… and C), most crucially, there’s an actual health risk involved in eating it (which is why in some of the nanny states — socialized medicine — its actually illegal to sell). With THIS brand, none of those things is true … its close enough to the sensation of eating pasta as no never mind, there’s no “fishy smell” (people who are polite call it that, I call it what it is, which is it smells like a woman’s V’JayJay). Where with all the other brands — and I’ve desperately tried pretty much all of them over the years — you feel like you’re eating rubber, with this brand you can feel it falling apart when it comes in contact with the digestive juices in your mouth, and this is a VERY important difference (read on).
Listen carefully, Shirataki in it’s pure form (and there are other manufacturers of this stuff selling it formed like pasta noodles) is something I’ve been familiar with since I was in my 20’s, back when I did two summer internships in a row for companies in Japan. It is a non-digestible carb (you’re digestive system literally can not break it down, only your teeth can do that) that the Japanese make into a cake called konnyaku, and refer to as diet food… because after you’ve swallowed it it’s going to come out exactly the way it went in, as though you had swallowed a marble. It’s great for filling the stomach and your body can not derive any calories from it… in it’s pure form. HOWEVER, if you eat it made into noodles, and you snarf those down without chewing it…. well you know how, if you have a bunch of silver jewelry chains, or maybe bungie cords all bunched up together, how they turn into a gordian knot? Imagine that knot forming in your tummy and completely blocking your digestive track, which your stomach acids can’t eat through… so that the only way to get it out is surgery… I’m not making this up… it happens. Well that’s what can happen if you eat this in it’s 100% Konjac (the name of the root from which Shirataki noodles are made) form, so you have to be REALLY careful about chewing it up before swallowing it… and the texture is a bit like trying to chew up a rubber band, with the same squeak squeak squeak sound happening in your mouth.
I have over the years tried MANY different brands of these sorts of noodles, and NEVER found one that really felt like I was eating pasta, UNTIL this one. ALL of them the texture was just wrong, or my poop came out looking like noodle casserole (which was kind of scary — keeping in mind what I said about the possible need for surgery). This brand is the ONLY brand I have found so far that feels like pasta in your mouth (albeit overcooked noodles, there’s nothing ‘al dente’ going on here), has no smell at all once you’ve rinsed it out (it is stored in liquid in plastic packets) and where you can feel it falling apart in your mouth and your poop looks normal, even if you accidentally snarf them down — so no risk.
The only issue is if you, like a friend of mine who is a breast cancer surviver, can not eat soy for some sort of medical reason; if that’s the case then you shouldn’t eat this. This has NO net CARBS (the fiber and carbs are the same and cancel each other out, more specifically the carbs all come from the Konjac which as I said are undigestible), and the 30 calories is from the protein provided by the soy…. but it does have 30 calories per serving (2 servings in each bag)… but compared to 155 to 190 calories for a bowl of pasta noodles, not to mention the 40 grams of carbs, that’s not really a huge concern.
Low Fat: And of course, because of my liver, and the calories in fat, I try to keep my fat intake low and limit it to only healthy fats, so like Salmon, or Sablefish, occasionally Tuna (which is problematic because of other reasons which most of you are already familiar with, that are doubly problematic with a bad liver), avocado, olive oil, etc.
Exercise: And of course I’ve been exercising… in addition to walking, I’ve added weight training and signed up for a gym membership. I try to get there at 6am when they first open up and almost no one else has arrived. I find that first hour there’s maybe five or six people in a space big enough for 30 or 40 under normal conditions (and that’s including the equipment). At fist I was going to a private gym where you work with a trainer on machines, but now I’ve switched to the University facility (which is ginormous) near my home, and work out on my own. Happily, the University is one of the ones that has mandated full vaccinations for all students and staff, AND they follow the mask mandates as well, so I feel pretty comfortable working out there, especially during the hours when it’s mostly empty.
So my reliable mid 2015 15″ MacBook Pro started to break down a few weeks ago. First I noticed that the case was not closing completely, which seemed a little weird. But then I remembered that this might be because the battery was starting to swell-up. I took a good look at the curvature of the keyboard and sure enough it wasn’t flat. However because I completely lacked any sort of back up computer (my old one refused to bootup a few months ago) ￼ I was putting off taking it in for repairs because￼the thought of being a couple of days without a computer terrified me￼; I’m currently on the road in Florida￼￼. But then, after a few days, the fan started to sound like there was a butterfly caught inside my machine, and it was a very unhappy butterfly… ￼
Last night I realized that if I didn’t do something soon I might find myself without a computer entirely￼, so I got on Facebook and asked my friends what I should do. The general consensus was rather than buying a new computer I should, since I did not currently own one, buy an iPad. Apparently with the new Mac operating system iPads now function as a second screen while using the MacBook. (Till now I haven’t had one because it’s far as I was concerned it was just an iPhone with out phone capability, and a much larger screen.) ￼Also as a friend of mine pointed out to me I’ve been having problems dealing with legal documents while on the road because I don’t have a way to print them out, then sign them, then scan them and send them back to whoever sent them to me.￼￼ she said that with an iPad and it’s electronic pencil I would be able to sign the document on the iPad and send it back very easily. Those two functions seemed worth it, and it might be able to act as a back up computer for when I need to take my computer in to be fixed without being simultaneously redundant. ￼So I got online I purchased an iPad and had it waiting for me at the Apple store when I went to drop off my computer to be repaired.
The repair, thanks to the fact that my Apple care warranty was still up-to-date (just barely)￼￼￼, is completely free but will require about 10 days for the turnaround.￼ so I am for the first time in my life trying to do a blog post on the iPad. It’s a learning experience. I had thought that I could spend these 10 days catching up on blog posts. My first thought was￼ that I would only be able to do the writing part and not the photos but actually the inputting of media on this application seems pretty intuitive. Not being able to have multiple windows open at the same time is kind of a pain in the ass but otherwise it’s pretty easy. So that’s the plan because I’m not gonna be able to play World of Warcraft on this Thing that’s for sure!￼￼
What I can’t seem to figure out how to do on the app is how to tag and categorize the blog posts￼.
If you are in Sydney Australia, have seen all the outdoor options, and/or are at a loss of what to do on a rainy day, I suggest visiting the Powerhouse Museum of applied arts and sciences housed in the converted Ultimo Power Station at 500 Harris Street, especially if you’ve got young kids.
Initially commissioned in 1899, and opened for use in 1902, the building used to house the power station for electric trams, and was a functioning power plant till 1963.
The Museum’s collection, began with the contents of the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 (the first World’s Fair to be held in the Southern Hemisphere), and then grew over time… and has been bounced around a number of different locations before finding its exhibition space in this building in 1988, although it is no where large enough to exhibit the entire collection.
I learned this when blogging about Harry’s Café de Wheels, a 70-year-old Sydney pie-shop chain (as in meat pies) considered so iconic to Sydney that its original food cart is kept on mothballs by the Powerhouse, but not displayed… because they simply haven’t got the room.
The first time I was in Sydney, back about a month after my massive concussion, one of my traveling buddy’s girlfriends came to Sydney. One rainy day he took her to the powerhouse, while I stayed in bed resting — the post concussive syndrome was still intense at that point. He had been really excited about taking us because it was one of his favorite memories from having grown up in Sydney, and he wanted to share it with us. When they got back I asked her, out of his ear shot, “so how was it?” And she was like, “it was ok, but not great. I mean it was nice doing it with him cause he got all excited with childhood memories… but … you know…”
Overall, I have now spent three months total in Sydney, and have deemed it to be on the whole …. underwhelming; and this museum held true to that trend. To borrow a quote from Toptenz.net, “the fact that the Sydney Opera House is such a focal point of the city’s depictions might hint, to the analytical mind, that perhaps this is the case because there is really little else that is all that remarkable in Sydney.” And, as that article also points out, while said Opera House looks amazing from the outside, it has no shortage of design/acoustic flaws on the inside, so you’re not going to want to travel all the way there to enjoy a show when there are so many other better venues, acoustically. That said, while I thought the Powerhouse building was really neat, and I’m a big fan of retrofitting historic buildings to new purposes, the reality is that this building’s layout really isn’t conducive to exhibiting the kind of things they’ve got on show. And the lack of useful floor space means much of what they own is left sitting in storage, where visitors and locals can’t enjoy it.
That, and what they have on display is kind of underwhelming. Overall, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Science and Industry museums in Manchester, UK or Chicago, IL … nor to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. If it were in some small town somewhere it would have been a LOT more impressive, but in the middle of a major international city like Sydney, I expected better.
Maybe the only part of the museum that really excited me in any way was their Mars Lab (a friend of mine actually is the head of designing the experiments that go on the Mars rover so I feel a connection to it) … but otherwise it really didn’t do it for me.
HEY, if you’re already there, and you’ve got the kids, and it’s not a good day to go to Bondi Beach, or any other sort of outdoor activity… it’s something to do…There are more than a few areas of the museum that kids will enjoy, and of course its an indoor activity for rainy days
Like I said, Sydney, in NOT just MY humble opinion, after a few days quickly becomes kind of a major let down — there are other places you’ll probably want to go BEFORE the Powerhouse. Start googling “overrated cities of the world”, and Sydney shows up on quite a few of those lists. But the reality is that after about a one week stay, if you’ve been maximizing your time and not just hanging out at the hotel room (like I tend to do) you’re going to start finding yourself so desperate for things to do, and so willing to start scraping the bottom of the barrel so to speak … this is the point when you might want to consider taking the kids to see the Powerhouse Museum…
For the most part, what motivated me to drag my ass to the Powerhouse, — after the bleh review from my friend, was that during my second stay in Sydney it was hosting an exhibition that utilized The Star Wars Movies … as a platform for educating viewers about how our characters develop overtime as a result of multiple influences including genetic, environmental, choices, mentors, etc., but let’s be real, they had me at Star Wars… anything after that was just icing on the cake.
Rather than being an exhibit which you passively experienced, it was set up like a video game. The educational components utilized characters and paraphernalia on loan from George Lucas’ museum collection, i.e., STUFF that he has that’s left over from the making of the films. In all likelihood it’s part of what would have been housed in a museum in Chicago, had the city (i.e., my people) been willing to stick a museum dedicated to him and his creations in what is a claim to fame public park land that runs the length of the city along the lakefront, but in a location right between the middle of downtown and the water (he refused all other spots, even one along the lake front on the far south side of the city, where development is needed — nope he wanted to be RIGHT in the middle of downtown, where we’ve already got way to much traffic). San Franciscans likewise rejected his demands, which were equally ridiculous, and ultimately he ended up breaking ground in Los Angelus (where he had NOT wanted it to go).
I’m guess that since it does not yet have a HOME, his collection had been broken up into multiple traveling exhibits, and this is one of them. If it comes to a town near you, you can come and either enjoyed the lesson (which I found a bit boring, and at times questionable in what it was preaching), on how we develop as individuals…. or you can just enjoy looking at all the costumes and stuff… which is what I did.
Like I said the exhibit was highly interactive. On arrival each of us was given a bracelet, and an audioguide unit, which has a sound-wave dish on it, that we wore on a lanyard over our chests with the dish facing out; each of which came with an earpiece. They then tried to explain to us as a group, how to use it — but that explanation was actually very rushed and confusing (whoever came up with this system deserved a spanking).
With this system, where you’re standing and what you’re facing determines what you hear — assuming you’re in range of a transmitter, and the audio device you’re wearing is working right… which a lot of the time it wasn’t. If you weren’t listening to individual narratives in your earpiece what you heard was soundtracks from various Star Wars movies playing in the background. That said, it wasn’t one of those systems where you key in a number and a track plays, rather you had to stand exactly where they wanted you to (these sound areas were clearly marked, see below) where your unit would then pick up the audio signal.
But there was any number of issues with the sound devices themselves. The first one they gave me didn’t work, as in it was on and I was standing where I needed to be, and I STILL wasn’t hearing anything. They first switched out the earphones, still no good… So they replaced it with a second device … Which worked, but as I walked through the exhibit I was noticing that my sound was glitchy and realized that the wires in the earphones were shorting, so I had to futze with that, wiggling it this way or that… or no sound.
So the devices had issues, AND the attached earphones were also having issues. This was particularly problematic for folks with small children a few of whom were complaining…. VERY loudly, “DAD I can’t hear anything!!” which was annoying the parents — and every one else.
From what I saw, most parents never really took the time to figure out why their kids could not hear– as in, “well mine works, so you must be using it wrong.” But of course it wasn’t the kids fault, it was the technology.
What I couldn’t understand was, WHY did the show’s designers went with this old fashioned system of individual units with ear pieces, each of which can break down for a myriad of reasons, rather than a sound system like I saw at theComputer History Museum in Silicon Valley. That one was customer proof and cheaper in the long run because of no issues of wear and tear on the individual units. If you look carefully at the picture above you’ll see a woman watching a video in the middle of wide open space… and not wearing any sort of audio device. Where she’s sitting the sound is completely loud, clear and as distinct as if she’d been wearing headphones … YET, from where I stood taking the picture, I heard barely a whisper of that sound. If you look above her head, in the photo, you’ll see a white square hanging from the ceiling… That’s a speaker that produces highly directed sound waves. As in, she can hear it loudly and distinctly from the assigned seating spot (the padded bar) without it annoying someone a few feet away… and NO need for individual units which customers can break.
As previously mentioned, it was interactive… and to that end we were also all given wristbands similar to what they have at the Disney parks for tracking fast passes. Actually, as I thought about it I realized that these bands were probably exactly like the technology at Disney, which made a lot of sense as the big black rat now owns the Star-Wars franchise, and was most likely deeply involved in the designing of this educational exhibition. As first you entered the exhibition space you “checked in”
And then after seeing the intro movie, you’re given a chance to create your character within the Star Wars Universe, picking a race, gender, skin tone, and some basic abilities (like creating a character in role playing video game).
….and then as you walked through the exhibit at each location you were able to customize the character’s development as you made choices about its personality, abilities, and cumulative lifetime experiences
…. your planet of origin, the abilities you wanted to develop (so for instance you might be born with musical talent, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t work on learning music), the parenting style of your parents, and experiences your character has had that influenced who you become… AFTER each choice, you stand and listen to a video with explanations of how the decisions you just made might impact your identity over time (using star wars characters as examples). And you keep doing this till you get to the FINAL decision….
And then as you were leaving the exhibit, as is the case with Epcot’s Spaceship earth, you could have the results of your character’s development emailed to your home address, as a free souvenir of your visit
Not to mention you could shop the gift shop, for even more stuff…
That said, as a social scientist, Ph.D in cultural anthropology, yadda yadda, I didn’t agree with some of the twabble they were pushing in terms of identity development … it was seriously over simplistic and at times more concerned with political correctness than truth…
But… let’s face it… while how they put the thing together was interesting to me in a technological sense, NONE Of this is what I came for. I came to see Star Wars stuff!!!!
Some of the kids who came to the exhibit had totally dressed for the event, including the little boy above wearing a brown Jedi robe that was clearly purchased for him at a Disney park. Other kids were wearing their Star Wars T-shirts. Of course I was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt AND my Star Wars jewelry (my AT-AT necklace and death-star earrings).
International roaming is NEVER as good as it should be, and can also be very expensive. As such, IF you’re a tourist, traveling in such a way as to stay in a country a month or more, than you’re going to NEED to buy a prepaid sim card from a local carrier (suffering for a week or so is manageable, but not a month). I only spotted one carrier company selling prepaid sims in the airport and as I later learned they’re not necessarily going to be your best choice. Various carriers in Israel, such as Orange (which is changing its name to partner) offer a wide variety of sims for travelers with contracts of 1 week, 2 weeks or a month… BUT because of data coverage issues, its best to research in advance which company’s sim to buy based on your specific travel plans… IF you’re only going to Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, then pretty much any provider will work and you can just go with the cheapest one… but if your plans include historically Arab towns, or more out-of-the-way locations, then you’re going to have explore which carrier provides coverage where. In other words, there’s no easy “best” answer… sorry
Israel is a TINY country, and is one of the most advanced high-tech countries in the world; as such I’d EXPECTED them to have great coverage, just like equally high-tech and even more mountainous South Korea does — a country also in a state of war. In Korea it really doesn’t matter which company you sign up with, cell phone coverage is affordable, and not only is connectivity a given assumption (your phone works in Seoul’s train tunnels AND at the tops of mountains in bumblefuck Korea), but with that phone connectivity also comes access to the internet that is omnipresent, fast, and reliable. So you’d expect this to also be true in Israel… but it’s not. Up until recently only two providers existed and it was expensive and bad; recently an opening of the market has brought down prices and increased coverage, but at the price of customer service (which has gone from bad to worse).
When I arrived, My US provider’s roaming (T-mobile) completely failed me my first night out, even though I had read that their roaming coverage in Israel was actually pretty good and there’d be no need to buy a sim. When my plane first landed my roaming worked just fine in the airport (phone and data), so I had hopes, and didn’t buy the sim cards sold there (which actually turned out to be a good thing). However, once I’d arrived, and unpacked and was ready to go out… I discovered that once I was a few steps away from my Airbnb, which was located right next to one of the major tourist hotels and smack in the middle of two major tourist draw areas (so you’d expect coverage)… I could talk and text but found I could NOT contact Uber to call myself a taxi to the restaurant where I was meeting up with friends (see my post on how YES Israel has Uber, no matter what you’ve read), and had to walk back within range of the house’s WiFi to do it.
Then, later that night, when I ordered my return Uber (using the restaurant’s free WiFi), I found I could no longer see the taxi’s progress to my location or even which taxi was the one sent after I had stepped on to the pavement in front of the place. Again, I had to go BACK into the boundaries of their WiFi signal and reboot the app, and then had to stay there till the taxi arrived, rather than at the edge of the street as I normally would. Forget about using google maps to give me walking directions from place to place, unless I downloaded the map to my phone, but even then, the directions function didn’t work (I had to go low tech and actually READ the map for myself). So with US roaming I had 3 bars for making phone calls but NO DATA!!!!
I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking at cell providers nothing pisses me off faster than seeing three or four bars for cell coverage, and NOTHING for data. Not to be repetitive, but in this day and age ISSUE is increasingly becoming data, NOT the ability to make a phone call. This is ESPECIALLY true when you’re traveling to see the place, rather than on business (business folks still need to make calls). But I’m retired, I really don’t use my iPhone much as a phone anymore. I only makes calls when I really need to and almost no one calls me other than doctors offices and businesses, I’m far more likely to text or use a messenger app of some sort. My friends are either on Facebook or they email me, or use videophone applications to reach me … As such, my iPhone is my link to the world, when out and about, and it’s how I find my way around strange cities, call myself a cab, and decide where to eat.
That said, once I started doing my due diligence (rather than just buying the first sim card I saw) which sim card to buy turned out to be a far more complicated question than I would have imagined. As this web page that I found shows (it tracks current data coverage by carrier/provider, with distinctions for 3G, 4G, etc.), data coverage in Israel kind of seriously sucks.
When using the page you have to select a provider from the pull down menu, and then zoom in to specific neighborhoods to see actual coverage. Looking at the results, the map shows that if you stay in Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem, pretty much any sim will work. However, if like me your trip is going to include spending a full month in places like the Historic town of Acre (pronounced as Akko), located just north of Haifa, not so good. Haifa has GREAT coverage, Akko’s kind of sucks. What was REALLY irritating was learning that even though my T-mobile is roaming using Cellcom’s network, and I was IN neighborhoods where cellcom had STRONG coverage, my T-mobile sim wasn’t seeing that data stream …
I have a theory that this may be because T-mobile’s roaming only sees 3G and 4G and in areas that have upgraded to 4G+, it just can’t read the stuff… but its a theory only.
Anyway, If you can I STRONGLY suggest contacting your host and or hosts and asking them WHICH provider has the best data coverage in the places you’ll be spending the most time. My Host in Tel Aviv had suggested the provider Golan, as the best and cheapest, but I discovered it had NO coverage, NONE in Akko, where I was going to be on my 2nd month. So I contacted that host, and he suggested that I buy the Orange sim (which recently changed its name to Partner)
ALSO, MOST of the shops that are selling sim cards in Israel have HORRIBLE customer service — they’re NOT like in the USA. (At this point I want to kill the guys who sold me my orange card just for being asses). Most of the sellers are just little stalls in malls and such and the folks working them only know what he has in stock and expects you to show up knowing what you want. If you want help making the decision based on needs you’re going to HAVE to go one of their Customer service centers . A way to know is if there’s a guy standing behind the counter and you didn’t have to take a number to talk to him, expect NO CUSTOMER SERVICE. The ones where they actually know enough and have been trained to help you, for those you’ll have to take a number and then sit and wait to see a guy who is SITTING behind a counter. Standing means no customer service, while take and number and sit = customer service.
Earlier this week I am happy to say that I completed yet another one of my bucket list items; I went scuba diving/snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef along the eastern coast of Australia…. before it died completely. That said, I’m VERY sorry to say that, at least for the bits I was able to see up close, were already pretty much bleached/dead, when compared to pictures I have seen over the years of the explosion of color it once was…. very sad. Global climate change, it’s a thing.
My travel-buddy and I had went up to Cairns in northern Queensland, which is the town located closest to barrier reef, and stayed there for a week. Be warned! Once you get there you’ll be barraged with boat tour options because Cairns is about either diving the reef, or visiting the UNESCO world heritage area rainforests/wetlands that line this part of the Australian coast. We ultimately opted for a company a friend of ours had previously used and been very happy with, called Reef Experience, which advertises itself as the only one to offer “all-inclusive” tours… no “hidden fees”, etc.
What this translates to (per my understanding, which may be flawed)… is that while there are other companies that may seem cheaper… in reality they all pretty much cost the same or in fact more, while delivering essentially the same offerings. The major difference is other companies might not include various taxes and fees and what not (cost of the swim gear?) in the advertised price, and you’ll find you have to choose to add them in addition, or not dive… and by the time you do, those other guys are actually more expensive (unless you own all your own scuba gear, etc).
They do have an online website, but I, rather than make the reservation that way, dragged my ass into their offices (a short walk from our Airbnb) FIVE days in advance of our trip … on the assumption that this would keep problems from developing … I paid for the two reservations, and they asked were there any food restrictions. I explained that my friend was a vegetarian who was allergic to mushrooms. So, all good, and was told what to bring with me, when we’d be picked up, etc… and went home.
TWO days later (on Sunday, when we were supposed to dive on Wednesday), and I might add AFTER it was already two late to cancel and get a refund!!!!! I get an email explaining that under Queensland law, not everyone is legally allowed to do scuba diving and that we had to both fill out a medical form and send them a list of all the medications that we were taking, dosage, and how often; They would then show the list to their dive doctor and he would say if we could dive; or he would say that we needed to go to a doctor to be certified in person as healthy enough to do scuba. WHY they could not have told me that when I was in the office, and given me the form then, I don’t know. …. AND this was no PDF that we could fill-in and then send back to them, or even a website to fill out, it was an image file (???!!!). Something you needed to print out and fax back. Now keep in mind, we’re tourists, and I’ve yet to find a really portable printer (and who the fuck brings those on a plane?) and the Airbnb we were renting didn’t have “business office” facilities … so we had to get REALLY creative to figure out how to fill this thing… my friend, who is a professional geek, luckily had an image editor on his laptop… I have no idea how other people might manage it
Also, read the form REALLY carefully. [Have you EVER suffered from a cold? Our best guess was that was, what’s called in the legal profession, a gotcha question; i.e, IF anything bad happens that you might want to sue them over, odds are you answered “have you ever had the common cold” with “No” because you want to be allowed to go scuba diving, and they can then say “SEE they lied on the form! They can’t sue us!”
So… Early Monday morning, after finally figuring out how to fill this thing in, and before we left to do the tourist stuff we had come to Cairns to do — which was NOT filling out medical forms, we sent it to them. LATE Monday night — seriously I kept checking my emails for a response from them, it didn’t come till around 9pm…. we got an email saying that their doctor had OK’d me to dive, but my NOT my friend (who is WAY healthier than I am and not a month before had been scuba diving in the waters off of Bali). Do not pass go, do not collect $200…. He had be seen by an actual doctor to get OK’d to dive, and they suggested a 24 hour walk-in-clinic nearby. My friend (being too tired and grumpy to go that night) contacted them to make an actual appointment for the next morning, but was told he couldn’t get one, that he had to come in as a walk-in, and hope to be seen on a first come first seen basis starting 5pm. (We called the company, who started calling around to other clinics and NONE could see him.) So the next day, he went over at 4:30 …but the doctors on staff did NOT know of his medication, and could NOT ok him to dive! They told him he had to come back AGAIN the following morning at 6:00 AM, BEFORE our 7:30 am dive, when the doctor who actually knew his stuff would be there. So my friend did, and that doctor said it was no problem — the drug is a common one in the USA, but less commonly used in Australia — and thankfully my friend was able to go there and be back by 7am, in time for our 7:30 bus…. which came 10 minutes early…. and after all that rushing, we were dropped off and discovered we now had to stand and wait for the boat crew to be ready…. because they were not.
Talk about hurry up and wait!!! But back to the issue of pricing…. Essentially most of the one-day tours at this price point, about $150 USD/person, all seemed to last for about the same length. You should expect need to arrive at your ship at about 7:30 am and return to port at 4:30 pm. (Like I said, ours included pickup from and drop-off at our hotel — and thankfully the Airbnb was actually IN a hotel or they would not have — as part of the price… on the up side, they did call us when they were about to arrive. I STRONGLY suggest you find what the nearest hotel to you is, and set that as your pick up location if your airbnb is NOT so situated)
Finally the staff arrived to check us all in. We had to show either the print out of our ticket or an email confirming it. On their sheet I saw that they had my friend listed as vegetarian, but NOTHING about his mushroom allergy, so I reminded them…. they said “thank you” and wrote it down…..
Then every group of visitors (friends, families, etc) had their photo taken… like the one I posted at the top of the blog…. this is a photo you’ll be expected to buy later…
Before the boat got started they talked to us, and told us that motion sickness pills (both medicinal and ginger tablets) were available. The Medical ones were $3 AUD for two pills (one for BEFORE we got moving, the second to be taken after lunch), which I went straight over the purchased… and was SO glad I did. Even with, I had to focus on calm breathing and such during part of the rougher parts of the ride out. During the way out to the dive site they fed us breakfast, and lets just say some of the folk who had thought they didn’t need the pills had ‘spilled their cookies’. For my travel buddy…. they had a veggie burger, which he didn’t want because he wasn’t hungry… and for everyone else there were fried-egg and bacon sandwiches… I just had a fried egg which I patted down with paper towels, to remove the oil. While doing it I talked to the chef-female and asked her, “did they tell you my vegetarian friend is allergic to mushrooms?” and the answer was “NO they had NOT.!”… Keep in mind I told them this TWICE…. AND she kind of freaked because the dish she was getting ready to make for his lunch, was FULL of mushrooms!!!! That’s a MAJOR screw up!!
SO, that said… Along the way no matter which cruise you take, they’ll feed you breakfast, lunch, and a snack on the return trip (ours were all you can eat, and there was enough for seconds) — which is either included or you’ll need to pay extra. Ours was included, with water, tea and coffee for free…. pop or beer cost extra.
Once out there, you’ll be lent a blue “stinger suit’ to protect you from jelly fish stings, a pair of flippers, a snorkel and goggles. Our company also lent a wet suit to anyone who was a certified swimmer and didn’t have their own (again something that I think other companies might charge you for). They seemed to have all the gear at pretty much every size, so for instance my friend who wears a shoe size of 13 Australia /49 European & 15 US — huge feet, has trouble find socks and shoes, WAS able to borrow ones that fit… while my feet are at the other end of spectrum (unusually small for a white girl, although average for an Asian woman), and I was also able to find ones that fit snuggly.
They even had prescription goggles that they were lending out for free. I have particularly horrible eyesight, and doubted they’d have mine… but they had one that was close enough to allow me to see, and even had one that was for folks who were even worse than me… although they weren’t bifocals so I could see far but not near….
Once we got out to the reef and dropped anchor, everyone got one scuba dive with an instructor (if they weren’t already certified), where the staff helps you get into the gear, into the water, and then makes sure you can both breath properly using the tank and regulator, and are able to expel water from your goggles while under the water (because apparently the goggles have not yet been made where that won’t happen).
And then you get led around by the instructor for about 20 minutes after that, after the photographer has had a chance to take pics of you while under the water. A second optional scuba dive was available for $65 AUD more (clearly advertised as such in advance), and you could make up your mind to add it after you’ve done the first depending on how you felt about it.
The first dive was about half an 35 min and included instructions and making sure each diver UNDERSTOOD them and could demonstrate them (one on one testing), while the second scuba dive is 45 minutes with none of it wasted on instruction. IF you are a certified diver… you could spend the WHOLE time swimming alone, but if not you HAD to swim with a guide and HAD to go through the lesson, even if, like my travel buddy, it’s not your first time going scuba diving. In fact in my group of four swimmers, I was the only virgin who had never done it before.
So the pic above — see how it’s very green? — That was one I took with their underwater rental camera which cost me about $99 to rent (but included my choice of 15 of the professional photographer shots … not great, … The pics below are that are blue, are by their photographer…. the very big fish is like the crew’s pet. Apparently this type of fish has a 5 year memory and is a bit like a dog in terms of his level of affection for the divers who come by daily
So again, compare the color palate of the pics by the professional (blue) with the one they rented me (green), which I used while scuba diving… i.e., going MUCH deeper into the water than I would experience while snorkeling… much higher water pressure.
Dealing with this pressure, and the fact that the goggles flood regularly is a big part of what they taught us before we went down. I felt ok for most of it; there were some initial problems my regulator which for some reason was set so tightly that I was having to REALLY force the air out while breathing, I could just breath out.
I hand signaled the instructor as we’d been instructed… we went to the surface and I told him about it and he made some sort of adjustment to the thing… and from then on it was fine. Also between the fat on my ass and my tits, there was too much buoyancy between me and the suit (which also has built-in air pockets) so that I wasn’t able to submerge like everybody else … again I asked to go up… explained it to him… he made some more adjustments and then I was fine.
After we finished the dive the instructor (blond guy wearing glasses above) told me that I had actually done unusually well and should feel proud of myself. He said that MOST virgins on the first dive freak out during the instruction section, because of problems breathing, or feeling like they were being water boarded, or whatever…. and MOST never actually manage to get past the initial instruction phase to do the scuba dive itself. I on the other hand had managed to do the whole thing, including pretty much the whole time allocated to the dive.
But at the very end of it my core muscles in my torso, and the muscles in my legs were just knackered. At that point, my friend, who is a strong swimmer, signed up not for the 2nd scuba dive (which he had intended to do) but rather for a snorkel dive with the ships marine biologist (I forget what the fee for that was, but it was less than the snorkel dive), which you could only sign up for if you were a strong swimmer. Since I was tired, he ‘informed’ me that he was borrowing my rental camera.
Before going on the trip I had found a camera store just near our Airbnb rental. The girl working there had convinced me that the rental underwater camera’s offered by these trips weren’t actually all that good, and intended more for video than photos. That a better option, was to use my own iPhone inside one of these clear, heavy plastic zip-lock bags designed for smart phones. She said that’s what she uses and has used for a few years, and if you’re NOT going to invest in a top of the line camera it’s really the best choice. Supposedly I COULD have used it for scuba diving but to be honest, I didn’t trust it to keep my iPhone dry more than a few feet down …. but I figured snorkeling it could manage…. and in addition to the scuba outing, which you HAD to do with a crew member unless you had certification to scuba solo (which takes a full three days minimum to complete in Australia) there were two chances to go snorkeling independently (about four hours total) — although you had to stay within a certain distance of the boat/life guards while doing it ….
An image of an underwater reef taken from above the water, they’re easy to spot, and at points they come up so high that boats can’t pass over them… so snorkeling really is a viable option… at the right locations you don’t HAVE to go very deep to seem them. Our boat while it ultimately docked at two different locations, so we got to see some variation of the reef while limiting our snorkeling to within the ken of the lifeguards. Although, that said…. BOTH locations were on/at the bit of the barrier called the Norman reef — if you look at a map of the barrier reef, it looks like a line of underwater islands.
As the medical thing we had to go through earlier demonstrated, not everyone can scuba dive safely because of medical reasons— for instance people taking certain prescriptions aren’t allowed, and not everyone feels comfortable scuba diving (even among those who want to, they freak out when first trying it as it can be claustrophobic and a bit like being water boarded). As such, even though scuba is included in the price, you can choose to just do snorkeling the whole time, if you’d rather
These were the photos I took during our first chance at snorkeling, before we did our scuba session, when I was still using their rented underwater go-pro type camera (i.e., everything is very green)
… First thing I noticed when doing snorkeling was that MUCH bigger fish than I saw by the reefs seemed to like to hang out JUST under the boat. I think it has something to do with what was in the blue plastic bin they had hanging below the boat… it had these things that looked like transponders in it which I guess sent out sound-waves that attracts the fish to the boat… but that’s just an educated guess (after they pulled up the crate, no more big fish were hanging out down there). Anyway, once again… here was the photo I took of the photographer using the expensive to rent underwater rental camera … very very green
And by comparison, THIS is the image of the same guy only this time I was using my iPhone inside the plastic bag. See how BLUE everything is? And sort of monotone everything is?
Afterwards, at the end of the trip while we were heading back to port, one of the staff members saw me flipping through images, and suggested try a free app for the smart phone, that she loves, which would automatically color correct my photos for me (it also allows you to modify that correction, less or more, etc) called Dive+ … which I did… and here’s what it looks like (before and after)
So it’s a sort of judgement call as to whether to use it or not to apply the correction… but I was actually REALLY happy with some of the photos I ultimately got with the iPhone/Dive+ combo
I keep wondering how far down the professional dive photographer had to go to find this shot (below) … because it was NOT up near the surface where we were snorkeling (images above), that’s for sure
That said, its pretty clear from my images that the barrier reef, at least up at the top where a snorkelers could see it is already like 90% bleached out in these areas… which is very very sad.
OR of course, if you don’t TRUST the plastic pack to keep your smartphone dry, you could always still rent from one of those underwater cameras from the tour company … which I opted for — at the last-minute — as the thought of a water-logged smartphone popped into my brain before the scuba dive. I admit I did this AFTER a lecture by the photographer about how much better my photos would be if I had the right equipment…
Actually I think that it was because I decided to rent their go-pro-type underwater camera (the yellow thing in my left hand in the picture below) along with a package of 15 of the digital photos the professional photographer took……that they decided to put the above photo on their Facebook page… I’m GUESSING it was because … as far as I know, I was one of only TWO people who had opted to rent one of those underwater camera things, and as the camera is front and center in this photo, above, the photo helps to promote other people renting it
As you’re passing through small town of Marshfield Missouri on Route 66 (population 5,720, so slightly larger than my high school) if you pay attention you’ll realize that within the boundaries of the town the route bears the name of Hubble Drive; this is in honor of the town’s favorite son, the historically important American Astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953)
Hubble is highly respected in the scientific community as one of the most important astronomers of ALL time. He played a CRUCIAL role in establishing the scientific fields of extragalactic astronomy (studying objects OUTSIDE the Milky Way) and observational cosmology (the study of structure and evolution of the universe, not through theory, but through things we can actually see).
And, if you choose to divert just a little bit off 66 to enter the center of town, you’ll find a 1/4 scale replica of the Space Telescope named in his honor (which makes complete sense once you realize who he was and what he did) sitting alongside the town hall.
In addition his efforts are lauded in murals I spotted around town
And YET … Webster Country, where Marshfield is located is a deeply Republican area and voted 76.9% in favor of Trump… And Marshfield is 97.8% lily white…. So what do you want to bet that the old guy is turning over in his grave because most of his hometown’s residents believe science is a bad thing?