Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Crystal, Conde Nast, and the Berkeley Effect

Posted in Travel on February 9th, 2006

The Berkeley effect? At one point, in one ranking system, UC Berkeley was rated as the best university in (the world? the U.S.?). Not because all of its departments were best at what they do (they’re not). Indeed, it might have been ranked best even if none of the departments was rated #1 (which several are, depending on who’s doing the rating). The key: Berkeley has (had) so many departments in so many disciplines that are ranked within the top five or top ten: It’s a case of overall excellence and extreme breadth.

Which relates to cruising, Crystal and Conde Nast Traveler because Crystal once again scored highest of any cruise line in last year’s survey, as it has for years. I was reminded of that when we got a flyer from Silversea that, on the cover, claimed Conde Nast Traveler had rated it tops among cruise lines (false) and, inside, included the correct claim: Silversea ranks highest among small-ship cruise lines. (Silversea’s ships carry 296 or 382 passengers; Crystal’s ships carry 940 or 1080 passengers. While 1080 passengers counts as “small” as compared to the megaships that most mainstream cruise lines use, the typical dividing line is 500 passengers.)

In the January 2006 “Gold List” feature, each hotel, resort, and cruise line that qualifies is ranked by survey responses in several categories–six of them for cruise lines. Crystal certainly didn’t rank #1 across the board, but I think they might have come out on top even if they failed to be first in any of the categories (which isn’t the case):

  • Cabins: Crystal’s weak point compared to other luxury lines. Five of the eleven Gold List lines score higher, some of them substantially higher.
  • Food: While Crystal is excellent in this category, scoring better than most ultra-expensive hotels, two small-ship luxury lines (Seabourn and SeaDream) score even higher.
  • Service: Crystal scores 97.1 out of 100–but SeaDream scores 98.2! (SeaDream’s ships house 110 passengers. We have yet to meet anyone who cruises SeaDream; we may be too ordinary to ever meet such folks.)
  • Itineraries: Crystal is tops here at 94.7, but barely ahead of Silversea and Grand Circle.
  • Design: Crystal’s also #1, significantly ahead of the runner-up.
  • Activities: Again, Crystal’s #1 and well ahead of the runner-up

The overall result is that, despite relatively weak Room scores (88.0, when the top score is 96.6), Crystal comes out with an overall 94.1–while the four other luxury cruise lines are clustered closely together (Silversea 92.4, Seabourn 91.9, Radisson Seven Seas 91.3, SeaDream 90.2). (The sixth-rated line is back at 87.0.) Could Crystal have emerged on top if it was second in every category? Quite possibly.

We’ve only been on one other luxury line (Radisson Seven Seas, second among large-ship lines), but from everything I’ve heard, these ratings are right on the money. This year’s poll may be different: the Crystal Harmony is no longer part of Crystal, and while it’s our favorite ship, there’s no question that its rooms aren’t as good as on the other two Crystal ships (and not in the same league as Radisson Seven Seas’ all-suite ships). So room ratings might go up–but the Harmony was also the quintessentially-perfect ship design. (My sense is that the itineraries are also less adventurous with only two ships.)

Seeing those detailed ratings also explains why some reviewers who do walkthroughs have wondered why Crystal scores so high. It’s not the cabins; it’s everything else–and “everything else” really only sinks in during the course of a cruise. For that matter, the design isn’t flashy (quite the opposite) or grand; it’s just effective.

I wish this cruise post was a way of hinting that we’re on our way. It isn’t: indeed, for the first time in more than five years, we have no cruise booked. It really was triggered by the misleading Silversea brochure.

Tripping out, tripping back

Posted in ALA, Cites & Insights, Libraries, Travel on January 29th, 2006

No, I didn’t write the copy in Cites & Insights 6.3 after returning from ALA Midwinter–partly because I didn’t exactly return from ALA Midwinter. Instead of a nice gentle four-night trip to San Antonio and back, I had a somewhat exhausting six-night journey from San Jose to San Antonio to Seattle and back to San Jose.

The Seattle leg was MSN Search Champs V4, an interesting event that I won’t have all that much to say about–partly because most of it took place under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), the first NDA I ever remember signing. Of the portions that were not under NDA, Charles W. Bailey, Jr. has already posted a discussion of one of the most interesting–a talk that actually had me thinking “I might be interested in working on this…”

Another portion was a somewhat impromptu discussion of the MSN part of the Google story regarding the Department of Justice and search records. MSN didn’t accept the initial subpoena (some months ago), but eventually did provide a large sampling of MSN searches–stripped of IP addresses and all other personally-identifying information [PII]–to both sides in the trial. What they did was probably just fine, particularly since there are plans to make such search aggregations available for researchers in the future. What they didn’t do was to let MSN users know this had happened; the people at Search Champs (this was toward the end of lunch) generally felt that they should have. I’m guessing that, next time something like this happens, there will be an alert on the MSN home page (and, if they’re paying attention, on the Yahoo! home page under similar circumstances).

Anyhow, the result of all this (noting that I still travel sans technology) is that I was out of touch for essentially a full week, from 6 p.m. Thursday 1/19 through 7 a.m. Friday 1/27. It took an hour or two at work (out of a four-hour Friday workday) to catch up with email; it took about 90 minutes at home to catch up with 990 blog posts (most of which I didn’t read in full, any more than I would any other time). Oh yes, and I had a week’s worth of newspapers and 5 hours of taped TV shows to deal with (I’m only halfway through the TV shows).

So this is the first real chance I’ve had to post since before Midwinter. It’s still a little haphazard, to be sure. I don’t know that I have a whole bunch to say about Midwinter, although there might be one or two later posts. Attendance seemed on the light side (given the lack of overcrowding in hotel lobbies and bars and the relative lack of queues in restaurants). Weather wasn’t quite up to San Antonio norms. The C&I gettogether went very well (10 people?). The OCLC Bloggers Salon went swimmingly (maybe half repeats from last summer, half new people). My experiences with LITA IGs…well, that might be another post. I don’t remember all that much new in the exhibits. As always, I had a good time in San Antonio (and in Seattle, but that’s not “as always”).

So when did I write C&I 6.3? Before Midwinter. Some of it was written before the special issue came out; the three-day weekend provided enough time to do the rest and do initial editing (not quite enough editing: I really should know that Steven M. Cohen’s name does not contain “ph”!). I put it all together and did copyfitting yesterday and today; tomorrow I’ll update the volume index and then take a few days off writing (except maybe blogging) before starting on another column and stuff for C&I 6.4. (Except, of course, that there’s already some material for the next issue…)

To those of you I met for the first time at Midwinter: It was a pleasure. (To those of you I met for the first time in Seattle: Ditto.) To those of you who I only see twice a year and renewed acquaintance with: Also a pleasure. That’s one reason I keep going. And even though I groused a little bit the 15th or 20th time I heard the line, “I read the Library 2.0 issue on the flight here” was good to hear (repeatedly!): It means people are reading C&I.

Midwinter nostalgia (and suggestions)

Posted in ALA, Libraries, Travel on January 14th, 2006

Nostalgia? For a conference? Yes–although technically, ALA Midwinter isn’t a conference. It’s the ALA Midwinter Meeting, and the terminology is significant, as you’ll discover if you blow into San Antonio looking for lots of thoroughly-described formal programs with speaker panels and the like.

You won’t find many of them. Only the ALA President and a few ALA offices are allowed to hold formal programs during the ALA Midwinter Meeting, I assume because the intent is that most people shouldn’t have to pay for two conferences a year–and to clear the way for Midwinter’s formal purpose. Which is business meetings and informal discussions. Thousands of them (quite literally).

Midwinter is a time for committees to get their work done (although they also meet at Annual, and those with serious agendas almost certainly carry out online work between conferences). Midwinter is the time most awards committees meet and make decisions (although they’re the one class of committee that could meet entirely “virtually,” since awards committees are exempt from ALA’s open-meeting policy). Midwinter is when interest groups (LITA), discussion groups (every other division), and committees firm up formal program plans for Annual and start working on program ideas for the following year’s Annual.

Some IGs and DGs also have topical discussions during Midwinter; sometimes those discussions loosely resemble programs. (I’m afraid LITA’s Top Technology Trends “trendspotters” Midwinter session has moved too far from a bunch of folks tossing around ideas and chewing on them to a fairly formal set of presentations, although I understand that San Antonio may see some moves to deal with the situation. I’m no longer part of the group, so that’s all I know.) Some divisions do a good job of publicizing the plans of their IGs and DGs at Midwinter, so that people can see which ones they’d like to drop in on. Some don’t. The new handbook may do a better job in this regard (any descriptive material would be a better job); we’ll see.

Midwinter exhibits tend to be relatively heavier on technology and services, mostly because they’re lighter on publishers, at least in the past. They’re a lot lighter (in the past, at least) on author signing sessions and thousands of people hauling carriers through the aisles picking up free posters, which can make Midwinter exhibits a much less frenzied affair and much better time to actually look at what’s happening with systems and services.

A bunch of bloggers offered good advice for conference-goers right around the time of ALA Annual 2004. I covered some of them in Cites & Insights 4:9 (July 2004)–if you just want that essay, it’s here. Most of the advice works for Midwinter as well, but not all of it, since there basically aren’t formal programs and panels.

I like ALA Midwinter. I’ve always thought it was the easiest way to explore possible committees and interest groups–to see what would make sense to get involved in. It runs at a less hectic pace than Annual. And San Antonio is, in my opinion, the ideal city for Midwinter: The weather’s usually fairly good, and most of the the hotels and conference center are conveniently joined by the Riverwalk, along with loads of restaurants and several miles of scenery. (By the way, I submitted material to a wiki for the first time in conjunction with Midwinter–the San Antonio “radical reference” wiki subset. I submitted the original “Getting around conference sites,” which has since been enhanced by “jp,” who–among other changes–found the Riverwalk map that I was unable to find. “The Riverwalk is your friend” is something I firmly believe, if you’re able to walk with no difficulty and across sometimes-less-than-smooth paths.)

So what’s the nostalgia? When I started going to ALA, almost exactly 30 years ago, Midwinter was a small event. I particularly remember the ones held in Washington, D.C., near the zoo: Almost everyone stayed in two hotels across the street from each other, and the claim was that if you sat in the Sheraton’s lobby bar (a true lobby bar, right out in the middle of the lobby) long enough, everyone you knew in ALA would come by. It seemed like the truth at the time. Chicago Midwinters were also memorable (and not for the cold).

Midwinter with 3,000 or so participants was a very different animal than the current Midwinter, which is about as large as Annual was a couple of decades ago. I won’t say “better” or “worse”–just different. (So was Annual, to be sure, but mostly in terms of scale; even back then, it was too big and complicated to get my head around.)

Do I miss those Midwinters? Not really. but there’s a little nostalgia.

Suggestions? I don’t have much to offer that isn’t already on that wiki site or in the 2004 C&I piece. Don’t overschedule. Do try at least one new group (I plan to!). Do enjoy the city, at least a little bit. If you get a chance to visit the Big Enchilada, San Antonio’s main public library, it’s worth a visit. (I do remember the all-conference reception at the first San Antonio Midwinter after that library opened: A wonderful event at an impressive facility.) (Once you see it, you’ll know why it’s been called the Big Enchilada.) Do stroll the Riverwalk–see how many friends you encounter at the various riverfront bars and restaurants, and along the surprisingly long walkway. The wiki offers some suggestions for other parts of San Antonio, and could certainly use lots more suggestions (including more non-vegetarian restaurants).

Oh, and if you’ve never done so, attend one ALA Council meeting. I think every ALA member should do that once–and for most of us, once is enough.

Speaking fees: This one really isn’t my fight

Posted in ALA, Speaking, Travel on December 14th, 2005

When Jenny Levine expressed some frustration at ALA’s policy regarding speakers at ALA conferences who are ALA members–that is, no expenses, no free registration, nada–I commented that this wasn’t unusual for a professional assocation, and that I thought it made sense in terms of conflict of interest. You can see my comment among the growing multitude of comments, but here it is as well:

It’s a standard ALA policy that members of the organization can’t be paid for speeches at ALA conferences (that are part of the conference proper). That’s probably true of many organizations, as it’s fairly basic conflict-of-interest stuff. I think it’s a necessary ethical policy, in fact.

I suspect you’d find the same to be true of ASIST, for example, and probably most state library associations.

In other words, you’re not paying them to present at their conference–you’re paying them to attend your conference. If it’s “them,” then you’re not a member–and you should not only get in free, you should probably receive some compensation (not that I want to get PLA in trouble…). (At least, I’d demand a full-conference registration–but that’s me.)

I’m no Jeff Jarvis or Jenny Levine. I know damned well that if I’m not able or willing to participate, they can find someone else who can do just as good a job–particularly on a panel. And I’ve turned down a couple of invitations where the finances didn’t make sense.

You can read the whole sequence of comments. One person seemed to assume that I speak because of submitted proposals (never the case, at least in the last 10 years). Marydee Ojala confirmed that many (most?) professional associations bar expenses, honoraria, or freebies for internal speakers as a matter of policy. I see talk of petitions, suggestions that invited speakers are the only programs that conferences have (which has almost never been the case for state and national library conferences that I’ve attended), and so on and so on.

Lots of other bloggers have commented as well–including some of those who are “on the speaking circuit,” which I’ve never been and don’t want to be.

What I’ve learned from what I’ve seen yesterday and today (not including posts since 9 a.m. this morning, which I’ll read after posting this):

  • Quite a few frequent speakers apparently pay their own way–their own travel costs, hotel expenses, etc.–and do this quite a few times a year.
  • Some of the frequently-invited speakers don’t expect or get honoraria and pay their own way.
  • Although I haven’t seen it stated, I can only assume that some people work at places that don’t mind having them gone a very large percentage of the time–and it sounds as though some of them even get (limited) travel support for those speaking engagements.

All of which leads me to believe that I really have no business arguing for or against policies in today’s field, because I’m so out of touch with what’s going on, and likely to stay that way.

It’s not that I haven’t spoken. You can check my full vita here or (for PDF-haters) a selective vita here. When it says “[Invited]” that’s what it means: I did not submit a proposal, I wasn’t part of a planning process, I certainly don’t have an agent drumming up possibilities (all of my speeches put together might add up to one speaking fee for a “name” speaker, or they might not).

If it says “[Invited]” and it wasn’t in San Jose, Palo Alto, San Francisco, or somewhere else within about 45 miles of Mountain View (or during ALA, Midwinter, or the Charleston Conference), you can bet that whoever I was speaking to paid full expenses: travel (flights and ground transportation), hotel and meals (usually for the full conference, if it’s a conference: I try to attend the whole thing), registration. Most of the time, there was also an honorarium: not enough to get rich on, but maybe enough to cover a little of the vacation time and preparation time. After various extended negotiations due to misunderstanding, I’ve even put together a page laying out expectations for speeches.

That’s apparently peculiar for those who want to be known as speakers these days. Apparently, if you’re to be established as an Expert or as the Go-To Guru on a topic, you need to go for it–spend your own money and your own time so you can speak ten, fifteen, twenty times a year.

Maybe I was lucky. I never particularly thought of myself as an Expert on any topic, at least not enough of an Expert that you’d automatically invite me to speak on it. And I’ve never been in a position where tenure was a possibility or where professional speaking and writing had a direct impact on my job performance ratings or salary. So I had no particular motivation to beat the bushes for speaking invitations.

I had almost 14 good speaking years, some of them years when I turned down invitations because I was unwilling to be gone any more often (or work was reluctant to have me out too often, although that’s never been a huge issue). Invitations have declined recently, and that’s OK too.

I can only think of one or two cases where I turned down an invitation because of the size of honorarium or lack thereof, although one association made expense reimbursement so unpleasant–and generally was such a hassle to deal with–that when I was invited the next year I simply turned it down without further discussion. (Not a library association, fortunately–one in a semi-related field.)

In any case, I clearly don’t understand the dynamics of today’s frequent speakers, which means I don’t understand the dynamics of the whole speaker/conference situation these days. I don’t plan to change my own patterns; although I love state library conferences and the like, I don’t love them enough to subsidize them.

So I’m backing off on this discussion. Those who are on the speaking circuit (or who want to be) and those who rely on “circuit speakers” for their conference programming should debate the issues; I’ll lurk on this one.

A little travel music

Posted in Travel on December 13th, 2005

Four little items, all travel-related. Make of them what you will:

  • Four out of five Americans don’t have passports. That means they’ve never been outside the country, except possibly to Canada or Mexico. For that matter, some Americans who have passports don’t use them. Travel broadens the mind wonderfully–but then, I’d guess a significant percentage of Americans (and much higher percentage in some other countries) never travel more than a hundred miles or so from where they were born.
  • We’re all tourists–as at least one travel writer has said, breaking down the snobbish distinction between (mere) tourists and Travelers. Unless you’re actually going to live in another country, it’s an arbitrary distinction. The rest of us our tourists, whether we wear the silly clothes and offend the people we visit or whether we try to enrich our lives by seeing what’s there to be seen and appreciating the differences in people and places.
  • True story: A California couple—a California couple!–was turned away when they wanted to board the plane to fly to their cruise in French Polynesia. One of the two said: “Nobody told us we needed a passport to cruise French Polynesia.” (Actually, I find it extremely unlikely that any cruise line cruising French Polynesia doesn’t have explicit statements in its brochures and travel packets that passports are required–most of them require you to send in your passport number before tickets are issued–but it’s possible that the travel agent didn’t explicitly read those instructions on the phone.) I wonder where in the U.S. this California (California! As a native, I’m stunned…) couple thought they were going on a nine-hour east/southeast flight?
  • “That’s the men’s room, Margaret.” I wrote that down in my little notebook one evening on Crystal Harmony, somewhere in Alaska, in one of the public spaces. And yes, Margaret–a wee bit older than I–was headed into the inappropriate facility. It took three times, but her companion managed to steer her toward a more suitable room. I thought there might be a story there, but maybe not…

[Alternate name: Clearing out the “blog possibilities” notebook.]

Random notes

Posted in Libraries, Speaking, Travel, Writing and blogging on November 5th, 2005

Quickies on a Saturday morning after a 48-hour absence from the net. (I was speaking at Cal State Northridge, opening the CARL-SEAL program “Hot off the press: Insider’s tips for successful publishing”–and thoroughly enjoyed it.)

  • At some point during the day (probably during my scattershot opening speech), I noted that, in my opinion, a very high percentage of library-related blogs are worthwhile, and aggregation makes it plausible to keep up with lots of them. (I noted Sturgeon’s Law, “90% of everything is crud,” although I used the more common version ending in “rap” instead of “rud” and argued that while it’s probably true for blogs in general, I don’t think it holds for the biblioblogosphere. I also noted that I currently track 216 library blogs and anticipated that, after being away for 48 hours, I’d find 150 to 200 (I hope I said “to 200″) posts waiting for me, which would take half an hour to an hour to scan. The actual number is 238, and it may take a little longer. Still, 238 in two days is manageable.
  • Dorothea Salo thought there might be enough Google Print books to make an egosurf worthwhile. So, of course, I did just as she says: “(Oh, shut up. If you haven’t already done it, you’re going to as soon as you finish reading this post. Maybe sooner.)” I was astonished by the result (none of my books are there, but…), even after adding quotes around the name to eliminate all those mentions of people named Crawford who work for Walt Disney, etc. 26 books, most of which I’ve never heard of… No, I haven’t gone back to look at the snippets yet…
  • I was encountering a slow but annoying stream of spamments, all of them trapped by WordPress but requiring modification to report as spam. Today I find 44. So, reluctantly, I’ve had to add yet another word to the total blacklist, relating to a game I’ve even discussed in posts…

Hey, I said it was random.

Updates a day later:

It took me 55 minutes to go through the blogs–but that included the time to make comments on two of them and the time to scan LISNews as well. I think I found 15 posts that were “keepers”–ones I’d print out for possible reflection later. But quite a few others were informative, entertaining, or both.

Some clarification on “26” above. I checked a little more. Most of those–at least two-thirds–really only include me as a co-author; they comment on or include citations for Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness and Reality. Two are books that include chapters or contributions from me. That doesn’t really leave much, and that’s as I’d expect. Note, of course, that (as with Dorothea, I believe), these are all from the publisher-based Google Print program, not the Google Print Library Program.

ALA in New Orleans for Annual 2006

Posted in ALA, Travel on October 21st, 2005

I was delighted to see this announcement: New Orleans will continue to be the site for the 2006 ALA Annual Conference, June 22-29.

Not some supposed “virtual conference” with us all promising to send our registration money to relief efforts, leaving ALA $2 million in the hole, 20,000-odd librarians without the networking and learning opportunities of a real-world conference, and a chunk of money in (whose?) hands that will be a drop in the bucket compared to likely federal aid. Meanwhile abandoning the chunk of New Orleans that depends on tourism (otherwise known as “New Orleans”) without much help, since aid money tends to go in odd directions…

A real conference. With loads of Cajun and Creole cuisine, the nightlife of the French Quarter (which never did drown), and all the stuff that makes ALA Annual worthwhile.

Good for ALA. Good for New Orleans. I certainly plan to be there (I won’t say anything about “come hell or high water,” given disbelief in the one and all-too-much belief in the other). Maybe it’s time to try another C&I “in person” gathering?

Some other venue might be the place for folks to discuss what should happen with the massive reconstruction of New Orleans. My father’s a civil engineer; his thoughts about rebuilding in flood plains are clear and not too kindly. In NO’s case, I suspect there are parts of the city that should be turned into wetlands, with the people resettled in other areas that are above sea level. I also suspect, given who live(d)(s) in those areas, that the results would be for the poor to get even poorer, which makes things tricky.

But that’s a different set of issues. If I have a “favorite city” for ALA Annual, it’s probably New Orleans; too hot, too muggy, but–well, you’re in New Orleans. (I do, in fact, have a favorite for Midwinter, at least so far, and ALA’s there in January 2006.)

Make an effort to be there. It shouldn’t be a somber event. If Habitat for Humanity and others are (still?) building houses, sure, some of you may want to come early or leave late and contribute some labor. But just by being there–by spending your money in the local restaurants (and New Orleans food is mostly local restaurants, not national chains), by staying at hotels full of local workers–you’ll helping to make New Orleans back into the Big Easy.

[LibrarianInBlack blogged this before I did. I’m always happy to give her credit. I’d already seen the item, but hadn’t thought about blogging it.]

Loud and tricky: The last Reno post

Posted in Stuff, Travel on October 4th, 2005

This is really a two-parter, finishing “Reno musing” and maybe clearing the way for relevant posts (don’t laugh: it could happen).

The first part is a grumble of sorts, pointed mostly at a few of the downtown Reno casinos: Turn down the music, dammit! Last time we visited, I thoroughly enjoyed Eldorado’s selection of music, played at appropriate volume (you could enjoy the music, but you could also converse or think). Ditto Silver Legacy. Other casinos had less interesting music selections, but only infrequently too loud.

This time (what, I can’t hear you over the music) (I said, THIS TIME) (sorry, I still can’t hear you…) the music at Eldorado was less interesting and the volume was nearly deafening. For two evenings, Silver Legacy was better: A little loud, but still interesting selections and not intolerable. Then, the third evening, the volume was up. Way up. Painfully way up. To the point that I actually went to the concierge desk and complained. Twice. After they said “yes, it is too loud, we’ll deal with it” the first time–and the volume went up again.

Oddly, most outlying places (e.g., Atlantis and Peppermill, also a casino in Carson City) we went to were much better in this regard–music at near-background levels. Making them much more pleasant places to be.

Then there’s the “tricky” part: The new slots. Much of this is good–after years in which there were ten nickel machines over in a corner and about an equal mix of quarter and dollar slots, now there are loads of penny machines as well, but mostly there are multidenominational “bill-in, print-out” machines, which accept folding money or cash-out tickets from other machines and where you can choose one of several denominations (either penny, nickel, dime, and quarter, or nickel, dime, quarter, half-buck, or in some cases quarter, buck, fiver), then choose one of several games (typically several poker variations or maybe keno/blackjack/traditional slots).

Not my first experience with ticket-out machines: that was at Harrah’s New Orleans (sigh) a year or so ago, but at that point, you had to go to the cashier to cash a ticket, which made it a nuisance. Most Reno casinos that have ticket-out machines also have remarkable multifunction machines that are ATMs (with huge fees), bill changers (with no fee), and ticket-redemption machines (even spitting out change): No fuss, no problem.

Harrah’s New Orleans was also my only previous experience with an intriguing variation on slot draw poker (my only real gaming preference, and one of few casino slots where you know the actual payback percentage right away, because the payback for each hand is posted): Multihand poker. You play some number of hands, typically one to three, one to five, or one to ten (but there are penny and nickel slots with one to fifty or one to one hundred); one hand is dealt; you decide which cards to hold. Then all the hands you play are treated as the same set of held cards, with the draw dealt separately for each hand. I like it–particularly since you’re not obliged to play more than one hand.

But there’s a downside to the multiway/multidenominational machines: The “bet max” button, always just a little too close to the draw/deal button. On traditional poker slots, the maximum bet is five (five quarters, five dollars, five nickels). Hit the wrong button by accident, and a little “Oops” is in order.

On the new machines, maximum bet may be fifty or even 100. If you’re playing pennies, no big deal. If you’re playing quarters…well, suddenly you’re putting $12.50 on a single play, which I would never intentionally do (in my socioeconomic range, that would move from gaming to gambling). I accidentally hit the wrong button just once; fortunately, I was dealt three of a kind, so it worked out OK…and I was extremely cautious about buttons from then on.

Did I see lots of people accidentally playing $12.50 hands when they intended to play $1.25? Not really. What I did see were the odd “non-problem/big-bucks” gamblers, the ones that casually slide $100 into a quarter machine, then keep hitting Bet Max until they run out of money, sometimes not even really looking at the machine. I base “non-problem” on the way they dress and look–these aren’t poverty cases. Some are young “action” players who just want to see fast action; some seem to be wiling away a few minutes before dinner or something. At $12.50 a pop. You’ll see the balance go up to, say, $300…and go down to nothing just as quickly, because they don’t really care about the money.

In some ways, I think that fifty-coin max buttons that are too easy to hit hurt the casinos, because they slow down play for all but the craziest players. You make very sure that you’re touching the right button…

That’s it for this little vacation. Thinking too much, I guess–one reason I’ll never be a big-time gambler (knowing my math is another reason: slot poker is cheap entertainment, but I know I’m going to lose–which is only cheap entertainment when it’s small-time gaming).

Oh, and if you submit a comment related to this post and it just doesn’t show up at all, apologies: Because of spamment, I’ve added a few words to the “delete automatically” vocabulary.

Countries and States

Posted in Speaking, Travel on September 30th, 2005

I’ve seen the maps for some time, but never got around to generating them. But here goes.

Herewith, the countries I’ve set foot in…


create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

The detail’s a little odd, but what this says is we’re strong in the Caribbean (some fascinating places that aren’t on the country list), fairly strong in the Mediterranean and Western Europe and South Pacific, and weak elsewhere.

Then there’s the states map:


create your own visited states map
or check out these Google Hacks.

I’ve done better there, with 34 of 51 states (inc. DC) visited.

My guess is that, if I did this again in 10 years, there would be another 2 to 6 nations (maybe more) and 2 to 6 states. Somehow, at the current rate, the possibility of speaking at least once in every state (noting that 4 or 5 of those in the map aren’t ones I’ve spoken in) is fading from improbable to highly improbable.

As to the big country just north of the U.S.: British Columbia (several times) and Ontario, but we’ll add several other provinces one of these years…

The great oatmeal quest

Posted in Food, Travel on September 29th, 2005

So we went up to Reno to celebrate my 60th birthday, as alluded to in another post. Stayed at the Eldorado, with a 24-hour restaurant (Tivoli Gardens) that used to have an absurdly long and varied menu and still has a fairly long and varied menu.

First morning after getting there, my wife was under the weather, and didn’t finally make it down for “breakfast” until something like 1:30 p.m. All she really wanted to eat was oatmeal.

Most of Tivoli Gardens’ menu is either available 24 hours a day or available from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Oatmeal, as she guessed it might be, is an exception: The menu says it’s available from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. I don’t know: Maybe there’s something mystical about making oatmeal.

She asked. They said “You’re about two hours late.” The best they could do was Cream of Wheat, which is not really in the same ballpark. She coped.

Next morning, we were still a bit late to breakfast: We got there around 9:30 or 10. She ordered oatmeal. They were out: “ran out a little while ago.” She ordered something else.

Final morning in Reno, we made it in pretty early: Around 8:15-8:30. She ordered oatmeal.

They were out. Less than two hours after they started serving oatmeal.

Either there’s something special about oatmeal and Reno, or all they fix is one little pot at 7 a.m., or maybe they don’t really serve oatmeal at all.

Oh, the next morning we were in Sonora, at the Best Western Sonora Oaks. Had breakfast at the Pine Tree, a restaurant on the motel’s grounds. She ordered oatmeal. They brought her oatmeal. Good oatmeal, too, she says.

[What? You’re waiting for the big moral? Deeper significance? Did you notice the name of this here blog?]


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