Monday, November 19, 2018

Seattle layover

My current view, just after sunrise, at SeaTac airport. I arrived here after my 5:45 am flight from Victoria. My gosh, that's early. Well, really, it's the 3:30 am taxi. I ended up not going to bed, so the only shuteye I got was a snooze on the 20 minute flight.

I awoke to the coolest view, of either Mt Baker or Mt Ranier silhouetted against the lightening sky, the oranges reaching up to meet the deep blues. It was stunning.

Then I remembered that my goal for this trip was to get to know my camera more, and get back in the habit of taking pictures. 10 years ago, I was taking hundreds a day. Now, it's rare.

So, I reached for my camera, but by then the mountain was behind us, and we didn't circle back.

So, I did the next best thing... my impression:

I like how it feels, but in actuality, the orange band was narrower.

And the mountain needs to be less like a chopped off pyramid, or an Aztec monument, and more like a dormant volcano.... maybe I'll play with it.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Whitey Bulger meets his end

Because odd things interest me...

The other night I heard the breaking news, that "former mobster, FBI informant and fugitive Whitey Bulger was brutally murdered, in custody, just one day after being transferred to a different prison...".

Hmmm.... I'd heard that name before, and am always intrigued by clandestine goings on, so went to refresh myself. It turns out I only knew part of the story. Here it is, in a nutshell:

The headline

James Joseph "Whitey" Bulger Jr., the Irish-American organized crime boss and Boston gangster, serving two life sentences after 16 years as a fugitive, was brutally murdered on Tuesday, at age 89, one day after being transferred to a federal prison in Virginia.

Bulger's Alcatraz mugshot

Early crime and punishment

Bulger first went to jail for armed robbery and truck hijacking in 1956. He spent nine years in prison, including a stint at Alcatraz.

After his release in 1965, Bulger worked as a labourer before becoming a bookmaker and loan shark under Donald Killeen, the leader of the dominant Boston mob, The Killeens.

In 1971, the FBI approached Bulger and attempted to recruit him as an informant, initially as part of their effort against the Patriarca family.

The fugitive

In December 1994, Bulger was informed by retired FBI Agent and former handler John Connolly that the FBI was set to make arrests during the Christmas season. In response, Bulger fled Boston on December 23, 1994, and began his life as a fugitive.

In 1997, while Bulger was on the run, criminal actions by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials tied to Bulger were exposed by the media, causing the FBI great embarrassment. Disgraced FBI agent, John Connolly, was convicted and jailed in 2002.


In the ensuing years, FBI agents chased down sightings, both confirmed (London) and unconfirmed (Sicily, Uruguay).

An off-duty Boston police officer spotted Bulger at a San Diego screening of The Departed, the 2006 Martin Scorsese film in which the character of Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, is loosely based on Bulger, but he eluded capture.

The FBI also initiated a number searches based on Bulger's interests.

FBI agents staked out 60th anniversary Battle of Normandy ceremonies, looking for Bulger, a military history fan.

In 2010, in their pursuit of Bulger, a known book lover, the FBI visited bookstores in the Victoria (British Columbia) area. FBI agents questioned employees and distributed wanted posters.


Bulger lived as a fugitive for 16 years, spending 12 years on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. The US$2 million reward offered for information leading to Bulger's capture, was second only to Osama Bin Laden's capture reward.

Bulger was featured on America's Most Wanted more than a dozen times.

In 2011, the FBI ran a successful media campaign featuring Bulger's girlfriend, Catherine Greig, that broke the case.

The tip came from Iceland. Anna Björnsdóttir, a former model, actress, and Miss Iceland (1974), who had lived in Bulger's neighborhood in Santa Monica, recognized Greig when CNN ran a story on the campaign.

On June 22, 2011, the FBI used a ruse to lure the 81 year old Bulger, out of his apartment and arrested him, along with his girlfriend (Greig remains in prison for harbouring a fugitive).


Bulger visted Alcatraz twice: once as a prisoner, and again,
as a tourist, while he was a fugitive. He and his girlfriend
even had their photos taken "behind bars".
Following his arrest, Bulger revealed that rather than living as a recluse, he had in fact traveled quite a bit, including frequent trips to Mexico to buy heart medication.

He even returned to Alcatraz as a tourist and had the obligatory souvenir photograph taken behind bars, wearing a striped suit.


At his trial, Bulger pled not guilty to 48 charges, including 19 counts of murder, extortion, money laundering, obstruction of justice, perjury, narcotics distribution and weapons violations.

In November 2013, Bulger was convicted on 31 counts, including 11 murders, and received two life sentences, plus additional years.

Murder (aka THE END)

Bulger was moved to the Federal Penitentiary in West Virginia on October 29, 2018. Just 1 day later, on October 30th, he was killed.

Three prisoners were captured on a security camera, pushing Bulger's wheelchair out of the frame. The grisly murder, using a smuggled weapon concealed in a sock, took place shortly thereafter.

Related resources
Grim New Details About Whitey Bulger's Death Revealed - Huffington Post
Whitey Bulger’s Fatal Prison Beating: ‘He Was Unrecognizable’ - New York Times
Whitey Bulger's attackers tried to cut out his tongue, federal official says - CNN
What Inmates Are Saying About the Brutal Prison Hit on Whitey Bulger - Vice
Ex-con claims feds wanted to get rid of James Whitey Bulger - New York Post
Juror who helped send Whitey Bulger to prison is deeply saddened by killing - NY Post
This man may have waited 38 years for his revenge on Whitey Bulger - NY Post

Saturday, October 20, 2018

New reflections

The flat I stayed in when I was first in Barcelona
had this great rooftop terrace, shared by all the residents.
Rarely did anyone else ever use it, but one day I came out
to find "Sandra" drying in the hot sun, fresh from a bath.
Reflecting on pauses I am taking, and spaces I am creating in my life. Have I finally had enough of myself to start making changes? I don't know, but something is shifting.

The thing I am mostly aware of this week is how much a single day alone can mean to me. I thought I needed more. What I crave is long stretches, but I'll take what I can get. I also recognize that moving heaven and earth to get a day or two IS worth it.

But a rest was as good of a change, and having 36 hours or so alone this past week let me relax into myself.

Nothing grand, just puttering around my own home, having a nice cup of tea in the living room, and reading a book. Being home alone is gold.

The past 8 months have taught me a lot, including a reminder that I may not ever want to live with someone. I always though I might be open to a long term relationship, if I ever came across the right situation - and I probably still am - but sharing my abode? Right now I can't imagine it. What I can imagine is a long time relationship, with 2 apartments. People do it. I could.
But, really, all that is so far off my radar, just a thought.

Creating intentional time alone is something I need to take seriously as a cornerstone in my life. I have to look past the barrier of not being able to that at home.

When I was travelling, for the most part, I felt that sense of inner peace and contentment of being myself, within myself. Wherever I am, I am home. I didn't feel lost because I didn't have a "home".

I wonder how I can create some of that same sense of self, and inner solitude, when I am not living alone? I feel like I am grasping at a loose thread of a thought beyond my reach...

Reflections this week around:
  • Solitude
  • Swimming
  • Pausing
  • Nourishing
  • Writing
Sometimes I feel my brain spinning like a top. I have so much going on in there (!), that I am not able to breathe or breathe in. I need space, and I am not creating that for myself.

Now is not the time to reflect on what I don't have, or to beat myself up for not creating what's important.

Now is the time to just stop, get grounded, and find a few threads from which to weave a new way of being. Or just disentangle myself from the snags.

BTW, this is a stream of consciousness that I don't expect anyone else to read, or to follow. It's more like my blog of old. I've been writing less like this in recent years, as my blog has become more 'visible'. I've even thought of creating a new blog, just for my thoughts, but why should I? I've had this one forever. I actually doubt anyone reads it anyways, and I am not worried what people think, so I'll just carry on....

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Review: Spaceman

Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the UniverseSpaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Mike Massimino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great listen, with a view from the Hubble

I loved this book. I've read quite a few astronaut accounts and none have given me a visceral sense of what it feels like to take off in a rocket, until Spaceman. Mike Massimino has a way with words, and narrating it himself is what makes it come to life. It's brilliant.

The other lasting memory I have from this book, which I listened to more than a month ago, is the view of earth from the Hubble. Again, he takes you there. First, he makes sure you realize how unique the view is, and that only a small handful of people have seen it. He contrasts the view from the moon, from which you can only see part of the earth, with the view from the Hubble, so high that you can see the entire sphere of earth. It was an ah ha moment for me. It wasn't until the Hubble launched that we earthlings saw pictures of the 'globe', the beautiful little round ball that is our planet. From there, Massimino brilliantly describes what it was like to see it firsthand. You are there, almost seeing it with him, forcing himself to look away so that he can perform his spacewalk work, as it was so mesmerizing it was almost impossible. Wow.

This is also a great book for Canadians who will enjoy getting an understanding of how the Canada Arm really works, and what it makes possible.

DEFINITELY time well spent.

Images of Massimino are courtesy of NASA

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 13, 2018

15 years

Creative Commons image
markedyer on Flickr

It seems that I have been blogging for 15 years...

My first blog post - September 18, 2003

The milestone got past me, but not only just.

So many iterations and variations along the way, but remains is the ever-present desire to write...

Friday, October 05, 2018

Review: Why They Do It

Why They Do It: Inside the Mind of the White-Collar CriminalWhy They Do It: Inside the Mind of the White-Collar Criminal by Eugene Soltes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Insightful, but not so memorable...

I forgot to review this book right after finishing it, and although its only been a week or two, I barely remember it.

I guess it was ok, it kept my attention.

As I write this, a couple of stories are coming back to me...

Interesting to learn about the forks in the road when people made a poor judgement call, then couldn't (or wouldn't) go back.

I can't say I now know why they did it, because my mind never works like those described, but it was insightful.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Review: Citizen Coke

Citizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola CapitalismCitizen Coke: The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism by Bartow J. Elmore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Glad I stuck it out... but this wasn't a riveting read (or listen).

This definitely wasn't what I expected. Many years ago I read about the debacle when Coke changed its formula, which I found quite fascinating, but the marketing implications of this were barely mentioned in this book.

This was more like a text book, documenting the original formula, all the sugar, cocaine (yes, its true), caffeine and water wars and challenges, distribution, licensing and packaging. I faded in and out, but there were occasional bright spots, such as the interesting effort to get a cold Coke in the hands of every soldier, every day, around the world.

I found the end depressing, but informative. Would we have all the world water shortages and heaps of plastic and aluminum waste, and even recycling, if this magic black potion was never invented?

I don't know the answer, but it made me look at the Diet Coke can next to me with new eyes.

Don't read this if you're looking for marketing or amusement, but I recommend it if you are studying or working in purchasing, manufacturing and distribution. Or need your eyes opened wider than a cold Coke will do on a hot day.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Review: The Pierre Hotel Affair

The Pierre Hotel AffairThe Pierre Hotel Affair by Daniel Simone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A heist from the bad guy's perspective.
I enjoy stories of real life heists, satisfying my curiosity about how they pulled it off. This book certainly gave me that! I'm equally interested in how authorities crack the case, but it was missing this key element for me. Refreshingly though, the book served up the whole story from the perspectives of the criminals. It was a new way of looking at a story, and it was interesting... up to a point. How they escaped capture evolved into how they both stuck together and double crossed each other. Meh. They didn't all live to tell the story. Overall, I'm glad I stuck with it until the end, but it doesn't leave me hankering for another crime-by-the-criminals tale.
Audible version

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Adding this hotel to my 'must visit hotel bar' list for next time I am in New York. I wasn't familiar with the Pierre until I started reading about its history.

The Pierre is a luxury hotel located at 2 East 61st Street, at the intersection of that street with Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan, New York City, facing Central Park. The 525.01 foot tall building (aka 160.02 m), was designed by Schultze & Weaver, and opened in 1930. The Pierre is located within the Upper East Side Historic District, as designated in 1981 by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. It was acquired by Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces of India in 2005.

Given my interest in heists, and in NYC history, its surprising that I hadn't heard of the Pierre's story previously. The hotel was the scene of the Pierre Hotel robbery on January 2, 1972, organized by the Lucchese crime family. This robbery of $3 million ($27 million in today's dollars) would later be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest, most successful hotel robbery in history.

You can read the general story on Wikipedia.

Or here's the Audible book I'm listening to:
The Pierre Hotel Affair: How Eight Gentleman Thieves Orchestrated the Largest Jewel Heist in History

So far, its a good story.

PS. My review

Review: Fear (the Woodward book)

Fear: Trump in the White HouseFear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I expected to be shocked, but alas, I was not.
I was surprised though.
Things have gone too far for me to be shocked anymore, but this book was full of shocking revelations. Its a good read, and I recommend it for Canadians and Americans alike.
I trust Bob Woodward, so every word is credible.
I would have liked a bit more of Bob in the book... as it is, his 'voice' shows up every few chapters.
My only disappointment was that it cut off a few months ago ~ it had to, or he's never be able publish it otherwise ~ but I hope he is hard at work on Fear 2.
If you think Trump is an idiot, your belief shall be confirmed.
If you don't think Trump is an idiot, wake up and read this.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Almost 10 years in review?

Well, not quite... but while I was looking for something on my blog today, I found a post I made about a month before my 50th birthday. Considering that I'll be saying hello to 60 in less than 4 months, I thought this portion of it might be worth a review.

My initial observation is that I'm not much into buckletlists, as stopped 1/2-way through my list of 50 things. But I did do some of these:

50 THINGS I STILL WANT TO DO... (from age 50)

My arrival in Rome
1.See Rome - DONE!

Little did I know when I created my list that I would spend 3 weeks in Rome in 2009. Mostly all I remember now is the good, but I did have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Rome when I was there. It probably had more to do with the heat and fatigue, and coming face-to-face with my life after a few months on the road, but it's something I mulled over in my mind for a long time. Oh, yes, I was sick too. I actually started to write a book about that... I wonder where that draft is?

My reflections from my first day:
Arrival in Rome

2.See Led Zepplin live

My first beepdoodles booth
3.Sell a piece of my art - DONE!

I sold my first in 2011. This is a pic of a little booth I had at weekly flea market affair, which I did for a few months. I actually went on to have a booth at the Moss Street Market. It was a great accomplishment, but more work than fun... and finally realized I loved doodling more than selling.

4.Visit Ottawa and our national museums

5.Visit the Artic

6.Take the train across Canada

7.Learn another language

8.Take a transatlantic crossing

I saw this and much more Gaudi
architecture in Barcelona!
9.See Gaudi architecture in Barcelona - DONE!

I saw a lot of Gaudi architecture in Barcelona, but for some reason I don't have many pictures on my blog. But it was FABULOUS!!

Here's one of my blog posts (and I really should go back and post more of my Gaudi pictures):
Barcelona is a sea of...

10.Go to the Rock of Gibralter

11.See Moscow's awesome subway stations

Me at an exclusive-access U2 concert
at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
12.See a rock concert at Madison Square Gardens or the o2 in London (or both ;-) - DONE!

Actually, not done, but close enough. I consider my experience at the U2 concert at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to be comparable.

I posted quite a bit about this on my blog, including how I changed my flights to be there, even though I couldn't get a ticket... then I did!:
Irony near the old Iron Curtain
U2 in Berlin: Experience my experience

13.Make a difference in this world - hmmm...

14.See the Bay of Fundy

I probably planned to write about my time in
Florence when I got to Venice, but who
would want to stay inside?
This pic is from my post on Venice bars.
15.See Michael Angelo's David - to witness what the amazing efforts in WWII to save it gave us - DONE!

I definitely did this, and it (he) was glorious. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have any pictures on my blog from Florence to even prove I was there. I guess I was out having too much fun. I did a lot there, including papermaking from one of the oldest papermakers in the city.

16.Visit Amsterdam

17.Go to the Sydney Opera House

18.Visit Normandy and the Canadian memorial

This silly train picture is from my arrival in
Paris. I suspect I was a little more travel worn
and relaxed when I boarded my overnight
train from Paris to Rome
19.Take an overnight train in Europe - lie in bed being rocked by the train... - DONE!

There was a nun in the upper berth of my cabin eating potato chips! Really. I could have written a comedy show about it, but I held the ladder for the ancient gal when she came down to use the loo!

Our pedicab driver in Central Park
20.A carriage ride around Central Park - DONE!

Actually, not done, but my friend Kelly and I took a pedicab around Central Park instead, and a much better idea anyways. I'd definitely recommend it.

A few highlights from that day in NYC and just scroll for more (I think I was there about 10 days):
In the Big Apple: Sunday in NYC

21.Have nude portraits taken - DONE!

Well, not done, but I did do several life (nude) modelling sessions for artists, so I actually consider that to be braver! Don't worry, there shall be no photos!

22.Get a tattoo of my own art

My booth at the Empress show
23.Show my art at a show or in a cafe or something - DONE!

I participated in an art show at the Empress Hotel in 2011. While I was out for coffee, a fellow from New York apparently bought one of my doodle clocks (pictured at the back), for a nice tidy price! Never met him though.

24.Go through the Chunnel

That's me in the mirror, at the
"real" Checkpoint Charlie
25.Visit Checkpoint Charlie - DONE!

And I saw the real one!

When I spent a month in Berlin, I went to the Allied Museum, where the original hut is housed - the rest of the site was fantastic, and it's a much overlooked attraction.

Read more in my blog post:
Would the real Checkpoint Charlie please stand up?

26. and here my list stopped...

Creeping up on 50...

Friday, September 07, 2018

My audience with Peter Mansbridge

So, Peter Mansbridge is coming to Sidney, and I managed to snag one of the last tickets.

I think I would always have been interested in hearing him speak, but in the context of today's fake news, attacks on the media and whistleblowers I think it will be fascinating.

Creative Commons Image thompsonrivers on Flickr
Preparing this post, I learned these things I didn't know previously:
  • Among his hobbies, Mansbridge collects small mementos from his travels around the world, including rocks, soil and other “sentimental” items from various prominent historical places. He kept pebbles from a visit to the Battle of Dieppe site in France, dirt from Vimy Ridge, and sand from the beaches at Normandy, as well as pieces of the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of China.
  • Mansbridge had a voice cameo in the 2016 Walt Disney Animation Studios film Zootopia as "Peter Moosebridge," an anthropomorphic moose news anchor.
  • Peter Mansbridge was awarded the Order of Canada in 2008.
  • He has a cottage where he disconnects and watches NO NEWS (though he'd answer the phone if work called to say, interview Obama)
Mary Winspear Speaker Series: Peter Mansbridge, September 27 - it's the last in the series *
Why Truth Matters - My short blogpost when he accepted his lifetime achievement award
Order of Canada story
Peter Mansbridge voices moose in Disney film 'Zootopia'
Famous Canadian Cottagers: Peter Mansbridge

* darn, I missed Andrew Coyne back in May... he would have been great.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review: Unhinged (the Omarosa book)

Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White HouseUnhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House by Omarosa Manigault Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am one of those curious people who not only can't fathom how Trump's brain works, but am still flabbergasted that he got into office. I though Omarosa's book might give me some insight, and it did.

I casually watched the first season of The Apprentice, so I thought her story would provide an interesting lens. And it did.

It makes me a bit sad to think that she really thought they were friends, as he seems incapable of truly caring about another person, but their time in the White House let me behind the veil. It was as frightening as expected.

I found Omarosa hard to relate to - her allegiance to Trump, ministry and experiences as an African-American woman are far removed from me - but I respect the good she was trying to do.

I can't say I loved the book, but it was ok. I enjoyed her narrating her own book. I listened on Audible.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 20, 2018

Review: No One Would Listen

No One Would ListenNo One Would Listen by Harry Markopolos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shocking really describes this book. When I began listening, I thought I would hear the story of the whistleblower who took the crook down... but no one really did listen. Only when Bernie's house of cards fell down did this story come out. Shocking that this small group of men (aka heroes) figured out the fraud and put the ponzi scheme in the security authority' hands, only to be dismissed and ignored oner and over and over again. What a sham of 'oversight'. I didn't know this part of the story, and am still shaking my head. A good listen.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 06, 2018

Swedish Crown Jewels Heist

I have long been fascinated by art and jewelry heists, so am tracking last week's stunner: the brazen daylight theft of Sweden's crown jewels, getaway speedboat and all!

First, a little context...

The setting: Strängnäs Cathedral sits on a hilltop is located about an hour from Stockholm by train. The brick cathedral was built in the mid-1300's in characteristic Scandinavian Brick Gothic style. It replaced the original wooden church, built on a spot where pagan rituals took place in the 12th century.

The treasure: A glass case in the cathedral holds the 17th century burial regalia once belonging to King Karl IX and his wife Queen Kristin.

The heist: On July 31,2018, a theft raid was carried out inside the church, the thieves making off with two crowns and an orb.

The idyllic setting of Strägnäs Cathedral
made it perfect for a speedboat getaway
Creative Commons image henrikj on Flickr

"From 'The Italian Job' to 'Heat', Hollywood has been obsessed with pulse-racing heist movies for decades. And for the perfect robbery flick, you need always need two crucial elements: absolutely shameless self-confidence and a killer getaway plan. Now robbers in Sweden have put together an operation that rivals anything Hollywood could come up with. According to Reuters, thieves have stolen two 17th century crowns and an orb from the Swedish royal family’s collection, before making off in a motorboat..." [read more].

A pair of brazen thieves appear to have made a clean getaway after stealing Sweden's crown jewels. [In] the daring daylight robbery... two men smashed their way into a display cabinet and grabbed two historic royal crowns and an orb. An alarm sounded, but no one in the church was able to stop the men as they hopped aboard two bicycles and made their way down to the shore of nearby Lake Malaren, where they had moored a speedboat. Police carried out a search using their own boats and a helicopter... but could find no trace of the thieves. 'By boat you can reach Malaren, Koping or Arboga in the west, or Vasteras, Eskilstuna or Stockholm if you drive east' ..." [read more].

Strängnäs Cathedral
Creative Commons image henrikj on Flickr
"Sweden's government and police force has declared a 'national alarm' following the theft of priceless crown jewels, including two crowns and a royal orb. The national alarm in used to alert police forces about a serious situation that needs extra measures, revealing the severity of the daylight robbery at Strängnäs Cathedral... The gold-plated and jewel-encrusted crowns belonged to Queen Kristina and King Karl IX respectively, and the cathedral has now been closed to closely examine the crime scene..." [read more].

"The cathedral was open to the public when the jewels were stolen from locked-up glass boxes. Karl IX was the King of Sweden from 1604 until his death in 1611. The two crowns are the burial crowns from 1611 but were later exhumed and put on display. Both crowns are made of gold and inset with pearls and other precious stones. Christofer Lundgren, dean of the cathedral, said: 'This is part of the national cultural heritage - this is a theft from Swedish society.'..." [read more].

Interesting fact: This isn't the first time an attempt has been made to steal the Swedish treasure. Thieves managed to steal part of the crown jewels in 2013, but they were recovered in a ditch following an anonymous tip.

To learn more
Thieves steal Swedish royal crowns, flee in motorboat - Reuters
Sweden declares national alarm following theft of crown jewels
Priceless Swedish Crown Jewels are STOLEN - Daily Mail
The Swedish crown jewels have been stolen in a heist straight out of Hollywood - Shortlist
Theft of Swedish crown jewels sheds light on other high-stakes robberies - CBC

Friday, July 27, 2018

Review: Deep Down Dark

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them FreeDeep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Héctor Tobar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unimaginable survival and rescue...
It's hard enough to imagine being trapped underground, but to come out alive after months is almost beyond comprehension. I did think the rescue was remarkable when it happened, but I didn't "get" how complex the rescue was until I read (listened to) the book, and looked again at the diagrams of the site. How each man survived, not just physically, but mentally, is the heart of the story. The PTSD they suffered afterwards is both heart wrenching and not surprising. The book only touches this, but it's instructive. A good book if you are intrigued by the human condition. I was reminded of the incident and was drawn to the story again recently when the schoolboys were trapped in the underground cave in Thailand recently (now rescued as well).

View all my reviews

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Review: Bad Blood

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley StartupBad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gripping, read right through...
Remarkable that this actually happened. Perhaps it was innocent enough, with Elizabeth Holmes naively pushing ahead when a prototype wasn't ready, but it was so quickly out of control it's unforgivable. The degree of the fraud at Theranos is stunning, and quite the yarn to untie, given the powerful investors who wanted to turn a blind eye. The fact that it was a woman does make it more interesting, though it shouldn't. The book read like a novel, so it was rather strange to Google and find the real covers of Inc. and Fortune. It was also ironic to learn how much Elizabeth Holmes tried to emulate Steve Jobs... but she was a tyrant and treated employees like dirt. A FASCINATING listen.

View all my reviews

Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: The Queen of the North Disaster - The Captain's Story

The Queen of the North Disaster: The Captain's StoryThe Queen of the North Disaster: The Captain's Story by Colin Henthorne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating look behind the scenes of this disaster. Aside of a few long technical sections, which were actually quite important for context, this was a compelling story. I appreciated the way facts were clearly laid out, and what was not known was not guessed at.

Only after some time, after Henthorne has laid out the the whole story as known to the public, explained the lay of the land (sea) as to where the ship was, detailed how the ship is navigated (including recent changes to the navigational equipment), and described his personal experience as Captain that fateful night, does he conjecture on what might have happened. He never says what happened to cause the accident, because he does not know. The situation was way more complicated than what non-mariners might imagine.

What he does do well is dispel myths and rumours that have captured the public's attention. He also defends the competence of the officer of the watch, Lilgert. He does not believe Lilgert was negligent. He does believe Lilgert made an error that caused him to lose situational awareness, and has some guesses as to what that might be, but believes in Lilgert as an experienced and capable professional doing his job.

There is lots about this story that is disturbing, and one is left with as many questions, but its an important story nonetheless.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 06, 2018

Death by Selfie: is social media worth it?

Shannon Falls, British Columbia
The tragic death of three young people at Shannon Falls, near Vancouver, BC, Canada, while out for a day fun with friends, has saddened many.

The group of friends were hiking near the falls, when one, a young woman, fell in. Two young men, one her boyfriend, fell or jumped in while attempting to rescue her. All three died.

News of the positive yet daring adventures of one of the deceased - a vlogger* - made me think of this death-by-selfie piece I wrote a few years ago. For me, the connection is the drive to share life experiences in social media. I'm not suggesting the friends were doing anything foolish when the accident happened; it just seems timely to share.

*Vlogging is a form of blogging based on videos (the vlog category is popular on YouTube).


- by Roberta Westwood

Think that selfie is fun? Harmless?

Aside of the downsides of "missing" the experience of where you are, because you're so busy capturing your selfie, you may be surprised to to learn that taking selfies is actually dangerous.

What starts as playful fun can cross the line when selfies become an obsession, in which you become less aware of your surroundings and take ever-increasing risks.

Especially for men. The truth is that while women take more selfies than men, 75% of selfie death victims are MEN.

Selfie deaths?!? Really? You bet.

Selfie-takers have been killed by:
  • Falling off cliffs while taking selfies (many)
  • Falling over viewpoint barriers
  • Falling over a cliff when leaning on a gate that gave way
  • Sitting on boulders forming a safety barrier over a gorge, which gave way
  • Falling into a volcano crater
  • Falling down stairs
  • Falling down stairs while taking a selfie at the Taj Majal
  • Falling off bridges (many)
  • Falling off dams (several)
  • Falling into a pond
  • Falling into a spring
  • Falling in irrigation canals
  • Falling into water reservoirs
  • Falling into a quarry filled with rainwater
  • Falling into a well, while leaning over it to take a selfie showing the depth
  • Taking selfies in a melt hole (cave) at the front edge of a receding glacier, when the roof gave way
  • Taking selfies with waterfalls (several)
  • Standing in rivers while taking selfies
  • Waves, when standing on the beach (several)
  • Waves, while standing in the surf, in a storm, taking selfies
  • Taking selfies with trains (several)
  • Falling off moving trains while taking selfies
  • Climbing on top of moving trains
  • Climbing on top of stationary trains mistakenly believed not in service (many by electrocution)
  • Crashing cars while taking selfies or uploading selfies while driving
  • Being hit by cars
  • Being hit by a car while taking selfies with airplanes
  • Standing in a boat to take selfies (drownings)
  • Climbing on a fountain to take selfies
  • Climbing onto a glass dome to take selfies, and falling through
  • Climbing on girders in a construction site to take selfies
  • Preparing to take a selfie by hanging from a rope from a high-rise
  • Leaping to take a "flying selfie" (at Machu Picchu)
  • Falling into a geyser while taking a selfie
  • Posing with guns (many!)
  • Posing with grenades
  • Posing with a rattlesnake
  • Posing with tigers at the zoo (several)
  • Taking selfies with a walrus at the zoo
  • Posing with a bison in a national park (gored)
  • Posing with an elephant near their tent on a safari
  • Getting out of a vehicle to take selfies with a herd of elephants blocking a road

Places where selfies have banned, due to deaths:
  • In Pamplona, Spain, during the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona
  • At New York State zoos (tigers)
  • Anywhere in Mumbai (India has very high selfie deaths)
  • In Japan, selfies and selfie-sticks on train station platforms are banned

Places where selfie bans have been proposed, due to high selfie deaths:
  • In Paris, at the Eiffel Tower
  • In Rome, at Trevi Fountain
  • In Rome, on the Spanish Steps

Do you believe me now?

Even if you are not killed, just imagine the extent of serious injuries any of the above could cause.

Seriously, have fun out there, but don't let it cost you your life (or limbs!)

Related resources
List of selfie-related injuries and deaths - Wikipedia
40% Selfie Deaths from India, Selfie Obsession kills over 60 people Worldwide - Phone Radar
Mumbai sets no-selfie zones as deaths linked to selfies rise - Associated Press
No Selfies Allowed: Social Media Bans at Landmarks - Conde Nast Traveler
Selfie deaths: six people who died while taking a selfie - The Week
In Goa, red flags go up on beaches after tourist deaths: Selfies can be dangerous - The Indian Express
Selfies can be deadly - and India leads the way - Economic Times
Two young women struck by lightning while taking selfies - Economic Times
Death by Selfie - Martin Parr

Monday, July 02, 2018

Review: Blackberry Planet

BlackBerry Planet: The Story of Research in Motion and the Little Device That Took the World by StormBlackBerry Planet: The Story of Research in Motion and the Little Device That Took the World by Storm by Alastair Sweeny
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

".... assuming the Blackberry prayer position"

I chose this audiobook for a listen, even though it is long out-of-date (it was published in 2009) because Research In Motion was a Canadian success story. Sadly, I do mean 'was'. What a shame that the company tanked, and Blackberry lost its position in the smartphone market (I had one myself, long after the company's high, and gave it up with regret). Hope to read a sequel one day, so I can understand what happened.

Listening to the first part of the book ~ about the emerging executive Crackberry addiction, and USA President-Elect Barack Obama's angst and efforts to convince the Secret Service to let him keep his ~ I was struck how absurd it all sounds in today's context: everyone is addicted to smartphones now, and the USA's oval office is upside down and backwards, with an out-of-control President tweeting gibberish and lies from bed.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Review: Resilience - Navigating Life, Loss, and the Road to Success

Resilience: Navigating Life, Loss, and the Road to SuccessResilience: Navigating Life, Loss, and the Road to Success by Lisa Lisson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was not what I expected, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I am drawn to stories of people recovering from tragedies, but a mom with kids dealing with the 'loss' of her husband isn't one that I relate to. I suppose it was the parallel story of Lisa's role as a senior executive in Canada that intrigued me. The third aspect of the book ~ Lisa's descriptions of her leadership style and business philosophy ~ was unexpected and, at times, seemed out of place. Yet it makes sense, if she is writing a book about her journey, that they would be included. Looking back at the title, it does seem to fit. I suppose the chosen audio clip for the preview was so laser focused on the tragedy of her husband's heart attack, that I wasn't expecting the rest. But... still a good read. I wasn't thrilled with the narration; at times the narrator spoke so fast I actually checked to make sure I hadn't inadvertently selected 2x speed.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 11, 2018

Emeco 1006

This is not just a chair. It is the the Emeco 1006 Navy Chair, and it has a storied history.

Originally built for US Navy warships during World War II, the Emeco 1006 (pronounced ten-oh-six) found a second life as a designer chair used in high-end restaurants and by interior designers.

The story of Emeco and its famous chair is told in episode 310 of 99% Invisible. I found it fascinating.

Listen to the podcast.

Or read the transcript.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Review: Over the Edge

Over the Edge: The True Story of Four American Climbers' Kidnap and Escape in the Mountains of Central AsiaOver the Edge: The True Story of Four American Climbers' Kidnap and Escape in the Mountains of Central Asia by Greg Child
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unexpected Drama

Four mountain climbers plan a trip to far-off lands, to climb rock faces new to them. It's a place where others have been, but not many. It's away from everything, a quiet escape, to challenge themselves, to do what they love. Aside of a missing bag of gear, all is going well until, when sleeping in tents up a cliff face, someone starts shooting at them.

If you wonder how people get kidnapped abroad, it can happen like this.

The story of their kidnapping, their dramatic escape, and the fallout that left them estranged from each other are story enough. But there's more, when one of their captors, presumed dead, unbelievably turns up alive. It's a stunning turn of events that's hard for anyone to understand. A true story with an ending that changed while the book was being written. Definitely lots of unexpected drama.

I enjoyed the book, and Greg Child's approach. The only problem I had was keeping the three male climbers separate in my mind.... I find that happens with non-fiction books where everyone is referred to by their last name.

Overall, Arnold Schultz's narration was good, but sadly he just couldn't pull off the Australian woman's voice... perhaps he overplayed it, and it may have been ok if he just toned it down a bit.

I'm not a mountain climber, but suggest that anyone who is would find this book very compelling.

View all my reviews

A Berghain tragedy

Creative Commons image sakena on Flickr
Today, when surfing for city travel information, I stumbed across a reference to Berghain, Berlin's famed but unpublicized techno nightclub.

Where have I been living, under a rock? I spent 5 weeks in Berlin, and thought I had researched all the city had to offer, including off-the-beaten-track places and activities. But this place never hit my radar. Upon reflection, it's not really surprising. Not into the drug scene or clubbing, I am more plain vanilla than I like to admit to myself.

I was fascinated, half wishing I'd known about it, so I could have gone, but quickly tossing that aside with knowledge that I'd probably not make it in. I may be able to act bored and non-chalant, but at my core I am naive and wear deception on my face. I can't tell a lie, pull off a prank, or hide a secret - my face gives me away. Not that it bothers me ~ integrity runs deep in my veins, and I have no desire to lie or deceive anyways. So it's not a problem, per se. But I wouldn't have made it across the threshold.

But still, I was curious, and started to write a blog post (not this one). As I was collecting stories and links to augment my post, I came across one story from last month that stopped me dead in my tracks.

It was a story about an overdose death at the club. Sadly, not a rare thing these days, but the subheading caught my eye:
Deafening Silence After Overdose at Berghain - During an around-the-world trip last summer, a couple from California visited Berlin's legendary Berghain techno club. A few hours later, one of them was dead. Even today, no one seems willing to accept responsibility for the tragedy.
I immediately thought of all the travel bloggers trekking the world these days, especially those younger and more carefree than me, chasing excitement and experiences that I can't even imagine. Sometimes I worry about them, so this story just brought that all into focus for me.

The story is on Spiegel, which I appreciate for its thorough coverage of stories, its willingness to go down rabbit holes, to question the unexplained, and to expose loose ends that can't be neatly tied up.

Read it, I suggest.

For me, I think this is going to be on my mind for awhile...

RIP Jennifer.

Monday, May 14, 2018


The "before" -  the former Bell Labs corporate campus 

Today I learned a new word: metroburb.


It's probably not in any dictionary yet, but perhaps its time will come, if more corporate campuses are reborn like Bell Lab's.

If you're not familiar with corporate campuses, they are huge purpose-built structures designed to hold all of an organization's staff under one roof. I've been to a few, including a number of visits to the a certain big box supplier's campus in Minneapolis (think a great big yellow tag). So specific are the designs that its hard to imagine a new use once the the corporate giants have downsized, decentralized or disappeared.

Architect Eero Saarinen designed more than one of these properties, including Bell Lab's monstrosity in Holmdel, New Jersey, USA.

Developer Ralph Zucker had a rather brilliant vision for what the building could become, creating one of his "metroburbs", the word he uses to create each "metropolis in suburbia" transformation of such spaces. The result, in this case named Bell Works, features offices, co-working spaces, retail, restaurants, meeting spaces and a library. A hotel and residential developments are to come.

In A New Urbanist Developer Gives Saarinen a Reboot, CityLab describes the vision and the outcome well. It's a good read. Check it out.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Review: A Higher Loyalty

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and LeadershipA Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this book by the recently departed FBI Director.

Although I expected to be intrigued by the most recent goings on (his firing, and the fallout), I was actually more engaged when listening to his personal and professional life up to that point.

I found the insights into how the FBI works fascinating, while I founds insights as to how DC works (or doesn't) even more bizarre than I expected.

Most importantly, I found James Comey to be honest and credible. He is a man of strong convictions ~ and I liked them. Mostly, I believe him, and have no doubt as to the lack of integrity of the fool that fired him.

View all my reviews

Friday, May 04, 2018

A quarterly box for your cat

Torn between laughing and something bordering on outrage. Well, not quite, but how dense an companies get?

But your cat will like the box...
Creative Commons image chromewaves on Flickr 

A travel magazine has added a whole new feature, launched with great excitement: a quarterly subscription box, that for a mere $89 a quarter - or choose the $39/month option - plus tax (of course), you get your magazine (separate subscription) in a box full of consumer goods meant to inspire you to travel. Free shipping! WTF?!?! Like this makes sense?

$350 a year can go a long way towards a vacation.

It's certainly not green: that box filled with fancy pasta made in Italy, along with gourmet olive oil, some one-of-a-kind wooden spatula (lovely, I'm sure), a little just-add-water herb garden and a boring (or exciting) scarf won't just sprout wings and fly.

Yes, I am a travel agent, and yes, I help people burn jet fuel to hop around the globe... the contradiction is not lost on me.

But here's what I'm thinking:

What a waste of money and resources.

Why not 'sell' contributions to micro-loans or give-a-family-a-goat or literacy abroad? Send me a story about who is being helped. Maybe fund an annual draw for a trip to a village helped? Or something both innovative and inspiring?

Just getting people to give their credit card (on a non-secure webpage no less), contributes nothing to the greater good.

It doesn't get the subscriber any closer to their travel dreams; rather it adds to consumer debt (for many).

It's madness.

PS. Looking for an image to put with this post, I tried 'carrier pigeon'.. and stumbled across a service that will actually carry a letter part way by bird - delivering it to the postal service to take it the rest of the way (along with a pigeon certification). It's called Pigeongram. More here.

Monday, April 30, 2018

WOW Air's Dream Job for 2

WOW Air is hiring for a dream job for 2. Is that you?

WOW Air is looking for a person - and their "best friend" - to visit some of the airline's 38 destinations around the world and document their travels in a digital guide. The job is just 3 months long. You will be paid, will be given an apartment in Reykjavik and, no doubt, will work your ass off!

Application deadline: May 14

Travel Guides announced: May 18
Start Date: June 1, 2018

Considering the "winners" will be announced a mere 4 days after the application deadline, your video application is going to need to be good! They are looking for you to show off your hometown, so get to work!

Where you'll report for work on Day 1
Want the job? Key links:
Now hiring for the world's best summer job
Travel Guide Job Details & Application Process
YouTube Video

Dream Job Alert: WOW Air Wants to Pay You to Move to Iceland and Travel the World - Mental Floss
Dream job alert: Airline will pay you to travel around the world - Good Morning America

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Review: Priceless - How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen TreasuresPriceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As an art lover, I have always been fascinated by stolen art and forgeries. Who did it? Why? How? Where is the work now? Is it hanging on some rich person's wall? (and who does that anyway?!?!). Is it stuffed in a garage somewhere? Did someone stash it somewhere and then die? Can it be covered before it is destroyed and lost forever?

FASCINATING STUFF. If this interests you as much as me, you'll probably enjoy Priceless. It was pretty interesting to learn about how major heists were resolved. It was freaky to learn about works almost recovered and then the opportunity lost due to turf wars and egos. Regardless, listen and you will travel the world in pursuit of lost treasures.

The book was written as a memoir, so it includes the background as to how the FBI's first art sleuth got to his post, which was not what I might have imagined.

It was heartening to learn that the priority was on recovering works first, and catching the bad guys second.

It was equally disheartening to hear about how the art crimes division would fall out of favour, and an intelligent and dedicated agent would be bounced around supervisors that didn't get or appreciate art. But all in all, interesting tales, and a good listen for art and mystery lovers.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Merchant's Wife Teatime

I love discovering a new artist. Or a new-to-me artist.

Today it was Boris Kustodiev.

I stumbled across Kustodiev's work, A Merchant's Wife Teatime, when I was searching online for a picture of watermelon seeds! Thank you Google.

Boris Mikhaylovich Kustodiev (1878-1927) was a Russian painter, book illustrator and stage designer. If I have seen his art before, it didn't connect with me, as some of it is quite traditional.

But this image caught my eye. The colours, her rich robes, the cat... how WONDERFUL it is!!

Below are a few other works of his that I like.

Boris Mikhaylovich Kustodiev - Wikipedia