Quality of Life in Denver

JetBlue was honoring Justin Trudeau on the way out (September) …

Nobody who arrives at the Denver Airport in the late evening is going to get claustrophobia:

My experience at the Maven at Dairy Block Hotel proves that nobody older than 40 should attempt to stay at a hip hotel. Although it was Sunday and Monday night when I stayed, there was already a lot of noise from the outdoor dining tables in the alley underneath the room. Airstream and pinball in the lobby:

I did appreciate the room numbers done in nails. Instead of a vat of coffee in the lobby from which you pour yourself as many cups as you want (Hampton Inn-style), you take a coupon for a precious single cup of single vintage drip coffee served by a tattooed and pierced cashier at the artisanal coffee shop within the building:

There is an upscale food court attached to the hotel. If nothing else, it proves an example of the critical difference between possessive and contraction.

We were working near Union Station:

This area certainly won’t win prizes for affordability. We didn’t see a sandwich for less than $13. A haircut from a barber shop, with tip, was $40. The first native-born Uber driver that I met was during the departure ride to the airport (20-minute traffic jam delay at 8 pm). He said “I’ve lived here my whole life, but I can’t afford it anymore. It is like San Francisco. I think I’ll have to move.” Certainly he can be replaced. The sandwich shops were staffed mostly by non-English-speaking immigrants who were receiving instruction in such basic tasks as ladling soup into disposable bowls.

Dinner was a $70 plate of tacos at Tamayo:

After we managed to eat most of these, our local friend gave us a tour of the 16th Street Mall. She knew many of the homeless people we encountered, whose environment was punctuated by video signboards advertising Patagonia, purveyor of $200 down vests. Instead of the garments, however, Patagonia was advertising its brand with a message about climate change:

The good news is that nobody over age 30 is “facing extinction,” according to Patagonia.

(Wouldn’t the actual “climate deniers” be Patagonia customers themselves? Suppose that someone bought a vest for 30 at Costco or $40 at Uniqlo instead of paying $200 for a Patagonia vest. He/she/ze would then have $160-170 left over with which to plant trees ($1/tree in bulk?) to reduce global warming. What is better evidence of climate denial than conspicuous consumption of luxury goods such as Patagonia clothing?)

The Denver Art Museum is mostly closed for a massive renovation. But there is still some great stuff on display. Kids were better dressed in the old days:

I love Nam June Paik’s work, but how can it be maintained? Who has a stock of late 20th century Trinitron tubes?

I thought it would kill on Facebook to write “A big space needs a lot of rooftop A/C.” over a picture of these Donald Judd sculptures.

How wrong I was!

A professional fundraiser was outside seeking donations for bringing more migrants to the U.S. I gave him my standard offer of paying for transportation and food if he wanted to house a migrant in his own apartment. This was refused: “That’s not how we work.”

Inside the museum, an Erika Harrsch installation/video promoting migration:

Watch this video for the words/lyrics (“alien” features prominently).

More exciting for the kids: a 1970 hall of mirrors by Lucas Samaras. The renovated museum will be open in 2022, just in time for Shanghai to have built another Manhattan full of office space.

What do people read in Denver? I visited the Tattered Cover, an old-school downtown bookstore, to find out. “For the sisters, misters, and binary resisters”:

(Will the Mueller Report have to be shredded now that Trump is being impeached from his position as Fuhrer due to Ukraine, not Russia? Or will people still pay to read this in hardcopy? And I would hope that the one thing anyone can learn during National Hispanic Heritage Month is that nobody could ever have too many tamales!)

Denver got quite a bit younger and hipper as I made my way back to the airport. The airport is ready for the Elizabeth Warren presidency. JetBlue, regrettable, is showing movies by a convicted (in New Yorker magazine and on Facebook) rapist. To deceive the woke/outraged into watching Annie Hall, the airline tags it as dating to 2007 (Wikipedia says 1977).

Due to the easy flight connections to Asia and the appeal to the young workers that employers seek, I cling to my belief that Denver was the best choice for Amazon HQ2. At the same time, it seems that any more business growth will be very tough indeed on the lower skill members of the community.

My favorite pictures from the trip are of an app-linked electric scooter tossed into the garbage in front of a micro-brewery. I posted this to Facebook with “Public service announcement: eating avocado toast and steering don’t mix.”

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Roald Amundsen Cruise Ship Review

This is a review of the MS Roald Amundsen based on a three-week Northwest Passage cruise in 2019.

photo: Karsten Bidstrup, one of the ship’s staff photographers

Our cruise was during the ship’s first season, so everything was in beautiful condition. Royal Caribbean, along with a lot of other cruise lines, is firmly in the “brass and glass” McMansion style of decor. The Roald Amundsen, on the other hand, is more like an architect-designed modern house (see Hurtigruten’s site for interiors of the staterooms).

The officers, nearly all of whom are Norwegian, are confidence-inspiring. Hurtigruten (“Express Route”; pronouncing the G is for amateurs) has been running up and down the coast of Norway since 1893. Getting stuck in the ice, running aground, or blundering into weather that cannot be managed does not seem likely. The ship seemed quite stable, but we did not hit any significant wind or waves during our voyage so it is tough to say how it will handle the Drake Passage.

How about the people? Whom will you be with for several weeks in remote corners of the planet? Guests were of the same composition as in an American suburb in which people constantly express their passion for diversity, inclusion, and social justice. I.e., 100% white European and Asian. Out of 472 passengers, just 22 were American. The most common places of origin were Germany (157), UK (136), and Scandinavia (83 plus 2 Finns). [Europeans have some shocking views on current events!] Median age was around 65. A Danish couple brought their 13- and 15-year-old sons.

Weight control will be an issue on the ship. Despite severe challenges of resupply in the Canadian Arctic, the French chef Julien Screve managed to create tempting cuisine far above the Royal Caribbean standard. He was assisted by a pastry chef who made bread comparable to what you’d get in a European neighborhood bakery. Screve and the restaurant manager Nicolas Longin raided a supermarket to get the ingredients for poutine after I said that no trip to Canada could be considered complete without poutine. Real maple syrup is served with breakfast. Unlike on a typical cruise line, there is essentially no food available except during the set meal times.

Department of High Praise: One passenger is a regular speaker on Cunard’s Queen Mary. He said that Julien’s creations in the high Arctic using ingredients sourced in Iceland and Greenland were comparable in quality, if not variety, to what is served on Cunard.

Although the ship is sizable, it is not spacious enough that you can easily burn off calories by walking. The top deck is supposedly where the walking will happen, and it has bars for “outdoor gym” exercises that a fit 22-year-old might be able to accomplish, but the ship tends to go through some pretty cold regions and it is only 460′ long, about half the length of an ordinary cruise ship. The gym is small, windowless, and often a bit crowded (the Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas, by contrast, had a huge usually-empty gym with windows all around the bow from the 11th floor).

There is a pool, but it is tiny and does not have an artificial current. There are two outdoor hot tubs, but both are kept at 37C, about 2 degrees cooler than what an American would call “hot”. The sauna, on the other hand, is hotter than what an American health club would set.

How to keep busy when cruising through the high Arctic? Internet was not an option. It worked for about half of the days of our trip and the definition of “work” was 20-50 kbits/second. The only applications that were usable were data-based text messaging services, such as iMessage and WhatsApp. Everything else seems to assume that you have at least 1 Mbit of connectivity and a lot of patience.

The ship carried a lot of lecturers with a rich knowledge of biology, ecology, geology, and anthropology. However, the lack of a nightly Broadway-style show (who wants to hear “New York, New York” again?) means that the ship has no theater. No theater for a nightly Broadway show also means no comfy theater for daytime lectures (on Royal Caribbean, the theater chairs are larger and more comfortable than anything we have in our house).

What does the Roald Amundsen have to support lectures? A classroom. It is nowhere near big enough for half the passengers, even with narrow hard chairs sized and spaced for 7th graders. The floor is flat, so anyone shorter than 6’6″ tall is unlikely to be able to see the screen if seated in the third row or beyond (I’m 6′ tall and could see about half the screen, typically). The guests are older and less nimble than typical 7th graders so I kept expecting someone to break a leg while trying to navigate through a row to a seat. I observed several trips and falls.

The crowding in the classroom carries over into other public spaces of the ship. It feels much more crowded than the Royal Caribbean cruises I have been on. Here’s the “Explorer Lounge” up on the top interior deck, with folks waiting for a presentation.

Passengers complained that there was often a line at the buffet and it was sometimes challenging to get coffee.

For a theoretical capacity of 530 passengers, this is a 460′ ship of 21,000 gross tons. The Crystal Endeavor is 541′ long and displaces roughly 20,000 tons… for 200 guests, but at double the nightly price. Don’t expect solitude unless you’re in your cabin!

The crew is efficient at getting people in and out of Zodiacs for landings. Nonetheless, with 500ish people on board, it takes a minimum of 3-4 hours to get everyone off the ship and back on. The time that each person can spend at a destination will be shorter than if the destination were visited in an 80-passenger ship.

The bridge is a huge working environment and remained reasonably quiet and calm even when invaded by tourists.

Hurtigruten is not great at communication. There was an update to the itinerary that the land-based staff said had been communicated by email or phone to all of the passengers. Nobody knew about it. Their online packing list says “You will receive a wind and water resistant parka“. Sounds warm, right? In fact, we got what I would call a “rain jacket”. Unlike on Royal Caribbean where you could buy an extra layer for mall-style prices, interpreting “parka” as not requiring packing a heavy fleece layer for underneath would cost at least $350. The news in the shop was not all bad though…

Passengers expressed unhappiness at the difficulty in socializing at meal times. The dining room is set up with a lot of 2- and 4-seat tables. Our Cuba cruise with Royal Caribbean was greatly enhanced by big tables and no permanently assigned seats (previous post). The good news is that, if you’re lonely, the ship has a great library of polar literature and an even greater swap shelf:

If you love technology, you’ll be dismayed at how it is used on the ship. There are no local apps or web servers for distributing information, chatting, etc. That’s a problem on a ship whose total Internet connectivity (for 500+ people) is about the same as a single 3G cell phone. How about a feed from cameras around the ship into the room TV, as is conventional on Royal Caribbean? No. The system that delivers a moving map to the in-room TVs seems to depend on connectivity to an Internet server, which we had only intermittently. Why not a self-contained system as on an airliner or traditional cruise ship? In general, it seemed as though all of the tech that the ship did have was dependent on an Internet connection that the ship seldom had.

Tips: Pay up for a balcony room. The climate control system on the ship is not very effective and if the room is too hot it is great to be able to open the balcony doors.

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Electronic device security traveling in China

There are a lot of dire warnings about traveling to China with a smartphone and laptop. Examples:

Counterexample:

Is the situation truly riskier than in the U.S.? What special tools do attackers in China have that couldn’t be deployed at a Starbucks in Peoria?

I’m not worried about someone from the Chinese government reading all of my email. Any opinions that I have about China and the Chinese government are already published here on this blog (and they’re mostly wrong! In 2003, I predicted that the Chinese would be able to make and export a basic automobile for $2,000 to $3,000 (at most $4,200 in today’s mini-dollars). As of 2016, there was a $2,400 Chinese four-seat car, but it lacks A/C and other “basics”. Today there is a $9,000 Chinese made four-door electric car.)

I wouldn’t want someone transferring money out of my online banking accounts, using my credit cards, etc., however. Given two-factor authentication with text messages to my phone, can people truly do that without having control of my mobile number?

Update: Based on Denis’s comment below, I updated the “SIM PIN” on my iPhone away from the Verizon factory default. I hope that is what he meant by “Make sure your sim is locked.”

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Lightweight luggage review

We had a strict 8 kg. European carry-on and 23 kg. checked bag limit for our recent cruise. My roll-on bag was 10 lbs. (4.5 kg) empty and a touch oversized for Europe. My 26″ Delsey “super lightweight” checked suitcase was 10.8 lbs. empty.

After doing about two hours of research online (articles in Forbes, for example, and reviews at Amazon), I made the following decisions…

Soft-sided expandable bags rather than hard-shell. If limited to the rolling bag as the single carry-on, it would be awkward to have to crack open the entire hard-shell bag somewhere on the plane to get to a small needed-in-flight item. Also, an expandable soft-sided bag with international dimensions (55 x 40 x 23 cm; a couple of inches smaller than the typical American road warrior roll-on bag) could be expanded for use domestically.

Two wheels rather than the four-wheel “spinner” designs. The two-wheel designs seem to have 10-15 percent more space than a bag with the same exterior dimensions and four wheels. Two wheels will work better over imperfect surfaces, but they will likely be more tiring through the airport. On the other hand, the 23 kg. bag won’t be going far and the 8 kg. bag won’t be very heavy.

After reading everything that seemed relevant, what popped out were the latest Maxlite 5 suitcases from Travelpro, the company that invented the modern suitcase (Condé Nast Traveler). These aren’t the most stylish bags, but why would it be better to have a bag that screams “steal me”? Travelpro makes some bags with superior organizational capabilities, but all of them are heavier than the Maxlite series. Durability for bags that are so light? Travelpro says “We are proud to introduce our new Built For A Lifetime Limited Warranty starting with the Maxlite® 5 collection which covers defects on major components such as wheels, zippers, extension handles and carry handles.” Maybe a heavier bag would be more durable, but why wear out one’s body lugging around a heavier bag rather than buying a new one every 5-10 years?

Specific choices:

These weigh 5.4 and 7.1 lbs., thus leaving 8.3 lbs. of additional capacity compared to my previous bags. Travelpro says that these are lighter than the previous generation Maxlite 4, e.g., about 0.5 lbs. for the carry-on. The cost of both bags together was $237.

How did they work during five flights, two hotels, etc.? Fantastic! It would be nice if they were a bit more compartmentalized, but the high payload to vehicle weight was awesome. They seem to be at least reasonably durable.

[Of course, after all of this work, when we finally did show up for the charter flights there was no verification of the dimensions, weight, or even quantity of bags. Quite a few passengers completely ignored the directives and checked two large bags (for a three-week cruise).]

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Scale under the floor of a cruise ship cabin to reduce buffet consumption?

The biggest and best helicopter tour operators have scales hidden underneath the floor at the customer service counter. Thus they’re able to quickly capture passenger weights, oftentimes without the customers being aware.

What about the same technology for cruise ship cabins? Put a scale near the door and a display so that the passenger can see his or her current weight. This could reduce costs since a passenger who realized that he or she was gaining 0.5 lbs. per day could cut back at the buffet.

(On our recent Northwest Passage cruise on Hurtigruten, there was no scale in the room and also none in the (small) gym. Due to the challenges of resupplying in the High Arctic combined presumably with people pigging out, the ship ran out of a bunch of items prior to the end of the trip. The poor crew had to go 10 days without fresh fruit. The Germans were not happy that the yogurt had run out.)

Some of our food temptations:

(The French chef, Julien, cannot be held responsible for the poutine. I was the one who pointed out that we needed to celebrate Canada’s greatest culinary achievement and the kitchen crew raided a supermarket in Nunavut for cheese curds.)

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ARKEN: Copenhagen’s contemporary art museum

Some pictures from a summer visit to ARKEN, a waterfront concrete museum that opened in 1996.

The entrance…

The regular collection is heavy on Damien Hirst…

More exciting… Benedikte Bjerre built an airport conveyor system out of IKEA bed parts (she says “the work addresses our dreams and hopes of the good capitalist life and social mobility across global borders”):

The museum was doing a big show of work by Australian Patricia Piccinini:

Does your dog like to jump up and share the bed?

Can you explain this traffic accident to Hertz?

Is it fair to say that not all concepts for Little Mermaid sequels are successful?

Miscellaneous:

Many of the artists claim to be concerned about “marginalised individuals and groups,” but how many of those folks will ever purchase or view a contemporary artwork?

Exit through the gift shop…

And then fold your big Danish frame into a tiny Danish car…

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Danish kids absent from school for a month

The two youngest passengers on our Northwest Passage cruise were 13 and 15, public school students in Denmark. I asked the parents what kind of bureaucratic obstacles there had been to taking the kids out of school for a month. “None,” replied the dad. “The teacher said that they’ll probably learn more on this trip than in school.” Hurtigruten’s promise of working Internet on the Roald Amundsen did not materialize due to (a) limited satellite coverage, and (b) inability of the ship’s antennae to point low enough. Had the disconnected children experienced trouble in completing their assignments? “They weren’t given any,” said the father. “The curriculum in Denmark is standardized at the federal level, which can be great, but for children who are stronger than average academically it means they have no trouble catching up if they miss a month.”

[I also learned from this family that Denmark has instituted a busing system for children of immigrants. If a born-in-Denmark child does not speak Danish well, he or she is bused away from the neighborhood school, which presumably will also contain a bunch of children who speak a non-Danish language, to a school full of Danes. Where are these folks from? “Syria, after four straight years as the biggest generator of asylum-seekers in Denmark, lost its crown to Eritrea last year, but this year it is back on course to generate the highest number. … Uffe Østergaard, a Danish university academic specialising in identity history who works for both Aarhus University and Copenhagen Business School, has suggested in a Politiken opinion piece that Europe should build a wall around its perimeter… ” (CPH Post)]

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Northwest Passage cruise begins

I’m praying for global warming to end… on September 11, on which date I hope to be stepping off the ship that I boarded this morning in Greenland (soon to be our 51st state? Atlantic says that citizens there consume roughly the same amount in aid from Denmark as Federal welfare $$ spent per resident of New Mexico, i.e., $10,000 per year per person).

Here’s our planned route (from Hurtigruten):

I will try to post a bit to Facebook and/or this blog, but Internet access may be tenuous. So that the site does not go dark, I’ve scheduled a bunch of non-topical postings to appear once/day.

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A fifth grader reviews Carnival Cruise to Bermuda

At a late June birthday party for one of my best 4-year-old friends, a fifth grader mentioned that she had just returned from a Carnival cruise from New York to Bermuda and back.

How was it?

“It got rough on the second day.”

Was anyone seasick?

“There was vomit everywhere,” she replied. “They didn’t have any bags, so people were throwing up on the floor, in the stairways. Everywhere.”

How about Bermuda itself?

“We were there for only 8 hours. The beach was nice.”

Related:

  • Tempted by the above to go farther south?“Why Waves of Seaweed Have Been Smothering Caribbean Beaches” (Atlantic): “In 2018, as seaweed piled up on beaches throughout the Caribbean, it began to rot. Already stinking and sulfurous, the thick layers began to attract insects and repel tourists. The seaweed—a type of brown algae called sargassum—had grown in the ocean and washed ashore in unprecedented quantities. It prevented fishers from getting into the water, and entangled their nets and propellers. It entangled sea turtles and dolphins, too, fatally preventing them from surfacing for air. It died and sank offshore, smothering seagrass meadows and coral reefs. Barbados declared a national emergency.”
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