Tequila trails

by Michael Alderete on 12/20/2005

Two years ago, Rochelle and I were held captive during the imfamous Tequila Hostage Crisis of 2003. This month an article in the San Francisco Cronicle describes a local journalist’s experience on a similar trip.

Tequila trail leads to innovation gives some of the highlights, which we remember well, and alludes to the impact of the more intense moments of the trip (of which we remember little ;-), by describing the author’s regimen of no alcohol and lots of exercise for 10 days before the trip, and no activity at all for 3 days afterwards.

Entertaining and educational to read, there’s some good new tequila drink recipes as well. We will have to visit the local bartenders mentioned, and try them all out!

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Palm Springs!

by Michael Alderete on 10/12/2005

Rochelle and I are currently in Palm Springs, on vacation for two weeks. So far we have done very little except eat and drink and sleep and…play Scrabble.

I don’t usually talk about our vacations on this weblog while we’re away, because I’m too paranoid: I don’t like telling people when it would be easy to break into our house. But this trip, we’ve taken the most valuable (to thieves) stuff (our computers) with us. (Plus we have house sitters for most of the two weeks. House sitters keep the cats from revolting while we’re away…)

Rochelle and I both have projects we’re working on during our two week “retreat,” and most of them involve or require the use of a computer. Sounds crazy, but it really is relaxing to be able to go away, and concentrate on things you’ve been meaning to do, but can’t find the time, or have too many daily distractions. And the things we’ve been meaning to do — writing, organizing photos, leaning new skills for work — are all intimately tied to technology. Welcome to the 21st century, I suppose.

At any rate, we’ll be back to San Francisco in a week or so.

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The Paris spreadsheet

by Michael Alderete on 1/2/2005

Mentioned in the lead paragraph of that NYTimes article is the spreadsheet which Rochelle put together prior to our trip to France in 2002. Since publication we’ve actually had people inquire about getting access to it, so I thought I’d put it online. If you’re impatient, you can find a download link toward the end of this story. But some background will help you make the most of it.

Rochelle created the spreadsheet in an attempt to duplicate the really amazing experience she had using Vindigo on her Palm handheld when visiting New York City in May 2002. She did a lot of pre-trip research, and entered addresses and venues of interest into Vindigo. Then, while in NYC, she was able to tell Vindigo where she was, and get a list of places within walking distance, along with step-by-step directions for getting there. It made her touring the city (while I was locked in business meetings) efficient and fun, while still allowing for serendipity to influence where she went.

However, there is no Vindigo for Paris, or for any city in France. So we set out to try to duplicate the most essential features, by tying every location of interest to the nearest Metro stop and its arrondissement. We thought that this would let us figure out where we were, and then find interesting places nearby. In the end, it was only partially successful for us.

We had the most fun when we used it at the beginning and middle of the day, during breakfast and lunch, to plan where we would spend the rest of the morning or afternoon. When we tried to use it to follow whim after whim, which Vindigo had done successfully, we ended up pretty frustrated.

The other thing that didn’t work out the way we envisioned was the Palm version of the spreadsheet. We managed to download the data into Rochelle’s Palm, and use a micro database called JFile to be able to search and sort it, etc. But without a lot of additional development, having just the table of data was simply too hard to use on a Palm screen, it’s just not wide enough. With a search engine, hand-crafted results and detail pages, cross references, etc., the electronic version could have been pretty good…but even if I had put 20 hours into it, it would still have been nowhere near as good as Vindigo.

In the end, the printout of the spreadsheet was a tremendously valuable tool for us, and we’d never have seen as many cool places without it. And even if Vindigo had covered Paris, we’d still have wanted to pore through all the guidebooks and websites that Rochelle found. We would never have depended on Vindigo’s content. But having Vindigo to organize our own content by precise location, instead of rough chunks, would have been pretty darn cool.

Anyway, the spreadsheet was put together prior to our trip to France in October 2002; some things are now surely out of date. We’ve made no attempt to clean up Rochelle’s unique annotations and categorizations (Rochelle is an information organization specialist), which will likely be meaningless to you. And you don’t get our copies of the guidebooks, where were marked up and bookmarked with color-coded flags, and cross-referenced in the spreadsheet; we used those constantly, too. But if you still think it might be useful to you, here’s the spreadsheet.

Last note: this only covers half our trip, the time we spent in Paris. We also spent a lot of time in the Champagne region. We didn’t make a spreadsheet for that part of the trip, which (except for our first hotel and one meal) was entirely unscripted. Instead some photos and some weblog entries may give you some useful information about that.

Enjoy France!

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Quoted in New York Times

by Michael Alderete on 1/2/2005

Rochelle and I were quoted in the New York Times again, this time in the travel section, an article about people who base their vacations around food, so-called “gastronauts.” It’s a fun article to read; better do so quickly, before the story disappears behind the for-pay firewall.

It looks like the story might have gotten chopped up a bit in editing, because I am a San Francisco-based software developer, not LA-based. And, while the Klausners may also have done so, I know we told the reporter about our trip to Chicago to eat at Charlie Trotter’s, which turned into a week-long eating binge though much of Chicago’s best-rated food establishments. (Our vacation eating focus is much less high-end these days.)

If I was going to offer once piece of advice to other food enthusiasts who were going to plan a vacation around that passion it would be this: walk everywhere you can. There’s no way you can put everything of interest in a spreadsheet before you get on the plane; walking will take you past things you could not possibly have planned for. And if nothing else, it’ll keep you from gaining too much weight while you’re eating your way through the local food scene.

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Opal Divine’s is divine

by Michael Alderete on 11/24/2004

On our trip to Mexico’s tequila region last year, we met the proprietor of an establishment in Austin, Michael Parker of Opal Divine’s Freehouse. Rochelle and I were thrilled to hear about a good place for tequila in Austin, and at the trip’s end, promised to visit him at his restaurant when we flew back for Thanksgiving, less than a month later.

And visit we did! We hit Opal Divine’s our second night in town, and liked it so much that in spite of a compressed schedule visiting Rochelle’s relations we found a way to squeeze it in again right before our return flight.

Opal Divine’s is quite a bar, with a truly fabulous selection of most liquors including tequila, a stupendous selection of interesting beers from here and abroad, and what must be a U.S. Top 5 selection of single malt Scotch — certainly the best I’ve seen (and we have a great Scotch bar in SF, The Irish Bank).

Rochelle and I certainly know how to entertain ourselves in a good bar, but what takes Opal Divine’s up to the next level, to our only must-visit in all of Texas, is the food. Really, there’s no requirement for Michael to have such good food — decent pub grub would be more than enough to make the patrons happy and coming back to drink more.

His food doesn’t need to be outstanding for him to be successful — but it is. We were reminded of that again this evening, when we made everything right with our day by going and having the tasting sampler of Scotch to start (six single malts from all the Scotch regions), and then eating a great chicken fried steak and an incredible patty melt.

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Miserable flight

by Michael Alderete on 11/24/2004

We flew to Austin for Thanksgiving with Rochelle’s family today. The flight was horrible, not for the usual reason, not because of anything the airline did or because air travel the day before Thanksgiving is near chaos. No, it was just horrible passengers.

It all started so well. We made it through the security line without a huge wait or hassels. We headed to the bar with plenty of time to down a couple of double vodka tonics each. And we walked onto our plane without any issues of overcrowded overhead bins, etc. We medicated ourselves further, and then settled into our audiobook, thinking this was going to be an easy flight.

Then some skate rat hits my arm and tray table on his way past, and knocks my red wine into my lap. Not so much as an excuse me. The flight attendant was great, giving me club soda and another mini of wine, but I still had to sit in soaked pants for the rest of the flight, and until we got to our hotel room.

Then on our approach into Austin, we had to turn off all personal electronics, and thus listen to our fellow passengers. Crying babies are one thing (and we had that going in stereo), but two tech people from the Bay Area swapping stories, in over-loud, penetrating voices from the seats directly behind us sent Rochelle over the edge. My god, hasn’t everyone told or heard that same damn story a hundred times by now? It’s only interesting the first time — except, apparently, to the person telling it to the stranger sitting next to them, who is only pretending fascination so they can tell their own story next.

Note to dot.bomb participants and victims: This is 2004, it’s been three years, your stories are officially boring. Find something new to talk about, please!

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Costa Rica, LA photos online

by Michael Alderete on 6/25/2003

Photos of our trips to Costa Rica (end of May) and Los Angeles (last weekend) are now online. There’s commentary along with the photos, or at least a few of them. Rochelle is writing more, to be published very soon.

A word about loading the photos. It’s slow, because there are no thumbnails, so each page loads every photo at full size, and because it’s all loading over my DSL line, which runs at 192Kbps for uploads. But once the page loads, clicking on individual photos should be very quick, almost instantaneous.

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A comedy of errors

by Michael Alderete on 6/3/2003

Rochelle and I have great fun with each other while on vacations, but we don’t always travel well together. Our trip to Costa Rica was a textbook example. The passport problem was just the beginning of our troubles.

We actually, for the first time ever, were completely packed well before our departure time. This was critical, because we’d made dinner plans with friends, to go visit RNM across the street (great food, spotty service). We’d intended to send them off with an hour of time left before leaving, but we were having a such a good time that we suddenly freaked out when we realized we had only 20 minutes to get ready and leave.

Among the many things we accidently left behind were Rochelle’s new flip-flops, really nice ones with loofa-style surface for massaging your feet as you walk. And we left some critical travel supplies (booze and sleeping pills), which meant our plane time was torture. Like democracy, air travel sucks, but it’s better than all the alternatives — especially if you can consistently knock yourself out.

I also didn’t get to pet all of my kitties before leaving, at least not the way I like to before taking off for a week. The taxi out to the airport is where I always think, maybe I should just stay home.

There aren’t very many direct flights to Costa Rica, so we were flying by way of Houston, where we had hoped to hook up with Rochelle’s brother for breakfast. But Code Orange got in the way of him being able to meet us, and we weren’t able to make contact by mobile phone to make alternate plans, so we just headed to our gate. Fortunately there was a bar literally right next to our gate, and the biscuits and gravy from the Popeye’s 100 yards away was astonishingly good. I think that says oceans about the food they serve on planes.

Two things did work out well for us. Our friend David was able to connect with us in Houston, and continue with us to Costa Rica (he was with us the entire trip, except the SF<—>Houston legs). And our flight timing, starting at 1am on Friday and getting us into Costa Rica at noon, was brilliant, because we were able to grab our rental car, race out to the hotel, throw our stuff in our room, and proceed directly to the pool and chill out. Once the waiter brought us drinks, we were almost completely recovered from our travel traumas.

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Stupidity tax, part two

May 30, 2003

So, getting ready for our trip, Rochelle was going to Xerox our passports, so we would have copies, just in case. I was in the tub, and she went to get mine. A minute later, she came down the hall, laughing, “A ha, Michael is a dumbass!” It turns out my passport expired on 30 April 2003. Oops. We had exactly 18 hours to figure out what to do.

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Cities in Europe

February 22, 2002

On my two week tour of duty, I saw four of Europe’s great cities. I have some thoughts.

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Where’s Michael?

February 22, 2002

Why there haven’t been any posts in more than two weeks.

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