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Monday, June 27, 2022

Review: The Next Great Migration

 The Next Great Migration is a book about migrations. It's written by an immigrant herself, and starts off with a great story:

My grandmother used to cry when she heard that, in America, her son washed the dishes after dinner. In the flat she’d raised him in, dishwashing was a job for the day laborers, who crouched on their haunches on the slimy tiled floors of the common washing area and slept on thin rough mats on the terrace. (kindle loc 359)

I remember my parents telling me that their family would visit the USA and then nix any thoughts of moving there when they realized that domestic help was so expensive that essentially nobody had any. 

To my surprise, the book covers animal migration as well as human migration, with large chunks of the book about the historical view of migrations as expressed by scientists. I learned that Carl Linnaeus, the inventor of the scientific naming convention of science used since the 1800s, fundamentally considered migration impossible --- he viewed that God created all species in situ, and that migration was an aberration.

As a result, scientists had a blind spot regarding long migrations, and it wasn't until the invention of radar before scientists realized that long distance migrations were a reality, and happened frequently:

Dragonflies migrated from the eastern United States to South America, flying hundreds of kilometers every day. Tiger sharks, assumed to be permanent residents of the coastal waters around Hawaii, turned out to travel thousands of kilometers out into the sea. Scientists’ assumptions about their provincialism, a shark researcher from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology said, “were completely wrong.” (kindle loc 3685)

Similarly, of course, we know a lot now about human migration and how the Polynesians colonized the islands of the pacific using skills that are pretty much lost today.

 What the book doesn't cover in detail is in its title, about how climate change will drive the next great wave of migrations. That migration is alluded to, and the author definitely is pro migration, and frequently laments that treatment of human migrants and refugees. I'm an immigrant myself, so I understand where that sympathy is coming from. On the other hand, democratic societies that ignore the desire of existing citizens to limit the influx of people can end up being unstable, and it's beyond the scope of the book to cover that, so she doesn't cover the much more important political story, except to state:

The researchers found that the antimigrant politician found his greatest support among people living in places experiencing a rapid influx of people who’d been born elsewhere. The states that Trump won were not especially diverse. The diversity indexes in those states were lower than the national average, ranking in the bottom twenty of the fifty states. But in the counties that Trump won, the low diversity index is changing rapidly, rising nearly twice as fast as the national average...In the United States, nearly a third of us are less than one generation removed from an act of international migration. Every year 14 percent of us move from one part of the country to another, crossing borders into states with different laws, different customs, and different dialects, some of them as distant from each other as New York City and Casablanca or Cartagena...Almost 25 percent of people in France, nearly 20 percent of those in Sweden, and 14 percent of people in the United States estimated that immigrants receive twice as much government support as natives—which isn’t true in any of those countries. (kindle loc 4629-4692)

All in all, I enjoyed and can recommend the book, but it left me mildly dissatisfied.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Review: How to Take Over the World

 I checked out How to Take Over the World hoping to find some true villainous schemes to take over the world that might work. To my disappointment, this book turned out to be rather pedestrian. Rather than taking over the world, most of the book seem focused on "How to Satiate Your Ego."

For instance, there's an entire chapter on shooting sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere as a counter to global warming. That doesn't seem very supervillain to me. There's another chapter on how to be remembered millions of years into the future (the author proposes effectively recreating the voyager spacecraft and putting your own dead body in it rather than instruments).

The chapters on creating your own secret base (floating geodesic domes) and creating your own country (seasteading) turn out to spend a lot of time explaining how people failed doing it instead.

If you take the attitude that the book's really using the supervillain theme as a way to get you to read about the various facts Ryan North has shoveled into the book, then it makes a lot more sense. There's lots of stuff about how the internet works, as well as anti-aging technology that's just coming down the pipe.

Overall, the book's written in a humorous, friendly style, much like What If?. I would recommend it as an ideal follow up to that book if you enjoyed it!


Monday, June 20, 2022

Kudos to Swytch Bike customer service

 We bought and installed our Swytch bike in December 2020 which meant it was well out of warranty when one day in the middle of our ride, the battery pack stopped delivering power, I didn't actually expect them to grant us a repair. Yet when I contacted their customer service, they readily provided a new Tour battery. That battery worked for exactly one ride, and then the battery stopped providing power again.

This time, they scheduled a video call to diagnose the problem. After the diagnosis of a bad controller, they declared that this was a bad battery pack, but they had no more battery packs to give us, so this time, they sent us two Pro packs, each with a range of approximately 30 miles, so together they would provide 60 miles of range, at the inconvenience of having to cycle between the batteries to charge.

To my surprise, the Pro pack actually seemed to provide the motor with more kick, and while swapping between batteries is not ideal, the lighter single pack meant that it's more practical for use around town or for commuting, etc. I installed a rack on the bike so that a second battery can be carried.

One of my biggest concerns with buying a Swytch kit was the potential lack of customer service. These folks proved my concerns unfounded. I'll heartily recommend the kit for anyone!


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Re-read: Black Orchid

 While rummaging through my collection of comics for Boen, I found Black Orchid, one of Neil Gaiman's first graphic novels. It's mostly been forgotten in recent times, and in the re-read, I found several interesting foreshadowing of what Gaiman would write.

For one thing, this was the first instance of Gaiman using his signature, "build up to a climax for you to expect a massive combat scene, and then deflate it with a whimper." He would use this repeatedly later in his career, including that infamous scene in hell where the lord of dreams goes to hell prepared for a fight and then gets handed the keys to hell instead.

There are lots of holes in the work otherwise: the characters aren't well developed, and his use of other DC universe characters are weak. We get some idea of what Black Orchid can or cannot do, but no clear understanding of where it all comes from. We get a tour of the DC universe's plant-based characters (Swamp Thing, Poison Ivy, the Flouronic man) but nothing that really ties them all together.

The art is nothing short of outstanding, with Dave McKean's paintings and mixed media work reminding me a lot of Bill Sienkiewicz at his best.

Overall, it's a good book, but nothing that indicates that Gaiman would rise above all this to become one of the greats. Worth reading.


Monday, June 13, 2022

Review: Park CC-4 Chain Checker

 If you read Pardo's overview of chain checkers, you'll understand that the only accurate chain checker ever made was the Shimano TL-CN40/41/42. The two pin design measures pin-to-pin wear and doesn't over-estimate chain wear. It was also not made any more and I simply made do with CC-2s, CC-3s, etc because that's what I could find. I knew I was probably replacing chains prematurely, but it wasn't a big deal for 10-speed chains.

Well, for 11 and 12 speed chains, not only are they more expensive, you also have to replace them when the wear reaches 0.5% elongation, instead of 0.75%. My less accurate tools were going to start increasing my mainteneance costs significantly. Dan Wallach told me about the Park CC-4, and one look at the design showed me that it was a reincarnation of the TL-CN40, but with a detent, so you could use it for both 10 speed and 12 speed chains. I immediately bought one, and low and behold, a chain that the CC-2 said was at 0.5% elongation actually wasn't elongated at all!

At $15, it won't take 2 years for the cost savings in chains to pay for the cost of the tool. If you ride 11 or 12 speed chains, you need one. Even for 10 speed chains, it'll probably save you money, just not as quickly. Recommended.


Thursday, June 09, 2022

Review: The Evidence for Modern Physics

 I picked up The Evidence for Modern Physics during an audible sale, since from the title I thought it would be a description of physics experiments that verified or corroborated many modern theories. I was not disappointed. Professor Don Lincoln is a great lecturer, with a dry sense of humor that had me listening to him in the early mornings with rapt attention.

He starts with the verifiable stuff, like relativity (including an interesting experiment involving atomic clocks on planes down to a modern version that was so sensitive it could detect the slowdown of clocks that differed from each other by as little as one foot!), quantum mechanics, spectography, and the expansion of the universe.

Then he goes into cosmology, discussing the evidence for the Big Bang (the famous story of the discovery of the CBM) the expansion of the universe, and then into more speculative stuff that hasn't been proven such as dark matter, dark energy, inflation, and quantum gravity. Along with his discussions of the experiments include a bunch of history of the ideas. Lincoln points out that the difference between reading science history and science textbooks is that textbooks present a cut-and-dry view of science, while history really shows how many wrong hypothesis were raised and proven wrong before a theory was found that explained all the evidence.

This was a lot of fun, and great listening. Highly recommended.


Monday, June 06, 2022

Review: Age Later

 Age Later is a book about healthspan and the lifespan of centenarians.  It examines how long lived people run in clusters of families, and that there's actually not much you can do to join them as of today, given how much of it is genetics. There's no correlation between diet, exercise, healthy habits, and living past 100. Many of the people interviewed and studied smoked, ate badly, and/or didn't bother to exercise, so their genes basically got them through life despite any of the bad habits that they had. You can view this positively or negatively. On the one hand, if you have good genes, it almost doesn't matter what you do --- what's important is picking your parents and grandparents carefully. On the other hand, if the scientists ever figure it out, they can basically eventually give you a pill to grant you those superpowers and it won't matter what else you do --- even smoking would be OK.

The book covers current studies --- one apparently promising one is metformin, which apparently does great stuff, so much so that Singapore considered putting it in the water supply:

Singapore’s population also has a very high life expectancy, at nearly eighty-three, and that’s why I am consulting for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s office. To give you an idea how desperate the government is to head off a crisis, one of the questions that officials asked me is whether metformin should be put in the water supply. (My answer was no, of course.) (Kindle Loc 2106)

There's another fun section where he talks to Senate Appropriations Thad Cochran from Mississippi:

 A good example of the diverse challenges of raising money for a particular piece of the health care puzzle is what happened when I requested funding from the Department of Defense, which invests significant resources into disease research. During my meeting with then Senate Appropriations chairman Thad Cochran, who’s from Mississippi, I made sure to tailor my pitch to his sense of regionalism. “You know, your state is doing really poorly,” I said. “You have more strokes than anyone, you have more cardiovascular disease.” “Why is that?” he said. “Well, there are two answers. First of all, your people take less metformin than any other state. But there’s really a much more important reason—your people are victims of the good food of Mississippi, this food you can’t stop eating.” He burst out laughing. “That’s great! I’ll remember that! I’ll use it! My people are the victims of the good food of Mississippi. I love it.” (Kindle Loc 2048)

This story highlights why I will never be a good politician. No way would I have come up with that line. OK, let me walk back a bit about the part about exercise:

 Hands down, the most important intervention we have for aging is physical exercise, which has positive benefits for males and females at every stage of life...we know that physical activity is crucial to health span and will increase your chances of passing age eighty. The benefits of exercise for both the young and the old are greater than the benefits we have seen from any particular diet....The interesting thing about exercise is that, in theory, it should be bad for us. It induces oxidative stress, which appears to contribute to aging and disease, and it increases the breakdown of muscle tissue as well as causing some inflammation. And yet exercising is good for us at every age. So what’s going on? (kindle loc 2373-2411)

Clearly there's a ton of room needed to figure out why exercise actually works. There's a study on the effect of metformin on exercise, and apparently metformin's side effects include reducing the impact of exercise on muscle growth, but nevertheless, the people involved do get stronger. They just don't get more/bigger muscle for whatever reason.

There's a section dismissing HGH (human growth hormone) as a good therapy --- there are apparent side effects (like increased chance of cancer), and basically, HGH is most useful for people going through puberty and only prescribed or recommended if they have some genetic defect that prevents them from growing during puberty. What's interesting is that the longest lived people have least response to HGH, except at the megadoses present during puberty.

Another section on diet discusses fasting. Basically, he recommends skipping breakfast. Apparently, not only is it the least important meal of the day, it prolongs your fasting state which does good things for longevity.

All in all, the book doesn't provide easy answers, and does a good job explaining how the author views longevity, while providing optimistic directions. Recommended. 


Thursday, June 02, 2022

Review: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue

 Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue is a history of the English language, sort of. I've thoroughly enjoyed John McWhorter's books in the past, and this one is no exception. In fact, it might be even better than his others, as it's that rare academic argument that's written for non-specialists. McWhorter makes 2 points in the book that he claims are missing from traditional academic histories of the English language. First, that English gets a number of grammatical constructs from the Celtic languages:

German, Dutch, Swedish, and the gang are, by and large, variations on what happened to Proto-Germanic as it morphed along over three thousand years. They are ordinary rolls of the dice. English, however, is kinky. It has a predilection for dressing up like Welsh on lonely nights. Did you ever notice that when you learn a foreign language, one of the first things you have to unlearn as an English speaker is the way we use do in questions and in negative statements? (page 1)

He provides multiple examples if what he calls "the meaningless do", something that doesn't exist in other Germanic languages, but does exist in the Celtic languages. 

His second thesis is that English is comparatively easy, compared to not just the other German languages, but also the Indo-European languages:

English, as languages go, and especially Germanic ones, is kind of easy. Not child’s play, but it has fewer bells and whistles than German and Swedish and the rest. Foreigners are even given to saying English is “easy,” and they are on to something, to the extent that they mean that English has no lists of conjugational endings and doesn’t make some nouns masculine and others feminine. (pg. 89)

This, he claims, is the result of the invasions of the Vikings, who had to learn English as adults, and couldn't understand the nuances of Old English, stripping away genders and many other gramatical markers.

The Scandinavian Vikings left more than a bunch of words in English. They also made it an easier language. In this, in a sense, they clipped Anglophones’ wings. The Viking impact, stripping English of gender and freeing us of attending to so much else that other Germanic speakers genuflect to in every conversation, made it harder for us to master other European languages. To wit: so many people spoke English the way a lot of us speak French and Spanish that “off” English became the seedbed for literary English. (pg. 135)

As a bonus, McWhorter provides a 3rd argument that has only a little bit to do with English, which is that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is complete bollocks:

 Decade after decade, no one has turned up anything showing that grammar marches with culture and thought in the way that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis claimed. At best, there are some shards of evidence that language affects thought patterns in subtle ways, which do not remotely approach the claims of Whorf. (pg. 138)

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis despite being false gets lots of popular exposure in novels, movies (think Arrival), and even many non-fiction books. McWhorter claims we like that meme and propagate it because we want it to be true, not because there's any particular reason to believe it is. Here he points to Russian:

All would agree that certain changes have occurred in prevailing beliefs in that country over the past thousand years—from brute feudalism under the tsars to Communism to glasnost to the queer blend of democracy and dictatorship of today. Yet Russian grammar during that time has always been the marvelous nightmare that it is now. Russian has changed, to be sure, but without equivalents to the Celtic adoption and the Viking disruption, and nowhere near as dramatically as English—and in no ways that could be correlated with things Peter the Great, the Romanovs, or Lenin did. (pg. 149)

 One interesting thing is that McWhorter never claims how great English is, and makes no attempt to counter-balance his description of English as an odd duck amongst languages. Perhaps at this point, with English dominating so much of the globe as the most popular second language, there's no need to defend English, but I actually think English being easier to learn and use and being relatively comprehensible even when a non-native speaker mangles it is a feature, and not a bug.

In any case, the book is full of great ideas and a lot of fun. It's also short and easily read. Try finding that combination anywhere else. Highly recommended.


Monday, May 30, 2022

Review: How the Earth Works

 How the Earth Works is a Great Courses audio/video series on geology. I never took a geology class in college and thought it would be interesting and was not disappointed in the course. It covers many topics, including astronomy, biology, ecology, hydraulics, plate tectonics and even earthquakes. I was astounded by the breadth and depth of Professor Wysession's work.

Over the course of 24+ hours, we get answers to questions like:

  • Could that scene in the Superman movie where Kal-El squeezes a lump of coal into a diamond ever work? (The answer is no, because in addition to pressure it also takes time to form diamonds from coal)
  • Why are the minerals on the planet clustered together in mineable form rather than scattered diffusedly over the planet's crust?
  • How do plate tectonics work?
  • Why are the deepest parts of the Ocean close to the continental plates rather than in the middle of the Ocean?
  • Can we predict earthquakes?
  • How likely is it that there's another earth-like planet in the galaxy? (the answer will surprise and disappoint you)
  • How were the underground aquifers created? How is the water in them replenished?
  • Why do underground caves not just collapsed instead of being formed?
I really enjoyed this series and will probably listen to it again. If you skipped geology classes in college, this class is for you. Highly recommended!

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Review: Powerhouse

 Powerhouse is Steve LeVine's book about the race to create NMC 2.0 batteries. It revolves around Argonne National Laboratories, Envia Energy Systems, and  a smattering of Chinese and Korean representatives. The book doesn't try to give a detailed description of the battery technology and the actual development of the technology but instead tries to describe the key personalities and scientists involved. This approach is kinda sucky, because the politics behind the science is pretty ugly.

There's lots of description about talent poaching, as well as the not-quite-Theranos antics of Envia's CEO and CTO, as well as the jockeying for position amongst the Argonne scientists for promotions and plum positions. It was also interesting that the patent licensing actions of Argonne National Labs resulted in bonuses for the scientists involved. The book also describes all the effort into getting funding for a "Battery Hub" an industry + academia partnership. But the amounts of money involved was paltry, something that a company like Google or Apple could fund out of pocket change, reminding us how little money we spend on basic research, and how much of a bargain it is.

Unfortunately, it looks like NMC 2.0 never panned out.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Review: Driven - The Race to Create the Autonomous Car

 Driven is an account of the rise of the autonomous vehicle industry. It traces the rise of the industry from the initial DARPA Grand Challenge, providing excellent background for various of the actors in the industry that has risen since then, many of whom, including Jiajun Zhu, Chris Urmson, Sebastian Thrun, and of course, the infamous Anthony Levandowski would end up building their own firms. When you look at the book, it's easy to see how the early improvements led people to believe that autonomous vehicles would be common reality in 2020: the first Grand Challenge had no robots that finished the course, but by the time the second Grand Challenge had started, nearly 7 teams had finished the course and there was a genuine race. By 2007, the DARPA Urban challenge had produced several teams who could navigate urban environments, including GPS-blocking tunnels and parking lot environments with bicycles and other objects. To any observer it must have seemed as though the road to production was well along its way. By 2010, Google was spinning up Project Chauffeur, with incentive programs that would rival the payout of many startups, but without the risk.

The story follows the story as a journalist can, but perhaps without an engineer's background, didn't see that the "Larry Page 1K Challenge" was too easy to game: the book describes the engineers basically repeating the runs over and over until the conditions made it possible. That's like playing a video game by save-scumming: just save and reload until the random number generator gave you an outcome you wanted. That sort of challenge made it easy for companies and executives to fool themselves into thinking that they had achieved significant milestones.

The entire book is was worth reading and compelling reading I bought it hoping to read it on a plane and ended up finishing it the morning before the plane ride. It's well worth reading for its management lessons (and its ethical lessons), as well as providing you with a realistic view of how far away the industry is from realizing the original DARPA vision. In many places its as compelling a story as any fiction you'll read. Recommended!


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Review: The Handmaid's Tale Graphic Novel

 I kept bouncing off The Handmaid's Tale, so I finally resorted to the graphic novel edition to see if I could finally actually make it through.  The art in the book is bland and not expressive, and but the story is told in such a way that's coherent and comprehensible. Atwood's vision of a patriarchial society that treats women as nothing but breeders by religious fundamentalists might have seemed like fiction when it was published, but in the world of 2022 with an extremely conservative supreme court about to overturn Roe v Wade seems eerily prescient. The hypocrisy of such a society is exposed and clear, though perhaps in the light of what we see today perhaps her vision isn't apocalyptic enough. What's apparent is that the religious fundamentalists in this country don't view the book as a warning, but as a playbook with which to realize their horrific vision of a uniquely dystopian timeline.

As far as being a graphic novel, this one can't hold a candle to the best of say, Alan Moore. I compare the narrative portion of The Handmaid's Tale with say, Valerie, and it's clear that Moore is the stronger writer with as unique a vision as Atwood, but with a better command of visual as well as written form. Nevertheless, Atwood's dystopia in the light of 2022 seems far more real than the world of V for Vendetta.

Recommended.



Monday, May 16, 2022

Review: Q-Squared

 I picked up Q-Squared because I had good memories of Peter David's writing, even though I'm not actually a fan of Star Trek the next generation. The story probably would have made for a fun Star Trek movie or TV episode, involving multiple-timelines, mirror universes, and Q, a sort of omnipotent energy being. It relies heavily on your understanding of the characters from the TV show, though not so much that I couldn't pick up who Beverly Crusher was, as well as the different versions of Riker, Worf, et al.

It does highlight how non-Science Fiction the Star Trek universe actually is, with regular violations of physics, and more importantly, extremely humanoid aliens who can be portrayed by actors with make-up. I'd say this book would have been great for a die-hard Star Trek fan, but probably isn't suitable for those who got annoyed with regular Star Trek's lack of adherence to physics.


Thursday, May 12, 2022

Review: Specialized Recon 1.0 MTB Shoes

 After just 5 years of use my Pearl Izumi cycling shoes died from the straps falling apart. There was a mild sale on the Specialized Recon 1.0 MTB Shoes, so I bought a pair. My favorite feature of these shoes is that their toebox is wide, which came as a relief after multiple years of using SIDI shoes which are pointy. They come with 3 velcro straps, which are much stickier than anybody else's straps. I tried them when mountain biking and found the walking features very good as well. I like these enough that I find myself wearing them a lot more than I expected, as opposed to say, switching out to my stiffer SIDIs for harder rides. In fact, I found myself even eschewing my stiffer SIDI shoes on a long ride where I might have to walk.

I shopped around and looked at the Recon 2.0 and 3.0, but the BOA straps looked like they would cut into my forefoot. As a result, I think the 1.0 are actually the most comfortable shoes for touring and mixed gravel riding.

Just for the wide toe box alone, these shoes are well worth considering. Recommended.


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Review: Hydroflask 32oz Lightweight Wide Mouth Trail Series

 Aurora gave me an insulated water bottle that was impressively handy during the Antigua trip. It was perfect, except that it didn't quite have sufficient capacity for a family of four. So when I saw a sale on the Hydroflask 32oz Lightweight Wide Mouth stainless steel bottle ($32 after shipping and taxes), I jumped on it. Amazon (linked above) has it for about $40, which is still not  bad deal.

I weighed it, and it comes in at 356g empty, which is 20g more than the advertised weight of 11.8oz. It stores just under 1 liter of water, and the handle is comfortable, though I usually make a point out of putting it in a backpack or in an outer pocket. I used it during the Spain trip, and on many day hikes, and it doesn't spills and is easy enough for the kids to use. It keeps cold water cold, which I like a lot, and the wide mouth means that during the summer months I can put ice in it easily.

I like it enough to recommend it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Spain 2022: Girona to San Francisco

 We got up early, ate breakfast, packed everything into the car, and drove out past the garage and bollard before returning the keys back into the apartment. This time, everything went smoothly. The drive was easy, and even gassing up the car right next to the airport was straightforward and easy.

Once we returned the car, we discovered that we were early, standing in line waiting for Iberia/Level to open. Once they were done, we cleared security and had our last tapas lunch before clearing passport controls. At the duty free shop we bought chocolate that would be hard/expensive to buy in the US: kinder surprise (banned because of a choking hazard), ritter sport (hard to buy), and then bought sandwiches and other meals for the flight.

Returning to the US after the flight, we cleared customs and passport controls easily only to find ourselves stuck waiting for the car seats. Once out, ride share was easy to get at, and we easily got home. Not surprisingly, after the kids started school, we started getting COVID exposure notifications from their classmates, no doubt acquired by visiting destinations in much less vaccinated places than Spain. In retrospect we should have stayed for a week longer until the rest of the families had gotten their COVID bouts over and done with.

But the trip was excellent and I still think Spain would be a great retirement location. My wife asked why I didn't think of it earlier, and the only answer I can give was that my first few nights in Spain during the 2008 tour were so awful that it took persuasion from Brad Silverberg before I would change my mind. Spain is not a great location for the kind of bike touring I do, but would be a perfect home base, which explained why my 2008 visit was so different from my 2019 visit.


Monday, May 09, 2022

Review: Kindle Paperwhite Kids

 My 4 year old Kindle's battery was dying, meaning that I had to recharge the kindle every time I finished the book. I could probably get it to limp a long for longer, but you the latest Kindle Paperwhite Kids came down in price to $120.  The paperwhite kids comes with a cover (3 designs, one of which is just plain black so highly suitable for adults), no ads (a $20 value), and a 2 year damage warranty. Together with the 6.8" screen, night-adaptive lighting (yellow light rather than blue), and USB-C charging, that was enough to tip me over into getting one. After all, there's no reason an adult couldn't use the paperwhite kids as well.

The new screen is as sharp as I could ask for, and the extra screen size is great. The 8GB of storage is also a nice upgrade (though to be honest I was only starting to hit the 4GB limit on the old version). The device supports audible, but I couldn't be bothered to try it, and with 8GB there's not much point. The new device is also waterproof.

I read 3-4 books with my usual rate of book downloaded into the kindle before the device flashed a low battery (10%) warning. The claim is the new device has faster page turns and indeed it appears as though page turns happen faster, but that in itself wouldn't be worth the upgrade. Having USB-C and 6.8" screen is the major upgrade and if you can find the device on sale I think it's well worth the price. Recommended.


Friday, May 06, 2022

Spain 2022: April 16th - Olot Hiking

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We were starting to wake up on a Spanish schedule. 8am instead of 6am, but today we had to take our proctor'd COVID19 tests. Arturo recommended that we took our tests the day before, so if we tested negative we had time to make alternative arrangements. That sounded smart. The tests were fairly straightforward, and I was quite happy I brought along my Logitech Brio camera, which had an adjustable stand which made it easily possible to point the camera at the test boxes. One of our tests were defective, missing the important liquid ingredient needed to make the test --- eMed's personnel immediately put a note in so that they could send us a replacement, and I was very grateful that I had opted to bring all 6 tests, rather than just the 4.
 Once we were all done with our COVID19 tests, we left the apartment, though not without mishap. This time, I stalled out at the garage exit, and it took several tries before I successfully exited the garage. Fortunately, there was no pressure, and we made it to Olot in no time, but all the parking lots were full. Fortunately, there were restaurants nearby with huge parking lots that they were happy to let us use in the hopes that we'd have lunch there.

Boen started being annoyed at having to walk so much again. To be honest I should have more sympathy. Every night, my Garmin was registering at least 20,000 steps! He was obviously at his limit. After the purchase of a coke and some calming down, Boen decided to hike with us, and we got a chance to explore one of the volcano calderas. When we were done nobody was hungry, so we decided to drive to Banyoles, where we bought takeout food and ate at the same bench Mike Sojka and I had eaten at 3 years ago.

The Pyrenees which were still snow covered were clearly visible from the lake, and I was reminded again how close we were to the French border. Girona was truly in an ideal location, with 2 hours driving to ski resorts, and of course the Pyrenees offered world class cycling, though perhaps not as good as the alps.

We returned to Girona, stopping at a big supermarket for many bags of the toasted Hazelnuts that Xiaoqin had discovered and enjoyed. They were cheap and very tasty, and having a car made it easy for us to load up! The problem was, they wouldn't last 2 weeks when we got home!

Back at the apartment, I was determined not to waste my last afternoon, and walked onto Girona to buy Xuxos for the kids. The town was very happening, complete with street vendors and people singing Arias on the streets, so when I came back I told everyone to get ready so we could go out walking. We walked past the Girona Cathedral and noticed that there were no lines, so we walked in.
You cannot be a D&D player and not be impressed by the Cathedral's artifacts. (Marc says the Cathedral is the second biggest in square area in Europe, the biggest being in Rome) They have a thousand year old book, 900 year old tapestries, all sorts of artifacts, and a beautiful courtyard, and of course lots and lots of stained glass windows and sarcophagus.
After the visit, we walked around town and got ice cream near the bridge nearest our apartment. With a calm river in the background it looked nothing short of beautiful.
Dinner was excellent and fast --- we were done by 9:00pm for a change, which was a good thing, since we had to drive all the way back to the Barcelona airport and return the rental car.







Thursday, May 05, 2022

Review: A World Without Email

 I wasn't very impressed by Deep Work, so I skipped a few Cal Newport books but checked out A World Without Email when I heard his interview with Ezra Klein. I will note that even though I didn't recommend Deep Work, I do have a lot of sympathy for his idea that Slack and other contrivances of the modern world are the tool of the devil, and in many cases we'd all be better off without them.

A World Without Email has an incorrect title. Since most of the evils that used to plague email has now moved on to Slack and other instant messaging platforms.  The biggest contribution Newport made in this book is his coining of the phrase "Hyperactive Hive-Mind" to describe the default behavior of interrupt-driven slack-addicted employees and managers.

 The start of the book  is promising, since it points out that even managers/leaders in the hyperactive hive-mind suffer:

As the number of these messages increases, the manager becomes more likely to fall back on “tactical” behaviors to maintain a feeling of short-term productivity—tackling small tasks and responding to queries—while avoiding the bigger picture, George Marshall–style “leadership” behaviors that help an organization make progress toward its goals. As the paper concludes: “Our research suggests the pitfalls of e-mail demands may have been underestimated—in addition to its impact on leaders’ own behavior, the reductions in effective leader behaviors likely trickle down to adversely affect unwitting followers.” (kindle loc 528)

It even points out a particularly nice policy, which I thought was great:

 when Arianna Huffington’s company Thrive Global explored how to free its employees from this anxiety while on vacation (when the knowledge of piling messages becomes particularly acute), it ended up deploying an extreme solution known as Thrive Away: if you send an email to a colleague who’s on vacation, you receive a note informing you that your message has been automatically deleted—you can resend it when they return. (kindle loc 830)

 The disappointing part of the book is when Cal Newport suggests alternative to the hyperactive hive mind. The solution turns out to be... Kanban Boards! Agile/Scrum/Kanban workflows are well known in Software Engineering for years. In a small team of 3-4 people, I've successfully used Kanban boards and daily standups to organize and continually make progress. They are great. Similarly, his description of XP are also familiar, and in previous jobs I've frequently had to exhort team-mates to stop the infinite thread of doom on github/gitlab reviews and dive into pair programming sessions together. Async might be the epitome of remote work, but I've frequently found that synchronous meetings/pair programming/shared screen debugging sessions to be far more useful. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that even in a remote work environment, having everyone on the same time zone so that synchronous meetings/development/discussion can happen is too frequently under-rated as an important factor in team success.

I did, however, enjoy the discussions about various non-electronic mechanisms for implementing kanban and other agile workflows. At the end of the book, I realized that Cal Newport has answered the IT productivity paradox. There's nothing that modern electronic tooling that could not have been implemented with paper and pencil (and a little bit of walking around), which explains why all that investment in computer technology has not paid off whatsoever (and even gone negative --- my Ubuntu laptop crashes far more often than my Windows box, for instance).

This is a good book, however, for trying to get people to understand why we should change the default "Hyperactive Hive-Mind" workflow. All managers and tech leads should read this book.


Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Spain 2022: April 15th, Petradella, Cala Pedrosa

 

We woke up late, leaving the old town only around 9:30am, but it was an easy drive to Peratallada, a classic old town with a watch tower, intact moat, and other old buildings that had empty parking lots when we arrived but full parking lots when we left, along with a fair number of cyclists visiting. I noted that they had rural B&B/accomodations which might make for a nice rustic stay.
We left Peratallada around 11am, driving on towards the coast. Near the Sant Sebastian lighthouse, we saw parking spots and people getting off to walk. Well, of course we were going to do so. Boen once again complained about having to do more hiking, this time, having to be carried by Xiaoqin.
The view from just below the lighthouse was nothing short of astonishing, and reminded me how beautiful the Costa Brava area was, and how different it was from California. California's coastal towns sprawl and eat up huge amounts of real estate. Spainish ones are compact, and while built up, look beautiful and pristine, leaving much of the coastal environment relatively untouched.
At the tourist information booth, I picked up a brochure that noted that there was a hiking trail behind the lighthouse, and the walk to Cala Pedrosa was only half an hour. Walking around the lighthouse revealed a hotel/restaurant, a watch tower which charged admissions, and an archaeological site that depicted life here from pre-historic times! Once we got started on the hike proper, however, Boen balked and refused to walk. Xiaoqin opted to stay with him while Bowen and I headed on down.

We weren't at the beach for more than 15 minutes before Boen showed up with Xiaoqin, having been persuaded that it was more fun to hike down than to wait at the lighthouse for everyone. The kids loved playing on the beach, and there was even a restaurant serving meals. I hadn't intended to eat there, but I'd neglected to bring food, and I noted that there was a fixed price menu, so when Bowen asked to eat we sat down and ordered the fixed price menu (with a minimum order of 2 servings).

The waiter seemed exceedingly surprised that I could read the Spainish menu, but it was quite obvious what the food was (seafood soup or salad), and then either noodles or rice, and then desert. I told the waiter what I wanted and the food got delivered and we ate them in windy conditions.
The trail would go on, but the next stop was a 3 hour hike, so we opted to walk back to the car, and drive straight to Marc's place, where he took us on a hike to the local viewpoint, showing us where the cork trees were harvested.

We returned to Girona. There was a lot of police control because of the Easter parade, and the police questioned the presence of my car in old town until I showed them my remote and said I had underground parking at the place I was staying. After that they smiled and waved me through. Dinner was at Restaurant Normal, run by the same famous 3 brothers that Marc told us about the day before. I found the food a little disappointing, with the duck breast not as nice as expected, though the Beef Wellington was very good. On the way home, we ran into the Easter Parade, which featured people dressed up in costumes very similar to the ones made infamous by the KKK, but surprisingly have a completely different origin and religious purpose, with no known connections between them. Right at the end were the roman soldiers, with their armor polished to a shine.

We went to bed at a reasonable hour, and I reminded myself that the next day was our last full day, which meant that we should take our COVID19 proctor'd rapid tests in order to return home.





Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Spain 2022: April 14th - Girona Food Tour and City Wall Walk

 Boen had been coughing since we got to Barcelona, when I realized that I'd forgotten to pack his asthma inhalers. So when the morning rolled around I decided that since we had time before the food tour started, we should visit a pharmacy and get an inhaler. In the US, even with good insurance (ours doesn't have a deductible!!), our albuterol/ventolin inhalers would cost around $80 a pop. But we were in a country with the 7th best healthcare system in the world (the US sits somewhere around 22nd), and a walk down to the pharmacy when it opened got us a full Ventolin inhaler (no prescription required!) for 10 EUR and another 3 EUR for cough syrup, no insurance to deal with, and no deductibles to worry about. I reflected to myself that most Americans don't travel enough. If they did, there'd be widespread intense anger about an incredibly inequitable health system that not only drives people into bankruptcy, but creates unnecessary paperwork and stress even for those who are privileged.

The Girona Food Tour company is run by Marc, a Dutchman raised in Spain. We were the only persons on our tour, so effectively we had a private tour. Marc was a true foodie, giving us not just a food tour, complete with an explanations of the breakfast foods, and a visit to the market Mike Sojka and I had walked past multiple times but never went in, but also pointing to various structures and details in Girona that I'd walked past.
There was a visit to the chocolate shop, the ice cream shop, and high end places (including detailed stories of how a certain set of 3 brothers became the culinary talk of the town. Marc did a great job talking to the kids, and explaining everything in terms he could understand.
We ended up at a Paella place for lunch, with great seafood. We made a reservation for Saturday night.  Marc took us back to the office where we settled up the bill, and he gave us ideas for doing a visit to the coast the next day and possibly visiting his house.

After that, we went back to the AirBnB for a rest, and then did the classic Girona city wall walk. Boen, despite his cough being better with the Ventolin, protested about doing yet more walking, so I ended up carrying him up to the wall, but once on the wall proper he had a lot of fun and started walking by himself.



Xiaoqin had reserved a place at Divinum, a 1 star Michelin restaurant in Girona that Bowen was very excited about. This time, he was determined to eat everything backwards from the directions. He did that and claimed that the effect was just as good as following instructions.


The problem with Spanish dining hours was that by the time we were done it was midnight! We walked home, got the kids into bed, and then fell into a deep sleep.


Monday, May 02, 2022

Review: Packing for Mars

 I was inspired to read Packing for Mars while auditing How Science Shapes Science Fiction. Written in 2011, it's still reasonably up to date (the physics hasn't changed), and mostly explores what NASA has done in terms of preparing to go to Mars.

The other thing the book  is good at is that it presents a non-rose-colored view of what it meant to be an astronaut. As you can imagine, being an astronaut isn't actually that cool. First, you're in intimate quarters with your colleagues all the time with no privacy, and in  many cases stuck in a tiny room with no possibility of getting out, but you also have relatively little control over your life, with mission control constantly telling you what to do. Even worse, during key parts of the flight like take-off or landing, everything is automated anyway as the stresses of launch or re-entry mean that you can't possibly be in control of the craft.

 I once joked that nobody would write about adventurers going to the toilet, as there would be more interesting things in the plot. Well, it turns out I was completely wrong:

The fecal bag is a clear plastic sack, similar to a vomit bag in its size, holding capacity, and ability to inspire dread and revulsion.* A molded adhesive ring at the top of the bag was designed for the average curvature of an astronaut’s cheeks. It rarely fit. The adhesive pulled hairs. Worse, without gravity or air flow or anything else to foster separation, the astronaut was obliged to employ his finger. Each bag had a small inset pocket near the top, called a “finger cot.” The fun didn’t stop there. Before he could roll up and seal the bag to trap the offending monster, the crew member was further burdened with tearing open a small packet of germicide, squeezing the contents into the bag, and manually kneading the germicide through the feces. Failure to do so would allow fecal bacteria to do their bacterial thing, digesting the waste and expelling the gas that, inside your gut, would become your own gas. Since a sealed plastic fecal bag cannot fart, it could, without the germicide, eventually burst. (pg. 271)

 Turns out that rather than putting chefs or people who try to make food palatable in charge of supplying food to the astronauts, NASA chose to put a veterinarian in charge instead. The kind of food produced was therefore tasteless and apparently NASA spent a lot of fuel putting up food packages that came back down with the astronauts as nobody could eat it.

IRONICALLY, IF YOU wanted to minimize an astronaut’s “residue,” you could have fed him exactly what he wanted: a steak. Animal protein and fat have the highest digestibility of any foods on Earth. The better the cut, the more thoroughly the meat is digested and absorbed—to the point where there’s almost nothing to egest (opposite of ingest). “For high-quality beef, pork, chicken, or fish, digestibility is about ninety percent,” says George Fahey, professor of animal and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Fats are around 94 percent digestible. A 10-ounce sirloin steak generates but a single ounce of, as they say in George Fahey’s lab, egesta.* Best of all: the egg. “Few foods,” writes Franz J. Ingelfinger, a panelist at the 1964 Conference on Nutrition in Space and Related Waste Problems, “are digested and assimilated as completely as a hard-boiled egg.” That’s one reason NASA’s traditional launch day breakfast is steak and eggs. (Pg. 300)

In contrast, the Russians just give their astronauts an enema the day of the launch instead. 

I also really enjoyed the section on the socialization of astronauts:

All through the space station era, the ideal astronaut has been an exceptionally high-achieving adult who takes direction and follows rules like an exceptionally well-behaved child. Japan cranks them out. This is a culture where almost no one jaywalks or litters. People don’t tend to confront authority. My seatmate on the flight to Tokyo told me that her mother had forbidden her to get her ears pierced. It wasn’t until she was thirty-seven that she summoned the courage to do it anyway. “I’m just now learning to stand up to her,” she confided. She was forty-seven, and her mother was eighty-six. (pg. 36)

There's also a ton of gruesome stuff about what happens to  bodies in the context of a spacecraft accident or failure, which nobody seems to talk about:

 Cruising speed for a transcontinental passenger jet is between 500 and 600 miles per hour. Do not bail out. “Fatality,” to quote Dan Fulgham, “is pretty much indicated.” A windblast of 250 miles per hour will blow an oxygen mask off your face. At 400 miles per hour, windblast will remove a helmet—as it did to Bill Weaver’s SR-71 copilot. His visor was blown open and acted like a sail, snapping his head back against the neck ring of his suit and breaking his neck. At 500 miles per hour, “ram air” blasts down your windpipe with enough force to rupture various elements of your pulmonary system. An unnamed test pilot mentioned in a paper by John Paul Stapp ejected at more than 600 miles per hour. The windblast pried open his epiglottis and inflated his stomach like a pool toy. (This worked to his advantage, as he had ejected over water. “The estimated three liters of air in the stomach substituted as flotation gear, which he was in no condition to inflate,” wrote Stapp.) (pg. 261)

All in all, if your child tells you that she wants to be an astronaut, this is a great book for her to read. The writing is humorous, covers all the topics you wouldn't have thought of when it comes to a year-long trip to Mars, though on one of the topics (Sex), even Mary Roach couldn't find actual researchers who would admit to any results. The thoroughly enjoyed the book and can recommend it to anyone. 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Friday, April 29, 2022

Spain 2022: April 13th Cadaques to Girona

 

The hotel breakfast was scrumptious, filling, and generous, and the kids were finally done with jet lag, sleeping until 7:30am. After breakfast, we packed everything into the car, moved it into the requested hotel parking space, and then went to exchange our electronic coupon for tickets at the House Museum. The house museum opened at 10:00am, but if you were there early, they'd let you in 10 minutes early. They let you in in batches, so as to not crowd the space, and masks are required indoors.


I'm not usually a big fan of museums, since for paintings, etc., I rarely feel the need to see the original artwork, and virtual tours instituted since the pandemic seem to be pretty good. But Dali's house was an exception, left the way he had it was an artist's working studio and home, and the level of detail was really cool to see, such as the mirror that enabled him to claim to be the first man in Spain to see the sunrise from his bed, the hoist and rig that enabled him to paint huge canvases while sitting down, and even the gardens and grounds.


The outside laundry drying area was interesting, with view cutouts into the wall that provided glimpses of the sea. Even his swimming pool was unusual and different, decorated with a combination of the artist's taste and child's whimsy. It was definitely worth a visit, with us watching the video documentaries in the outdoor viewing area for far longer than I would have expected.


After the museum, I decided we had time to go visit Cap De Creus, the place we had attempted to hike to the day before. I noted from a display in the hotel that while it was forbidden to drive there during the summer months, it was perfectly fine to do so now, so we drove the scenic, rugged road to the lighthouse, making a note to myself that it would have made a perfectly nice bike ride. Once there, we took a hike, exploring the coast. It had been forecasted to rain, but it was doing so in a very vague way.


Boen started complaining about the amount of walking required, claiming that the museum tour qualified for exercise. We finished the hiking by 1:00pm, but no one was hungry, so I decided to show everyone Llanca on our way to Girona. The drive was as exciting as the bike ride had been 3 years ago, but I don't know if Xiaoqin saw much of it as she fell asleep in the car. Bowen thought the coast view was impressive, however, and Xiaoqin woke up as we got to Llanca in time to find us a restaurant.

Restaurant Miramar turned out to be a 2 star Michelin restaurant that uncharacteristically had room for us at lunch! The menu was crazy expensive, but heck, it was raining and we had no place to go in a hurry, so we signed up for the experience. Bowen was very impressed by the choreography, and the initial opening dishes where they told him what order to eat what in, but was unimpressed by the entree. I myself have never been impressed as far as how good the food tasted by any Michelin restaurants I'd ever been to with the exception of Funky Gourmet, which unfortunately was a victim of COVID19. For my money, Kebab & Curry in Santa Clara probably has better food than any of the 1 or 2 star Michelin restaurants in the Bay Area. (Kebab & Curry was so good that Michelin had create a special no-star category for it and other restaurants like it) I explained to Bowen that Rosenlaui and that magical day in Les Rauffes in France with Mike Samuel were excellent culinary experiences, but were inaccessible to most people. Xiaoqin, of course, begged to differ and accused me of brain-washing my kids into thinking that cycling was far better than eating.


After lunch, we drove to Girona, where I was led down a street blockaded for construction in order to pick up my keys for the AirBnB I'd rented. The rental management company gave me incredibly complex directions for getting into the apartment. I'd recalled that old town roads were blockaded by bollards so car drivers couldn't drive into old town Girona. It turned out that those bollards were controlled by a remote control that owners of those apartments had and could be lowered. You then had to drive around 5mph until you got to the garage and then drop your car (in a leap of faith) down a steep grade into the basement parking. It was terrifying doing this in a stick shift, but you know what, a Dad who agreed to take his kids up the Stelvio this summer cannot be faint of heart, so I did it without a hint to my kids that this was difficult.

We then walked around town and went to Volver first for Empanadas and then to El Carrito Barri for steak. We bought yogurt and other sundries at the local supermarket. The total price was less than 10% of what we paid for Miramar but was pretty satisfying. We went to bed at a reasonable hour and anticipated the Food Tour I had organized the next morning.



Thursday, April 28, 2022

Review: How Science Shapes Science Fiction

 How Science Shapes Science Fiction is a great courses program about how science is used and abused in science fiction. Professor Charles Adler clearly loves science fiction and is widely read and up to date on the science, which I thought was great. I found myself placing holds on books he recommended, as well as following along each topic, even the ones where I thought I knew something about with enjoyment.

There's one section where he talks about flight dynamics. There's a graph in this section that I'd never seen before, plotting the logarithmic weight, wingspan, and power required to achieve flight. There's a clear straight line, though with exceptions, such as human powered flight. He uses this to explain the trade-offs required in designing a dragon, which I thought was an awesome exposition on what thought processes has to go through when a writer designs a world if he or she really wants the world to follow known laws of physics.

What I loved about the great courses series (as opposed to say, Masterclass) is that the lectures are never shallow, and the professors never talk down to you. For instance, his discussion of Dune doesn't just go into the ecology of the planet (and the ecology of the Oregon Dunes where Frank Herbert was inspired by) but also what happened in Herbert's life that caused him to write the novel. Similarly, his discussion of on designed languages explores the origin of Quenya in Tolkein, and brought many details to life.

I found myself listening to this series in preference to my usual diet of podcasts, etc. That makes this series recommended and well worth your audible credit.


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Spain 2022: April 12th Barcelona to Cadaques

 I was in my nightmare: the car was stuck on the slight upslope from the garage, and kept stalling out whenever I tried to put it in gear. Nothing I did seemed to work, even the old trick of using the handbrake to keep the car from moving backwards while I put it into gear.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Spain 2022: April 11th - Barcelona, Mont Junc and the Beach

 

Of course we weren't granted an exception by the jet-lag gods, and all woke up at 2am, took more melatonin and tried to sleep more fatefully.  My own Garmin said that I slept for 7 hours, proving that Garmin's sleep tracking might as well be science fiction. We ate breakfast, and in the morning light walked up the pedestrain path to Mont Junc, for which I had bought the first entrance tickets (10:00am) because I was confident of our jet-lag.


With plenty of time ahead of us, we made progress slowly, exploring every playground and seeing what the Barcelona playgrounds were like, and still made it to the castle at 9:30am, well before opening time.


The views from the castle were great, and we walked about halfway around the castle grounds outside before we were let in. The place was isolated and uncrowded, alleviating any concerns I might have had about COVID, though masks were still required.


After we had our fill, we hailed a ride to Cerveceria Catalana for lunch, a tapas place Xiaoqin had found from WeChat. The place was pretty empty when we showed up, but soon Asian tourists showed upone after another.
Boen had been asking for Creme Brulee for his birthday, and I told him the Creme Catalan was pretty much the same thing, since the French border was less than 2 hours drive away. He and his brother ordered one each and we re quite happy.


The day was young and I wanted the kids to get more sunshine, so we walked to the beach. I had forgotten my belt at home, so I took the opportunity to buy an obvious fake belt from a street vendor for 10 EUR, overpaying. There was actually a nice shop selling genuine leather belts with spanish leather for 33 EUR. In retrospect that was a better buy, but I still much prefer the fabric money belts that I've been using and don't see myself wearing the expensive Spanish leather on my travels or on any other occasion.


Dinner that evening was at a tapas bar called Quimet & Quimet, which was kinda exotic but the kids were kinda bored with it, so we ate a very light dinner before absconding to the nice gelato shop we had found the day before. We took more melatonin pills in what I was sure would be a lousy night of sleep.


Monday, April 25, 2022

Review: The Wanderings of Odysseus

 After reading Black Ships Before Troy, I decided I liked it enough to checkout The Wanderings of Odysseus from the library. This retelling of the Odyssey feels to me a lot less insane the the story of the Iliad, where at least motivations are somewhat good, instead of the insanity that seems to be what ancient warfare was.

The writing style was fairly transparent, and a lot of characters from the prequel showed up in the sequel. It's a great way to learn the story of the odyssey without having to read a poem.


Friday, April 22, 2022

Spain 2022: April 10th San Francisco to Barcelona

 The ultra cheap flights from years past were gone, but I spotted an Iberia Airlines direct flight in the realm of $700 a person for Spring Break. Spring break is too short to bring the triplet, but it was sufficient for Bowen, Boen and Xiaoqin to get a feel for Barcelona and Girona. I also decided that since I didn't manage to make it to Cadaques last time to visit the Salvador Dali House Museum, I'd make up for it this time. The Costa Brava had impressed me the last time as well, so I'd show it to them as well.

Our flight was late by nearly two hours--I would later find out that this was par for the course for Iberia Airlines --- the airline company, LEVEL, serviced Iberia's San Francisco to Barcelona direct flight, and was famous online for a level of disorganization that led to frequent trip delays and vocal unhappy customers.

I'd discovered that booking.com now offered a taxi service, which for what my AirBnB host told me, was comparable to just showing up at the airport and booking a taxi, but the taxi driver would show up and greet us as we exited baggage claim! We cleared customs with astounding efficiency. To my surprise, our vaccination cards weren't even checked! Arriving at the AirBnB, we had been told that the host would greet us, but instead her cleaning crew was responsible for letting us in and giving us the keys. The cleaning person was an obvious immigrant, and she kindly let us know the wifi password, gave us the keys, and then left us to our own devices.

The kids were very excited about the balcony, but we were all very hungry, so we immediately absconded to buy some groceries for breakfast (I was pretty sure we would awake long before any grocery stores would open because of jet lag), and then walked over to La Tasqueta de Blai, and had what would turn out to be the best tapas of the entire trip!
Next to the restaurant was a gelato shop, that was similarly excellent. We walked back to the apartment, took showers, and took melatonin pills before going to bed, hoping that the jet-lag gods would grant us an exception.