Thursday, August 17, 2017

Uber Las Vegas

I recently posted about how Uber is a double-edged sword, but I have to say my Uber experiences in Las Vegas have been pretty good. The longest I've had to wait for an Uber  has been 8 minutes, and every driver has been personable and helpful. I got great suggestions for restaurants and things to do.

One of my Uber drivers was Westley Stevens--apparently he and Lionel Richie had a bet going about who could earn the most while driving for Uber, or something. I think we was just trying to pay the bills. Regardless, he was quite entertaining and had a fun story to tell.

I had recommendations for Casa Don Juan where I had the chicken mole, and another recommendation for The Cornish Pasty Co where I had a pepper steak pasty. I strongly recommend both restaurants to anyone visiting Las Vegas.



And I definitely learned that I do not need to drive in Vegas with the convenience of Uber. And because everything is so close to the strip, most rides are less than $10, and even cheaper if you go with the Uber Pool option. The Pool option also has a high probability of meeting some fun people as well. I met a couple from Arizona that were really enjoying their time in Vegas and just happy as all get out. Today I shared a ride with a couple young women that were staying at my same hotel and were obviously enjoying their time in Vegas--interestingly they were returning from the grocery store with a couple shopping bags of groceries because they didn't want to go out to eat at restaurants. And I shared a ride with a guy that was there to see his son who played football for the University of Nevada and who was being recruited for the NFL.

It is amazing how much people can tell you about themselves in a short 10 minute ride when they are happy and willing to share. Surprisingly none of these people were on their phones during the rides preferring to chat with a complete stranger instead. Almost makes me think driving for Uber could be a lot of fun, at least in Vegas.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Travel Kit

One of the common questions I get asked when I'm at a customer and the discussion of travel comes up is, "So, what are your favorite gadgets to travel with and why?" My kit started off based on fantastic suggestions from my friend Nick who also travels a lot for work. I've refined things over the years and what I carry now are all essentials, and as light weight as I can pull off.

Let's take a closer look and break it all down.


Starting in the top left and going right and then down:

External Hard Drive - This is a 1 TB USB external drive that serves a duel purpose--large file transfers and stores my music, books, and video library. You'll notice that it is in a hard shell case as well. After replacing my previous external drive, I really took a look at it and saw how banged up it was, and decided that a case would be a good idea for my new drive.

5 Port USB Charging Hub - This is my newest addition, and has proven essential for bulk charging tasks of all my gadgets. Unfortunately, it isn't a true USB hub so I can't use it for connecting devices to my laptop. But it does have the exact number of ports I need to charge up everything at once. It will come in very handy on my next two week trip. If I were to replace this, I would try to find one that is also a connectivity hub because there are occasions when I connect at least four devices to my laptop at once.

6x8" Cocoon Organizer - When you have a lot of cables and little gadgets, you don't really want them rattling around in your bag, so this elastic mesh organizer is the perfect solution. The elastic bands make a web of varying lengths and sizes allowing you to find the perfect position for whatever you need to hold in place.

Various Cables - Just all the cables I have to haul around.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones - These would be the most expensive item in my bag other than my laptop. They are not cheap, but man do they live up to their reputation. These are essential for blocking out noise on flights and for listening to that movie or tunes that are helping the time fly by. I prefer the ear buds rather than the over-the-ear model because they are significantly lighter, easier to tote around, and can be easily thrown in a pocket when you need to run.

Hand Sanitizer - I work in the healthcare industry so this has become something I'm always aware of. It has a holder that hooks on to backpack making it always accessible whether I'm on the plane, or at a customer site. I actually buy a large bottle of it and use that to fill the small bottle. Saves on the landfill and the pocket book.

Towel - Yup. That's a towel. I actually travel with two of them. The small one you see here and a larger one that can also serve as a small ground cover or a bath towel. The larger one is stored in my rollaboard. This is a super absorbent towel kind of similar to the famous "Sham Wow" towel. It has various uses--go read Hitchhiker's Guide if you don't know why towels are so important. ;)

Multiport Video Adapter - As a technical trainer, I run into just about every type of video setup you can imagine so this adapter is essential allowing me to connect to just about every type of video connector I could run into.

Google Chromecast - When I want to watch Netflix, videos in my library, or have a customer that doesn't have the necessary cable for me to connect to, this things makes it all more enjoyable and easier to deal with. Most TVs in modern hotels have HDMI connections and a USB port or plug nearby. This is the Ultra model which allows for both USB or outlet power options.

Miniature Gripping Tripod - This doesn't get used all the time, but comes in handy when I need a steady shot, want to take a selfie at distance or even serves as a phone stand for watching the screen. The legs are flexible and can be positioned in all sorts of ways.

Microsoft Arc Mouse - I love this mouse! It lays flat until you need to use it. Then you simply snap it into an arc and it turns on. Super light weight, easy to transport, and can be used on any surface. It uses a Bluetooth dongle instead of a wire which is also nice.

Gorilla Gadgets Battery Pack - This bad boy packs 16800mAh, and has two output ports. It is also one of the heavier gadgets I have, but it now lives in my rollaboard attached to the external USB connection giving me a convenient charging option rather than depending on an outlet to be open.

Belkin Power Adapter - This is my most used and second favorite gadget. It has three standard AC outlets and two USB outlets. I am always running into situations where this comes in incredibly handy whether it is a customer site, or the departure gate at the airport. That last situation has earned me some friends when people were looking for a plug to charge up their phone but all the plugs are filled. I swoop in and offer to extend that one plug to allow four more people to charge their devices.

Wi-Fi AC750 Portable Router and Charger - This is my favorite gadget. This was actually given to me by my work's IT staff. I can not rave about this router enough. I use it during my training classes allowing up to 15 people to connect to my laptop's VMs. I also use it in the hotel room to give all my gadget's a single connection to use, rather than logging in from each device, including my Chromecast, which solves the problem of not being able to use a Chromecast in a hotel room. Plus this thing has a built-in DLNA server so I can plug my external hard drive into it and stream videos and music directly off it. Oh, and it is also a rechargeable battery for my devices should I need another one. Did I mention how much I like this thing?

Verizon 4GLTE JetPack Mi-Fi - Another work issued gadget. This thing is my safety net for connectivity. You have no idea how many hospitals have horrible WiFi networks. This also provides a safer connection than the typical public network you find in airports.

ASUS Nexus 7 Tablet - I use this tablet primarily for consuming media--books, videos, music--when flying. It is big enough to watch a movie on comfortably even in cramped airplane seats, but small enough that it can be slipped into a back pocket. I also play an occasional game on it.

Tripp-Lite Keyspan Projector Remote - (Not pictured) This isn't so much a travel gadget, but it is my "tool of the trade." As a professional trainer, I need a good remote for interacting with PowerPoint and my computer from a distance. This remote has an integrated mouse, presentation buttons, volume control, and laser pointer. Basically, it has everything short of a keyboard integrated into it.

So that's it. There are a other things I carry that aren't gadgets, but are quality of life things for the hotel room, work, etc. like sleep mask, PostIt notes (that's another post for another day), and water bottle.

I hope this post helps you plan for your own tech filled trips, and if you have any suggestions that you've found useful, please share in the comments below.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Deep Sea Fishing

Last week while in Massachusetts I went on a team building adventure--deep sea fishing. I've fished in rivers and lakes, but this was my first time out at sea, and admittedly, it wasn't that far from shore, but technically it was still the Atlantic Ocean. I was a little concerned about sea sickness, even though historically I typically don't get motion sick, but since it was my first time I had my concern and I didn't want to be the guy that fed the fish (that honor did go to one of my co-workers who shall remain nameless),. Thankfully I didn't get sick at all, which made the trip even better.



I definitely recommend that you should take a charter some time and experience the fun that is deep sea fishing. By the end of the day I had caught four different kinds of fish--red fish, cod, haddock, and a sand shark.

The fish on the left was the first fish I caught and was the first for the trip. It is a red fish, and the bulging eyes are caused by the pressure differential. Apparently this fish is very pressure sensitive, and died on the way up. The fin on its back is actually venomous and if it sticks you, it feels like a bee sting. The fish I'm holding up is a cod, which unfortunately we couldn't keep due to some fishing law, so I had to toss it back. We did get to keep all the haddock we caught, but the sand sharks we caught had to be thrown back. By the way, sand sharks have a very sharp barb on the rear fin that faces forward and if you are a foolish predator and try to grab it from behind, the barb sticks in you and delivers some serious venom. Yet another reason the ocean will kill you.

The best thing about the trip was just being out in the open water away from people and the city, and listening to the waves, sea gulls, and the occasional boat. I kept my phone in the cabin while fishing, and only had it out during the trip out to the water. Here are some of the scenic shots I took while leaving port.








During the trip, we saw another "party" fishing boat, and the first mate on our boat talked about how those boats leave people mad, generally speaking. One of my coworkers had experienced one, and agreed. Apparently, fishing lines are constantly getting tangled and the time spent fishing is minimal. That said, aim for the smaller more private boats.

Once the trip was over we returned to the marina and took our fillets to the marina restaurant where they cooked them up and added some sides and drinks.




It made for the freshest fish and chips lunch I've ever had. Tasted great! Oh, and in case you are curious where we went, here's a Google Map of the trip. Disregard all the land connections. It kept trying to connect to non GPS locations. We chartered the Karen Lynn, and I want to give a special shout out to Collin and Bryce who made the trip a blast.



Saturday, August 5, 2017

Are You Ready Player One?

Just finished reading Ready Player One, and if you are/were a geek child/teen of the 80s, this book is absolutely for you! There is also a movie adaptation coming out for it. More on that later.


The book is cover to cover references to geek culture from the late 20th century, and if you played RPGs /video games, and watched sci-fi/fantasy movies and/or Saturday morning cartoons, or read manga/watched anime, or enjoyed Monte Python, or anything related to any of that stuff, this book will keep you reading. I read it on the plane ride to and from Boston last week, so it was roughly a 14 hour read.

As you might be able to tell from that last paragraph, it touches on a lot of different things from that time, and has a little something for every geek out there. I won't spoil anything beyond what you can read on the back cover:

It takes place in 2044/45 mostly inside a virtual utopia known as the OASIS (it's an acronym, read the book to find out what it stands for), and the protagonist's quest to find the creator's hidden secret within the universe of the Oasis.

That description really doesn't do it justice, but trust me, you'll love it.

And there is a movie that is currently in post-production. You can watch the trailer here:


I watch the trailer, and there are really only a couple scenes and a handful of elements that I recognize from the book, which makes me a little sad. But Steven Spielberg is directing it, so I'm holding out a little hope that it will be well received. This article does make some some good arguments regarding it needing to be different/better than the book, but my primary fear is that it will lose its heart and core story in that transformation. But we'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Let's Talk About Uber

Where to begin? Uber really is a two-edged sword. It is both a fantastic service and a necessary evil.

As a frequent traveler that doesn't own a car, I need a way to get to and from the airport efficiently and safely, as well as a way to get around town when I'm in a location where renting a car simply isn't practical such as New York City, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. To that end, I typically turn to Uber as my go-to car service, and this experience tends to be a mixed bag. Almost every driver has made me feel welcomed and safe, but the problems start when I have to deal with Uber the company and specifically support.


Uber's support is probably one of the worst support groups I've ever encountered, and the app itself, hard codes all the support options making it incredibly difficult to actually get help on the specific topic you need help with. To date, I have yet to get an issue resolved on the first go. In fact, I firmly believe that it is Uber policy to not offer help unless you push the issue further. Even worse, and as an IT professional this irks me in the biggest way, they seem incapable of reading a support request and comprehending the problem on the first go regardless of the verbosity of the description of the problem.

However, on the positive side, as I mentioned, the drivers for the most part are great. I get that everyone has a bad day, and sometimes you just don't feel like chatting, so I forgive those drivers that made me feel a bit meh. I have had some great conversations with drivers, and I think it is great that they come from all walks of life and different life experiences, and I've actually learned some interesting stuff from drivers. But I've also had a driver--NYC--scare the crap out of me dodging cars, driving on the wrong side of the road, and taking risks that I thought were insane. The good news is that when you rate these drivers, Uber is great about following up right away and taking action with these sorts of drivers.

The best advice that I can give you regarding Uber is always, always, verify the license plate number before getting in the vehicle. And compare the driver's picture in the app with the person driving the vehicle. Finally, read the Uber FAQ. This is probably the number one thing everyone should do before you start using Uber or before you start using them extensively. These same tips also apply to Lyft, by the way.

So have you taken an Uber ride? If so, what was it like? Any tips? Any of you drive for Uber? Any secrets you can share with us?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Went to Santa Cruz yesterday despite my broken toe. I wanted a day away from the computer, work, and thinking about either. It is important to maintain a work/life balance, and sometimes just getting away is the best prescription. I hobbled around all day, putting 14,790 steps (7.27 miles) on my FitBit, but enjoying the sun and fresh air.



The Boardwalk is a "tourist mecca," so anyone traveling there during the summer, or holidays, should expect crowds. It is also a bit on the pricey side. You can purchase a wristband that gets you unlimited rides and attractions, and/or a card that lets you do the same and to play midway games. One of the interesting things I found with the midway games is that children under 12 get an automatic win just for playing. I think this is a great idea, and certainly fair to the parents who are spending money for their kids to entertain themselves. It keeps the kids happy, and of course encourages them to spend more money, but at least you are always getting something for the money you shell out. There are also non midway games such as miniature golf, pool, shuffle board, etc.


The rides themselves, are on par with most fair style rides, but not at the level of the big amusement parks. There are a few roller coasters, spinning rides, and a couple drop rides, as well as a sky tram and a few others. But don't forget the Pacific Ocean, wild life, and all the scenery and of course food. According to Google most people spend 3 1/2 hours here, but you could easily spend an entire day if you take it slow and take in everything the location has to offer. There are also Friday night concerts and Wednesday night free movies on the beach at certain times of the year. There is also copious amounts of beach activities including volleyball and barbecues. Lots of people bring tents or canopies and spend the day on the beach as well as visiting the boardwalk.

The downtown area is less than a one mile walk away, and has a lot of really great restaurants and shops. As for accommodations, they are everywhere and range in price, but are within the affordable range. I've written reviews for three of them that can be found on TripAdvisor and/or Google. If you don't want to stay close to the beach there is a fantastic Hilton hotel about 10 minutes away by car on 17. I highly recommend it.

There are also a few other beaches in the area, as well as surfing, kite flying, and a various boat trip offerings. The red wood forests are within a short car drive away as well. I think about four days would give you the time you need to do everything at a relaxed pace.

And make sure to enjoy the sunset!


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

TSA and Customs - Security Theater

As a frequent traveler it is important that you take steps to expedite moving through obstacles as much as possible. One of the biggest obstacles is TSA and a close second is customs. The unfortunate thing is that both of these, well the TSA anyway, are merely "security theater" to make the traveler feel like they are actually safe.

I have a bit more confidence in customs, but that is apple to oranges comparison. Either way, they are an obstacle that has to be overcome, and to that end I strongly encourage any frequent traveler to get TSA Pre. And if you are an international traveler, consider Global Entry for getting into the US, or NEXUS for Canada. I actually discovered that NEXUS is superior to Global Entry in that it includes Global Entry and is half the cost at $50. (Note that if you are coming into a US customs location from Canada, you use Global Entry entry via your passport.) The downside is that it is a bit more difficult to get since you have to go to a Canadian entry point that offers it. I got mine when traveling to Vancouver. But it is well worth the effort if you travel frequently between the US and Canada. My first time into Canada I waited in a customs line for almost 45 minutes. Subsequent visits were about 5 minutes. And coming back into the US it is a wonderful experience walking past hundreds of travelers waiting in line and walking straight up to the customs agent. The time saved easily pays for the cost. Also, because both systems are automated, you don't have to go through the interview process, you simply present a receipt to the agent and get maybe a question or two and then on you go.

Mexico also has a similar customs access, called SENTRI, but that is for car travel rather than airline travel, and requires using a specific vehicle every time. I don't travel to Mexico for business, so I didn't get this service.

Back to the discussion about the TSA. Here are some tips: do your research regarding TSA requirements before you go to the airport, even if you have TSA Pre, and have all your ducks in a row. If you have TSA Pre, know what you don't have to do and have to do, and be prepared to comply before you get to the agent. When you get to the agent, smile, be polite and friendly. You can imagine what a thankless job they have. A little friendliness, tends to help a smidgen and when they profile you (don't be fooled, they absolutely profile) they will be a bit more forgiving if there is a question about something in your bag - sometimes. Also, being prepared and moving quickly through the process, also tends to make the agents a little happier and less frustrated. Don't get me wrong though, they still have to comply with their "security" required checks, so you aren't going to be able to get out of a search if you do something you shouldn't, even if you do it with a smile.

I hope the above proves helpful to you on your next trip.