Ladder Canyon

Turn left at the arrow. Hmmm? Would you turn left and head into the rocks here? Despite the giant arrow made of rocks right in the middle of the path it is really easy to miss.

Even when you realize this is the start its a little hard to believe that this is a real trail. But it doesn’t take long before you find the first ladder and then you know you are on your way.


Then you get into the narrow slot canyons and you can really enjoy the hike. Even though this is not a well marked hike so you might feel a little like you are heading into the unknown.

ladder slots

The going is a bit slow but when you arrive at the top you are rewarded with a great view.

ladder view

The way down is much wider and more open through the beautiful painted canyon. This was a great way to spend part of our last day of 2018.

painted canyon

I like this hiking tradition ever since we saw the #optoutside from REI a few years ago on Thanksgiving. Tomorrow we’ll continue the tradition at Joshua Tree.

Post Bike Tour Quiz

Post Bike Tour Quiz

What country would you be in if I told you the following facts?

  • 90% of the people are home owners, 10% are renters and 0% are homeless
  • There is no unemployment
  • Possession of a firearm is a capital offense
  • Possession of drugs is a capital offense
  • Universal helthcare
  • You cannot buy alchohol (except in a bar) between the hours of 10pm and 7am
  • If you have a job lined up your are welcome
  • If you are a refugee you are out of luck
  • you will pay around 20% of your salary for social security and your employer will contribute another 17% but you don’t pay any income tax.
  • If you want to buy an Audi plan on spending around a half million dollars
  • You will not see any trash in the streets
  • You can leave your bike unlocked or your purse on the table and nobody will steal it.
  • Home to the world’s second busiest port

If you thought I was describing some “commie socialist dictatorship” you would be wrong. If you said Singapore, you are correct. I will admit that all of these facts come from our most excellent bike tour guide from Urban Adventures, so some of it could be “fake news” or just a simple embellishment by someone who is very proud of their country. I haven’t fact checked any of it yet. But for as much as we saw some pretty cool parts of Singapore today we heard a lot that really made us think.

The Wall Street area of Singapore at

Maybe the banner picture gave it away before you even read the question? The Marina Bay Sands hotel is the largest in Singapore and has some very distinctive architecture. A ship on top of the three towers, the hotel is owned by the Sands hotel in Las Vegas. It’s a massive hotel with a casino and mall and botanical gardens and a very distinctive architectural landmark of Singapore. Honestly, the Asian and Middle-Eastern architecure we have seen on this trip make America seem really boring. Hey, lets “make American architecture great again!”

One of the reasons there is no homelessness is that the government provides social housing. For as little as \$30 / month for those who qualify you can rent a small 600 square foot apartment. To qualify for the next level of social housing, you have to be married and at least 21 years old in order to qualify for social housing if your job is paying less than \$90,000 / year. that may seem like a lot, but it is the average income for Singapore. Once you are in at this level you can stay in for life if you want. Or you can even make improvements and sell your place for a profit later when you want to move into even more expensive private housing.

They even have a special boat to scoop up the garbage that gets into
the river from the storm sewers

The government is run like a large multi-national corporation. The president makes 4 million a year and if you are elected you can expect to make about a million per year. Our guide put it this way, if you pay peanuts you will only get monkeys. Enough said.

Clarks Quay from the night boat

Of course this is all true of a country that has a total population of around 5 million people and is only 278 square miles in size -- That is a bit smaller than New York City. It is home to the world’s second busiest port and the world’s number one airport. The government is run like a business to make money and last year they were 9 billion in the black. I think its easy for an American to look at this wistfully and say what can we learn? Why can’t we be more like this? But I think that is a pretty complicated question that brings into focus our freedoms and our history. I’d be happy to outlaw guns, but I’m not sure sure we should turn away refugees and others in search of a better life. I definitely wouldn’t want to pay half a million for my Audi! But I would support more use of mass transit and more biking in our cities.

The Marina Bay Sands resort by

The Marina Bay Sands resort by

Bond, James Bond... Island

Bond, James Bond... Island

Wrong side of the island, wrong end of the beach! That would be the headline for the way our trip started this morning. We got off the ship with a group of 13 that had banded together through Cruise Critic to head off on a swimming, snorkeling and boating trip together. However, it was a bit chaotic at the start. While we could have anchored on the side of the island by the marinas we instead anchored on the other side of the island. And while our guide knew the beach we were supposed to tender into he was informed that we would be tendering to the other end of the beach. So when we got off and started looking for the sign that read “Jane Miller Group” we were suprised to not see one. One taxi driver that had wanted to sell us a tour ended up being particularly nice when he offered to let us use his phone to contact the tour company. They were at the wrong end of the beach which was a long long walk, so they said we should walk to the “family mart” and wait.

before we even got to the family mart one of our new friends said “Jane, here’s your van”. Sure enough there was a driver with a “Jane Miller” sign. Unfortunately he didn’t have enough room for all of us in the van. So Jane said I should go with the main group and she would wait for a car and ride with our new friends Mike and Karen. Mike is an old army vet who now works as a defense contracter in South Korea teaching war gaming, and Karen is from Austin MN. Although there is a bit of an age gap, we have a lot in common and they were fun to talk to and always up for an adventure.

It was forty five minutes later when we finally arrived at the marina and I had just pulled out my phone and turned on the international plan so I could text jane and find out where she was!? Before I could press the send button however I noticed that she and Mike and Karen were all waiting for us on the sidewalk! OK, mission accomplished, we are all at the marina we can get this show underway. After a short trip to the nearby souvenier store where we paid double the usual cost for our Thai beers and we were ready to board our pink carriage to the boat halfway down the pier.

In our pre-trip briefing, both the owner and our guide for the day assured us that we were going to be back to the dock in plenty of time because they didn’t want anyone to stress about making it back on time for the last tender back to the ship. Great! This sounds good. There is nothing I hate more than wondering if we are going to make it back before the ship leaves.

This one was taken by our guide using his

A half hour later we were at our first stop and in the 85 degree water. Very nice and warm for swimming especially after all of our rushing around this morning and then sitting close together (with life jackets on!! to appease the local authorities) for the first part of the journey. Life jackets were now stowed away for the rest of the trip!

One of the many beautiful islands in the

Following the swimming we motored to a group of islands called Phang-Nga bay. These islands were beautiful and reminded us of our time in Halong Bay, Vietnam. We stopped at Ice Cream cave and went spelunking! It was really pretty and brought us through the island where we could see the other side.

We pulled up to a small beach at a national park for lunch. We had a fabulous Thai lunch. By the time we finished lunch it was after 2pm and our guide said we would see James Bond island, the floating village and then do some kayaking before making our way back to the marina at high speed but still an hour away. A few of us began to wonder out loud about the 4:00 return time. It turned out that the tide had gone out and the water was quite shallow to get to the floating village so we had to go slow. I think it was at that point that our guide finally re-did the math in his head and announced that we should choose whether we wanted to see the village or Kayak. None of us could see that Kayaking made any sense, given that we would have had about 5 minutes time to do so. In reality we should have headed back right after James Bond island.

The island from James Bond: The Man with the Golden

In the end we arrived back at the marina closer to 4:30 and we could tell they were wanting us to really hurry to get to the vans and on our way back to the ship. Given that it had taken 45 minutes to get there in the morning I was wondering how this was going to end. fortunately our afternoon driver seemed to know a much better route than our morning driver and it really only took 20 minutes to get back, so all was well.

Days like today are my one knock against cruises like this. You just don’t really have enough time to do the things you’d like to do without the pressure of going right up against getting on board at the last second. This was true for us in Kuala Lumpur as well as there was a whole hour long drive from the port just to get into the city. When you do a land tour you don’t have those daily deadlines, and you can take your time exploring a bit more.

On the other hand, it was “white night” on the ship tonight and we got back in plenty of time to enjoy the sunset.

Progressive Trivia Champions!

Progressive Trivia Champions!

On our first day at sea we looked at the schedule of activities on board the ship and Jane said, “We should go take a bridge lesson.” Having tried to learn bridge before I thought it sounded like a fun idea, maybe it would stick this time. So we showed up at the appointed time of 10AM and there were a bunch of us. We were among the youngest but certainly not the only people in our age bracket. Our teacher was named Rhoda, clearly a longtime New Yorker. Also a lifelong teacher, she taught reading for most of her career. Most of the other beginners had never even played cards before so I have to give them credit for starting with Bridge. All our nights of 500 were a definite advantage in the playing phase of Bridge. We didn’t even start learning how to bid until the second lesson, but before we knew it we were adding high card points, learning about 5 card major openings, Jacoby transfers, Staymen, forcing bids, no trump responses, and the other conventions of American Standard bridge bidding!

This is Rhoda. She was a great teacher and really funny! If I can
remember her little memory ditties for remembering all the bridge
strategy she taught us I might actually get good

After bridge I was off to check out the cooking class for Indian Butter Chicken, and Jane was headed to water color painting class. I turned out that I had misread the time for the cooking class, but at least I got to taste the result and get the recipe! I also wanted to check out the trivia challenge and then sing with the Highseas Choir. (get it high-C’s). I showed up at trivia at 12:15 and was invited to join a couple from Canada to see if we could form a team, we were soon joined by Beverly (a librarian!) and so it was that on our first day we had a team of four, which everyone else was at 8! Unsurprisingly we were second to last after the first day. However in this progressive trivia challenge the points double each day. So on the next day I made Jane join in, and little by little we grew our team, and our scores increased and we moved up the rankings. By the last day we were in second place! One part of our strategy was to make use of the fact that you can request categories. I requested computer programming and cooking. The “programming” question the next day was “What does HTTP stand for?”. Ha! Only two of us in the room knew the answer to that one. Its not really a programming question if you ask me, but I’ll take it.

Starting in second place on the last day, we knew it was still almost anybody’s game as the points that day were worth more than all the previous days put together. But after the questions were in, and they read through the answers we realized that we had only missed two and many other teams were not cheering too much as the answers were read. When it was all added up we won!

Our first place certificate, but we got a bag full of other Azamara
swag; including a cup, a keychain, a t-shirt, a microfiber cloth\... you
get the idea.

Jane made three watercolor paintings on the ship during her painting lessons, and I think she should keep it up. There must be someplace in Minneapolis to take some art lessons to keep improving.

All in all the days at sea went by very quickly, and we had planned really great meals in the specialty restaurants on board for most evenings at sea. After dinner we did enjoy some of the shows. Except for the hypnotist. I volunteered to be one of the 10 to be hypnotized but my brain is just way to busy to enter a trance in a situation like that (or maybe ever). I was quite convinced that I could not be hypnotized before I even walked up there which meant I wasn’t a good volunteer to begin with. So no surprise I was the first volunteer to be dismissed. He insisted on having 10 volunteers so I figure he is just playing the odds that a certain percentage of the population is susceptible/able to be hypnotized and some are not.

I also sang in the choir, which was fun, but at the end of it all we were not very good. You have to listen to each other to sing, and most people in the choir were not good listners. Still it does make me want to get my voice back in shape and join a choir back in Minneapolis.

The performance of the High-C's choir on the final night of the

The front of the ship, known as the Living Room (or the Library
according to Jane) was a favorite hangout in the late

Cooking with Pearly

Cooking with Pearly

Stand under the clock tower facing the roundabout at 9:00 and my husband will find you. Those were our instructions from Pearly, our instructor for the day. So we did, Jane and I plus our two friends Rob and Joan. Pearly’s husband was a bit surprised to find Rob and Joan with us, but there was room in the class and it was no problem. Just a couple of more things to pick up at the market.

The chickens were super fresh. Killed in one room (barely out of
sight) and served right next door.

Chanda, Pearly’s husband drove us to the market where we waited for Pearly to arrive with the rest of the class. Then our lessons started. She did a great job of showing us around the market introducing us to all of the Malaysian produce. She was particularly focused on educating us about the various health benefits of all of the different kinds of root vegetables. By the time it was over I actually kind of wanted to eat a healthier diet with more greens and veggies. You read it here first folks! We also had the opportunity to try some great street food, including some peanut pancakes and some rice hoppers that were made with noodles, cane sugar, and coconut. Delicious!

Pearly, extolling the virtues of some root

A street vendor preparing our peanut pancakes.

After the market tour we drove to Pearly and Chanda’s home where she gave us a tour of the garden and then brought us to our cooking stations. Since Jane and I were the first to sign up for the class we got to choose the dishes to make! We made three dishes:

  • Curry Kapitan
  • Sambal Goreng -- Prawns in Cashew nut sauce
  • Ngor Hiang Lor Bak - 5 spice pork roll

None of these is the traditional Penang curry that we eat back home, but they are all traditional Nyonya dishes. Pearly is a fifth generation chinese living in Penang and they are the Nyonya. Over the years of cooking for the British they developed a style of cooking that was very flavorful but not as spicy as their Thai counterparts.

In each step of the work we washed everything thoroughly in a large bowl of fresh water at each of our stations. This was a little different than how I had cooked before, but the produce was all fresh and so whether it was to make sure we coaxed out any weavels hiding in the nuts or just to make sure we rinsed away any extra dirt or other nasty matter from the lemon grass or dried chilis or Galangal roots it seemed like a good idea.

When we first started it seemed like we might be in an episode of “worst cooks” as some of our classmates immediately knocked their ingredients on the ground and started cutting things up all wrong. But Pearly had pretty good humor about it and we spent most of our time laughing. She did go a little overboard at one point grabbing the spoon out of Jane’s hand in a misguided effort to “save her peppers” after her instructions about what to do were not entirely clear.

We didn’t finish cooking and eating until 2:00 in the afternoon, but the time went by very quickly.

The final product of our efforts. Very

Sunrise to Sunset in Bagan, Myanmar

Sunrise to Sunset in Bagan, Myanmar

One of the cool things about this Azamara journey is that the ship stays for three nights in Yangon (old Rangoon) which allows some of the more adventurous travelers the opportunity to do an overnight trip to the interior of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). Our friends Ann and Jerry got us very excited about seeing the temples of Bagan so this was the perfect opportunity to do that.

sixteen people to a balloon in the early morning over the temples of

Jane worked with Trufflepig travel agency to plan our days to get the most out of the adventure. Which we definitely did as we were off the ship early on our first morning in port and were were among the very last handful of passengers to board less than an hour before we sailed away from Myanmar! Our first day was a fairly nice tour of Yangon. The main attraction is the huge gold covered Schwedagon Pagoda. They were in the midst of a project they do every five years to replace the gold plating on the dome of the pagoda. We saw families dressed in their finest bringing a 10 by 10 inch plate of gold to place in a small cart that would go by wire up to the dome where it would be put in place. This must be the most expensive pagoda in the world, as the very tip of the pagoda is encrusted with diamonds, rubies and sapphire gems worth millions.

The expense of the pagoda stands in stark contrast to everything around it. It seems that people are giving away their life savings to decorate this place. Its a part of the culture that I would definitely like to understand more about. I should also point out that Myanmar is also fairly well endowed with gold mines, diamond mines as well as mines containing rubies and sapphires. But like many of our other stops there is also a huge amount of poverty.

The flight to Bagan was about an hour aboard a propjet plane, and we were met by our guide, Mr. Htay, and driver for our time in Bagan for the short five minute ride to the Aureum Palace Hotel. A beautiful 5 star hotel where the bathroom in our villa was bigger than our entire stateroom on the ship! The dining and pool areas of the hotel overlook several smaller pagoda (pagodas? pagodi?). Although it was still only around 7pm we ate dinner at the hotel. The menu was a very international menu including burmese, Thai, Italian, and American fare. Our server recommended anything from the Thai menu as the chef was from Thailand and very good. I had the Pad Bai Kra Prao Gai -- something I’m determined to cook at home. its a bit similar to Laarb but spicy instead of bright and fresh. Its ground chicken mixed with spices and spicy basil served over rice.

After dinner it was early to bed, partly because I was suffering from a nasty cold and partly because we knew we had a 4:40 alarm set to get up for our balloon ride the next morning! I slept well until 2AM and then spent the rest of the night tossing and turning waiting for that early alarm to go off, and anticipating the balloon ride! See the gallery at the end of this post for a bunch of photos.

We travelled to the launch site in a Carbus! The Carbus is a vehicle that was made in Canada and used by the Allies in World War II. At the end of the war there were 206,000 of these vehicles in Burma but it was too expensive to ship them all back home so they were just left here. Over the years the burmese have restored them, replaced and engines, and used them for various purposes. The windows were open air, or you could pull up some wooden shutters to block the early morning breeze which we did since it was the first time since leaving home that we were a bit chilly. (it was probably 69 degrees out)

Seeing the temples from the air was one of the highlights of the whole

We arrived at the launch site in darkness where they had coffee and tea waiting for us and then it was on to our safety briefing. As the sky began to turn gray in the east the safety briefing was over and it was time to inflate the balloons! What a fascinating process, to watch them start up fans and then run around inside the balloon making sure everything was in place. After the balloons were about three quarters inflated they started the burners and started shooting flames into the balloon, which very quickly became upright and ready for us to board! There were sixteen passengers in four compartments of the basket. The pilot, Fernando, was in the middle with his tanks of fuel and his ipads to show the wind speeds at various altitudes. it took a lot of hot air to get all seventeen of us into the air, but it was so gentle and amazing that you didn’t even realize you were leaving the ground. Once airborn we were all just mesmerized by everything! temples in every direction and the sun just peeking over the horizon.

We were probably in the air for a little over an hour and I alternated between madly taking pictures trying to capture the experience and just leaving my camera hanging so I could fully enjoy the experience! There were 23 balloons in the air that morning and part of the beauty of the experience was seeing all of the other balloons around us. It was all over too quickly when we landed (on our second attempt) in the middle of a field. Our pilot had to hold a delicate balance between letting the balloon deflate a bit versus keeping it upright enough so that the basket didn’t tip and drag until the ground crew caught up with us.

After we got out of the balloon we celebrated our journey with an early morning champagne toast. The first balloon flight was in the Champagne region of france so apparently this is a tradition followed after all balloon flights. Our pilot got into ballooning when he got fed up waiting for parts for an ultralight plane. Now he owns his own company in Spain, and spends five months of the year in Bagan doing balloon rides and five months in the south of france doing balloon rides. Quite an interesting life if you ask me!

After the balloon we returned in our Carbus to the hotel where we cleaned up, had breakfast and then met our guide for our eBike tour of the temples of Bagan. the eBike was a great way to explore the backroads around the temples. We explored a few that were off the beaten path and getting a bit overgrown, and then we saw a few of the popular ones that we had seen from the air. It was really interesting to have a good guide for this part of the trip as the walls of the temples are like history books. The different paintings and the stories they all tell always make me wish I had done more homework before visiting.

Temples all have a North, South, East and West facing Buddha at the
entrance. The biggest and fanciest have two square corridors, an inner
and outer.

Seeing the temples on an electric scooter is the way to

After a few hours of “templing” we drove our scooters to a monastery and had a huge burmese lunch. It is said that one of the kings in Bagan never had a meal with less than 300 dishes. We had 30. The traditional meal is to have a main curry and rice dish and then many many side dishes. We had two different beef curries and one chicken curry. That leaves 27 different side dishes. From tofu to pickled bean sprouts to mashed gooseberries to spicy toasted nuts. We managed to try a bit of everything between us. Many of them we didn’t like at all because they were just too bitter for our western taste buds. I’m not sure that even my friend (JMS) would have cleaned up all the food they served us.

Lunch at the monestary. You can see all of the side dishes we had
around the outside of the circle.

One of the best things about our guide was that he didn’t overdue the temples. After lunch he said we could continue if we wanted or we could go back to the room for some rest and refreshment before he picked us up at 4:00 for our carriage ride and sunset watching. We opted for resting and trying out the rum sour drinks from the hotel bar that our guide had recommended we sample. They were very refreshing all on their own.

The carriage ride was very peacful and the sunset was beautiful.

Sunset over the temples

After sunset we were beat, so we had an early dinner by the pool and enjoyed the reflection of the nearby temples in pool. It was another early night to bed as we knew we were off to the airport first thing in the morning.

My one worry about the hole Bagan adventure had been that we were not leaving ourselves a very good safety margin for getting back to the ship at the end of it all. Our flight was schedule to arrive at 10:10 and the roads and traffic in Yangon are so bad that it takes at least an hour and a half to drive from the port to the airport. With our ship leaving at 1:00 I would have liked a bit more time. On top of that virtually everyone we met was flying back the night before for that very reason. Of course they all missed the sunset. So... when the time to board our plane passed and the ground crew told me that our flight was delayed by 30 minutes due to weather in Heho my stomach began to churn a bit. My internal safety deadline of 11:00 was getting uncomfortably close. Of course we knew that we had our passports and credit cards and more than a day to catch up with the ship in Phuket if we “missed the boat.” So there really wasn’t anything to worry about. But sometimes you still do even when you shouldn’t. Our plane landed at 10:50 and our guide was waiting for us. He joked that they had the privte jet all fueled up and ready to take us to Phuket, but we made it back to the ship before it sailed anyway.

Yala Safari

Yala Safari

Today we got caught up in a traffic jam in the middle of the Yala National Park in Sri Lanka! But it was for a good reason, a Leopard. After many hours of bumping around the jungle in a jeep and seeing lots of different animals we still had not seen a leopard. We really didn’t expect to as it was hot and the middle of the day. Most of the sane leopards were hidden away napping on tree branches. We knew that something was up as soon as our driver hit the gas pedal. We had learned over the course of the day that when he sped up and started driving like a madman it was because some other driver had seen something cool and it had come down their phone tree. How they tell each other their position out there is something only they know, I think, as there are thousands of paths and zero road signs.

After a few minutes of flying along we ended up at the back of a very long line of jeeps going nowhere. initially the word was that it was a crocodile, which didn’t seem all that likely as a croc would not attract this much attention. Eventually we learned that it was a Leopard! What a bonus that we were actually going to see one. After nearly a half hour of inching forward one car at a time we were pointed in the right direction by several of the guides who were standing by the side of the road trying to keep everyone moving. It was quite far in the distance but I did get a great view of it with the binoculars. Unfortunately it was too far away for any kind of recognizability unless you really zoom in like below.

Not everyone in the Jeep was so lucky and we learned a good lesson about traveling with tired and crabby people. The poor driver was just doing his job and following instructions. But after six hours in a jeep in 90 degree weather, it was a bit much for one couple who had been bickering with each other all day!

The following is a gallery of some of my favorite photos taken during the day. Enjoy! And if you ever get to Sri Lanka I recommend you plan a day like this.

Driving a Tuk Tuk in Colombo

Driving a Tuk Tuk in Colombo

This morning we had a morning at sea and we arrived in Colombo Sri Lanka noon. Jane had arranged a tuk tuk tour for us and several other people from the cruise critic message boards. We made our way off the ship and negotiated a taxi to take us to the hotel where we were to meet our drivers and tuk tuks. In case you’ve never experienced a tuk tuk it is a three wheeled vehicle with a motorcyle engine. The driver sits in the front and 2 or maybe 3 passengers sit in the back. These vehicles are all over in the cities of Asia and can drive in ways that cars cannot!

Our tour started out with some delicious coconut water for us to sip
as we drove around the city.

The first thing we noticed is what a different vibe there is in Colombo versus the cities in India. The driving is more orderly, the city seemed quite well maintained from the lack of garbage in the streets to the upkeep of the buildings. We visited a Buddhist temple, saw “the white house”, visited a Hindu temple, the national cricket grounds, and some of their national monuments.

Enjoying the open air tour of Colombo aboard our tuk tuk with our
driver "Big Show".

For me the highlight of the day was when we were on a pretty out of the way street and our driver pulled over and asked if I wanted to drive. Now I’m not even a motorcycle driver, but that didn’t deter me from giving it a shot. Unlike a motorcycle the clutch is on the left and along with the shifting mechanism, the throttle is on the right hand along with the break. I made it into first gear without any trouble and then paniced when I heard someone coming up from behind me. I slowed down and forgot to engage the clutch. Wah wah wah... But then we started it up again and I was good for at least 1 kilometer.

The funniest thing was that as we were motoring down the road with me driving we were passed by a policeman! It was pretty clear to all concerned that I didn’t have a license, but he just smiled and continued on his way. Jane was in the back making a video and thought the whole thing was quite funny.

Brad, the Ace tuk tuk driver!

While we were at the national cricket grounds, I noticed that they had something called “Hoppers” on the menu. So I asked our guide about it. He explained that they were like crispy pancakes that you stuffed with different fillings and rolled up to eat. A few minutes later he was on the phone and arranging for us to have hoppers on our lunch stop! They were delicious. We had some spicy filling called pol sambola to use with one plain hopper and one egg hopper. Both were really good. Then we had a delicous chicken Kottu a mixture of roti and vegetables and chicken, served with a dark garlic curry. We were running a bit behind schedule but we were all so glad that we got to experience this great food instead of rushing back to the ship to make the dinner buffet! For desert we had some delicious buffalo milk curd with honey drizzled on top. Time to find a Sri-Lankan cookbook to see if I can recreate any of this at home.

This is a hopper, filled with the pol

Kochin: Houseboats and Driving

Kochin: Houseboats and Driving

This sign says a lot. Nobody reads

I think that no blogging about India would be complete without some comment on the driving! It is a great example of both the chaos and cooperation present in the culture of India. It is utter chaos in that although there are line lines painted on the roads, very few drivers seem to care. Where there is only one lane you might find two or even three vehicles side by side depending on the size of the vehicles. Passing? No problem you can pull part way out of the lane to pass, the vehicle in front of you will probably move over a bit to the left and the oncoming traffic will likely move a bit to the right so you can get around! I don’t know what the statistics on traffic accidents or fatalities are in India, but amazingly we didn’t see any during our visit to either Mumbai or Kochin. I tried to make a video out the front of the bus as we were driving down the road and staring into an oncoming truck. But it didn’t turn out so you’ll just have to trust me on this one!

Our day in Kochin was mostly spent on a small bus studying the driving habits of the natives, but we did make two very interesting stops. The first stop was to do a two hour ride on a large houseboat that took us through the canals and waterways of Kochin. We got to see the countryside and the rice paddys. It was really good to get out of the city!

Driving the house boat for a private

Hauling the palm branches by boat

The rice paddy. Our guide said that we were in the Holland of India
because the land is below sea level in this

Our second interesting stop was at a small bridge where we could see the famous chinese fishing nets in action. These nets have been in use for centuries and it was fascinating to see them catching and hauling in the fish.

Chinese fishing nets in operation.

First World Problems

First World Problems

“First world problems eh?” We all use that phrase to acknowledge that when we are complaining about our iPhone being a little too slow, or our dinner selections not quite vast enough, we really do get that its not that important in the grand scheme of things. Today, we experienced life in the slum of Mumbai known as Dharavi, and it put into perspective the distance between our first world problems and real life. I don’t think I’ll use that phrase anymore as it feels like it doesn’t come close to recognizing the challenges faced by those living outside the first world.

Washing the clothes

Jane arranged our tour of Mumbai through a tour group called reality tours. They were excellent and I would highly recommend you use them if you ever visit Mumbai. Not only are the guides excellent but 80% of the proceeds from your tour dollars go straight into their community. Their community happens to be in one corner of the Dharavi slum. I was absolutely floored to learn that our tour guide for the day lived in the slum! I thought that slums were only for the very most poor and destitute, surely not for someone who was educated, well spoken and hard working! In fact we learned that many professionals such as teachers and policemen live in the slums of Mumbai. This reality runs straight against our American ideals, but we were not in America.

The communications hub for the Dharavi

I’m pretty sure that we breathed som pretty toxic fumes on the first part of our tour today. The slum is divided into two parts, the commercial and the residential part. In the commercial part it seemed that recycling was a huge part of the economy, both lastic and aluminum. The plastic is broken down and then thrown into something that we Minnesotans would call a wood chipper, which breaks the plastic into smaller pieces. These pieces are then melted down and extruded into long strings and finally cut into tiny little lengths which makes little plastic pellets. These are then sold to manufacturers to be turned into who knows what. The dust and smell from the plastic can not be good for you. The same basic process is used for aluminum only that requires a lot higher temperatures. We saw a bunch of aluminum bricks that were so hot that people were cooking their lunch on them! In all of this we saw no hard hats, no safety goggles, and no shoes. We did see a lot of people working hard to earn money for their family.

In the residential area it was much different. The “streets” were so narrow that my shoulders stretched from one side to the other. The houses are quite small and for the most part families live together in a 10x20 foot room. Our guide was 30 and still lives with his parents and siblings because he cannot afford his own place. I learned that the average teacher’s salary is the equivalent of \$200 per month, so it is no wonder that housing is hard to afford. Later in the day our guide took us past the most expensive house in the world a 2+ billion dollar home built overlooking the sea owned by an indian billionaire.

He explained that the government tried to clean up the slums and built hi-rise apartments next door for people to move into, but they were so expensive that nobody could afford them and most ended up moving back. Living in the slums is not free, people there pay taxes and rent and bills for water and electricity. Water only runs for a few hours a day, although electricity is pretty constant. Each home is metered for electrical use! Although the wires are run so haphazardly I can’t imagine how it is very accurate. We were not allowed to take pictures as our guide explained we are in people’s homes and want to respect their privacy. Everywhere we went, we were greeted by the children. They were all smiles and wanted to say hello to us, give us a high five or shake hands.

Friendly kids in Dharavi

Another stop on our journey was the laundry. In a way this is similar to the slums in that people both live and work in the laundry. This is where the washing is done for hospitals and hotels and clothing manufacturers. We were able to take pictures inside here. Each of these large bins is one small business, doing the washing for someone.

Its all so strange and different, like a step back in time in some ways. Imagine that your hospital bedding was sterilized by throwing the sheets into a 50 gallon drum of water heated from below by an open flame!? Ironing? Of course they have ironing, have you ever seen an iron that is heated by coal? We saw some of them in use today.

So, although this part of the day was really sobering. We saw some fun and beautiful sites along the way too. The Victoria train station was very grand, and our stop at the cricket field was very entertaining. There must have been at least 100 different cricket games going on simultaneously. We watched as balls were hit across two, three, or even more other games. It seemed like total chaos to me, but it was clear that everyone was having a great time.

Cricket Chaos!

Our tour also featured a stop for some street food! We went to food stand at the beach owned by Bihm Singh, where we tried a number of different things. Pani Puri, Sev Puri and Dahi Ragda Puri. The Pani Pur and Dahi Ragda were both served in crisp little balls, where the cook punched a hole in the top and then filled the ball with delicious spicy ingredients. The Sev was more like a nacho in that it was a flat crispy bit of dough with the ingredients piled high. The way you eat these is to pop it all in your mouth at once. Jane got a fabulous photo of me demonstrating how to do this!

Demonstrating the proper Pani Puri eating

Making the Pani Puri

As far as I could tell the whole place was run on some kind of honor system. I never saw an order being written down, and yet people were eating all kinds of things chatting away and ordering and eating and chatting some more. like much of what we saw it seemed very cooperative and trusting amongst all of the participants. Such a different feel than you get in so many places back home.

I think the followup email from our guide sums up the day pretty well and since I’ve been struggling to put the day into words I’ll just quote him.

You have picked your way through Dharavi’s narrow, winding lanes, and witnessed first hand the communal, enterprising spirit that allows so many people to survive and thrive despite the many issues that they face. We hope you’ve left having had some of your perceptions about life here challenged.

To which I can only say, “mission accomplished.”

A Wadi Wadi tour of the Hajar Mountains

A Wadi Wadi tour of the Hajar Mountains

Our guide’s name was Oscar, He is a Masai from kenya, but immigrated to Dubai and works tours out of the port at Khor Fakkan. We picked this excursion because we wanted to get out of the city and into the country side. We were not dissappointed. We visited four different Emirates on our trip, but the main feature was when we got offroad and ventured through the Wadi. A Wadi is more or less a dry streambed most of the time, except for when it rains. And with less than 200 milimeters of rain a year that is not much rain.

Me, I was thinking about Jonah sitting under the tree outside of

The port of Khar Fakkan is not too developed yet. And is mostly for container ships. We had heard that it was a busy port but we were the only ship in port and there were not that many containers. We have a good alternative theory that the port that is busy is just around the corner and is the port for all the tankers. When we got a few miles away from the port we saw the oil tanks. They have a huge pipeline that brings most of the oil from the emirates to this storage facility. Its better to be here because the location is not as easily blockaded by Iran as other Emirate locations! Miles and miles of huge oil tanks, all storing oil for every brand you can think of.

We made a quick stop at the friday market. We were pretty sure that this market was just the best place they could find for a short stretch break on our way to the mountains! Our guide said we could get out and look but not to buy anything because we didn’t have any room in our jeep to haul it. He was right, although we were in a big Land Cruiser we had our guide and six passengers.

A view of the friday market. Called that becuase friday was the day
they were open and everyone gathered.

As we got to the offroad portion of the trip, Oscar became a bit upset because the lead car had taken a route he thought was sub-standard. It kept us inside the wadi instead of the better view by driving along side and above it. Finally when one car got stuck in a muddy rut (it had rained last week) he was not too happy, and both Jane and I were reminded of an earlier adventure when our airboat got stuck in the Everglades for three hours!

We also made a stop at a luxury hotel for lunch, and a very very short stop at the oldest mosque in the area. Made of clay and quite small. They were very strict about enforcing the clothing rules and since I had not heard about this part of the trip I was not allowed inside in my shorts. I could have borrowed a long traditional robe, but our stop was so short that the guides were hurrying everyone to get back in the trucks before we really figured out what was going on.

When we were getting back on the ship we figured out the reason why they were rushing us. We were in the last truck as Oscar was clearly one of the more experienced guides and was trying to keep the younger drivers in front of him. As we were going through security to get back on the ship one of the security guys was counting down. I was 8 and jane was 7 there were only six passengers (all behind us) unaccounted for before the ship could leave port.

Photo taken by our guide Oscar

Dubai: City of Contrasts

Dubai: City of Contrasts

I once listened to an interesting 99% Invisible podcast that said that Las Vegas was the petri dish for architecture in the United States. Las Vegas is also the city that keeps on coming to mind as I visit Dubai. The variety of architecture here is just amazing, especially in the new areas of Dubai -- where by new I mean less than 20 years and in many cases less than 10 years old! There are amazing buildings with modern architecture everywhere you look. This place is on a mission to make a statement on a global scale. But even after spending a couple of days here I’m not sure what that statement actually is. Update: on our tour to the Hajar Mountains yesterday our guide said “Dubai is the Las Vegas of the middle east, just without the gambling”. So there are two data points for you on that comparison.

A night time view of the creek with the dinner cruise dhows. In the
background you can see the Dubai Frame as well as the Burj

To put a positive spin on it it might be something like this: Visionary leadership will get you everywhere. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum definitely had a vision and the people here have executed on that vision. Creating islands shaped like palm trees and soon home to two of the worlds tallest buildings where just 15 years ago there was nothing but flat desert.

A slightly more cynical spin would be. Dubai: we have more Guinness world records than anyone else, you should come shop here! The Mall of the Emeriates, The City Center Mall, the Marina Mall and of course the Dubai Mall, which is the largest mall in the world. The new area of Dubai hosts all of the worlds tallest hotels (at least the top three) there is the worlds highest swimming pool, the worlds highest observation deck, the worlds tallest building, with the worlds fastest elevator, which will soon be supplanted by a different building that will overcome the soon to be completed tallest building in Saudi Arabia. The worlds largest indoor ski area -- Yes it has real snow and operating lifts. This will also be replaced by another indoor ski area with a much longer run. The worlds largest man-made island. Its really exhausting to see and list all of these records.

A view from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa at night. Sadly, the
remnants of a sandstorm reduced the daytime view to a gray

So what is the reason behind all of these records? You might be tempted to say that it is all due to oil wealth. But Dubai is small and contains only 4% of the oil reserves in the UAE. A little research will quickly lead you to the same reason I gave above, vision. It was the vision of the leadship of Dubai that led to the creation of the infrastructure, mass transit, and tax systems that have caused massive economic growth. Foreginers are allowed to own propery and business in designated business zones. There is no income or sales tax which explains some of Dubai as a massive shopping destination. And some things, like a man made island in the shape of a palm tree are just to show off a bit and attract celebrities to area.

Our hotel was near the Dubai Creek which was dredged and extended as part of the massive building efforts. But the creek is also the reason Dubais is located where it is. It is a highly defensible port location which is still operating today. Ports in Iran and many other Gulf countries are fairly close, just a 4 hour boat trip to Iran. The Creek and the port are the intersection of the old and new Dubai as you can see clearly in the photo.

Loading the Dhow for its journey through the Gulf, with new Dubai in
the background.

The Dhows are loaded with all kinds of goods from new and used electronics to fresh water and furniture to be shipped from Dubai to other countries. The crime rate is so low that these goods basically sit here next to a busy street unguarded, waiting to be loaded and shipped away.

You can also see the “taxi” that we used to get from the new side of the creek to the old side of the creek. The ride was just 1 Durham which is about a quarter. You simply walk up, hop on and pay the driver his money. Or a helpful local may grab your 5 give you change and pass on the bill to the driver!

The highlight of our visit was a middle-eastern food tour hosted by Stephanie of Frying Pan Adventures. Stephanie is an Italian-Egyptian native of Dubai. She took us around her old neighborhood where we sampled food from Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Iran and Iraq. Jane and I agreed that our favorite was the giant Felafel sandwhich from Sultan Dubai Felafel. Eaten outside in the company of new friends it was delicious. We then followed it up with Kunafa served in the kitchen of Qwaider al Nabulsi. Kunafa is made with butter, noodles, salty cheese, and sugar syrup. Cooked in a large pan to a golden brown and served fresh! It was awesome. We also were able to enjoy many different varieties of Baklava along with an amazing cream sauce made from Soaproot! The egyptian pizza known as Feteer was also very good. My least favorite was the slow smoked carp at the Iranian restaurant.

Making the Kunafa!

This visit to Dubai has left us with more questions than answers but we look forward to exploring much more of the middle eastern and southeast asian cultures as we begin the cruise portion of the journey.

City Life

City Life

Its a misty late October morning, the farmers market isn’t open yet, and the Liverpool Cardiff match is on the TV. Below us the runners for the Halloween half are spread out on West River Road. We are a little sleepy as it was 11:30 by the time we got home from “Beautiful” the Carol King story playing at the Orpheum. We love our city life!

We love our view of the Stone Arch

We moved in on September 24 and the rain started on the 25th and continued for two and a half weeks. But once the weather cleared up we have taken advantage of some clear fall days to discover our new neighborhood. A bike trail across the road leads to the “Dinky Town Greenway” which gives us a clear path to walk to TCF stadium in under 30 minutes! I swear we have waited that long to get out of the parking lot after a Loons game in the past! Even better were these views taken on a sunset walk home. We love our city life!

Sunset view of the 35W bridge from the old Northern Pacific railroad

Looking the other way at the Washington Ave.

Everything in downtown is walkable, but within a few blocks we have Thai restaurants, great breweries/brew pubs, fine dining, the Guthrie theater, and so much more. There is even a giant stadium, should we ever renew our interest in the Vikings. By bike its less than 10 minutes to the computer science building at the University of Minnesota. With access to hundreds of miles of bike trails right out our back door, I can’t wait for warmer weather. I’ve biked over to Macalester for a lecture and I’m looking forward to attending talks and colloquia at the U of M.

Our 1500 square feet is perfect for our needs. A den for me to use as my office and reading area, an awesome kitchen and a nice living room for sitting or watching TV. In the morning the shared workout room is an awesome place to workout and watch the sun light up the IDS and Wells Fargo buildings.

Our new Kitchen is awesome

We were able to keep our comfy furniture from Decorah. The walls could
use some color but its very

Jane and I have been slowly reconnecting with friends, family, and former students from around the twin cities, and we look forward to continuing that trend after we get back from upcoming travels. We have enjoyed overnight visits from some of our Decorah friends with more visits to breweries and even an awesome escape room last weekend. Although I’ve been super busy with Runestone Interactive and Google, I am looking forward to some downtime and travel in a week. I left graduation at Luther in May and flew to Mountain View the same day! The following day I was hard at work on site at Google! Its been 40+ hour weeks ever since. Speaking of travel, we already love the fact that we will be able to take our bags and make the short walk to the light rail to the airport. No parking, and no home maintenance worries while we are away.



The plan was to go to Napa. But we have been to Napa in fact we had been to Napa already this year. So instead we decided to try Yosemite. Its a lot further drive from Mountain View but we love our national parks and so this was a nice chance to take a long weekend break and visit someplace we had never visited before.

As with most visits to a national park words don’t do it justice and neither do my pictures, but here goes.

The trail head at Mariposa Grove

After a seemingly endless drive in traffic to get out of Mountain View and especially someplace called “Old Gilroy” we spent our first night in Oakville. We arrived late, but just in time to get the last Pizza of the night from the friendly proprietor of Sugar Pine Pizza. We were ready to set off for Mariposa grove in the morning to see the giant redwoods.

The Grizzly Giant

From there we drove out to glacier point where we had a magnificent view of Half Dome. This is definitely one of the highlights of Yosemite. It is truly amazing, and the drop off from glacier point to the valley floor below is really breathtaking.

Half Dome from Glacier Point

We did a short hike at Glacier Point and then drove back and made a stop at the Sentinel Dome trailhead. This would be our good hike for the day. We wondered at first if we could really get to the top of Sentinel dome but we found that we could and the views were definitely worth it. We were really tired after the hike and more than happy to check in to the Majestic Yosemite Inn. Right there on the floor of the valley we had views of Half dome and El Capitan! Because it was early fall the waterfalls were basically dried up so now we have a reason to go back again some spring!

The view from Sentinel Dome

Sentinel Dome Selfie

The next morning we planned on hiking to mirror lake to see the morning views of Half Dome reflected in the clear calm waters. Umm... Little did we know that mirror lake is becoming a Meadow. Its part of the natural order of things, but it was a little disappointing after hiking two miles to find no water! Usually we are so good at researching these things!

We had plenty of day left so we decided to make the drive to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. It has some good hiking too although we only did a little as it was super hot when we got there. The reservoir is beautiful and its amazing to think that this reservoir supplies drinking water to San Francisco.

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

T-minus 29 days !! Today’s visit really got me excited. Downtown Minneapolis here we come.

Sunday evening at the lake. Weekend-ers are heading home and things are peaceful and quiet.

Chapel Talk - May 7 2018

The following is the transcript of my chapel talk. You may be able to view it here.

Luke 24: Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.

The reading for today tells of a journey, and two friends talking about everything that had happened. So, thats my plan for today. Although I started my journey at Luther in Fall of 1982 as a skinny freshman, I thought I would skip over 20 years and begin in the Fall of 2002. After a successful career in industry, I felt called to come to Luther and share my experience. I had come to campus and gone through the interview process, I’d given my interview talk to a packed house in Olin 112. All I really remember from that talk was that the room was hot and as I looked over my audience I saw my revered former professor Steve Hubbard nodding off in the back row.

Despite putting Steve to sleep I thought things went well, and now back in Plymouth MN Jane and I are waiting on pins and needles to hear something from Dean Craft. Coming to Luther to teach had been my dream since I was a junior here at Luther back in 1985. So you can imagine the anxiety level was pretty high. After a few extra days of waiting we threw modern theology to the wind and prayed for the lord to send us a sign! A burning bush, a cloud shaped like a Norse head, anything! The next day I received an email from a colleague at the University of Minnesota. Brad, just wanted to let you know that Gustavus is going to be starting a search for a tenure track position in computer science. Wrong sign! I shouted. A day later the phone rang and it was Bill Craft calling with the offer.

In my ideas and creations post a week ago I wrote about 3 teachers on my journey who inspired me, challenged me, and changed me. My high school teacher Mr. Weinman who knew nothing about computers but went way out of his way to encourage a couple of nerdy teens to teach themselves to program inspires me to bring teaching resources to other high school teachers. My Luther Professor, Walt Will, who inspired me to become a professor in the first place. My master’s advisor, John Carlis who challenged me to write a textbook when I told him I was going home to Luther College.

Of course, the journey to Emmaus is not just about a couple guys on a hike, the next line of the reading tells of a stranger that joined them on their road and started chatting with them. When I look back on my years here at Luther it will be the journeys and encounters with strangers that became new colleagues and friends that I remember most.

I have come to really love teaching students off campus. My first study away trip — a trip to Silicon Valley that I have done five times now — came about because an alumni wanted to teach a course on entrepreneurship. We hurriedly put the course together over November and December, and recruited 8 students… but over the Christmas break I added a last minute addition to the itinerary. Jane and I were sitting at the Chefs table on a cruise ship and I was chatting with the stranger next to me. I was telling him about the upcoming course which he thought sounded fantastic. Then he dropped a bombshell, he said he worked at Pixar! And, although visiting groups are not usually allowed he thought he could arrange something for us! He was true to his word, and that visit turned out to be one of the real highlights of the course that year.

Probably my favorite semester of all time at Luther will be the semester Jane and I spent with a dozen students in Malta. We had 10 young women in the group who we very quickly began to refer to as our daughters. We were very fortunate to get to travel with these students to Istanbul, Rome and Morocco. It was in Marrakech , as we were walking down the street with one of our daughters that we were approached by a stranger. I’ll give you two camels for your beautiful daughter he said with a smile and a wink. Wait here! I said, I have 9 more daughters back at the Riad. Some days I like to imagine the life I could have had as a camel rancher had I taken that stranger up on his offer. A small postscript to this story: After writing the rough draft of this talk I walked out to get the mail. Only to find a thank you note from this very daughter. It said “My husband and I are moving to Texas. and I wouldn’t be ready for this next adventure if it hadn’t been for the journey’s with you two.”

It was on that same trip to Morocco that we had an amazing day-long journey, from Fez through the middle Atlas Mountains - where we had a snowball fight and fed the monkeys - to the edge of the Sahara, where we boarded camels and road into the desert. Watching the sun set over the desert is one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring sights any of us had ever seen. That night — with no WiFi or Cell service — our Berber hosts cooked us a Tagine of beef and we sat outside with them where they played drums and sang traditional Berber songs for us. We treated them to a rendition of “To Luther” and We will Rock You! That night changed us all.

Sometimes when you are on a journey, it is the unplanned things that can surprise you the most. During our stop at Ait Ben Haddou we made a dinner time decision to extend our stay so that we could visit the Ksar - The fortified city. At breakfast, Mohammed, the owner of the Hotel Bagdhad Cafe was happy to line up a guide, also named Mohammed, for us at the last minute, giving him an unconditional recommendation as the best guide in town.

At about the midway point of our climb through the Ksar our guide stopped outside his own house. “You are welcome here” he said. This is a phrase we had heard everywhere in Morocco from many different people. It had a much different feel than “welcome to my place.” it is at once more personal, more authentic, and unconditional. In a place where we wondered whether we really would be welcome we found it very comforting. Maybe thats a phrase we could think about adopting here at Luther.

Towards the end of the tour we came upon a mosque which is still in daily use. Right next to the mosque was a synagogue, no longer in use. The history of the Berber people is very old, and interesting. At one time the majority of the Berber’s were Jewish, then for a time they were Christian, but they have been Muslim for a long time. The result for the Berbers is that they are peaceful, and very tolerant. We want to get along with all people Mohammed told us. He went on, the problems in the world today are caused by three things: money, politics, and crazy people – Crazy Jews, Crazy Muslims, and Crazy Christians. Most people are good and peaceful people, its a shame the crazy people have to ruin it.

So, as I reach the end of my journey as a Luther faculty member I have much to be thankful for and I look forward to the future with excitement. A little over a week ago I was sitting on a plane, flying back from San Francisco. The stranger seated next to me on this journey struck up a conversation which surprisingly lasted the entire three hour flight back to Minneapolis. He had worked at Cargill for 17 years in their Malt division and had just recently made a long hoped for career change to become a financial planner. I told him about my career path and that I too was making a change and was on my way back after two days of meetings with my new team at Google. An offer had come to join this group for six months through a connection with a colleague I have only worked with online. We have written a paper together, we have written software together and done a joint podcast. I wrote him a letter of recommendation for his current job at UCSD. With this group I’ll get to do exactly what I was planning to do all along which is to work on Runestone Interactive — democratizing textbooks for the 21st century. Only now I’ll get a bit of help which may in turn help more “Mr. Weinman’s” out there.

Somewhere over southwest Minnesota this stranger said to me “Wow, You’ve had an amazing journey!” I guess you just have to keep your eyes open and be open to new opportunities when they come along.

So my advice to you students is to look for those strangers, take the time to chat with them and welcome them along on your journey. You never know where it might lead.

Lifelong Luther

As this will be my final Ideas and Creations contribution I hope you will indulge me in a little look back over my relationship with Luther College and the teachers and professors that have made me who I am today.

The first person I want to mention is the man in the picture – Charlie Weinman, with the hairstyle and the vest you might guess this picture comes from the early 80’s. Mr. Weinman taught typing and shorthand at Luverne High School. The picture shows him in a typical pose, and I can hear his exasperated sigh at my inability to keep my eyes off the keyboard as I worked on my “perfect paragraphs.” Mr Weinman was the advisor to the annual staff as well, and his favorite saying, which I heard often, was “If you want something done right, ask a busy person” Somewhere along the way Mr. Weinman noticed that one of the reasons I was always so busy was because my friend and I spent an inordinate amount of time messing around on the Apple II computers our high school had just purchased. We were teaching ourselves to program and trading games on cassette tapes. He made it his mission to help and encourage us — with the programming part. On weekends he would drive us to programming contests all around Southwest Minnesota. He eventually created the first programming class at the high school. The deal was that my friends and I could take the class so we could get credit and have it on our transcript, but we were to sit in the back and keep quiet – unless he asked for our help.

As I look back on it Mr Weinman was modeling a key aspect of a Luther education — life long learning. He also demonstrated to us with great humor and humility that teachers don’t always have all the answers. This was a good lesson, as even today in my final semester I’m faced every day with the fact that I don’t have all the answers when teaching machine learning or internet programming. The world of computer science moves far to quickly for any of us to know it all, and we must be prepared to be lifelong learners if we are going to succeed in this field.

Walt Will

When I arrived at Luther in the fall of 1982 I became a Norseman. It was only year two for the Norsemen, but the foundations that were laid for this group in 1981 are still strong today. Norsemen may be the only connection I have to some classmates, but I would still consider them my brothers. It was probably my classmate, Tim Peter, who came walking down the hall of first floor Ylvi encouraging those of us who were clueless to come to tryouts for this relatively unknown group!

As a computer science major I was fortunate to take the majority of my classes from Dr. Walt Will. Walt was my professor, my advisor and a great role model. He had a wonderful dry humor and an endless supply of patience to answer my endless stream of questions in class or to just sit in his office and talk about computer science and life in general. In the spirit of life long learning we always knew that Walt was just ahead of us (if only by a few days) in our journey through this new field of computer science together.

Walt was such a huge influence that when people would ask me about my career goals I would say “I want to come back to Luther and take Walt Will’s job.” That sounds a little harsh to my older self, but I meant it as the highest possible compliment to Walt. I really felt that success in life would be to have the kind of impact on other students that Walt had on us. After 18 years in the computer science industry, it was ultimately Walt who paved the way for my return to Luther as a faculty member. I remember a phone call with Walt when he told me he would be only too happy to move back to the Math department to create a position in computer science in 2003. As I started my new career as a professor I was very lucky to have Walt down the hall to talk with and get advice. As I’ve grown professor I’ve learned that I have to be myself, I’ll never be Walt, I definitely don’t have his patience.

John Carlis

If you would have asked the 1990 version of Brad Miller what it was like to be a grad student at the University of Minnesota, it would not have been a positive conversation. Going from small-town Minnesota and Luther College to the U was a huge culture shock! Big classes, registration lines that stretched down the stairs and around the block, professors that closed the doors to their office, it was all very foreign. However, I would have told you about one professor that would be right at home at Luther and that was Dr. John Carlis. I was fortunate enough to take a class from John which changed everything and led to him becoming my masters advisor and friend. After a time or two of stopping by his office to ask questions about assignments he started making me coffee and we started talking about teaching and research and writing a one-draft thesis and singing and parenting.

John had a great sense of humor and was famous for his bad puns. He would take two dimes out of his pocket and put them in the palm of his hand and slowly move his hand back and forth. “Do you know what this is?” He would ask, “a pair-a-dime shift!” Although I switched advisors for my PhD project I never stopped having coffee and conversation with John. When I told him about coming to Luther to teach he encouraged me to write a textbook, embrace the liberal arts, and get to know people outside of CS. At his funeral a few weeks ago I heard my story over and over from lots of former students. John had this same kind of relationship with countless students over the years, always having the right story or the right word of encouragement at the right time. His office must have had some kind of magical time vortex because I’ll never know how he could spend this much time with so many different people. As I look back, I do not know whether I would have become a U of M graduate if had not been fortunate enough to know John Carlis.

John’s advice also shaped my experience as a faculty member at Luther. Some of my favorite experiences as a faculty member come out of embracing the liberal arts: teaching Paideia 450s with my friend Jim Martin-Schramm, leading the Malta program, leading JTerm courses in Silicon Valley, helping to create the Data Science major are all experiences I will remember for the rest of my life. The process of writing two paper textbooks led to the vision that has become Runestone Interactive. My JTerm students will be happy to know that Runestone now has a mantra: “Democratizing textbooks for the 21st century.” As I leave Luther I am super excited that I can devote my full focus and energy to Runestone., which today serves 20,000 students a day at both high schools and colleges! I hope to make that 2 million students in the next few years.

In the face of declining enrollments, ratio imbalances, committee meetings and program reductions its easy to forget why we do what we do. I came to Luther 15 years ago because I felt called to share my experience and make a difference in the lives of students; just as Charlie Weinman, Walt Will, and John Carlis have made a difference in mine. I hope I have. My relationship with Luther is long and varied, I’m an alumni, a donor, a faculty member and a parent of an alum. If Luther calls sometime in the future to ask me to serve in some other capacity, I hope that I can. Soli Deo Gloria.

Remembering John Carlis

Everyone wants to belong, and for a young man from a small town in southwest Minnesota who went to a small liberal arts college as an undergrad, the U of M can be a pretty intimidating place – a real “pair a dime” shift if you will. I remember waiting in line OUTSIDE of Amundsen hall, and slowing working my way up several flights of stairs to try to get into courses that were still open once I got to the registration counter. I may not have the name of the building right, but as John would say “never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” I remember going to classes and rather than seeing a small number of students, most of whom were my friends, all I saw was a sea of unfamiliar faces.

Fortunately one of the courses that I did register for was Introduction to Database Systems, taught by John Carlis. Shortly after classes started and we were well into discussing herds of cows and various creatures and their skills and creating LDSs I found myself searching out his office to ask him some question about homework. Once in his office we started talking, and then he made me a cup of coffee. The conversation went well beyond drawing LDSs – we discovered that we both liked to sing – and he invited me to stop back again. Soon I was stopping in his office just to chat and get a cup of coffee. Research meetings and a TA position followed. John became my advisor and my friend and he gave me the gift of a sense of belonging. As I look back, I wonder if I would have stayed without the cups of coffee and conversation in John’s office.

When our first Child was born, he gave us a present. He had cut out and painted the letters to spell our daughters name in his shop. We talked about his own daughters and the challenges and joys of being a father.

Even years later, after I had shifted my focus to Grouplens, and started a company, he always welcomed me back. He was still on my PhD committee, a thing he liked to remind me of frequently, especially when he wanted me to review something. “Can you do this? I’m still on your committee right?” He would say with a grin.

I learned about building a fence around your thesis, and writing a one-draft draft thesis. When I decided that teaching at a small college was in my future he gave me a copy of Mager’s book and we talked about instructional objectives and how to become a good teacher.

Before I left for Luther College he gave me another piece of advice that I will never forget. “Write a text book,” he told me. At a small college that is a good way to publish and it will tie directly to your teaching. Two years into my time at Luther I asked my department head, “would you like to write a book with me?” He agreed and we found ourselves publishing the first data structures textbook using the Python programming language. After that we wrote an introductory book on programming with Python.

As I prepare to leave Luther and move into a new project of building a sustainable small business around the Runestone Interactive textbook project I can trace the evolution of this research and writing right back to John. The project now serves over 20,000 students a day around the world, and I frequently hear the echo of his advice in my head as I work on designing new chapters and writing new examples, and building new lessons.

Thank you John, for all the advice, the coffee, and the friendship! More students that you will ever know have benefitted from your wisdom and hospitality.

A Detour on our Cording Cutting Journey

I wonder how much data we have used this period? I asked my wife as we were streaming Premier League football on YouTube Tv at 4K resolution on Saturday morning. A few minutes later I had found the right page and was staring at a bright red bar graph that showed I had already used 60% of my 999 GB limit with 66% of the month still remaining! Maybe this cord cutting idea isn’t really going to save us very much money after all I thought.

We got to this point because a few weeks ago I saw an ad for Hulu Live. We watch most of our TV on Hulu because I love that for just a few bucks a month I don’t have to even fast forward through commercials. For $40 a month we could get Hulu Live which promised us live streaming of all the major networks as well as NBC Sports Network – the channel that account for 90% of our live viewing. So, we looked at our DirecTV bill of $170 per month and thought wow we could really save! So we signed up for the free week and gave it a try. It was the last week of the Winter Olympics so it was a great trial of live streaming, but less so for watching network series. I’m not a huge fan of the Hulu interface as it seems to go out of its way to make it hard to find the live shows you want, unless its something you watch very regularly.

The challenges started when we considered how we could best use the Hulu service at our lake house over the summer. It turns out that Hulu is more like your cable company than you might think. Smart TVs, Apple TVs, and gaming consoles are all considered “living room devices”. This means that they will use geolocation to update your home market. Something that Hulu only allows you to do 4 times per year. I’m not sure what happens after that, but I’m guessing you are locked into whatever that location was. So we would really need 2 subscriptions, one for each home. Not quite the savings we anticipated but not horrible.

The next challenge came with the end of the Olympics. While Hulu had tons of NBC Olympic coverage, as soon as the games were over we lost our access to any live NBC programming. This turns out to be because we happen to live in Northeast Iowa and Hulu does not have a deal with KWWL, our nearest Iowa NBC affiliate, and the same for CBS. So much for the live streaming of network television in Northeast Iowa. This might not be a big issue except that Jane likes to have the today show on in the background when she is at home in the mornings!

I started looking more closely at DirecTV now (same problems with the affiliates) as well as YouTube TV. YouTube would at least show us the Chicago local stations. But after some investigation and experimentation it seems that YouTube TV has two pretty big advantages. First it just lets me set a home address to whatever I want. And second using the address of our lake house we get the Minneapolis affiliates! This is really perfect as we’ll be Minneapolis residents in September and this will let us get a jump on the local news. Not to mention we can watch the Minnesota United away games on Fox North! At the lake we are also used to watching the Minneapolis stations as we get them with our antenna.

So, YouTube for live TV and back to just using Hulu with the no commercial option for watching our favorite shows.

This brings us back to the data usage. Having used 60% of the data in only 30% of the month would make one think they are going to need more data. So I go online to chat with a Mediacomm representative to see how much that is going to cost me. The first suggestion would have cost me another $64 / month. But that package included Gigabit speeds. Much as I would enjoy having that badge of honor, I don’t need that kind of bandwidth at home. But they must be trained to go there first. Only after I asked about the 200 MB and 2TB package was I told that that would cost me an additional $24 per month. Then, after a short pause I was told that if I BUNDLED CABLE along with my Internet and the phone service (that I already don’t use) I would be even less than what I am paying now! Ok, so I can hook up to cable and double my bandwidth and limits!

Oh, the agony! I can’t tell you how little I like Mediacomm! Yet I can save money and get better service by becoming their cable customer again. And, best of all I don’t even have to sign a contract, I’m free to cancel at any time, or check on the latest package deals in a year when my subscription would be slated to increase by $20 per month. No worries there as I won’t be a customer in a year.

So I’m going to save money and get better service, why do I feel so dirty? We started this exercise as a way to cut the cord to save money and stop supporting crazy TV providers. Along the way we found out that online providers are learning the tricks from their predecessors, and then we come full circle to having a cable box in the house. I’d like to put it in a corner and not even connect it to a TV but my dear wife keeps reminding me that we can save another $35/month because we won’t need YouTube TV if we have that cable box. We’ll see, I don’t know how many channels we’ll get and whether our package will include NBCSN…. Time for a shower.

Understanding Entrepreneurship -- Part II -- New Beginnings

Whenever I teach this JTerm course on entrepreneurship, friends and colleagues often ask me “do you miss it?” Meaning do I miss the business world. The answer has always been, “yes, but I love teaching even more.” This year the answer is different, this year the answer is… “yes, and I’m excited to tell you that I’m leaving Luther to start a new company!” Spring Semester of 2018 will be my last semester as a full time faculty member at Luther. I have accepted the separation agreement offered by Luther, and I’m really looking forward to the next chapter in my life and career!

This was not an easy decision – I have enjoyed my time at Luther, and Jane and I could not have asked for a better place to raise our family. JTerm is always a powerful reminder of how great our students are, and how much I enjoy getting to know them beyond the classroom. But, Kaia and Josh have both graduated from college, Kaia is married, in grad school, with a house, and three dogs in Sioux Falls, Josh has a great girlfriend, and a job he likes in Wisconsin. In short, they are launched (yay us!).

We are ready for the next phase of our lives. So, the house in Decorah is for sale and we have a down payment on a condo in downtown Minneapolis! We close and move in September of 2018! The bike trails are out the back door, we have a view of the Stone Arch bridge, the Guthrie is three blocks away, the light rail to the new MNUFC (Loons) stadium is a four block walk! It is a 15 minute bike ride to our friends Brian and Holly for happy hour! What could be better? – Well, if we could convince a few Decorah friends to move to Minneapolis that would be perfect, but we try not to be greedy.

Runestone Interactive, LLC

So, this January I’ve been listening very closely and thinking about how all of these great stories and advice apply to a guy in his mid-50’s. I’m leaving a tenured faculty position, at a college I love dearly to start a new company. Here is what I take away.

We heard the following from a lot of different people: “follow your passion!” Well, I admit I’ve told my students this many many times (although I could write a full post on the perils of telling 19 year olds that they need a passion.) But I have to say that for as much as I enjoy teaching at Luther College, Runestone Interactive has definitely become a passion. Runestone has grown from a small project for 30 Luther students few years ago, to supporting over 20,000 students each day from over 600 institutions around the world. This growth has all happened through word of mouth. No advertising, No booths at trade shows, no sales force, no full time development team! I really think that Runestone could be 2,000,000 students a day with focus and full time effort. – Yes, former students, that is what I think about in the shower in the morning!

The separation incentive offered by Luther gives me the opportunity to start a new company, incorporating what I learned from all the mistakes I made the first time around with Net Perceptions, and all of the experience I’ve gained in the last 15 years of teaching. It gives me one year to figure out if there is a business model that will keep the basic features and the books of Runestone free to everyone, while allowing me to build a small business that pays a salary, and hopefully allows me to bring others on board to work on this with me. It allows me to (1) follow a passion, (2) make the world a better place and (3) to play my part in “righting the wrong” that is textbook publishing today. Yes, $300 for a paperback textbook is a wrong! Wow, count them, that is three awesome reasons to start a company!

Democratizing Textbooks for the 21st Century

In our discussions of Guy Kawasaki’s books during JTerm we talked about companies needing a mantra. I think that the Mantra for Runestone is “Democratizing textbooks for the 21st century”. This could be another whole post, but I’ll just say that there is a huge need for computer scientists and there are a lot of well meaning, (but potentially under-prepared) teachers out there who we can help teach computer science. This is true at the high-school level where computer science is getting traction again, as well as many small colleges where it is almost impossible to find a computer science PhD who is willing to work for what small colleges can pay.

The second piece of Runestone is in the interactive nature of the books. Textbooks should not be static, read-only, words. Textbooks in the 21st century should engage the reader in interactive learning. Textbooks should also give instructors insight into what their students understand and what their students are struggling with… Textbooks should help answer the question “How can I maximize my time in the classroom today?”

Get Uncomfortable

We heard a lot about seeking opportunities that make you uncomfortable. It is through these uncomfortable experiences that you grow. For the last 15 years this has happened through teaching (especially new courses), and traveling to new places (many times with students) and experiencing new cultures. Leaving my faculty position – where I have almost total job security – is definitely a move in an uncomfortable direction. Especially for someone over the age of 50. But, I am convinced this is the right thing to do.

Creating a culture, charting your own course

We heard from a lot of people that had worked in both large and small companies about how great it was to be part of a small organization. in a startup, everything you do is important. From making the coffee in the morning, to setting strategic direction. I get that. I remember those early days from Net Perceptions. I miss those days. I miss that sense of ownership for the whole enterprise. The “shared governance” model used by most small colleges is about as far from agile as you can get.

This course reminded me, yet again, why I admire Jeff Bezos and the culture he has built at Amazon. I was blown away that all of the young people we spoke with at Amazon understood and could talk about many, if not all of, the 14 leadership principles. If you don’t know them here they are:

  • Amazon’s Leadership Principles

    • Customer Obsession

    • Ownership

    • Invent and Simplify

    • Are Right, a Lot

    • Learn and be Curious

    • Hire and Develop the Best

    • Insist on the Highest Standards

    • Think Big

    • Bias for Action

    • Frugality

    • Earn Trust

    • Dive Deep

    • Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

    • Deliver Results

You can get more detail on each of them here. But I can only fantasize what a great company Runestone would be if I put these into action. I also think that higher-ed could benefit from all of these principles, but the conditions are so hard to make this happen!

So as I finish up this post, I have a week until Spring Semester classes begin. Am I sad that this is my last semester? Of course! Luther College is such an integral part of my life – I’m an alumni, a parent of an alumni, a faculty member, and a donor. I’ll only be losing one of those four tags. I look forward to finding new ways that I can serve the college in the future. I’ll also miss the students and all of the energy they bring. I’ll miss watching them grow and develop into the successful entrepreneurs, developers, and managers that so many of them have become. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my final semester to the max. I get to teach two of my favorite classes, and I’m eliminating non-essential committee work to go out on a high note!

Understanding Entrepreneurship -- Lessons Learned (part I)

The students are on the plane home, and I am now in Napa taking a few days of R&R and thinking about what I learned during the month of January. TLDR – Lots! But the two things I would like to focus on are the answers to the questions:

  1. What can we do better to prepare our students for the real world in the computer science department at Luther College?

  2. What stands out the most to me from all our meetings? This was also a question that some of our hosts asked of the students in the closing days of the course; and one I hope they will reflect on in their final papers. So, it seems only fair that I do the same.

I’ll do this in two parts. This is part I.

Redwood Hike

How can we (Luther CS dept) do better?

One of the best things about this trip was the number of alumni we got to meet with, several of whom are alumni of this course. I’ll take a brief diversion to brag a bit – We have alumni at Amazon, Microsoft, YouTube and Google. We have alumni at small companies like SafeGraph and Benetech. All of them were super gracious to meet and host this latest group.

Another standout lesson revolves around continually improving. We heard lots of great testimonials for “lifelong learning”. I think this is one of the consistent themes I’ve heard at Luther over my 15 years at the college. As a department, I think that is one of the things we have done well over the years too. Asking the question regularly about how we can improve.

We asked the Luther alumns a couple of questions each time we met with one. What advice do you have for the students as they move on from Luther? What do you wish you had learned at Luther that you did not?

The answer to the second question was nearly unanimous, and quite surprising to me. It is just two words: Unit Testing. How interesting, I don’t know that I had an answer that I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that. But as I reflect on other things we heard it makes sense.

Companies are definitely trending away from the development team composed of X number of developers and k*X number of QA people. Now, testing is part of everyone’s job and unit tests are a big part of that. I think there are a number of ways that we can incorporate this into our curriculum at Luther. The Runestone textbook already uses unit tests to automatically grade a lot of assignments. But I think adding them to project based courses like Internet Programming and even the Sr. Project will go a long way toward helping students learn to write and use unit tests. The biggest obstacle is helping them understand the why.

One of the wisest things I heard on the trip came from a young engineer at Amazon who said, “It’s important to remember that unit tests are not for you – you know your code works. Unit tests are for the people who come after you and have to make changes.”

I have been thinking a lot about unit testing lately as I think it has been a real hinderance to the Runestone project. People who contribute to open source want to know that they are not breaking your stuff, and the best way to help them over that hurdle is to have a big suite of unit tests. My new years resolution, which I’m doing pretty well on, is to write a unit test every day until June.

Its not just newcomers either, its also me in my role as maintainer. When someone comes with a cool new feature that also changes a bunch of existing code I get seriously anxious. After all, there are people (teachers and students) that rely on this to work, and I hate to disappoint.

If you are a former student and are reading this I would love to hear from you. Do you agree? What else? What do you think is the best way we can incorporate unit testing into the curriculum?

In Part II I’ll talk about my own takeaways from our three weeks.

My Life in the Computer History Museum

My Life in the Computer History Museum

Its been six or eight years since I’ve taken a group of students to the Computer History Museum, and am I ever glad that I made the stop this time. The museum has changed a lot over the years and this was by far the best visit ever.

The first part of the “ancient” history of computing (up to the late 1970’s) was really well done, but I noticed that I couldn’t stop myself from snapping pictures of computers from then on. I realized that I was in fact taking pictures of the machines that I have personally worked on or used for fun over the years.

Atari Game console


Did you ever play tank battle on one of these? I think its safe to say that this was the first game console I ever used. Notice the lovely woodgrain finish, and the switch to change between black and white and color TVs!

Apple II


The Apple II was the first computer I ever programmed. Lets face it, if you couldn’t write a little basic, the Apple II was pretty useless. I first encountered the Apple II in the AV room of my high school in the spring of my Freshman year in 1979. I never looked back. Hacking the Lemonade Stand game was my first stab at modifying someone else’s code.

TRS (Trash) 80


Of course this is the computer I wanted for my own. It was less expensive than the Apple, black and white and ran BASIC.



Luverne high school, like many schools ofthe day, was connected to MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium) By 300 baud modem we connected to a big CDC computer running somewhere in the twin cities. We could play Star Trek against other high school students or use a primitive chat program where, even in 1980, every third high school girl went by an online name of “FoxyLady” Of course back than it was FOXYLADY as lower case characters were not invented yet. This particular specimin actually only ran at 110 baud and was pretty much out of use by the tie I got into high school Using this seemed like a huge pain, but at least I can say that I missed the card punch era! Beyond basic on the AppleII we could write programs in Pascal on the MECC computers.

The PET Trapezoid


When I got to Luther College and went to my first General Physics lab, these were the computers that greeted us. Programmable in basic, and easy to interface to simple lab equipment using the basic commands PEEK and POKE to set and read memory locations that were mapped to the I/O devices. We could also use the PET computers to do accurate timing, as long as you were able to convert from the unit of a “Jiffy” to seconds. As I recall there were 60 Jiffies in a second.

Data General - Soul of a New Machine


I never actually used a Data General computer, but during my first year of college I read Tracy Kidder’s book The Soul of a New Machine, this book had such a huge influence on me, it totally cemented my career path toward computer computer science. I loved this book so much that I kept it and had it in my office atLuther after I became a professor. When Kidder came to Luther to give the opening convocation speech a few years ago to talk about his latest book Mountains beyond Mountains, I was able to meet him and have him autograph my 30+ year old paperback. He actually looked quite surprised that I had a paperback that old.

PDP 11


Another early computer I encountered at Luther, in the MRI lab, was an LSI-11, this was the Heathkit replica of this PDP-11. The lab had an even older PDP-8 but the museum didn’t have one of those.

Commodore 64


What I worked on the most in the MRI lab at Luther was a Commodore64. We had a cartridge version of the programming language FORTH that I used to write a program to collect data from the Analog to Digital Converter. I remember being shocked that we were using this incredibly inexpensive computerto control a \$10,000 data collection device.



In the summer of 1985 I had the amazing opportunity to do an internship at Amoco research center in Tulsa Oklahoma. I was tasked with writing benchmarks to test various implementations of Lisp for the IBM PC. I remember that I had the first PC/AT in the building. But more interesting was my friend Jay’s Apollo. I think we called this mini-computers back then, today we would think of them as workstations. What I remember most about the Apollo was the speed of it, and the graphics capabilities! This was the very early days of windows and mice, and I recall that Jay had a program that he could start up on the Apollo that would make it look like chunks of your display were breaking loose and falling to the bottom of your screen. It was hilarious the first time it happened to us. That summer was also my first exposure to using a 3270 green screen terminal. Sadly I didn’t seen one at the computer history museum.


Apple Lisa and Macintosh


Jay also had a Lisa in his home office! I couldn’t wait to graduate and make some money so I could have one of my own. Of course by the time Jane and I got married just a year later the Lisa was a thing of the past and so we got a Mac Plus instead! I still have this computer in my office at Luther. It still boots from a floppy and runs Microsoft’s flight simulator.

The CDC 6600


When I started work at Control Data’s Energy Management Systems division in 1986 I was awed by the giant cooled computer room. There were lots of giant water cooled Cyber computers in there for the newer customers, but amongst all of those newere Cybers was this little old CDC6600 computer than was running an older version of the software. If it scares you that our electrical grid was controlled by one of these don’t worry, they were solid work horses for many years. What I remember most about the 6600 was that there was a little program that made the two CRT’s look like eyes, and then one of them would wink at you.

Symbolics Lisp Machine


After a couple of years at CDC I managed to manuever my way into an AI group. A lot of high-end AI programming was done in Lisp in those days and the Symbolics was the machine to have if you really wanted to do it.

Silicon Graphics


Shortly after the Symbolics we switched to running more general purpose Unix workstations. CDC was reselling SGI computers under the label of “Personal Iris” I taught myself some very early graphics in what eventually became OpenGL on these machines. This began a life long love of using Unix. I spent many extra hours on the Iris compiling emacs and other early open source programs.

The Palm Pilot


The last bit of nostalgia I captured at the museum was this first generation Palm Pilot! I remember that when Net Perceptions officially launched our product it was at the Agenda conference in Phoenix Arizona. They were also launching the Palm Pilot at that same conference. What I remember most about this was the brilliant marketing they did. First, they had preloaded a bunch of Palm Pilots with the conference schedule. Second, they had a bunch of “old ladies” demonstrating how easy they were to use. They showed you the Grafiti writing system, how to add meetings, and they took your credit card with the promise that you could use one for the duration of the conference and if you didn’t want it after that they wouldn’t charge your card. I’m pretty sure every single person kept theirs. This was the first of a very long line of PDAs that I have owned over the years. I could probably do a whole post just on those.

Visiting the Computer History Museum was educational, and a great trip down memory lane for me. If you are ever in Mountain View and have a few hours I would highly recommend you plan to spend couple hours exploring!