Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Third Rail by Michael Harvey

I finished reading The Third Rail on the flight from Philadelphia to Rome. This is Michael Harvey's third book. I previously read The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor.

The book story line takes its underpinnings from a real life train wreck that occurred on Chicago's "L". I rode the "L" to a Cubs game.

The main character is a detective. The book essentially picks up where The Fifth Floor left off. The plot of this book revolves around the hunt for a mass murderer who appears to be randomly selecting victims. It veers off to include some bio-terrorism elements.

The author's first two books were described as noir crime novels. The style harked back to a hard-boiled style from the 1920's and 1930's.

I enjoyed the first two books from this author. This book seems to move more towards a modern crime novel rather than the noir crime novel. Reading reviews about the fourth book in the series, it appears that the author has moved even farther away from the noir style. I don't recommend this book and I am done with this author.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Italian European Cup Victory Celebration

Thursday night, June 28, while we were in Sorrento, Italy, we watched the Italian soccer team beat Germany by the score of 2 to 1 in the semi-finals of the European Cup. Afterwards, Sharon and I wandered out to the town square and watched the Italians celebrating.

Sorrento, Italy - After Italy's victory over Germany in the European Cup from heringermr on Vimeo.

Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week - SoundHound

The complete list of Starbucks iTunes picks of the week is here!
Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week

Identify songs and get lyrics too!

Code Expiration: October 23, 2012

Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week - thenewno2 - Timezone

The complete list of Starbucks iTunes picks of the week is here!
Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week - 7/31/2012 - thenewno2 - Timezone

New sounds from the London-based ensemble spearheaded by singer/guitarist Dhani Harrison.

Code Expiration: October 23, 2012

Sunday, July 29, 2012

HOME RUN! [2012 Outlaws Baseball Tournament #10 Day #2]

Back for the second day of the All World Sports Golden Woody Tournament at the Sacramento Softball Complex. The Outlaws played Hank's Bombers in the first game of the day. This is a team that has been in a number of tournament with the Outlaws over the last few years, but that they have never faced. Greysen's dad said it was actually a 12u team, rather than a 13u team.

At the plate, Jack was 2 for 2 with a home run, a walk, two runs scored and three RBIs. In his first at-bat, Jack walked on three pitches (remember that the count started at 1 and 1). He went to third on a throwing error on Breyton's ground ball and scored when Josh drew a walk.

Greysen started the third inning by drawing a walk. Jack then drove a 2 and 1 pitch over the center field fence for a home run and two RBIs. He had a huge smile on his face as he rounded the bases. Lately, whenever Jack sees a short fence, he wants so badly to hit one out.

In his third at-bat in fourth inning, Jack drove the first pitch into right center for a single. He advanced two bases on Breyton's line drive to right. Breyton ran to first instead of third and got thrown out [remember that you have to run the bases in the opposite direction in the second and fourth innings]. Jack ended up getting picked off when he was too aggressive on a ball that rolled away from the catcher.

In the field, Jack played one inning at first and three innings at third. He and Breyton started swapped when the other team had to run the bases backwards in the fourth inning. Jack went to first in the fourth inning. He had one put-out at third in the second inning on a ground ball to the left side and a throw from Trevor.

Even with Hank's Bombers using a "do over" to erase a home run by Greysen, Jack and Greysen both ended up hitting home runs. The Outlaws won the game by the score of 12 to 7. The box score is here.

The Outlaws turned right around and played the Bay Area Black Sox. This is a team that they have seen a number of times over the last eighteen months.

At the plate, Jack was 1 for 3 with a run scored. In his first at-bat, Jack absolutely crushed a 2 and 1 pitch for a line drive to right field. Right at the fence, the right fielder reached up awkwardly and caught the ball for an out. I was sure that it was a home run. Jack struck out looking in his second plate appearance on an inside pitch at his ankles; it was a horrible, horrible call. In his third at-bat, Jack drove a 1 and 2 pitch through the right side for a single. He said that the pitcher was throwing outside and just decided to go with the pitch. Jack stole second and scored on Josh's ground rule double.

In the field, Jack played shortstop part of an inning, two plus innings at third and two innings at first. Again, he and Breyton were swapping first and third in the second and fourth innings. Jack had two put-outs and an assist. He caught a line drive when he was at first and then doubled the runner off third to end the fourth inning.

Giving up 7 runs in the top of the first inning, the Outlaws battled back, but fell just short. They lost by the score of 10 to 9. Niko had a moon shot grand slam home run erased in the fourth inning by a "do over." The box score is here.

With just one too many runs allowed, the Outlaws finished seventh out of the 15 teams in the tournament and were eliminated; only the top six team advanced to the play-offs. While I liked the shorter outfield fences and the wooden bats, I really didn't like the other goofy rules. I don't know that I would encourage the team to play in this kind of a "fun" tournament again.

It is going to be an interesting three months. Jack starts two a day football practices with the freshman football team on August 6. The team has thirteen practices in the first fourteen days. It will be interesting to see if he makes the team.

I don't think that he is going to have time to play much baseball in the next three months.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

2012 Outlaws Baseball Tournament #10 Day #1

The Outlaws will be spending the weekend playing in the All World Sports Golden Woody Tournament at the Sacramento Softball Complex. This is a wooden bat tournament with a bunch of goofy rules, including running the bases in the opposite direction in the 2nd and 4th inning, starting with a one ball and one strike count and "do overs."

The Outlaws played the FEBA Rams in the first game. The Outlaws had played the FEBA Eagles--a 14u team--earlier this year, but have not faced the Rams.

At the plate, Jack was 0 for 3. Jack is a very patient hitter who under normal conditions will get himself in trouble by taking borderline pitches. Starting with a 1 and 1 count made it even more difficult. In his first at-bat, he looked at the first pitch which was called for a strike and he was immediately behind 1 and 2. Jack swung at the next pitch and was out on strikes; he had seen two pitches. Jack ran the count to 2 and 2, fouled off two pitches and then hit a grounder to the left side in his second plate appearance. This was the fourth inning so Jack was supposed to run to third although he took a couple of steps towards first. The shortstop threw to the third baseman for the out. In his third at-bat, Jack grounded a 3 and 2 pitch to the right side and was thrown out at first by the second baseman.

In the field, Jack played six innings at third base. He had three put-outs. In the second inning, the pitcher handled a grounder back to the mound and threw to Jack at third for the out. In the fourth inning, Jack handled two grounders to the left side and tagged third for the out.

Looking flat, the Outlaws only managed three hits. Chris Clegg hit a two run homer that the Rams erased with a "do over." The Outlaws lost the game by the score of 5 to 3. The box score is here.

The Outlaws played the Tribe in the second game of the day. This is a team that they beat up earlier this year.

At the plate, Jack was 1 for 1 with a double, a walk, a run scored and two RBIs. In his first at-bat, Jack fell behind 1 and 2. He then fouled off three pitches. Jack took the 7th pitch for a ball to run the count to 2 and 2. He drove the eighth pitch to right field. When he hit it, I thought that it was going to be over the short fence, but it ended up as a ground rule double. Niko had walked to start the inning and scored from second. Jack went to third on an error on Breyton's infield grounder and then scored on Josh's fielder's choice. With the bases loaded, Jack walked in his second plate appearance to drive in a run. He went to second on an error by the pitcher and to third when Bailey walked, but ended the inning there.

In the field, Jack played three innings at third and an inning at shortstop. Complaining about the quality of the dirt infield, he had an error on a ground ball hit to the left side when he was at third base.

With Breyton striking out nine batters in the first three innings and Trevor scoring twice wearing the pink jersey, the Outlaws rolled to a 10 to 0 win in four innings. The Outlaws won even though they only had two hits! The box score is here.

The Outlaws finished the day seeded eighth out of fifteen teams. Only the top six teams will advance to the play-offs on Sunday afternoon.

Friday, July 27, 2012

In the audience at The Late Show

In one of those odd twists, there is actually a glimpse of me in the audience at The Late Show with David Letterman on Wednesday. I am wearing a yellow shirt on the right hand side of the screen. Click on the picture for a larger version.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2012 New York City - Day 3 - 43 hours!

I slept until almost 8 a.m. before wandering down and getting some coffee and oatmeal from Starbucks. While Drew slept, I went for an hour run in Central Park. Just as I was about to turn around and start back to the room, it started to pour. I was soaked by the time I got back to the hotel. Getting cleaned up and printing my boarding passes, I said goodbye to Drew and caught a cab to JFK.

Unfortunately, the same thunderstorm that hammered me while I was running caused havoc with the flights at JFK. When I got to the airport, I realized that my flight was delayed an hour. My major worry was my connection in Long Beach; I had a 45 minute layover. Checking on-line, the Long Beach to Sacramento flight showed an hour delay also.

We ended boarding the plane about 2:15 p.m and taking off about 2:40 p.m., over an hour and 20 minutes behind schedule. After an uneventful flight, we landed in Long Beach about 5:30 p.m. Pacific time and about 45 minutes behind schedule.

jetBlue does not have that many flights on the west coast. It was clear that they were going to hold the two connecting flights from Long Beach for the people on the flight from JFK. There were probably twenty people who transfered from the JFK flight to the Sacramento flight.

After a quick flight from Long Beach to Sacramento, I was on the ground in Sacramento about 6:45 p.m. Oddly, over the course of almost 7 hours on both flights, they never offered us any food other than potato chips. I had expected to be able to buy some food on the flight from JFK to Long Beach.

It was 43 hours from the time I boarded the red-eye late Tuesday night until I walked off the plane on Thursday. I have to admit that while I physically felt pretty good my brain felt fuzzy...

I finished the night meeting Sharon at the Jesuit Football Parent Meeting. By the time we got home about 9 p.m, it felt like a long day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

2012 New York City - Day 2 - Letterman!

It was a day that I can only describe as surreal...

Typically, I have trouble sleeping on flights; I usually read. I made an effort to try and sleep on the long flight from Sacramento to JFK. Although I felt like I was not sleeping, all of sudden I felt the plane starting to descend and the pilot announced that we were starting to descend. Whatever sleep I got served me well over the next 36 hours. We hit the gate on schedule a little after 8 a.m.

Walking out of the airport, I surveyed the transportation options. After checking out the bus to Grand Central Station that I have used before, I said fuck it and grabbed a cab. Although the traffic was heavy and the cab driver had a death wish, I was at the W Hotel on Times Square about 9:20 a.m.

I got a cup of starbucks and texted Drew. I wandered into Times Square and found a nice chair and table. I left Drew a voice message about 9:30 a.m and eventually got a text message from him about 10 a.m.

Milo Greene had played a show in Washington D.C. last night and traveled to New York City after the show. They offloaded their equipment at the David Letterman studio in the wee hours of the morning before crashing in the hotel room. Drew said that he was running on only two or three hours sleep.

I met Drew in the hotel lobby and then we wandered down a couple of blocks to find a place for breakfast. It was nice to have him to myself for a while as we got a chance to catch up.

After breakfast, we wandered about 13 blocks to Herald Square to met Morgan and her boyfriend, Beau. We spent about 30 plus minutes visiting with them before heading back to the hotel so the Drew could get showered and changed.

A "sprinter" showed up about 1:45 p.m. to take the group to the studio; I tagged along. When we got to the backstage door, I went in with them. Neither Morgan or I were on the list for backstage passes, but the woman made an exception and gave us both passes. After wandering out to the front to pick up our VIP tickets, Morgan and I headed up to the Green Room.

I had listened to a podcast of Alec Baldwin interviewing Dave Letterman in the last week. One of the things that Letterman said that he loved about the Ed Sullivan was all of the narrow passages in the back. We got a chance to experience the narrow passages. We wound our way up to a couple of small Green Rooms on the sixth floor.

We hung out there with the band, people from the record label and an assortment of family and friends for the other band members.

About 2:30 we all headed down to the stage for the sound check. The band ran through the song--1957--three times while the crew worked on the sound, lights and cameras. After they were done, a page escorted Morgan and I up to the balcony. We got to watch as they finished setting up and prepping the stage for the show.

A little after 3 p.m., they started letting in the audience. About 3:20, they played a video by Alec Baldwin describing what was allowed and not allowed (no photos, no loud horse whistles, etc). After the video finished, someone else came out, repeated the don'ts and told a few jokes to warm up the crowd. His routine was mostly about how people in the northeast have different accents.

He then introduced the band. They came out and played for a few minutes. Just before 3:30 p.m., Letterman ran out without his jacket and took one question from the audience.

I think that Paul Shafter did not come out until after Letterman took the question. The band played one more song and then Letterman came out to do this monologue. Over the course of the show, I was struck by how much Letterman seemed to be enjoying himself. He genuinely seemed to like what he was doing.

The two guests were Jonah Hill and a doctor from a reality television series. I was more impressed with Hill than I expected to be; he seemed to handle himself very well. During the breaks where there would be commercials when the show airs, the band would play a complete song. This had two impacts. First, it seemed to keep the energy of the crowd up. Second, it meant that the live show was a solid block without any real dead time. I had half expected there to be some standing around in the sections where the commercials would air.

Drew and Milo Greene came on at the end of the show. It is impossible for me to be objective, but personally I enjoyed it a great deal. It is amazing to think that I saw the Beatles on television almost 50 years ago perform from the same stage.

After the show was over, Morgan and I exited with the rest of the audience. Morgan took off, but Drew called me and I went back up to the green room to hang out with the group for a while. Drew acknowledged that it was a weight off his shoulders and that he had more tension before the show than he thought.

Eventually, the band worked with the crew of the Late Show to load their stuff back up in the van and their trailer. I walked back to the hotel, while the band headed to the SoHo House. This is a private hotel and club in the meatpacking district.

About 10 minutes after I got back to the room, there was a knock on the door. It was a bellman with two beers and some chips for one of the band members. I texted Drew to tell Robbie that I was enjoying his beers...

Eventually, I caught a cab from the hotel to the SoHo House. The band was having dinner on the roof with a number of New York based people from their record label. It was a beautiful night. The rooftop restaurant had some great views of the surrounding area and the Hudson River. There is a nice picture of the rooftop on the SoHo House web site.

Milo Greene played a set of about 5 songs on the rooftop. Drew indicated that it was mostly an opportunity for the New York based record label staff to get a chance to see them perform.

After the set, the band loaded all of their stuff back up in the trailer. Most of the band was staying a hotel in SoHo. Drew dropped them there and then he and I headed back to the W. By the time, we got the van and trailer parked and got to the room, it was just after 12:15 a.m.

Turning on David Letterman, we watched the last 15 minutes of the show. It was amazing to finish the day watching Milo Greene playing on the show before we both crashed hard.

Milo Greene - 1957 - David Letterman 7-25-12

2012 New York City - Times Square

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

2012 New York City - Day 1

Late Tuesday, I caught a jetBlue red-eye from Sacramento to JFK Airport. I am taking a very quick trip; I will be gone less than 44 hours. I will be spending Wednesday in New York City before starting back to Sacramento on Thursday. Wednesday is going to be a wild, surreal day. I am frankly not sure what to expect...

Monday, July 23, 2012

UTAH! - Virtually Biking Across America - Day 23

Finally, after 16 days and more than 400 miles of riding virtually across Nevada, I have finally gotten to Utah! Starting from the Antelope Springs Station Pony Express Station [N39 49 46.7 W114 23 20.9], I rode 27.7 miles northeast on the Old Lincoln Highway to Ibapah, Utah. Along the way the road changed names from White Pine County Road 32 to Nevada State Highway 2 to BIA Highway 1.

It was a very fast mostly downhill ride. I was surprised at the number of homesteads along the road as I rolled into Ibapah.

There is a bug in the system somewhere so that when the calorie count reaches 1,000 the display on the PC hangs. I love to watch the Google Earth and Streetview views of the ride so as a workaround I am now starting to split the ride into at least two segments to avoid the problem.

The trip log for Virtually Biking Across America is here.

Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week - Draw Something

The complete list of Starbucks iTunes picks of the week is here!

The addictive social drawing game!

Code Expiration: October 16, 2012

Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week - Dirty Projectors - Gun Has No Trigger

The complete list of Starbucks iTunes picks of the week is here!
Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week - Dirty Projectors - Gun Has No Trigger

Adventurous indie-rockers Dirty Projectors deliver a harmony-rich selection from their sixth album, Swing Lo Magellan.

Code Expiration: October 16, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Milo Greene: The Making of Moddison

The members of Milo Greene sit down at The Warner Sound studio in Burbank to talk about the making of their film, Moddison, and how it parallels the songs on their self-titled debut album in this exclusive interview on The Warner Sound.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

2012 Outlaws Baseball versus Elk Grove Titans

Jack pitching against the Titans

The Outlaws played a double header against the Elk Grove Titans at Case Park. One of the Outlaws coaches said that this team was the remnants of the Bulls team that we have seen in tournaments over the last couple of years.

At the plate, Jack was 1 for 3 with a double and a RBI in the first game. In his first at-bat, he struck out swinging on a low outside 3 and 2 pitch. Jack struck out again in his second plate appearance on a high 1 and 2 pitch. Given that he has only swung a bat twice in the cage in the last five weeks, this was probably not surprising.

In his third at-bat, Jack crushed a 2 and 0 pitch into left center for a double and an RBI. Trevor scored from second. He stole third, but ended the inning there.

In the field, Jack played four innings at third and three innings in center field. In one of those odd games, the ball only came close to him once. Jack made a long run on a soft fly ball to short left center. He made a diving attempt, but couldn't get his glove on the ball.

Looking very flat, the Outlaws lost the game by the score of 4 to 2.

After a 20 minute break, the two teams turned around and played a second game.

At the plate, Jack was 0 for 3. In his first at-bat, he lined the first pitch hard right at the first baseman for an out. Jack crushed a 0 and 1 pitch in his second plate appearance. I was sure that it was a hit when it left the bat. Unfortunately, it was hit right at the center fielder... In his third at-bat, he hit a soft infield fly ball off the end of the bat to the left side and was thrown out at first.

Jack was the starting pitcher for the second game. He struggled with his footing on the mound. Jack walked two batters, but was able to get out of a one out, runners on second and third situation without giving up a run. Jack got a ground ball out, a strike out and then they picked a runner off base. Jack walked three batters in the second inning. Giving up one hit, one run scored before they got out of the inning.

Jack played shortstop for the rest of the game. He had one put-out and one assist.

The Outlaws bounced back to beat the Titans by the score of 11 to 2.

The Outlaws will be playing in a wooden bat tournament next weekend at the Sacramento Softball Complex and/or Freedom Park. With football starting on August 6, this might be the last time that Jack plays baseball for a while. From a baseball perspective, I am having a hard time planning out the next four months...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Moddison: A Film from Milo Greene [Trailer]

Milo Greene released official videos for 1957 and Silent Way in the last few weeks. People have started to connect the dots and ask if the videos were pieces of a larger puzzle. They are.

Milo Greene made a film that uses the entire album as a single piece of music. Here is the trailer!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Virtually Biking Across America - Day 22

On day 22, I rode 24.9 miles across Eastern Nevada. Starting at Schellbourne on Highway 93, I rode east on White Pine County Road 18. I rode up and over Schellbourne Pass. The climb over the first five miles was challenging with the grade reaching 10%. The first ten miles were available in Google Streetview; I really enjoyed watching the scenery roll by as I climbed the pass and then descended.

I turned north on White Pine County Road 31 for a couple of miles before turning back to the east. I ended the day at the Antelope Springs Station Pony Express Station [N39 49 46.7 W114 23 20.9]. With one more long jump, I should finally be in Utah!

The trip log for Virtually Biking Across America is here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Calico Joe by John Grisham

On the flight from Sacramento to Philadelphia, I read Joe Calico by John Grisham. This is the 25th book written by John Grisham that I have read in the last twenty years.

While Grisham has written several books about football, this is his first about baseball. Grisham played baseball in high school, but was cut during the try-outs for college baseball.

This fictional story is told by the son of a mediocre major league pitcher. The core of the book is about the relationship between the father and son. The key plot points revolve around the actions that the father takes on and off the field and the resulting impact to the son and others.

This was a light, quick read. I enjoyed it as a break from some of the more serious subjects; I finished reading Cleopatra right before this. If you enjoy Grisham books and baseball stories, I give it a lukewarm thumbs up.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The new phone book's here!

As Steve Martin would say "the new phone book's here, the new phone book's here." I got my pre-ordered copy of the Milo Greene album delivered by USPS on Saturday. A second copy showed up from Chop Shop on Monday.

The album is officially released today! It is available on iTunes here. A physical copy is available on Amazon here or from the Warner music store here.

Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week - Bobby Womack - The Bravest Man in the Universe

The complete list of Starbucks iTunes picks of the week is here!

The title track from the Damon Albam-produced comeback album by an R&B legend.

Code Expiration: October 9, 2012

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Our Town

Sharon, Jack and I went with Tom, Becky, Tim, Kathy, Erin and Eileen to see Kevin in a production of Our Town at the Sutter Street Theatre in Folsom. Kevin was cast as Howie Newsome. Written by Thornton Wilder, the play received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938.

Afterwards, the group went to dinner at the Sutter Street Steakhouse.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Milo Greene on NPR Weekend Edition

Nevada Historical Marker #7

Wandering home after this year's Petersen Shootout, this is one of the places I stopped. I visited five Nevada State historical markers [Buckland's Station #192, Camels in Dayton #199, Halls Station #200, Chinatown #163 and Dayton #7] and three Pony Express Markers [Nevada Station, Dayton and Fort Churchill] and wandered through the Fort Churchill ruins.

Nevada Historical Marker #7

See this location on Yahoo Maps in Flickr
See this location on Google Maps

This landmark is located at the southeast corner of Highway 50 and Dayton Valley Road in Dayton, Nevada. There are 18 other historical markers in Lyon County. The GPS coordinates for this location are N 39° 14.173 W 119° 35.358.

You can log your visit to this landmark at waymark.com.

Nevada Historical Marker #7

Dayton, one of the earliest settlements in Nevada was first known as a stopping place on the river for California-bound pioneers. Coming in from the desert they rested here before continuing westward.

In 1849, gold was found at the mouth of Gold Canyon and prospecting began in the canyons to the west. This led to the discovery of the fabulous ore deposits at Gold Hill and Virginia City in 1859.

Called by several different names in its early years, the place became Dayton in 1861, named in honor of John Day who laid out the town.

For many decades Dayton prospered as a mill and trading center and remained the county seat for Lyon County until 1911.

Nevada Historical Marker #7

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hike from Amalfi to Pontone

When we were on the Amalfi Coast, we hiked from Amalfi to Pontone. Using Runkeeper on my iPhone, I created a GPS track of the hike. I loaded the data into Google Earth and generated the two images shown below. You can click on each image to see a larger version.

The top half of the hike was interesting. The hillside was terraced and covered with lemon groves.

I also created a KML file of the hike and loaded it into an interactive Google Map.

View Larger Map

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

About a year and a half ago, I saw the author of Cleopatra: A Life on the Jon Stewart show. I was intrigued enough by the interview to buy the book. Sharon ended up reading the book last year. She was after me to read the book before we went to Italy. I finished the book in the week before we left for the trip.

The book is written in an interesting voice; it is different than most of the historical biographies that I have read. Schiff works to reconcile all of the different stories about Cleopatra into one biography.

I have to admit that I was kind of ignorant about the details of the story. Cleopatra's relationship with Julius Caesar and then with Mark Anthony is fascinating. The civil war that took place after Julius Caesar's murder as Augustus consolidated power is an interesting chapter in the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

I also didn't understand the prominence of Egypt and the city of Alexandria in the first century BC. Egypt was the richest country in the world, while Alexandria was the center of culture and education. Cleopatra was probably the wealthiest person in the world.

Finally, I didn't realize that Egypt had a Greek ruling class at this time in history. Cleopatra was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a family of Greek origin that ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great's death. Their rule lasted for 275 years, from 305 BC until Cleopatra's death in 30 BC. I need to read a book on Alexander the Great.

I really enjoy when something that I am reading about intersects with the real world. As I mentioned, we passed an Egyptian obelisk taken by Augustus after his victory in Egypt over Cleopatra and Mark Antony while we were in Rome.

I enjoyed this book a lot and would recommend it. It provides a great overview of an interesting time in history. More importantly, it is just a great story.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Virtually Biking Across America - Day 21

On day 21, I rode 21.0 miles across Eastern Nevada. Starting at the intersection of Overland Road and White Pine County Road 19, I rode past the Egan Canyon's Pony Express Station and then down Egan Canyon's. The climb up to the pony express station peaked at an 11% grade. Riding down the canyon on Google Earth was very cool. From there, I went southeast on White Pine County Road 18 to Schellbourne on Highway 93.

The trip log for Virtually Biking Across America is here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Monday, July 09, 2012

2012 Italy - Day 18 - To Sacramento

A very long travel day home…

Up at 5:00 a.m., we caught a 5:30 hotel shuttle to the airport. We had an uneventful hour flight on Lufthansa from Milan to Frankfurt. I was surprised at both the Linate and Frankfort airports that they used buses to take us back and forth to the planes. At each airport, we loaded on to the plane with stairs pushed up to the front and back of the planes.

We had a long scheduled four hour lay-over at Frankfurt. For the second time in four days, we got a little sideways again. The layout of the Frankfurt Airport is a mess. We spent a couple of hours wandering around trying to find somewhere to sit down and eat. There were too many voices trying to decide which way to go and what to do. Given how much we have traveled, these struggles surprised me.

Eventually, we boarded an eight and a half hour US Airways flight from Frankfurt to Philadelphia. Although we left about 45 minutes late, we got there a couple of minutes early.

Getting off the plane in Philly, we walked into one of the biggest messes I have ever seen. There must have been 1,000 people in the passport control lines. It took over an hour to work our way through the line. With only an hour and 55 minutes between flights, we were starting to cut it close.

Once through passport control, we grabbed our luggage, breezed through customs and then rechecked our luggage. Sharon was very concerned about the weight of one or two of the bags. Lufthansa didn't appear to weigh the bags when we checked them in Linate. They bags were checked through to Sacramento. Given that the bags were already checked to Sacramento, we did not have to recheck them in Philly; we just handed them to a porter to load on a conveyor belt. I am sure that Sharon's bag was probably 5 to 10 pounds overweight...

We had a long hike to the gate for the flight to Sacramento. They started boarding about 5 minutes after we got there.

Again the flight took off about 45 minutes late, but we landed in Sacramento only about 15 minutes behind schedule. Given how long we have been gone, I had a little trouble finding the car. I had remember how I parked it, but not which floor. [note to self: write it down!] By the time, we got home it was about 10:30 p.m. This is 6:30 a.m. Tuesday in Italian time. We had been up and moving for over 25 1/2 hours.

It was a great trip. I hope to do two more posts in the next week. First, my top ten things from the trip. Second, I am going to put together a list of random observations.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

2012 Italy - Day 17 - to Milan

The kids slept very late. Sharon and I had breakfast in the hotel. I took off early on my own, while Sharon packed up the room. My plan for the morning was to tour the Galleria dell’Accademia. This is billed as the greatest collection of Venetian Renaissance paintings. It is a fairly small museum. I found the paintings interesting due to their use of color. The paintings seem brighter than similar Renaissance painting in other places. They used a lot of brighter reds, blues and greens.

Heading back to the hotel, we got everyone organized and went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. It includes a very good selection of 20th century art. Sharon and I had visited the museum when we were there 16 years ago and found it a nice change of pace. I read Peggy’s biography a number of years ago. I particularly enjoyed the Jackson Pollacks and Pablo Picassos. I have read biographies of both of these painters.

Sharon and I always talk about having a glass of soft wine at a stand up bar when we were Venice for our honeymoon. We made a quick stop at a place that might have been the same place on the way back to the hotel…

Back at the hotel, we finished packing the room. We took a water taxi from the hotel to the train station. Just like sixteen years ago when we tried to leave Florence, we found that there was a train strike going on. Unlike our honeymoon, this strike didn't impact us. The regional trains were being cancelled, but the high speed train that we booked left on time.

We took a train three hours nonstop from Venice to Milan. There is some beautiful countryside in Northern Italy, including lots of vineyards during the first half of the trip. Sitting on the train looking through the reservations, we realized that we had booked a room at the wrong airport. While international flights fly from an airport about 30 miles outside of Milan, Europe flights fly out of Linate which is about 5 miles from the downtown.

Scrambling, we made reservations for the Crowne Plaza near the right airport. By the time we found a taxi, got to the hotel and got checked in, it was after 4 p.m.

We had been talking about going into downtown Milan for dinner. At this point in the trip, we were starting to get a little travel weary and less aggressive. Based on a recommendation from the hotel staff, we walked to find a local restaurant that specialized in Milanese food. Unfortunately, it was closed. We ended up walking about a mile to a place called Ai Du Orsi (Two Bears). The food was fine, but we probably should have just stayed at the hotel for hamburgers (the original plan).

With a long travel day planned for tomorrow, we crashed early.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

2012 Italy - Day 16 - Venice

Venice is one of the most unique places in the world. Sharon booked a spectacular second floor room with a balcony overviewing the Grand Canal: our best hotel room of the trip. It was amazing waking up in the morning and standing on the balcony watching the boat traffic. All I needed was a real cup of coffee.

Letting the kids sleep later, we had breakfast in the hotel. The breakfast was second only to the hotel in Sorrento.

After yesterday’s drama, Sharon and I thought that a guided tour would be the best way to start the day. I wandered down to the front desk to see if I could book anything. Unfortunately, the tour that we had our eyes on was already booked.

As a result, we set off on our own. We started with the Doge’s Palace. The Doge’s Palace housed the government of the Venetian Empire. For almost four centuries (1150-1550), it was the most powerful place in Europe.

We got audio tours. In addition to the Palace, the tour included the Bridge of Sighs and the prison. I particularly liked the Titian fresco of St. Christopher hidden over one of the staircases. The Hall of the Grand Council is also amazing.

Afterwards, Jack and I went to St. Mark’s Basilica, while Sharon and Morgan shopped. This is Sharon’s third trip to Venice and she felt like she had seen enough of St. Mark’s already.

Jack and I brought a ticket to the Loggia, the terrace overlooking St. Mark’s Square. We wandered around the front of the Basilica and then through San Marco Museum housed upstairs.

St. Mark’s is a Byzantine Church largely decorated with loot from the Crusades. I had forgotten that it is a very dark church. Jack and I wandered the inside, including paying an additional fee to walk behind the altar and see the Golden Altarpiece (Pala d’Oro). It is probably my least favorite church that we toured on the trip.

Catching up with Sharon and Morgan, we had a light lunch. We had sandwiches at a bar on the way back to the hotel.

The plan for the afternoon was to go out to Murano. This island is known for glass blowing. We got a boat ride from the dock at the hotel out to the island. In a thirty minute demonstration, they made a vase and a glass horse. Afterwards, Sharon and I wandered through their store and bought a few items. They gave Jack the glass horse to take home.

The trip back on the company boat was interesting. Dropping one of the employees off at Ledo (a different island) before heading to St. Mark’s Square, we crossed paths with two cruise ships leaving port.

I was frankly surprised at the number of people roaming Venice during the course of the day. Oddly, the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica were not that crowded. It seemed like the majority of the tourist were just milling around rather than visiting the museums and churches.

Getting cleaned up, we had a drink in the bar of the hotel. The staff at the glass factory had recommended a restaurant, but we weren’t able to get a reservation there. Sharon ended up making a reservation at one of the restaurants recommended in the guide book: La Colomba.

We had a little bit of a struggle to find it; I finally had to ask a shopper owner for directions. It was a little bit of an odd experience. The place was empty. There was only one other couple in the restaurant. Nevertheless, the food was very good. I had seafood risotto and a mixed seafood grill. While expensive, the meal was cheaper and the food was better than the dinner at the hotel in Sorrento.

After a couple of long days, we wandered back to our hotel and crashed before 11 p.m.

Friday, July 06, 2012

2012 Italy - Day 15 - To Venice

Friday was a four train day... Occasionally, we will plan a day during a trip that seems like a bad idea when we are faced with the reality of it. There was one particular day in our trip to France that I always use as the yardstick. Today's experience was different, but in some ways more difficult.

We got up at 4:00 a.m. We finished packing the room, dragged the luggage down three flights of stairs trying not to wake everyone in the place and pulled the 200 pounds of stuff about 1/4 mile to the train station.

The regional train was scheduled to arrive at 5:11 a.m. There was only one problem; we didn't have any tickets. I had walked down during dinner the previous night to buy some tickets, but the station was already closed. It was still closed at 5 a.m. in the morning. The only other passenger on the platform--a woman with a backpack from Colorado--said that she heard that they were not checking tickets.

We boarded the train when it arrived and rode the short 10 minutes to La Spezia. No one came to ask for tickets... I got us to jump on an earlier train to Parma. This was a two hour regional train. From there, we caught a one hour regional train to Bologna. Finally, we jumped on an hour plus train from Bologna to Venice.

Although Morgan was skepitcal that we were not going to make all of the connections, everything came off relatively smoothly. The biggest problem was trying to figure out what to do with the 200 pounds of luggage on the train to Venice. It was packed and I ended up stacking the luggage between cars.

When we got to Venice about 12:30 p.m., we took a water taxi from the front of the train station to the hotel. We are spending the next two nights at the Palazzo Sant'Angelo. This will be our nicest hotel of the trip. It is on the Grand Canal with view of the Rialto Bridge.

They had the rooms ready for us about 15 minutes after we arrived. The hotel sent us to a nice restaurant for lunch. Although I had been feeling pretty strong, I faded after some wine at lunch. I was literally falling asleep.

After lunch, we wandered towards St. Marks Square, around to the Rialto Bridge and then back to the hotel. Given that we had been up since 4:00 a.m., everyone crashed for a bit.

Sharon had made a reservation for a gondola to pick us up for the hotel at 7:30 p.m. Trying to get organized, there was a general meltdown. We had been on the road for two weeks and had a long day. Morgan and Jack reached a point where they were tired of being around each other. Neither has had this much experience dealing with each other in seven or eight years.

We eventually got everyone in the gondola. I enjoyed the gondola ride a great deal. It is a very, very unique experience.

Afterwards, Morgan crashed in the room. Sharon, Jack and I had a late dinner along the Grand Canal right next to the Rialto Bridge. Like usual, it was almost midnight by the time we got back to the room and got to bed. It was a long day.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

2012 Italy - Day 14 - Cinque Terre

The plan for the day was to hike the coast and explore the other three towns in Cinque Terre.

The hotel had a skimpy breakfast. Additionally, the staff at the hotel was not the most helpful. Morgan was convinced that the older woman at the front desk understands English pretty well, but pretends that she doesn't. While I had got a 7 day internet day for the wireless, the older woman kept giving Morgan 1 hour passes and it was making her a little crazy.

After breakfast, we walked to the train station, got Morgan a hiking pass and took the train to the Corniglia, the next town. It was a 382 step climb from the train station up into the hilltop town. Corniglia is the only one of the five towns that is not on the water.

We hiked the trail from Corniglia to Vernazza. It is a beautiful 2.5 plus mile hike along the coast with some great vistas. It took us about one hour and 45 minutes.

Once we got to Vernazza, we had lunch at Ristorante Belforte. The restaurant was located in a tower at the end of the town overlooking the harbor. The food was great. We had a mixed seafood appetizer again and I had some pasta with pesto.

After lunch, we caught the train from Vernazza to Monterosso. The last town of the five has the best beaches. We rented a couple of beach chairs and umbrellas and spent a couple of hours swimming in the Mediterranean Sea and reading our books. Lying on the beach is something that we never do. From the water, you could see the other four towns south along the coast.

At one point, I wandered into town and bought tickets for the ferry. We caught the 5:50 pm ferry back to Manarola. It was a gorgeous view of the coast from the water. The coast in Cinque Terre is very different than the Amalfi Coast; Cinque Terre looks more like the California coast. While Sharon and the kids took a short nap, I sat on the balcony worked on the trip notes with a glass of wine. It was a cool view of the town.

We finished the day with dinner close to our hotel in Manarola. I need to figure out the name of the restaurant. While the food was not quite as good as the previous three meals, it was still good. I had swordfish.

With a very, very early day planned for Friday, we got everyone to bed as early as possible.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

2012 Italy - Day 13 - To Cinque Terre - Manarola

Another travel day...

We actually slept fairly late and had a light breakfast in the hotel. Packing up the room, we got a taxi to the main train station in Florence. This is one of the two days that we did not pre-purchase train tickets. Originally, I had pushed the idea of stopping in Pisa and checking out the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This deep into the trip my aggressiveness had faded and I punted on the idea. Instead, we got a direct train from Florence to La Spezia. Although it passed through Pisa, it didn't stop.

We got to La Spezia by a little after noon. At this point, we made a small tactical error. Instead of the taking the regional train to Manarola, we hopped in a taxi. The taxi ride was about 20 minutes, but the taxi couldn't enter the town. It had to drop us about 1/2 mile above the town. We had to drag 200 pounds of luggage to the hotel. Luckily, it was all downhill. We finally got to the hotel. We are spending the next two nights at the Hotel Marina Piccola.

After lugging the luggage up three flights of narrow stairs, we had lunch in the hotel's restaurant. The food was very good.

There is a seven mile hiking trail that stretches between the five towns in Cinque Terre. We are staying in the second of the five towns. After a leisure lunch, Sharon and I left the kids crashed in the room and hiked a short distance towards Corniglia and back. Unfortunately, most of the section between Manarola and Corniglia is closed due to landslides. There was a great view of Manarola from the trail!

Heading back to the room, Sharon and I picked up Jack headed the other way on the trail. The section between Manarola and Riomaggiore is known as Via Dell'Amore. After buying two day hiking passes, we hiked to Riomaggiore, explored the town a little bit and then headed back. There was a bar on the trail close to Manarola and we stopped for a couple of cold drinks. The bar was perched on the edge of the narrow trail with a 100 plus foot drop to the water. Have I said recently how much I don't like heights?

We also discovered that the train station is pretty close to the hotel. It would have been much easier to get the luggage to the hotel from the train station, rather than taking a taxi...

After getting cleaned up, we had a great meal at Trattoria dal Billy. The restaurant is perched high on the hill overlooking the town and the small harbor. We had a great seafood appetizer that included six or seven plates of different seafood. I had a seafood pasta and all of us shared a sea bass. The food was very good, probably the best that we have had on the trip so far. The pasta is great and the seafood is extremely fresh.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

2012 Italy - Day 12 - Florence

The day in Florence was probably one of the most ambitious of the trip.

Based on Holly's recommendation, Sharon had purchased Florence Cards. It took us about 20 minutes to get them on Monday, but the cards were well worth the effort and the expense. The cards allowed us to enter the museums in the reservations line. It probably saved us more than 1 1/2 hours of waiting in lines over the course of the day.

Up early, we had a quick bite at the hotel. From there, we headed to the Galleria dell'Accademia. This small gallery contains a number of Michelanglo's works, including the David. I have to agree with Sharon that the David is the most amazing work of art that I have either seen. It has to be seen in person to be believed...

From there, we went to the Uffizi. This is a large gallery that claims to contain the finest selection of Italian art in the world. In addition to The Birth of Venus by Botticelli and Michelanglo's only surviving easel painting, I found three Caravaggios: Bacchus; Sacrifice of Isaac and Medusa. It took us about two hours to get through the Uffizi.

After leaving those two museums, Morgan summed up the experience in her tweet that read:

morgan heringer (@morganheringer)
7/3/12 12:28
saw the david and the birth of venus, dont really have any reason left to live, bye

We made one more quick stop before lunch at the Bargello Museum. This is the major sculpture museum of Florence. In particular, Sharon wanted to see Donatello's David.

We had a nice lunch on the Piazza della Signoria at the Cirus Cafe. Sharon and I both had interesting salads. After lunch, Sharon and Morgan wandered off to do some shopping, while Jack and I went to look for soccer jerseys.

Everyone met back at the hotel room. I went out for a walk about to the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. It contains an interesting piece by Tommaso Masaccio--The Trinity--that Sharon and I had seen on our previous trip. Walking back I scoped out the location of the restaurant where we had made reservations.

Back at the room, Jack wanted to the visit the Boboli Gardens. We went across the Ponte Vecchio and into the gardens. The highest points in the garden have some great views of Florence. We wandered through the gardens, including walking through a porcelain museum before it was time to get back to the room.

After getting cleaned up, we had a quick drink at the hotel and then headed to dinner. We took Jack and Morgan to Il Latini. Sharon and I had a memorable dinner there on our honeymoon in 1996 and wanted to go back. We had a great meal. It is a family style restaurant. For the main course, the waiter brought a patter that contained all of the different meats that they were serving that night. It was noisy and loud and a great experience. Although we had the hotel make a reservation, Jack and I pushed our way to the front of the line and got seated fairly quickly.

We finished the night wandering back along the Arno River. It was a beautiful evening with a full moon!

Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week - The Cat In the Hat Knows a Lot About That!

The complete list of Starbucks iTunes picks of the week is here!
Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week - 07/03/12 - The Cat In the Hat Knows a Lot About That!

Whale Music

Code Expiration: September 25, 2012

Starbucks Pick of the Week - The Tallest Man on Earth - To Just Grow Away

The complete list of Starbucks iTunes picks of the week is here!
Starbucks Pick of the Week - The Tallest Man on Earth - To Just Grow Away

Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, who performs as the Tallest Man in the World, brings a Dylanesque flair to "To Just Grow Away," a section from his There's No Leaving Now Album.

Code Expiration: September 25, 2012

Monday, July 02, 2012

2012 Italy - Day 11 - To Florence

Another travel day.

Sleeping a little later, we had breakfast in the hotel and packed up up the room. We will be spending the next two nights in Florence at the Hermitage Hotel.

We got a cab to the train station and bought a ticket to Florence. On two of the five legs by train, we didn't buy the tickets ahead of time. It was an easy train ride, albeit with a number of stops, to Florence. Rick Steves actually recommends taking the bus?!?

After checking into the hotel about 1:30, we took off to explore the city. The hotel is literally on top of the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge with the shops across the River Arno. The hotel sent us to a nice restaurant on the other side of the bridge for lunch. At some point, I will figure out the name when I dig through the credit card receipts. The place was full of Italians and I would definitely recommend it.

After checking the doors on the Baptistry, we did audio tours of the the Duomo. Afterwards, we picked up our Florence Cards from the Tourist Information near the Baptistry. More on the Florence Card tomorrow. From there, we toured the Duomo Museum. Sharon wanted to go to a nearby scruplture museum, but it was already closed.

Instead, Sharon, Jack and Morgan decided to got to the top of the Duomo. I am not fond of heights so I found a nice spot in the shade to have a cold drink. They really enjoyed the experience. Morgan actually said that it was one of the best things that they had done so far on the trip. During the climb, they got a chance to get very close to the frescos on the dome.

Afterwards we headed back to the room to cool down and get cleaned up for dinner. We had dinner at the Frescobaldi Ristorante and Wine Bar. Sharon and Jack split steak, while I had risotto and pork loin.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

2012 Italy - Day 10 - Siena - Palio!

Sharon, Jack and I went to the 8 am Mass at the Siena Cathedral. I was surprised how few people there were, probably less than 50.

Afterwards we walked back towards the Campo. We got there in time to see the morning trial of the Palio. We were not in the middle of the piazza, but along the fence at the biggest entrance just to the left of the starting line. It gave us an interesting perspective as they set up the starting line and lined up the horses. I got a couple of nice pictures.

The plan for the morning was to do laundry. When I travel, I always carry enough clothes so that I don't have to do laundry. Nevertheless, Morgan and I ended up with most of the laundry duty. Waiting for almost 45 minutes to get in [just like a Disneyland ride], Sharon and Jack spent the time going up the city tower on the Piazza del Campo. They got some great pictures.

We took the clothes back to the room and then had a quick bite to eat near the Duomo. While Sharon and Morgan shopped, Jack and I went back and took multi-media tours of the Baptistery and Crypt. Although it took us longer with the multi-media guides, I recommend both of these sites for at least a quick walk through.

From the there, Jack and I took off for the Church of San Domenico. This huge brick church has the thumb and head of St. Catherine on display. The head is displayed in a nun's habit! Afterwards, Jack and I walked around the stadium looking for a team store before heading back to the hotel.

The plan for the evening was to go back to the Piazza del Campo and watch the evening Palio trials from inside the square. Part of the reason that they run the trials is to make sure that the horses are fit for the actual race. Tonight was a good example of the kind of problems that can happen. After parading the honor guard and the horses out, they had huge problems getting the horses lined up at the rope. There are no starting gates, they just line the horses up side by side at the starting rope. Tonight one or two of the horses would not stay put. After a false start, they worked to get everyone lined up again. This went on for at least 10 minutes and the crowd was getting restless. As Morgan said, "these horses are crazy." They finally sent the horses off although they were still in a little disarray. Interestingly, the riders were all riding bareback.

Based partly on a recommendation by Tim Murphy (it was also one of the top restaurants in the guide book), we left the kids at the hotel to have room service. Jack wanted to watch the Germany versus Italy European Cup Final. Sharon and I went to dinner at Antica Osteria Da Divo. It was one of the best meals of the trip. I had rissoto and rack of lamb, while Sharon had eggplant ravioli and rabbit. When we got back to the room, both of the kids were asleep.