News and Views

From my kids accomplishments, to my heretical perspective of the world

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A Viking Cruise

October 13th, 2017 · 4 Comments

We’ve done ocean cruises before, and even a couple of river cruises, but this is our first Viking river cruise. Here are come comments.

There are only 190 passengers on this ship, compared to 3000 – 5000 or more on the big ocean cruise ships. That makes a big difference, and depending on your taste you might prefer one or the other.

If you really enjoy the shows on the big cruise ships, then this might not be for you. There is a little entertainment every night, but it is not up to the level of the big cruises. There are talks, though, and they have been pretty good, explaining how the river locks work, or the history of Austria, etc.

Everyone eats dinner at the same time; there is seating for the full 190 people in the dining room. There are no assigned tables, and we’ve had dinner with different people each night. That can be good or bad. Most of the time we’ve enjoyed our dinner table companions, but we’ve met one or two who think everyone at the table wants to listen to only them, and the one-sided conversation can be tiring. But you learn to avoid those people for the next meal.

The food has been excellent, with usually a red meat dish, a fish dish and a vegetarian dish each night. There is usually something typical of the region we happen to be passing through, and a local dessert too. No complaints about the food.

The cabins seem to be a little smaller than ocean cruise cabins, or so we heard from the other guests. We decided to splurge, considering that we would be locked up together for 2 weeks, and we got a mini-suite. It has 2 rooms; a bedroom and a living room, and the bathroom is also larger. Some of the other guests have commented that two people can’t pass each other by the foot of the bed, so they sound really cramped. We justified the suite by noting that the October prices made the suite about as cheap as a veranda room would normally be in high season. We have really enjoyed the extra room and recommend it.


One thing that really stands out on this cruise is the age of the guests. I would guess that the average age is about 65, and the youngest guests might be as old as 50. There are certainly many guests in their mid-70s and I’m sure some in their 80s. That means that queues to load the bus, etc., move pretty slowly. Sometimes at dinner I feel I am with people my age, and sometimes I feel like I’m eating in my mother’s assisted living dining room. But everyone has been nice, even the conversation dominators, so it’s not bad. At least there are no kids running up and down the halls.

The included tours have been really good and that’s all we’ve done at most stops. The tour guides have been excellent. They all speak really good English and know their subject. The only downside is that most of the guests on the ship also settle for the included tours, and even though they break us up into 3 or 4 buses and groups, each with a guide, they are still really large groups. We all have listening devices so it’s easy to hear the guide, so it’s really not a problem. When we have taken an optional tour, at times there were only 15 or so guests, and that was more fun. But the included tours were pretty good anyway.

In summary, the main difference seems to be the size of the ship. I like seeing the same people every day and getting to know them by name. I am not too excited by the entertainment on the big ships, but Gisele misses it. And I don’t get as much exercise climbing one flight of stairs to go to dinner as I would on a big ship where it might be 6 or 8 floors. But all in all I think it’s a great experience and most of the guests we’ve talked to agree.

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Vienna and Melk

October 13th, 2017 · 2 Comments

After Budapest, the next stop was Vienna, Austria. Vienna is the capital and largest city in Austria, with about 1/4 of the country’s population.

We opted for the walking tour “Vienna Close Up” rather than the included bus tour. We rode the subway into central Vienna and then spent about 3 hours walking around with a guide. It was nice.

Here is the largest cathedral in Austria. Too ornate for my taste.

Here is a sign for the ballet that is playing right now in the main opera house.

This was part of a holocaust memorial. Look closely and you can see an old jewish man with a long beard, sprawled out scrubbing the floor. The barbed wire was added later because people passing by thought it was just a bench to sit on.

And here is Gisele sitting on our balcony watching the Austrian countryside pass by.

The next day (today) we visited Melk Abby, a very large abby, in fact a UNESCO World Heritage site. The abby has been around since about the year 1100, but the current building was constructed in the 1700s and renovated in the past few years.


Next stop: An excursion into Salzburg.

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October 8th, 2017 · 4 Comments

Ten hours from Phoenix to London on British Airways, then two and a half hours to Budapest. We arrived about 6:30 in the evening, but it was around 8:00 before we made it to the ship and settled into our room.

The next day we took a tour of the city, which is really two cities, Buda and Pest (pronounced “Pesht”) across the river from each other. Pest is flat and where most of the modern development is occurring, while Buda is very hilly and older.

Lots of history. Local history has it that the Hungarians went to Asia for a while, and then came back in 896 to resettle the area. They have a long history of being conquered, first by the Huns and the Mongols, then the Ottoman Empire, the Austrians, the Nazis and finally the Russians. The Russians were at first welcomed as liberators at the end of World War II when they drove the Nazis out, but they later turned out to be even worse.

But now they are free and independent.

The country reminds me of other European cities, lots of old memorials and cathedrals, mixed with modern western life of cars, apartments and smart phones. They are part of the European Union, but still use their own currency. Meeting a Hungarian on the street, I wouldn’t be able to tell him from a German or French until he started talking. Their language is quite unique, unrelated to any other known language. Historically it was believed to be closest to Finnish, but I hear that that link is now out of favor.


We left Budapest last evening about 5:30, travelled all night, and are still sailing north and west towards Vienna. I’m surprised that almost all the scenery is of trees lining the banks of the river. I had assumed that all of Europe was settled with farms and towns, but there are apparently a lot of forested areas left.

Here are a couple of pictures on the river, the blue green Danube.

Car on barge
Zooom in to see the car on the barge. Kind of like Donna towing a car behind her RV. And notice all the trees on the bank. It’s been like that most of the way.

The second of 65 locks we will pass through on this trip.

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August 21st, 2017 · 5 Comments

Gisele and I traveled to Idaho where we met Dale and Donna. We rented a cabin and they camped nearby in their Minnie-Winnies.

Although we were both already inside the path of totality, we were a little far from the center line, so on Monday morning we drove a few miles south. This increased the duration of totality from less than a minute at our cabin to over 2 minutes.

The day before we had scouted out a couple of potential viewing places, though we were worried that they would already be full by the time we got there this morning. Surprisingly our first choice was completely empty when we arrived. Another family joined us a little later, but there was plenty of room.

At 10:11 am I saw the first bit of sun disappear. This was not a new experience. I had seen partial eclipses before, but knowing what was coming it was a lot more interesting than in the past.

Sitting out in the open facing into the sun we were all getting hot. The sun was bright and the sky clear. But slowly as the moon covered more and more of the sun we got cooler and cooler until we all got up and put on jackets. The sky and surroundings gradually grew darker and darker as the moon slid further over the sun.

And then there was just a thin crescent remaining… And then even that winked out and suddenly the corona leaped into view, a glowing uneven halo surrounding a very black disk. The corona extended further out than I have seen in photos — almost twice the diameter of the sun in one direction.

All around us the world became dark, like a half-hour after sunset, though off in the distance all around we could still see blue sky. It was like a 360 degree sunset.

I could hear people exclaiming, excitedly talking to each other, pointing out things to look at. Almost straight overhead was a bright “star”, which I’m almost sure was Mercury. That was the only other celestial object we saw. Despite these other phenomena, my focus kept returning to that black, black disk surrounded by the beautiful glowing corona.

Much too soon, I began to notice a couple of beads of light appear on the trailing edge of the moon, and in a few seconds the edge of the sun broke free (“Diamond ring”).

In an exactly symmetrical fashion of the process that led up to totality, the sun grew into a thin crescent and slowly emerged from behind the moon. We stayed and watched in a post-climactic elation until just the tiniest bit of the sun remained eclipsed before we finally left.

I still keep flashing back to the experience of standing there under that black disk with the glowing halo around it. I didn’t burn my retina, but that image is burned in my mind. I’m sure I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. If I have a a chance to see another (2024?) I’ll try to go and experience this again.

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August 6th, 2017 · 6 Comments

I experimented with a new car rental company on our trip to San Francisco last week.

Silvercar rents only Audi A4s, and the only color is (of course!) silver. This is a nicer car than you will usually get at a rental company. You can pay more for a “luxury” car, but you won’t be sure what you will get. With Silvercar you always know what you are getting, though not always which year, a point belabored below.

Audi A4

As we arrived in San Francisco and walked past the conventional car rental desks, there were 20+ people in line at each company, clearly in for an hour wait. We hopped on the shuttle (along with one other person) and got driven right to our car.

Once you are a registered user, you just get off the shuttle and walk up to your car. The phone app reads the barcode in the window and doors unlock and the car is yours. As a first time users, I had to show my credit card and driver’s license. The “concierge” then showed me all around the car, made sure my phone was linked to both Bluetooth and WiFi, and sent us on our way (yes, the car includes free LTE-based WiFi).

Most rental companies charge $8-10/gallon to refill, so unless you are running really late you better find a gas station before you get back. Silvercar charges a nominal $5 refilling fee, and fills at a local station, charging you just the local price. I still refilled before returning, but I didn’t feel like they had a gun to my head!

The car was really nice, drove and handled well and was fun to drive. Though it had 50,000 miles on it, it still felt almost new. My only complaint was that it didn’t have any features I consider should be standard on a luxury car — back-up camera, parking sensors, blind spot detection and adaptive cruise control. I sent a complaint to Silvercar after I returned, and they told me I must have got a 2015 year model, and that as they upgrade their stock the newer cars all have these modern safety and convenience features. But I don’t think there is any way to ensure you will get one of the newer cars when you make a reservation. Driving and parallel parking in San Francisco, I really missed the BU camera and parking sensors. I guess I’m spoiled!

Rental is a little higher than Hertz or Budget Rentals, but as a first time user I got a $50 discount for the 4 days, so the total come in around $69/day. High for Phoenix, but not out of line for San Francisco. Worth it if I could be assured of getting a newer car, maybe not if not.

In the future? If I can be sure to get a newer car and can get a reasonable price, I’ll probably rent one again.

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Medicare for All!

July 1st, 2017 · 2 Comments

All… er… Both. Both of us. Gisele and me both!

A little over a year ago I went on Medicare and wrote a post about it. It’s now Gisele’s turn.

For the past 6 months we have been paying nearly $900 per month for her coverage, which has a deductible of $6000. (On the plus, the maximum out-of-pocket was $7150 which we easily met with her back surgery this year. I guess that’s a plus…)

Starting today she is on a much, much better insurance plan, costing just $200 a month, with small deductibles and a $2200 cap on out-of-pocket (based on the particular Medigap plan she has).

The following table compares her previous coverage with her current plan. It’s even more significant an improvement when you realize that negotiated costs under Medicare are lower than under most plans, and after meeting the deductibles she only pays 20% of the Medicare approved price. It’s not likely that she will hit the maximum out of pocket in any given year (though this year’s surgery would probably have been pretty close).

Cigna Medicare
Premium $880 $200*
Deductible $6000 $1316 (Part A)
$183 (Part B)
Maximum $7150 $2200**

* Including basic Medicare, Medigap F-HD, and a Part D prescription drug plan
** Based on the Medigap Plan F-High Deductible we both have

This is especially interesting considering all that’s going on in Congress right now with healthcare. I understand that Medicare is a big piece of the national budget, and if it were extended to everyone it would be a much larger piece. But it seems that something could and should be done.

Anyway, I feel like we are set. As long as the government keeps its hands off our Medicare!

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Happy Loving Day!

June 13th, 2017 · 3 Comments

Actually, I’m a day late — “Loving Day” was yesterday, June 12. It was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the case of “Loving vs. Virginia” that ruled inter-racial marriages legal in all states.

If Gisele and I had come back to Arizona from Taiwan before 1962, our marriage would have been declared illegal. It was that recent that Arizona finally abolished its miscegenation law, but several other states (all southern) still had such laws in place until the Supreme Court’s decision on June 12, 1967.

In Arizona before 1962*, marriage between Whites and anyone even partially Black or Asian was illegal. In fact, the law even prohibited anyone of mixed race from marrying anyone else at all.

A mixed race (Black-White) couple, Richard and Mildred Loving “had married in Washington, D.C. to evade Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law (the Racial Integrity Act). Having returned to Virginia, they were arrested in their bedroom for living together as an interracial couple.“*

The Lovings went to court, but a Virginia judge denied their case, stating, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay, and red, and placed them on separate continents, and but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend the races to mix.“*

(Sounds a lot like the arguments against same-sex marriage, doesn’t it?)

The Lovings took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where they finally won.

According to Pew Research, in 2015 17% of marriages were between different races, vs. 3% in 1967. Young people are much more accepting than their elders, with 88% of young white people accepting, vs only 36% of white seniors.

Interracial Marriage Acceptance by Age

The incidence of interracial marriage varies a lot by race and sex, as seen in the following graphic, also from Pew:

which matches my experience: it’s more common to see a black man and white woman vs. the other way around, and likewise a white man with an Asian woman.

I think most people, especially young people, see this as an ongoing trend towards openness and acceptance, but there are still large pockets of mostly older people who see it as a slide into immorality and depravity. All I know is that I can’t imagine being in a better marriage than my own, interracial or otherwise, and there is nothing depraved about our love for each other.


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Shoulder Surgery

May 28th, 2017 · 1 Comment

In the interest of using this as a diary, I need to document the recent left shoulder surgery, and I’ll provide an update.

Two complete rotator cuff tears and bone impingement, and something else I can’t remember right now. Surgery done Feb 7.

It is now 4 months (16 weeks), and I am feeling pretty much back to normal, thanks partially to the excellent Physical Therapy treatments by Mark. I see the doctor again next Thursday. With the right shoulder 6 years ago I was able to go back to basketball at 16 weeks, so I’m hopeful that my long injured-reserve time is almost over. I really miss it.

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Android Pay

May 21st, 2017 · 6 Comments

I recently signed up for Android Pay, and have been using it the past couple of weeks. It’s very convenient.

When you pay, you just tap your phone on the card reader. Within a couple of seconds you are done, and the amount is charged to your credit card.

It’s accepted at many places, including Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and most fast food places, with more being added all the time.

Using the new credit cards, with the embedded chip, is slower than it used to be. Android Pay is faster than the old credit cards, and a lot faster than using an embedded chip card.

My only concern is that my phone could be hacked and the card number stolen. But probably no more likely than that my wallet could be stolen, with all my credit cards.

There’s an Apple version for those of you on the other side of the fence, and Samsung has their own Samsung Pay, though that’s only available on a few of their phones. Samsung phones can also use Android Pay.

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March 25th, 2017 · 2 Comments

Gisele recently had surgery for Spondylolisthesis, “the forward or anterior displacement of one vertebra over another”. In her case when she bent forward or back the vertebra would slide forward or backwards over the one below. There was also degeneration of the disks, but simple disk replacement wouldn’t keep her vertebrae in line, so surgery was the only option.

Her symptoms were: Increasing numbness in her feet when she walked more than a few steps, a developing weakness in her legs and feet, and pain in her hips and back. She was on track for painful confinement to a wheelchair within a few short years.

For surgery she went to the Barrow Neurological Institute, which Wikipedia states, “is the world’s largest dedicated neurosurgical center and a leader in neurosurgical training, research, and patient care.”

The surgeon, Dr. Steve Chang, fused the L4-L5 and L5-S1 vertebrae together, installing screws and rods from both the front and back, on two separate days. Fusion can often be done just from the front, but in her case the spine was so unstable that the vertebrae needed to be supported both front and back.

The surgery was completely successful, with one caveat: Her vertebrae are so soft that until he x-rayed he wasn’t sure the screws were going in correctly. He described it “like screwing into butter”, hopefully an exaggeration, but still indicating advanced osteoporosis. Her recent bone scans had only shown osteopenia, so this is a disturbing finding. She will be seeing an endocrinologist specializing in osteoporosis to try to improve her bone density.

She is home now, 15 days later, and slowly recovering. The best news is that all her symptoms are gone — numbness (except for a little residual amount in one foot — probably from permanent nerve damage), and the pain and weakness. Pain from the surgery is still significant but improving all the time.

She has to wear her “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” back brace for about 3 months whenever she is out of bed. Since she can’t put it on by herself that means that hubby has to get up in the night with her each time she has to use the bathroom. Small price to pay to ensure proper healing!

I was going to put a picture of her in her brace, but she didn’t think that was a good idea. Here is what it looks like worn by a model.

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