Archives for the month of: August, 2015

The tortilla is many things. At its very simplest it is a meal all by itself. Sometimes it is eaten rolled up with only a pinch of salt inside. Or maybe just a smear of salsa.

Mothers sometimes wad a fresh warm tortilla up into a sticky ball and let their teething baby gnaw on it much like American mom’s give there babies Cheerios to stuff into their small drooling little mouths.

Plate lunches here are approached in three distinct ways: A diner rolls up a tortilla and eats it as scoops up his meal of beans, rice and pork chunks smothered in salsa with a spoon. Another diner might attack the same meal by individually scooping all three plated components into tortillas to build tacos. While another diner might forgo the spoon and tear a tortilla into strips and use the pieces to scoop up food.

Tortillas go far back into the mists of time. Constructed of mashed corn, the most ancient of indigenous domesticated food, it has been eaten as a primary food on this isthmus forever. A meal here always includes a warm basket of tortillas.

A handmade corn tortilla is a thing of substance. Here in Mexico the tortilla hasn’t been dumbed down for a modern populace. Tortillas still represent the past as truly being capable as a standalone meal. The poorest of campesinos still go off to the field each morning carrying a lunch of no more than a sack of tortillas, a few chilies, and maybe a few cooked beans left over from the night before.

Sometimes greater than the diameter of a coffee saucer (and sometimes almost as thick), grilled on flat iron over a gas burner, they are sometimes crispy on the outside but always chewy.

I was in my favorite fonda a couple of weeks ago for lunch and Lillia and Katy told me a rather scandalous tale about a man who came in and ate a full plate of food, 11 tortillas, 2 big bowls of fresh salsa, washed down by two cokes and then got indignant when Katy asked him for 5 pesos more over the set menu price.

Lillia and I now have a standing joke so whenever she asks me how many tortillas I want – I usually say one, maybe two – and she’ll quip and say,’once’ (own-say, eleven). And we’ll both laugh like it’s the funniest joke ever.


I’ve got three books going at the moment:

1. ‘What Just Happened; A Chronicle from the Information Frontier’

2. ‘Paul Allen: Idea Man’

3. ‘The Proverbs’ – the 21st book of the Bible.

The first and third books are my morning books while Paul Allen’s memoirs is my afternoon book.

This is mostly about convenience and not necessarily about preference. Paul Allen’s book is in epub format which I read on my 7” Nexus and the other two books are in mobi format which I read on an ancient Kindle.

Would I recommend Paul Allen’s memoirs? Probably not. I found some of his early history interesting but as a memoir it read more like a publicity statement coming from someone who is dying and wants to be well remembered.

I did enjoy reading about the early days of Microsoft and being reminded of so many things that I had forgotten from the earliest days of personal computing. I worked in the office on an IBM mini-computer as early as 1979 but we as a family didn’t get our first home computer I think until 1982. And I believe it was a 286.

Anyway, one thing I learned from reading Allen’s memoirs was that Microsoft’s first real product was a BASIC compiler for an early personal computer startup company in Albuquerque called Altair that introduced a kit based on the Intel 8008 8-bit CPU.

A fun fact is that Paul and Bill actually started Microsoft in Albuquerque and not in Seattle simply because that was where their first real customer was located. And I never really thought so much about the earliest days of personal computing but in the beginning – that is 1975 – Altair really had no competition.

And unsurprisingly, their early computer called the Altair 8800 didn’t do much. The machine booted from a short bootstrap that Paul Allen had developed and the machine loaded the BASIC compiler. That was it.

In 1979 Microsoft’s BASIC interpreter became the first microprocessor software product to surpass a million dollars in sales. Intel around that same time introduced the first 16-bit CPU, the 8086 (preceded by the 4004 – 8008 – 8080, then the 8086 – 8088).

Microsoft at that time hadn’t yet written their soon to be ubiquitous MS-DOS. In fact they bought their first OS realizing that with all of the then different emerging microprocessor architectures that they’d be spending too many man-hours porting their high level language compilers (FORTRAN. COBOL, Pascal, and all the rest) to each and every one of them.

In the early days of the micro-computer there were no real applications. Hence the high level language compilers. In those early days companies wrote their own application specific programs.

VisiCalc was one of the first actual standalone mass-produced programs and it ran on an Apple II. There were also a few apps like WordMaster (later evolved into WordStar) about that time and Microsoft’s excuse for not going into the applications market then was that it was too fragmented.

So in 1980, shortly after Microsoft got approached by IBM for their secret PC business Paul Allen and Bill Gates realized that they needed an OS solution that Microsoft would own outright and in the doing sidestepped Digital Research’s CP/M. But that was DR’s fault.

Anyway, Microsoft came to IBM’s attention because of how their BASIC, at half-million copies sold, was dominating the 8-bit computing world. And with the new 16-bit 8086 just hitting the market, IBM asked Microsoft if they could provide a 16-bit OS.

The only reason Big Blue did this was because they had a 4 year development cycle for mainframes so for them it only made sense to outsource their nascent PC software development in order to bring their new PC quicker to market. IBM, if you remember at that time was all about mainframes and thought that personal computers would only have a limited appeal but they still were wise enough to play.

It is ironic that Microsoft first tried to pass IBM onto Digital Research for the OS but DR in one of the most famous tech fumbles in history, dropped the proverbial ball. IBM ended up saying they couldn’t work with DR so Microsoft ended up approaching the owner of DR, Gary Kildell because he had earlier promised a CP/M-86 which was to have been delivered earlier that year. But DR lacked the typical start-up’s urgency so Microsoft had to scramble and look elsewhere.

It is also ironic that the solution that Microsoft ultimately went with was a company called Seattle Computer Products which had been shipping their version of the PC built on the Intel 8086 with an OS that they wrote in-house that they called QDOS for Quick and Dirty Operating System.

And it is further ironic that SCP perceived themselves as hardware makers and so their development of QDOS was just their way of moving iron out the door. And it is interesting to note that if DR had delivered a 16 bit version of CP/M in December ‘79/January ’80 then there would have been a good chance that the present PC world would still be CP/M and Microsoft wouldn’t have grown into the $90B/year company they are today.

And to add even more irony into the mix, IBM – usually a very IP savvy company – dropped the ball by agreeing to Microsoft‘s non-exclusive use of their software products so Microsoft was able to adapt their recently purchased QDOS into MS-DOS and sell it in turn to every PC manufacturing company in the world.

And while DR did eventually produce a 16-bit version of CR/M which ran such early programs as WordStar and dBase, the company couldn’t overcome the momentum achieved by Microsoft and eventually became just a footnote in the early annuals of computing history. Bill Gates and Paul Allen had learned early on with the sales of their BASIC compiler that in order to survive one had to completely dominate the respective market.

‘What Just Happened; A Chronicle from the Information Frontier’ is just that, a chronicle. A tale that attempts to piece together not just the history of computing machines but also attempts to address the breadth of information. And how information at its very root is physical and deeply embedded in systems and entities that most of us never stop to think about.

Personally, the book really began to get interesting for me when I got to the chapter on entropy. Entropy has been one of those elusive concepts that I’ve always managed to never fully understand, although I have tried. I think my first introduction to entropy was in taking Thermodynamics my sophomore year.

To the physicist, entropy is about measuring the uncertainty in a physical system. But what does that really mean? And loosely speaking, to an information theorist it is about measuring the uncertainty in a message. And again, what does that really mean?

To speak about entropy – substituting the less precise symbols of words for mathematical symbols – involves talking about systems with respect to their order (or disorder). But order is subjective. Initially order was idealized by the pioneers of thermodynamics as they considered the case of a closed system (a box) of gas. The highly agitated particles of gas moved, some faster than others, heat was created (or lost) as these particles collided. As individual atoms couldn’t be parsed out of their collective cloud for study, probability entered the picture and statistical mechanics, a new science was born.

Entropy was also initially bandied about by these same pioneers as the unavailability of energy. Hmm.

The First law of Thermodynamics: The energy of the universe is constant.
The Second law of Thermodynamics: The entropy of the universe always increases.

James Clerk Maxwell, one the greatest scientists of all time, got into the fray and postulated by using a thought experiment where a tiny being standing over a hole watching the movement of molecules with the gas box could tell whether they were fast or slow and could then likewise separate them using a dividing membrane within the box hence reducing entropy.

The idea of reducing entropy isn’t so much impossible (like the though experiment) but more improbable; likened by Maxwell as dumping a tumblerful of water into the ocean and then expecting to retrieve the same tumblerful back again. So for a box of gas to become unmixed (fast vs. slow) isn’t physically impossible, it is just improbable to the extreme. Are you confused now?

So this tiny creature in the thought experiment – later dubbed Maxwell’s demon – replaces, as the book says, ‘chance with reason’. And ‘it uses information to reduce entropy’.

Okay, now we are getting closer to one of the main points that the author is trying to make and that is how information is intrinsically tied to well, everything. And Maxwell’s demon serves to make the link that information is physical. ‘That the demon performs a conversion between information and energy one particle at a time.’

Claude Shannon, quite possibly the greatest scientist that most people have never heard of, wrote the definitive book on information theory. He was born (1916) in my little old hometown in Northern Michigan and I never heard of the guy until I started studying electrical engineering in Texas. And even there and even then he wasn’t taught per se, although he should have been. I find that unbelievable as he has pretty much been credited with inventing information theory.

Everyone since his seminal publication, ‘A Mathematical Theory of Communication’ builds from his ideas. Everything from how many bits will fit in a pipe to quantifying noise as a probability in a communication channel to the introduction of sampling theory all started with Shannon.

After the rather lengthy and historical prologue leading up to and including how Shannon fit entropy into his communication theory the author makes a rather clear summation statement, “We all behave like Maxwell’s demon. Organisms organize. In everyday experience lies the reason sober physicists across two centuries kept this cartoon fantasy alive. We sort the mail, build sandcastles, solve jigsaw puzzles, rearrange chess pieces, collect stamps, alphabetize books, create symmetry, separate wheat from chaff, compose sonnets and sonatas, and put our rooms in order, and to all this requires no great energy as long as we apply intelligence. We propagate structure (not just we humans but we who are alive). We disturb the tendency towards equilibrium.”

So in conclusion, what really is entropy and why does the understanding of it matter so much to me?

First, I was always troubled by the seemingly discordant semantics: order/disorder, equilibrium, high/low entropy. And I remembered from something I read years ago in another book on information theory that in the case of a system that reached the state of equilibrium that it was in a state of low information, which was bad. If every particle has the same temperature value and all the velocities were constant then there was nothing from an informational standpoint to learn.

Okay. But the universe is trending – according to the second law of thermodynamics – towards a state of maximum entropy, which is also bad. So I could never reconcile these two entropic states of bad. I mean the state of equilibrium always seemed systemically to be a good thing to me. The system was quiescent. That must be orderly, right? Wrong.

A system in equilibrium is actually highly entropic. Meaning (and this is the part that confused me) that it is highly disordered.

How can a closed system containing equally spaced particles, all at the same temperature be considered highly disordered? Comparing that to the universe that is trending from order to disorder. I always perceived that as chaos. That really screwed with my head until I thought about Maxwell’s demon.

We humans, like Maxwell’s demon, lessen entropy by adding order. And the universe, trending towards disorder would be better said that it was trending towards equilibrium. So to put all of this to rest: high entropy = equilibrium = death.

And a last comment. The universe – while it might be spreading out from the center – is also slowly cooling, losing energy, and hence, approaching a state of equilibrium. Hence, dying.

Okay. Okay. Okay. Entropy. Got it? Pssst – The dead don’t speak…

So finally getting to a synopsis of book #3 – I found something rather interesting the other day that I thought might be fitting to capture in a post before I totally forget about it. These posts of mine are mostly a ‘Dear Diary’ kind of thing where I write only about the stuff on a day to day basis that I am interested in.
And I’ve been rereading The Proverbs. And a few pages in I began to see a trend. Over and over there appeared these admonishments for man to seek knowledge and wisdom. I found it interesting how God places such a high value on those commodities where wisdom was constantly being extolled as more precious than gold or jewels.

And knowledge. To seek after learning. Interesting. Is it possible that those attributes are responsible to why the adherents to the Christian faith haven’t been stuck in the 14th century all these years arguing over the minutiae of dietary laws and worship practices?

I for one am still actively involved in learning. My short temper has always conspired to keep wisdom at an impossible distance but knowledge and the act of learning have always been blessedly within my grasp.

To kill people.

A person can’t even watch the news anymore without seeing yet another incident of someone murdering someone else with a gun.

This is so stupid because: a. There are no take-backs with guns. Bullets are so irretrievable. You shoot someone in the right place – one time – and it’s a done deal. And b., it is just giving the government one more excuse to take everyone’s guns away.

So I implore all you would be killers out there. Use heavy crystal ashtrays, decorative rocks, solid brass lampstands, tomahawks, a hockey stick, your colleague’s commemorative trophy, your mother’s favorite frying pan – you get the idea – just lay off the damn guns.

You’re giving guns a bad name.

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

PS – And always remember. Bludgeoning is a much more personal way to say I hate you.

Writers. I consider there to be two major classes of writers and then two sub-classes of writers.

First, there is the writer who can only write from an experiential perspective. Meaning he has to have experienced all/part of something to be able to write about it. Witness Hemingway. Jack Kerouac. Ian Fleming. John Steinbeck.

In the other major class of writers there are those who wrote chiefly out of their imagination. Witness Borges. Saul Bellow. Italo Calvino.

Sub-classes. There are the classicists. Writers with truly literary ambitions. Writers who play with form. Writers who create form; where the story itself is just the backdrop or better said, the story itself serves to exist only to act as an artifact of the writer’s living, breathing act of creation. Steinbeck fits here too. Who is not to say that ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is both experiential and yet classic American literature?

Lastly, there is the sub-class of story-tellers who write to capture their vision of the world. And maybe the story is told from the perspective of how they see themselves in their world. Maybe that world is idyllic. Maybe through the telling the writer chooses to be the hero. Witness Ian Fleming wanting to be James Bond. Or John D. McDonald wanting to be Travis McGee.

I say all this thinking about my last post where I ended up writing a postscript about Trevanian and Brett Easton Ellis. Trevanian’s writing convinces me that he created the Jonathan Hemlock character in order to have a literary vehicle from which to posit his cosmology.
Where Brett Easton Ellis is much more the artiste. Like how he used American Psycho to put an incredibly twisted face on American consumerism. And in doing be that terrible child of letters, to show the world that he could take any setting, in this case a Harvard MBA and the swank upper east side, and do with it as he pleased. A story composed of brutally dismembered bodies told with savage humor, sophistication, and yes, elegance.
I once read an interview with B.E. Ellis in which he told the interviewer that he had more or less accomplished all he had set out to do with the novel. Jaded? Egotistical? Perhaps. But he is one hell of a writer. I’ve read everything he has written at least twice. And for me, he writes better dialogue than anyone out there.

Last. A few days ago I just finished rereading Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. I didn’t want to reread it because I knew how it ended. And the story itself is the kind of story that I’ve come to mostly avoid in my old age. I can’t suffer my way anymore through stories about suffering. I had to put down ‘Crime and Punishment’ a few months ago because by page 100 I just wanted to gouge my eyes out with a mechanical pencil.

I also hate stories about losers, drunks, gamblers, and drug addicts. I just can’t do those stories anymore. Maybe because I miraculously survived the ’60s, I can’t read anymore about those who didn’t.
I know how all those stories end and I find them too impossibly selfish not to mention narrow of scope. To gen those stories, however someone might try, is a waste; as there is no such thing for me anymore as a beautiful loser. Self-destruction is so ’70s.

But I needed to read some Hemingway just to be reminded of the power and elegance of brevity. And I remembered that ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ was short on dialogue (something that Hemingway never came close to mastering) so that was that.

And I was glad that I read it. I had forgotten the details. Yes, the old man fought the great billfish for something like an astounding two days and two nights. The fish dies. The sharks eat the captured dead fish. And the old man limps into port with the only the fish’s carcass lashed to the boat. But that’s only the back story.

The real story is the old man had nothing, he was dirt poor. He was old. He had gone 85 days without catching a fish. But he doesn’t ever complain, he just continues to go out fishing every day.
He reminds himself several times after he finally hooked the big one that he was a man and as great as the fish was and as much as he loved the strength and bravery of the fish, one of them was going to have to die.

It is a story that ends sad, but doesn’t. The old man loses his greatest fish to the sharks, as well as his harpoon, his knife and one of his oars. But never his manhood or his dignity. And he fought both the big fish and the sharks with everything he had. Yet never complained once.

Let that story be a lesson for us all.

I just now came down out of my rooftop hammock where I was alternating between rereading some vintage ’70s Heinlein and thinking about the nature of my last post – Was it complete? Was it honest? Did it really capture what I wanted to say? – when a parallel thought percolated into my consciousness.

“Leave a little.” That was one of the many personal little philosophies from a favorite literary character of mine, Jonathon Hemlock, written in two wonderful novels, also from the ’70s: The Loo Sanction and The Eiger Sanction, both by Trevanian.

Hemlock somewhere in one of those novels said something to the effect of “[always] Leave a little. Leave a party before it became boring. Leave the table before you became satiated. Set your wineglass aside before the wine loses its flavor (and drinking becomes habitual).”

That notion of ‘leave a little’ has stuck with me all these years. Trevanian purposely constructed the character to be discordant with the rapacious gluttony (not to mention stupidity) of modern culture. Hemlock – like the poison he was named for – was bitter, unforgiving, and uncompromising.

It is ironic that while ‘leave a little’ might resonate with today’s vegan, eco-minded, earth first, low-carbon footprint crowd; the rest of him would certainly be vilified.

Hemlock in the conventional sense was not a very friendly guy. He didn’t suffer posers and eschewed everyone who didn’t have some redeemable quality which pretty much excluded just about everyone. He went so far as to say, “Nice is how you pay your way into the party if you don’t have the guts to be tough or the brains to be brilliant.” An attitude which pretty much leaves most everyone of us out in the cold.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Trevanian at some point hadn’t read Balthazar Gracian’s 17th century treatise on wisdom where in one passage he said,”The sage should be self-sufficient. He that was all in all to himself carried all within him when he carried himself. If a universal friend can represent to us Rome and the rest of the world, let a man be his own universal friend then he is in a position to live alone. Whom could such a man want if there is no clearer intellect or finer taste than his own? He would then depend upon himself alone, which is the highest happiness. He that can live alone resembles the brute beast in nothing.”

PS – The only other literary character that comes to mind that was created in the same purposeful and deliberately disagreeable fashion would be Brett Easton Ellis’s character, Patrick Bateman. Okay, okay. In 1955 there was J.P. Donleavy’s ‘The Ginger Man’ with his exquisitely created scoundrel, Sebastian Dangerfield but Ellis took Bateman’s character and went way (way) further when he made him into the ‘American Psycho’; a spoiled narcissistic investment banker who preyed on homeless people and women. The novel of the same name is unquestionably the finest piece of black comedy published in the 20th century. (Ouch. Did I just dare step on someone’s painted toenails?)

My friend Mike, who lives in Singapore, writes a wonderful blog that includes a very delightful ‘Eat Drink Men Women’ section that covers those certain pleasures of the flesh.

I’ve been reading Mike’s blog for something like 5 years now and I have to say he is one of the only food writers who truly gets it right. Meaning there is an honesty to his writing about food.

Food. Writing about food. TV shows about food. Media and popular culture’s take on food have all combined to push food into a very misunderstood and silly place. Namely, the more lavish and the more expensive a dish is somehow equates to better food. And food that justifiably carries a higher covet quotient.

But that is just plain stupid.

I love good food. And good food writing. And good food shows. M.F.K. Fisher anyone? And I like old episodes of Bourdain. Why? They both understand food. They demonstrate that understanding by mostly sticking to the bistros, family meals, and street food. For them it is all about locally produced, quality ingredients prepared right.

I exchanged an email with Mike this morning about the celebrity chef type establishments. He did a post yesterday that included his thoughts on whole high-end cookery scene and rather scornfully denounced the hype and consumer excitement around Noma’s plan to move to Sydney, Australia.

I just got back from Las Vegas and said some less than kind words in a subsequent post about their over the top and over priced restaurants.

It is interesting that Mike and I are having this conversation as just a few days before I left for Las Vegas I scribbled a note to myself that said,”The average person does not need (nor will ever understand) ancient Chinese Imperial Cuisine.” Meaning in the larger sense all those subtle flavor nuances, the intricacies of preparation, and the dozens upon dozens of individually prepared dishes. Food with extremely high production values.

What triggered that note to myself was how appalled I felt after watching a video of some chef in Minneapolis make some over produced piece of culinary nonsense that involved assembly with a pair of tweezers.

I don’t care how many critics applaud that particular chef’s innovation, I still think it’s a fool’s mission.

And if you buy into that brand of nouveau cuisine and worse, spend your hard earned cash for it then you are a sucker and someone who clearly does not understand what true gastronomy is all about.

Side note: I was recently reading a comment to the NY Time’s article/expose that blasted Amazon’s harsh work environment and that person’s decidedly defensive comment included the words ‘purposeful Darwinism’.

That made me smile. Thinking about Las Vegas in that context made me see Vegas’s entire ecosystem as one giant sticky fly-trap.

Anyway, so what is true gastronomy? Small production values, big food values. Food that tastes of what it is. Examples: chicken tasting of chicken with just a perfume of bay leaf. Fresh fish seasoned with only salt and lime. A fresh salad of greens, onion, tomato with only a splash of olive oil and a dash of vinegar. Good noodles with pork, ginger and soy.

Simple, seasonal, fresh, quality ingredients. Anything else is wasteful, indulgent hype.

PS – I do like the way the French prepare stock.That preparation is pretty lengthy and to some way of thinking marginally elaborate. Ahh. But it’s not wasteful. Preparing a stock (beef, chicken, fish, or pork) is all about reclaiming that rich flavor from the bones.

My bag designer friend, Ericka told me this afternoon that she was asked to join the municipal government as Director of Business Development. She has been asked to breathe some new life into the declining huarache, shoe, and local leatherworking industries.

She is ideally suited for this position. She is young, energetic, possesses an engineering degree, and has recently returned from 3 years in Europe where she studied design and leathermaking.

The government – at the state and local levels – changes hands next month, and she was asked last week to join the new administration. How the government found her exactly I don’t yet know, but for now I am beside myself with joy and happiness because for my purposes I now have someone who is in total accord with my thoughts.

And what are my thoughts? Well, I made a presentation to the outgoing municipality president last year in which I outlined my business plan to go after the unexploited lower end of the luxury goods market. He thought it was such a good idea that he got me invited to the state capital of Morelia to do the same presentation to the state Ministry of Economy.

Sadly that presentation fell on deaf ears.

Ericka has seen that presentation and she told me today that we are going to start it all over again. She agrees: that Mexico needs to leverage its 450 year old history of leathermaking, that we locally have a unique opportunity to compete in the luxury goods market (we just need to change people’s thinking), and also that the government – right up to the federal level – needs to be reminded that Mexico leather heritage is just as important economically as its other more famous exports like tequila, tacos, and mezcal.

PS – Coincidentally, I was walking up Victoria Street later this afternoon when I got pulled into the Plaza Restaurant by Juan Carlos who rather breathedly and excitedly invited me to his awards ceremony on September first. Huh?
He was having lunch with another guy I know, Felipe, a retired businessman from the DF, and while I declined lunch, I still sat and spoke with them for a few minutes.
I had always suspected that Juan Carlos was overstating his past importance until I saw the two framed photos he had with him today taken of him in the White House walking down the hallway with the then President of Mexico, the President of France, and Mikhail Gorbachev; the then President of Russia. He was off to the side and a few paces behind the presidents but it definitely was him. Wow.
So Juan Carlos invited me to be there when Enrique Peña Nieto – the current President of Mexico – bestows some medal upon him for serving many years as the [I guess] Minister of Culture.
I’ll see if Ericka wants to go. Maybe through introductions we can get our program jumpstarted. Surely Juan Carlos still knows people in the Ministry of Culture.

PPS – I suggested to Ericka that we needed to start a model factory incorporating modern quality control processes. That factory would be the local testbed for how quality could be introduced (and maintained). She readily agreed. I told her that I had the office/factory space and could the government supply any resources by the way of equipment? She said that she’d put me in front of some people next month and we’d start with that. But she certainly liked the idea of a testbed factory to be used as a model. As to quality, she smiled and said, “That’s what we engineers do.”

I am so happy I am smiling inside.

Let’s see – dry, scorched overpopulated Las Vegas or this?


Looking south off my 5th floor roofdeck

We here in the mountains of central Mexico are now 4-6 weeks into rainy season and the photo above shows the typical glorious mid-afternoon cloud buildup that precedes a wonderful but short-lived storm that sweeps across the valley from the southeast.

Short of the Caribbean I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s the long valley – much like the sea – that allows someone from a heightened vantage point to witness a storm’s evolution as it progresses across the broad expanse.

Some of these storms “gives me the shivers”, as Owen Meany would say. Standing on the roof watching from a distance as the clouds roil the driven rain as it blurs out the landscape as it passes makes me truly appreciate the enormity of nature.

“So, how was Vegas?,” as my friend Mike emailed me yesterday from Singapore.

In short – it was a convenient stopover that was all about the papers baby. I need to exit Mexico twice per year to renew my visa. And Las Vegas because it was a short nonstop flight.

And I went knowing that Las Vegas was not my kind of place. I am not a high-roller. Not a gambler. I did want a couple of good meals but think the whole celebrity chef restaurant thing is mostly a scam to part high-rollers from their dollars as well as to give gourmet wanabees something to brag about when they get back to their dreary little lives in places like Des Moines.

And I did eat a couple of good meals – well off the strip, places where the locals go – including a very satisfying Lebanese meal, Thai in the evening, and the following morning I enjoyed a good old fashioned American style breakfast in a diner that dates back to 1938.

Vegas as a town is a mystery to me. The people I understand. But a town of 2.1M people sitting out in the middle of a waterless wasteland consuming mega-amounts of energy and resources that it doesn’t produce just seems so wrong.

Bright, shining Vegas is proof that a pig can wear lipstick (but it’s still a pig).

Vegas has 5 kinds of people: The hustlers/lowlifes, out of town high-rollers, mom and pop’s seeking a thrill, wanting a taste of what they imagine the exciting high-life to be, twenty-something inexperienced know it all idiots who are there to party (like it’s 1999), and then all those ancillary working people who do all the 9-5 jobs.

So why did I go there again?

Apart from the quick nonstop flight (excluding the unexpected freak rainstorm and its corresponding delay on the return flight), it had the quick shopping stops I needed to replenish some diminishing stocks: a leatherworking store (for solid brass hardware and leather tools), Best Buy (for a UPS), and an Old Navy for a few more white/navy pocket-t shirts.

But Vegas to me was really just a freak show. And people there – those that aren’t the high-rollers – are fools, buying into the most deceptive (not to mention costly) delusion offered up. The entertainment of losing and spending money you don’t have.

And I think even the high-roller’s common sense is suspect. Although I reckon that the true high-roller goes to Vegas intending to blow large sums of money buying those expensive hidden temptations that are denied (because of cost) to everyone but themselves. But even that is a ultimately a fools game.

Ambrose Bierce, my favorite cynic, all around skeptic, and the bitterest of men, in his ‘Devil’s Dictionary’ said: “Debauchee, n. One who has so earnestly pursued pleasure that he has had the misfortune to over take it.”

PS – Thankfully that is a race I dropped out of many years ago…

The flight home was scheduled to depart at 2:45 pm and arrive in Guadalajara 3 hours later at 8:10 pm but a rainstorm in Las Vegas changed all that. We sat on the runway for 2 ½ hours watching the lightning and the rain pouring down before the tower called the plane back to the gate where we all deplaned for yet another hour. And that’s only the first part of the bad news.

But part 1 of the bad news was offset by part 1 of the good news and that is I got to sit next to a very bright and charming woman who made the time [almost] slip by. Her name is Julietta; she who possesses a face as pretty as her name.

And right off I learned that Julietta had just finished up vacationing in Las Vegas for 6 days with her one sister and youngest brother. And I learned she was a professional woman who worked in the passport office in the nearby state of Sinaloa.

Upon hearing that I lived in Michoacán she exclaimed, “It’s violent there!” I laughed and said, “You should talk. You live in Sinaloa.” I shook my head and waggled my finger at her. “You have some very bad men there.” To which she laughed, nodding in agreement. Sinaloa’s reputation in my opinion exceeds even that of Michoacan. Anyway, black humor…

She asked me when I got to Vegas and when I told her just yesterday, the conversation turned to how difficult the pursuance of a resident’s visa has been for me. She said that the simplest path would be for me to marry a Mexican woman. She said, “That’s a passport.” Oh, yeah.

Then she asked me if I had a girlfriend in Mexico. I briefly explained that the women that I had met hadn’t seen their way to fathom the benefits of the reciprocity of US citizenship. And I went on to say that a woman would have to be sufficiently young enough and with enough education to be able to leverage the benefits that would come with US citizenship. And passport. I could tell that I was speaking her language here.

I went on to explain my age, “But I am old. Fifty-nine.” She said after a moment more – scrutinizing my face – “You’re fine. You’re okay.”

I gave her one of my cards after she said that she had a couple of friends who might be interested in such an arrangement before going on to speak hypothetically that if she were to get remarried – she was a widow of 5 years – she would do so not for herself but for her 10 year old son.

Now she was speaking my language, as I have oft times been the persistent and chronic educational advisor to my own child.

I delighted in how savvy she was to unequivocally understand those opportunities that a US citizenship would bring to her son; both in educational and in career prospects. I shouldn’t leave out that Jullieta is an attorney as well as the daughter to a medical doctor so she grew up with those values.

She mildly shocked me when – still in the hypothetical mode mind you – she challenged me with, “So what is your offer?” I had to stop and think about that one. I finally was able to respond that I would help that certain hypothetical person’s son get started in the US, council him, aid in navigation, and in doing – help said same son pick a good university.

Now don’t get me wrong. Julietta wasn’t being some rude shark bitch in asking such a question. Rather she was merely being the truly responsible adult by not just seeing the endgame but also having that bold presence of mind to lead me in an unhesitant manner to a major consequence as she foresaw that particular eventuality.

Her question in all of its starkness reminded me of when my daughter came to me 8-9 years ago and asked if I was going to help pay for her university. “Well, yeah,” I said. And I knew that question was appropriate, but the abruptness – that future is here moment – was akin to getting a live hand grenade dropped in my lap.

Anyway, at some point she took a nap, and like the shivering sleepless wreck I was, wished I could have. She was stressed and tired from the travel delay and the seat between us was vacant so I pulled up armrest divider so that she could take advantage of that additional space. It wasn’t altogether altruistic as I certainly enjoyed the closer proximity to this specific attractive younger woman. And to end on this I must say that she was by far the nicest woman I’ve met thus far in Mexico. So I certainly hope to speak to her again. She has my contact info so if we do, it will be at her behest. (But honestly, isn’t that second step always the woman’s prerogative anyway?)

So the second part of the bad news is twofold: One, we – my cab driver buddy and I – would be driving in Mexico late at night. Bad. Very bad.

And two, we would be driving through hell’s gate at 2:30 in the morning. Bad. Super bad. Hell’s gate (my words) is the state border between Jalisco and Michoacán; a place where literally a couple/few hundred people have been murdered since ’08.

Anyway, got home at 3 am. Dead tired. But not dead.

Yet bouncing down the roads, wasted from lack of sleep but getting closer to home – Mexico was a fog but still much less foreign than Vegas.

I just got the Windows 10 update for my old Lenovo S10e netbook and I have to say three things: first, the update was painless and second, it’s running very nicely on this old unit, and third, Windows 10 looks and feels a lot like Win 7.

My netbook has just the minimum required specs to run Windows 10 so I was more than just a little concerned. We’re talking about a 5 1/2 year old machine that was shipped running Windows XP Pro.

I was sweating it last April when I upgraded it to Windows 7 Pro – 32 bit, that was when Microsoft dropped support for XP; concerned then that it wouldn’t have the horsepower to support that more modern OS (but it did just fine). I mean the machine is so old it has the first-gen Intel Atom processor in it and just a scant 2 GB of RAM.

Anyway, all my old apps – I’ve only tested the critical ones so far – are running nicely and the Windows 10 interface has the familiar look and feel of Win 7 therefore I didn’t have to spend any time at all feeling my way through the user interface. It was operationally painless from the start.

Compare that to not so many months ago when I test drove one of the Windows 8/8.1 machines. I thought, “Has Microsoft lost their mind?” The UI felt so uncomfortably foreign that I could never have conceived of actually buying one of them.

Windows 10 is different. But in a good way.