Business Travel

So I find myself doing business travel. I’m prone to overthinking things and I have just finished overthinking hotels, so here are my opinions & thoughts.

A hotel is the basics (a bed, not far from an office) and a bunch of amenities, many of which don’t matter because you’re on business travel.

Here are things I care about:

- Beauty. I’m having to travel away from home and family, pleasant surroundings isn’t too much to ask for.
- Stars as a proxy for not having bed bugs, not having surly staff, having working plumbing. 3 starts is suitable for business (i.e. few hassle risks), 4 stars is sometimes outside of my per diem, 5 stars is usually outside my per diem. 1 & 2 stars is for tourists willing to take risks and 5 stars start to include a bunch of amenities that are for the super rich on leisure travel, e.g. concierge service.
- Wifi. Is it free and not crippled and not to painful to connect to?
- Power at the desk. There should be enough plugs and USB power is a nice touch.
- Are they close to the subway and the office? This isn’t hard in NYC. Everything is close to a subway.
- Are they close to vegan restaurants? Oddly, if I’m too close to the office, I’m too far from vegan restaurants, in part because it’s just a bunch of over priced steak houses in the high rent district where office buildings are.
- Are they union? I prefer going to union hotels. In NYC, you can check, but it appears that almost all hotels are union.
- Are they green? It seems like Green hotels tend to be big chains. They have the time and money to get certified, but few hotel directories filter by “green” or what green happens to mean- it could be a certification, a LEED building or trivial towel policies, which are often not followed by the staff anyhow.
- Does my company like them? My company doesn’t like all hotels. They like certain large chains and certain boutique hotels. I don’t know why, but I suspect it has to do with deposit and refunds.
- Do I get points? I happen to get points via Hilton Honors, but my company only likes one Hilton property. I find this mystifying.
- What does the desk look like? Weirdly many hotels have “purse stand” desks that would be too small to actually sit and write code or compose emails.
- Can I get video content from my laptop to the TV? No one advertises what sort of HDMI plugs they take or if it is accessible from a laptop (or is it like 6 feet up a wall)
- Do they have a decent iPod doc? I don’t like TV when I’m working, but I don’t always like dead silence.
- Does the AC keep the room cold at night? This sort of gets in the way of being green, but when you travel, you want every trick in the book to stay healthy and not get so worn out that your mind if fuzzy.
- Gym? Really, I just want to be able to 15 minutes of fixed weight exercises without a TV in the background. Having to track down a neighborhood gym & get a day pass is too burdensome.
- Receipts. Gimmie a proper receipt and email me one and make it easy to get one from the website. Don’t make me have to call you.
- Huge initial charges that they reduce to the actual. This scares the hell out of me every time they do it. I want to see the negotiated price at all times, not some stupid “charge a lot and adjust later in-case they don’t have enough on their credit card or if they use the fridge snacks”
- A fridge for restaurant leftovers. I’ve had to put my leftovers over the air conditioner because the fridge was full of overpriced crap that my company’s policy will not reimburse.
- Pool. I’m torn on this one because I’m not sure I’d have time to actually use it, but it would work instead of a Gym visit.

Amenities that are not amenities in NYC.
- Coffee. There is better coffee a block away. I can’t fault them for offering something tho, because for everyone else, something is better than nothing.
- Restaurant. Why should I eat at a restaurant with one expensive vegan option when there are six all vegan restaurants in walking distance?
- Breakfast. Why would I want to try to cobble together a vegan breakfast from a buffet when there is a better one a block away?
- Room service. Why would I want overpriced food with few or unimpressive vegan options when there is
- Minifridge stuff. Drives me up the wall to see this, it’s like asking someone if they want to be mugged in return for booze or candy.
- Extra room in a suite. Not sure what I’d do with that room unless it was a kitchenette.

Amenities I wish (more) Hotels offered
- An empty mini fridge.
- Effortless way(s) to connect laptop to the TV
- Wifi authentication that lasts for the duration of your stay.
- websites and apps, although what features are killer features I’m not sure yet.
- something else, but I’m not sure what. I’m just pretty sure no one is bringing their dog with them on a business trip (yes, that is one of the filters on my search website, which I imagine has a 100% business clientele)
- some way to know if you are looking out at a wall, park or street or city scape.
- effortless early check in (I hate having to wait til 3) or a locked place to leave my luggage until 3.

Things that hotels think I care about as a business traveller:
- PC/Fax/Photocopier center. I wouldn’t want to be bother with trying to get this reimbursed if it wasn’t automatically included.
- Conference room. Well, I guess it matters if I was a *conference* organizer.
- Meeting rooms. I guess if the sign up was low friction. I’ve never needed one.

Anyhow, what comes to mind for business travel is a bedroom with an office with the sort of office things you might get at a WeWork, a company that provides office space to freelancers.

Guam Notes

When I travel, I travel for the food. There are two vegan restaurants on the island, both are 7th Day Adventists establishments. It’s good American homestyle cooking. Each one has a special of the day and once a week, the special of the day is Chamorro food. Prices are about 1.5 to 2.5 times more expensive that the similar meal on land, i.e. $15 to $25 depending on if you just get a base meal and drink or if you get a meal, sides, dessert and the works. If you want to avoid the frustration of finding the one sad vegan item at the few conventional restaurants with a vegan item, then just go to Simply Foods and Heavenly Veggies every day– it’s something different everyday anyhow.

You can get soy milk, vegan butter at conventional grocery stores. Simply Foods has a small health-food grocery shop, but it is pricy. Everything else is a nutritional field of landmines, the food groups are salty sacks, sugary deserts and meat products.

The Guam Premiere Outlet mall has a Mongolian Barbecue that will let you pick veggies, tofu and sauce to be fried up. We tried to find a vegan friendly Vietnamese restaurant because the Mrs had fond memories of spring rolls wrapped in lettuce leaves and rice, sort of like a “vietnamese taco”, but alas, it was frustrating finding restaurant staff that understood the question and weren’t outright hostile to a vegetarian request.

For cell phone service, we got a sim card for the unlocked phone we had. Two other phones in our travel group didn’t work with the sim card because they were locked. It works out to $20 a week, which is not bad. If I use my regular sim card, it would be international phone rate all the time. Surprisingly, because I use T-mobile which uses wifi when connected to wifi, I didn’t get charged extra for wifi calls.

What’s up with all the massage shops? There are more massage shops on Guam that seems to be economically viable. Legit massage is for people with back-pain, athletes and rich people who want a quiet meditative experience while on vacation to contrast with their chaotic work life in the office. But there is a massage shop in every shopping center, many offering 24 hour service. Clearly these are massage/sex shops, a bit of googling confirms it. The Mrs won’t let me do further investigative journalism. As far as I can tell it is officially illegal but tolerated, I suspect because it is mostly non-local sex workers. It is too bad the local government doesn’t go ahead and legalize it. As long as it is illegal, there is serious risk of labor law abuse.

Hotels. The luxury hotels on Guam are architectural and engineering marvels. They are 20+ stories have to stand up to typhoon winds, earthquakes and depending on location, flooding. We are staying with family for 1/2 a month, but will be going to the Westin for a night. We have kids, so we had to get our room by talking to a human. We finally got a single king size bed for the four of us (two adults, a toddler and a baby), for $250. If you try to reserve online, it says a room for the same costs $850 and demands that the toddler and baby get their own queen beds, which is just stupid.

Climate and exercise. I can last about 15 minutes outside doing virtually sedentary activities before I start to sweat profusely. I try to do calisthenics when I can in the house and walk in the morning. Some neighborhoods are entirely walkable with sidewalks. Some neighborhoods are entirely unwalkable because of the lack of sidewalks and extremely heavy car traffic.

Activities with Kids. You can do the beach, but in short bursts, because of the extreme heat and intense sun. If you go to the beach you might want so called “tabi” shoes, which allow you to walk in the water without fear of cutting your feet on the sharp coral, shells and rocks. There are three malls, so you can do mall walking, but it isn’t a very authentic or novel experience. There is a kids’ train you can ride on at Micronesia Mall.

Playgrounds exist, but in full sun, you don’t see any kids. In other neighborhoods, there isn’t even a playground. There is an indoor play area we haven’t tried yet “Playport” and one of the malls has a play area for the five-or-so and under kids.

Buying Authentic Stuff. Guam’s non-government, non-military economy is entirely tourism service oriented, so not much appears to be produced on the island. This doesn’t stop shops from slapping the letters g-u-a-m on all sorts of things from German wine to Wisconsin beer to Hawaiian macadamia nuts to African coffee. Some of the most authentic stuff is the deserts, pickles, breads, tortillas that you buy in the convenience stores.

I happened to need a haircut and there is a haircut shop at every shopping plaza. I got a military cut and the son got a haircut despite him freaking out.

City-vs-Jungle. On one half of the island, it is all low density urban. One half is essentially jungle, where you see wild pigs darting about and if you wait long enough monitor lizards, brown tree snakes, cane toads and other invasive monsters.

Coffee. Authentic coffee is canned coffee at the convenience store. There are Starbucks-like coffee stores, but few people know how to pull an espresso shot, invariably you get a barely tamped puck and overdrawn by a factor of two or three. I’m hoping I can find the competent espresso shop so I can say, “so and so” has the best coffee on the island. I’m planning to get some whole bean Kona coffee before I head home.

One good thing to get is Boba tea, a popular Taiwanese drink. There are several authentic Boba tea shops where you can get a combinatorial explosion of different variations on tea. Many of them are powdered flavors, but if you are clever you can get brewed tea, non-powdered soy milk, tapioca. I liked the red-bean Boba milk tea which they said was non-dairy and it very well might be.



Using FourSquare to (softly) Advocate for V*gan Restaurants

So I’m kind of bummed out by typical vegan advocacy on Twitter & Facebook:

Shop of horrors memes
Logical argument memes
Preaching to the choir
Pointless arguments with people unlikely to go veg

Foursquare is a venue where you can do “bellweather” advocacy. A bellweather is a sheep that leads the flock around, but if you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t notice and maybe the sheep don’t notice who the bellweather is either.

Foursquare has two parts, Foursquare and Swarm.  Foursquare is a restaurant directory like Yelp. I use it constantly when I travel or when I’m looking for new restaurants at home.

Swarm is a way to keep track of your real life friends checking in at restaurants– it creates more opportunities for serendipity. Unlike facebook, odds are your real life friends don’t use Swarm. But if they do, why not, at least it shows your friends you haven’t fallen off the wagen with respect to vegetarianism.

Follow Vegetarians
You can find them by looking for tips on vegetarians restaurants.

If you follow vegetarians, their endorsements shows up on all the search results when you search for a restaurant. If people follow you back, they will see all your endorsements of your favorite vegetarian restaurants.

Rate Vegetarian Restaurants
Non-vegetarians will go to a vegetarian restaurant if it has a good reputation.

Leave Vegetarian Tips
If you know how to goose a given restaurant into being vegetarian friendly, leave the tip. Most restaurateurs (or front line staff) are unaware of what vegetarianism is or what the point is. Learning the magical words necessary to goose them into compliance is gold. As vegetarians, we’ve all heard about the vegan who aggressively tells the waitress and chef how to cook vegan items that aren’t on the menu. But if you are them, what the magic word is to get them to leave off the f*ning cheese is a life saver. Does it work better to tell them you have a dairy allergy?

Mark your account as vegetarian.
It’s a checkbox in the profile. It seems to be used to improve recommendations & all restaurant profiles start to show “x out of y vegetarians like this place”

Nonauthoritative discussion of how to do discussion with Robert’s Rules

A key principle in Roberts Rules is that people can’t just talk when they feel like it.

1) At ease (meeting on hold, talk amongst yourselves)– this is for when Chair is consulting, looking up rules. Also for meeting breaks.
2) Talking with out pending motion (at chair’s sufferance or until point of order at which point a motion *must be made* or stop talking)
3) Move to read a document (“right to read”), member asks permission of assembly to read something
4) Officer and committee reports (opportunity to just talk, usually on regular agenda & favors officers, committees)
5) Guest reports  (opportunity for just anyone to talk like officers do.)
6) Small board rules (no limits on debate, may interrupt, other things)
7) Committee rules. (no limits on debate) May talk without a motion pending, in fact, if the whole point of a committee is to come up with a motion no motion will be pending. Also, if the point of a committee is to merely report, then again, no motion would be pending.
8) (Quasi) Committee of the whole (whole assembly/board acts as a committee temporarily). Ends as soon as a motion is adopted/ready to make a motion. (Quasi means chair stays the same)
9) Informal consideration (similar to small board rules, except still requires a motion to be under consideration?) Wikipedia says same as usual except no limit on # of times someone can speak to a topic. This is not as lax as the name sounds.
10) “Informal consultation to assist the framing of a motion” When the member rises to speak and promises to make a motion, but has some preliminaries to say.
11) Programs. E.g. watching a movie, listening to music, and I suppose, other non-deliberative entertainments.
12) Explanation of a pending, undebatable motion. Brief statement of fact about why we gotta adjourn. Otherwise, it’d be against the rules to say, “The game starts in 10, we gotta adjourn”
13) Hearings. This is something that happens in committees. The committee calls people before it to talk. People can talk without a motion pending. Only committee members have a right to talk.
14) Recess. Temporary break in meeting. Talking between the meeting not governed by any particular parliamentary procedure. Same for just before and after the meeting.
15) Adjournment. Discussion between meetings, which can be subject to condo & HOA rules.


Effective Twitter for the Polyglot Wanna-be

Here are some principles:

Create one account per language. I mute people who tweet in too many languages. Don’t abuse your audience’s attention. Now reread this principle and translate it into all the languages you know. This is one top item that ruins the twitter experience when it comes to foreign languages. Exceptions would be Swedish/English or Tagalog/English where bilingualism is the norm. But Swedish/Chinese is still stupid.

Be a poseur. Google translate exists, use it. It’s better to cheat and use google translate than to never interact with people on twitter. When you interact with people, your brain takes communication seriously. This is powerful stuff. If Google translate gets you to read and interact more, go for it. Your reading skills will improve. Your motivation will improve. Don’t hold an aesthetic disapproval of google translate hold you back.

Use google translate effectively. Fix all the errors you can find in the google translate before you post it. If you don’t get “this feels right,” then try different English until it looks right. Simplify.  If you know zero of your target language, this might not work– I haven’t tried it. It works best if you know just enough of the language to have a feel for what looks right.

Follow a lot of people. Follow 500 to 1000 accounts. Turn off the retweets or a stream that large is unmanageable. Anyone tweeting 50,000 tweets over a small number of years needs to be followed & muted. They are good for interaction but will flood your feed.

Mute! Mute! Mute! If they tweet-flood: mute ‘em. If they tweet in 5 languages, mute ‘em. If they know language X (which you care about), but only tweet in Y, mute ‘em. They won’t know they have been muted, but will still be able to interact with you should they ever follow you. Think about it, the Esperantist that tweets only (or 98%) in Chinese: they want to be muted, don’t consider it rude. If you don’t want to be muted, see principle #1, one language per account.

Schedule conversation starters. Don’t schedule low quality content like proverbs, inspirational quotes and other crap. Instead tweet questions, jokes and so on. When I tweet on my professional account, there are lots of organic reasons that I want to write something. For language this or that, unless I’m traveling, I got nothing driving my chatter, so I need something else to keep things moving forward.

Don’t cross post from facebook. Invariably this leads to the content getting cut in half or worse, it’s a bare link, the lowest quality tweet possible.

Hold back on the meta. It is tedious to listen to people talk about how well they speak language X, or how many they know, or so on. Do talk about linguistic musings, funny observations, etc.  Don’t tweet too much about twitter.

Dancing around the real advice

Eat more fiber? Only plants have fiber.
Eat less saturated fat? There are only a handful of exotic plants that have palatable saturated fats, palm, palm kernel and coconut. Otherwise, it’s only in animal products.
Eat less cholesterol? Only animal products have cholesterol. The body can regulate it’s own cholesterol.
Too much iron? Only animal products have heme iron which the body can’t regulate.
Hormonal imbalances? Only animal products have hormones similar enough to our own to disrupt our endocrine system.
Eat more fruits and vegetables? At only 100 calories per lb, these are displacing many animal products, but they sure aren’t made of animals.

I think science is just picking up on all the qualities of animal products, but the researchers, either addicted to meat and gluttons for more are unable to bring themselves to a conclusion that the optimal amount of animal products in the diet is zero.

Get the most Amtrak freebies via Amtrak Guest Rewards (AGR)

Strategy #1. Just get that price down.

Use AmSnagAmSnag finds all the cheap tickets, often late at night.
Joint NARP. 10% discount when you can’t find a better one, AGR points on sign up.
Joint Student Advantage. 10%-20% Amtrack discounts and other “junk” discounts
Sales. The sales are relentless, all over the place and hard to exploit.
Don’t travel so far. If you’re in DC, go to Philly instead of NYC.
Travel at night. If you can bear it.

Strategy #2. Rack up points, get free rides.

Join a signup “cabal” - Find a current member who will “refer” you to AGR. Hope someone pays the favor forward to you someday. Here is one that favors people who hang out at a particular Amtrak Forum
Ride the Train. You earn points based on dollars spent. So the incentive is to buy expensive tickets, not just tickets with high price to mileage ratios.
Points Transfers/Buy points. Get points in one program, and transfer them to AGR.
Amtrack Points cards. UPDATE. Bank of America offers 2 flavors of Credit Cards linked to AGR. One gets you a companion ticket for $80 a year plus points for spending, the other is just points for spending.  I may have to write a whole article on this to even touch on all the relevant knowledge points.
Join NARP. You get AGR points related to how much you donate.
Cashback Cards - Straight cash might be worth more than transferred points.
Points for Hotels, Car Rental and other services. These feel like junk discounts. Except the electricity sign up. That looks like a good deal if you were planning to sign up for wind energy anyhow.

Breville BES920XL, Part 4.

This is my third review, but now with a better grinder and no pressurized portafilter:

  1. – Shopping
  2. – Just Arrived
  3. – Down the learning curve

And now I have a new grinder. With the new grinder, coffee is ground fine enough that it visibly clumps. With the non-pressurized basket, it reaches 9 bars of pressure, right in the correct range. Espresso shots now look like espresso shots, about the right volume and similarity to mouse tails. I’m going to have to learn how dial in a shot, if I drink the espresso straight, it’s a bit sour at the moment.

Mornings, I’ve been making Vegan Lattes. Only soy so far can steam with any similarity to dairy milk. On the other hand, if you really don’t like bubbles, it’s a feature, not a defect! It’s almost a flat white!

Since there is enough crema to notice, I’ve notice that if I pour the milk right, the crema layer doesn’t break and stays intact until the top. I’ve watched the video on how to do fancy pouring, but I don’t have enough microfoam to work with.

One of the features of the BES920XL is the double boiler. There are a few time metrics that baristas mention on YouTube:

  • Time the espresso sits after finishing pulling it (The espresso’s flavor and odor is volatile and evaporates quickly)
  • Time the milk spends after leaving the fridge (else the milk warms up)
  • Time from when the shot starts until you start drinking your coffee (else you get cold coffee)

A double boiler brings helps shrink these times, but you have to multitask and watch several things at once. I’ve started steaming as soon as I hit the 2 cup button.

In the evenings, I make “Foggy Bombay”, which is steamed milk & decaf chai tea.  The Mrs prefers Foggy Bombays.

The toddler prefers to drink steamed milk straight from the pitcher right after it get steamed. I was sort of surprised, but it makes sense, steamed milk is not far off body temperature and that’s what babies and toddlers are used to.

The espresso at the office got worse. I finally noticed that the espresso pods at the office have stale coffee and are pulling over extracted espresso by last quarter of the pull. Sigh. But, on the plus side, creamer fixes everything. I can’t detect any defects in espresso con panna.

Next, I will learn how to use all those programmable buttons to adjust temperature and other fine tunings.

Second Impressions of Breville BES920XL

My new grinder is on order, so I’ve been using the pressurized baskets. I can get a reliable drinkable shot, but it doesn’t much resemble the one the La Marzocco one at La Mano makes.  On average 2 shots is stronger than my usual 1 teaspoon of instant & 1 shot at the office.

I’ve made steamed milk with almond, coconut and soy milk. So far, soy milk performs the best. I’m pretty sure this is a protein thing– only soy milk has the high protein levels you find in cows milk. I don’t have a suitable wet rag for the steam wand. I’ve been trying to use wet paper towel, but that hurts the fingers most of the time.

The toddler likes drinking the steamed milk. For the afternoons and evenings, I’ve been making decaf chai with steamed milk.

The instructions report a 15 minute warm up time. I have no idea what they are talking about. That must be the warm up time in the dead of winter in a cold house. In DC in the summer, it warms up in what seems like 5 minutes.

The top warms up dramatically, but so far I haven’t achieved warm coffee cups. I’m wondering if this is a silly sales man story. “Buy this $$$ machine, and hey it will warm your cups if you set them on top!” But now that the tanks are insulated and the machine, sensibly, shuts off after an hour or two, your cups don’t warm up. I happen to have some metal espresso cups, so I’m going to see if they warm up faster than the ceramic ones.

So far, I would say the machine is performing at expectations. One the new grinder gets here, I’m optimistic it will surpass expectations

First Impressions BES920XL Breville Espresso Machine

So I followed the instructions and fired it up with help from my 2.5 year old assistant barrista.

Incompatible Grinder
This must be why Breville sells an espresso maker with a built in grinder, at least they can tune that machine to work well with that built in grinder. But that isn’t the machine I bought.

My Capresso Infinity grinder can’t grind coffee fine enough for this machine, Seattle Coffee’s online description agrees. I have no idea how my older Gaggia Baby was doing it, I suspect that when it was creating coffee with crema, it was because the portafilter basket holes were clogged & it was creating an accidental pressurized basked. Pressurized baskets have only 1 tiny hole open, which compensates for coarse grind or tamping problems. Or the Gaggia’s portafiliter was secretly a pressurized system all along– don’t know.

With what I thought was a fine grind, when suitably tamped, trimmed, etc, results in a shot that pulls in ~ 10 seconds, always less than 1 or 2 atmospheres, sort of like a rushed pour over. A single shot overflowed the cup. The taste was not as bad as the stale coffee, but sure wasn’t like visiting the local espresso shop.

Stale Coffee
With the pressurized basket you can get crema from ground, not obviously stale coffee. But the espresso machine brings out the stale flavor notes. The previous day I’d made drinkable drip coffee with this ground coffee & running it through the espresso machine made it undrinkable.

I haven’t tried my good coffee with the pressurized portafilter, but I will report back tomorrow.

Steamed Milk
The milk steamer does fine. I had almond milk, which I didn’t have great hopes for, it creates a small amount of foam. The proper vegan espresso milk is Soy, I’m guessing a *high protein* soy, but I haven’t confirmed. Anyhow, I was fresh out, so I’ll have to report back later.

“Razor Trimmer”
This struck me as sort of a training device, so you can learn how not to overfill the portafilter basket. I doubt it makes a detectable difference unless it is grossly under or over dosed.

Anyhow, until I get the grind right, no point in working with the other tunable settings, like temperature and so on.