Skyping Is Like Being There… Sorta… Almost


I got an email a few minutes ago. No text, just a subject.

You awake? Can you skype?

It’s from a long time friend. She and her husband are making their way through France.

I fired up the app. The cameras came on.

I was poorly lit in a dark t-shirt. They were in white cotton robes sitting in the sun on their patio. A carafe of coffee and two cups sat on the table.

Today’s coffee was good. Yesterday’s not so much.

They are absorbing France. And they’re sharing. Updates and photos come to friends and family in a daily mass mailing.

“Tell Geoff to check his email.” It was husband’s off-camera voice. The photo at the top of this entry was waiting. It’s early morning there, late evening here.

“You’re the only one we could think of who’s awake,” she said to me. We all laughed.

Their vacation sounds great. I love these conversations.

To me, Skype is transparent. That’s its power. Once your conversation gets going (not always easy), it disappears. A conversation on Skype is just like speaking to someone in the room with you.

I enjoyed my quick trip to France.

It’s The Best Toy Ever

The iPhone is transformational technology. It will change your life.

apple-iphone-3g.jpg“It’s the best toy ever,” was what my secretive friend in the San Fernando Valley said right after he got his iPhone. He kept saying it and saying it and saying it until I too broke down. You know what? He was right.

I complained originally about the keyboard and inconsistencies regarding when or which apps allow you to turn the screen to the landscape position. Still true. Horrendous battery life. Also true. I have chargers or cables at home, work and in the car.

The iPhone is transformational technology. It will change your life.

More than likely what I’m saying also applies to the new phones running the Android operating system, like the Droid and the soon to be unveiled (but already widely seen) phone from Google itself!

If you just count hours I used the iPhone more when I first got it . Now I go for value and utility. I answer email and check Facebook and Twitter. I don’t update my blog with it… well I did once and it wasn’t fun!

I have added apps. I’ve added enough that every once in a while I clean things out and reclaim a little space.

I have been blown away by some of these little programs like the amazing ReelDirector video editor. That was $4.99 well spent! Everyone is astounded I can shoot and edit video in the phone and the quality is very good.

Tonight my friend Bob showed me Glympse, which will allow a friend to track you for a set period of time. If I was driving to your house I’d send a private url which would allow you to track me and know when I’d be there.

Sometimes I use the iPhone instead of my car radio to listen to shows on NPR. I flew cross country using it to watch movies. I keep France24, a 24-hour English language all-news TV network from France, as my live TV demo–though I seldom actually watch it otherwise.

Yes, it’s a phone. It’s also a computer which leverages special hardware, like a GPS receiver, compass, accelerometer and touch screen. That makes it a computer that knows exactly where it is and what’s nearby.

Every time a new app arrives the phone does a little more. That’s not going away any time soon.

Apple is a little controlling. I wish I could see a little more of the inner digital workings.

I’m sure my California friend is reading this and taking some satisfaction that he ‘made the sale.’

Sully Was The Right Guy To Fly

This is the guy you want flying your plane.

sully.jpgI have been doing a little searching for info on “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot in today’s US Airways Hudson River splashdown. This is the guy you want flying your plane.

From, Sullengerger’s website:

Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, III is a captain for a major U.S. airline with over 40 years of flying experience.

A former U.S. Air Force (USAF) fighter pilot, he has served as an instructor and Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) safety chairman, accident investigator and national technical committee member. He has participated in several USAF and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident investigations. His ALPA safety work led to the development of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Advisory Circular.

Working with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists, he coauthored a paper on error inducing contexts in aviation. He was instrumental in the development and implementation of the Crew Resource Management (CRM) course used at his airline and has taught the course to hundreds of his colleagues.

Sully is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy (B.S.), Purdue University (M.S.) and the University of Northern Colorado (M.A.). He was a speaker on two panels at the High Reliability Organizations (HRO) 2007 International Conference in Deauville, France May 29-31, 2007. He has just been named a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Long Journey Ends

This is it. Today is my last ‘in-a-row’ day at the TV station.

It’s funny. I love my job, but after working 20 of 21 days, I’m ready to leave it for a little while. My short term goal is to lay back and do nothing. I’m not sure that’s in the cards.

When you forecast the weather, it’s tough to get away from it. This afternoon I got calls from my friend Farrell, flying from Palm Springs, CA to Warsaw, Poland via Chicago.

Chicago… December… Doh!

He made his connection and is sipping champagne somewhere over the murky Atlantic on LOT Airlines Flight 2.

My sister, brother-in-law, niece and her husband weren’t so lucky. They called from DTW (Detroit Wayne County), on their way from Ft. Lauderdale to Milwaukee.

Again: Detroit… December… hello!

MKE was closed for plowing and their flight was cancelled! Later, Detroit would get a taste of winter.

While I was answering some weather question, my niece (who I easily could have dropped as an infant) made a snide comment about my forecasting abilities.

God is good. She’s stuck in Detroit atoning for her sins.

Snow is coming here Sunday night. I intend on observing while wearing pajamas.

Blogger’s addendum: Farrell, upon arrival at Frederic Chopin Airport in Warsaw, sent this correction:

Thank you for including me in your blog entry. It’s always fun to see my name in print!

I’d like to make one small correction, while commending you on your PinPoint (TM) forecast. Over the “murky Atlantic,” I was sipping Chateauneuf du Pape, which is the most famous Cotes du Rhone wine in France. It was delicious.

The French… Really?

When you spend too much time on the Internet, you end up discovering all sorts of worthless interesting things. Take what I found today about the cast of Dallas appearing at a country music festival in France!

Dallas hasn’t been on-the-air first run since 1991. Is there that much pent up demand to see Charlene Tilton and Steve Kanaly? Do Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman really need this money?

Moreover – French people… haven’t you shown your disdain for our previous cultural incursions into France? You’ve spoken your mind about McDonalds and Disney. How can you justify this star worship over the Dallas cast?

One last question. What exactly will these five do?

Calling France – Bonjour Farrell

How much does it cost to call France? Don’t answer yet.

Stef has an assignment for a journalism course. She has to compare media in the United States with media in another country. I know two people who’ve worked in media in Singapore. I suggested she choose that. Contacts are invaluable.

My friend Farrell, who now runs a TV network in Poland, used to run stations in Singapore. Usually we talk on the computer, using IM or email. To ask some questions for Stef, I figured I’d call.

It’s not that easy.

There’s a broadcasters’ convention currently underway in Cannes, France. Farrell is there.

He gave me his phone number, tapping it out on his Blackberry via IM and I called the hotel… but instead of getting it, I got a recording telling me my call couldn’t go through and I should check with my system administrator.

That’s me! I hate when that happens.

A quick call to my VOIP phone provider, Broadvoice (where tech support answered on the FIRST RING!!!) brought an equally quick answer. Buried two menus deep on their website was a checkbox allowing international calls on my account. The box was unchecked.

When you call a hotel in France, they answer in French. I don’t know enough to ask for a room, so I panicked and blurted out my request in English. The operator totally understood.

“Merci,” I said… though probably too late for her to hear. Farrell picked up a second later.

I have to say, the quality of this call was very impressive. Because I was typing notes, I had him on the speakerphone. Helaine commented he sounded better than if he were on my cellphone.

So, how much for the call? My plan, Broadvoice’s least expensive, is $9.95 per month for unlimited calls to Connecticut. International is extra.


Each minute to France was 3&#162! That’s crazy.

I remember, in 1967, when AT&T totally overhauled its rate structure for domesticlong distance calls. Station-to-station, direct dial calls within the United States went down to 10&#162 per minute as long as the call was placed after 11:00 PM or on the weekend.

We live in amazing times for technology.

A Spot In The Sun

It looks like a speck of dust on the surface of the sun. But this spectacular picture shows the space shuttle Atlantis alongside the International Space Station (ISS) silhouetted as they orbit the earth. Here’s the full size original picture (warning – it’s huge).

As a photographer, my question is, how did they mask out the Sun’s incredible brilliance to still catch detail of the shuttle and ISS? Digital cameras (possibly film cameras too) just don’t have that kind of dynamic range (difference between brightest brights and darkest darks).

Blogger’s addendum: Here’s more technical info on how the picture was taken: Image of the solar transit of the International Space Station (ISS) and Space Shuttle Atlantis (50 minutes after undocking from the ISS, before return to Earth), taken from the area of Mamers (Normandie, France) on september 17th 2006 at 13h 38min 50s UT. Takahashi TOA-150 refractor (diameter 150mm, final focal 2300mm), Baader helioscope and Canon 5D. Exposure of 1/8000s at 50 ISO, extracted from a series of 14 images (3 images/s) started 2s before the predicted time.

The photographer’s website is here.

Click here for the full photo.

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Visiting Colima Volcano

Aboard the Norwegian Star

I woke up early enough to hear the Captain on the P.A. system. The harbor pilot was coming on for our entry into the harbor at Manzanillo. I moved to the balcony.

It certainly was the warmest we’ve felt so far. The humidity was way up too. That’s the way it should be, nearly 1,500 miles south of Los Angeles.

The ship slowed as it moved into the channel. Along side, two tugs watched our every move (though we weren’t using the tugs for guidance).

A small boat with a handful of soldiers moved up and down alongside the ship. This boat was loaded for bear. It looked like everyone onboard was holding an automatic weapon.

After a shower and quick breakfast, I was off to meet Gilles. He would be my guide for Colima Volcano.

Two gangways led of the ship. I went down one, looked, didn’t see Gilles and moved on. I went to the second. He wasn’t there either!

I paced the quay for 20 minutes, looking for a tall, thin man with a volcano t-shirt. Nothing. I asked a guard. Still no positive response.

I borrowed a phone from one of the ship’s officers and called Helaine and Stef. They were gone.

Panic was starting to set in. Stood up, I’d be alone in the ‘crying lane’ on the ship.

Back up in the cabin, I re-read Gilles email. He would meet me at the gate. I hadn’t seen a gate. Oops. I’d stopped too soon.

Long story short, it wasn’t long before I was in Gilles SUV and we were heading out of Manzanillo.

Gilles is around 6′ 2″, thin and looks like the college teacher he is. Though from France, via Canada, he is married to a woman he met here (also at the university). They have a four year old daughter.

After a few minutes of city streets we were on a divided highway heading out-of-town. The ocean was on our right, though not for long.

You’ll be glad to know there are toll roads in Mexico. This was one. Gilles fished out a 100 peso note for the 85 peso toll and we continued.

We began seeing the volcano over 25 miles away. Even then it was a large presence.

As we approached Colima, we left the highway for a more traditional road, then cobblestones through a town and finally onto a winding rutted dirt road running along the edge of a cliff.

It wasn’t long before we came to a substantial gate blocking our progress. There was no lock. We opened it and continued, closing the gate behind us.

There was another gate farther up the path and we repeated the process.

A few minutes later, the path opened up and we were in a meadow. Cows were lazily grazing the short grass on this open space, about 5,000 feet above sea level. East of us, dominating the sky was Colima. It is magnificent.

Even if you’d never seen a volcano, it is immediately obvious. The sides are steep and a light gray, courtesy of the ash which accompanies eruptions.

Gilles took some cloth chairs from the back of the SUV and placed them under a banyon tree. We sat and watched, hoping there would be some activity. The volcano does ‘go off’ a few times a day – though not in a cataclysmic fashion.

As we watched super heated steam escape from the top, another truck pulled up. Inside were three Mexican men, in the forties. They sat down and watched too.

I asked if I could take a photo and then spoke with them. Though from Colima, one admitted he had never been to this spot. But, even with the volcano an ever present part of their lives, they wanted to come and watch. They sat and drank wine.

Even without major activity, Colima was active. The plume’s steam intensity varied with time. Every once in a while a different plume of steam or smoke would rise from one of the mountain’s faces. Gilles said, at night you would often see the glow of molten lava.

After a while we turned to leave. After all, I had a ship to catch.

I think the altitude, or maybe just the excitement and early angst got to me. I became very tired and began to yawn. It was uncontrollable – almost comic, as I kept taking down those huge swigs of air.

I’m back on the ship now. It was quite a day.

This is one of those things you remember forever.

Phishing For Dollars

I got an email from PayPal this morning. It was a receipt for a purchase I’d made.

Dear PayPal member,

This email confirms that you have paid MICROBAZAR $175.85 USD using PayPal.

This credit card transaction will appear on your bill as “PAYPAL MICROBAZAR.*”

Thank you for your purchase!

Of course I didn’t make that purchase.

My first reaction was anger.

I read on to see it was for the purchase of a Nokia cellphone and got angrier. That was what was supposed to happen! The sender wanted me to click the link, sign on and lodge a complaint.

Since the destination of the link was this phishing scammer, they would get my username and password. Pretty sneaky, right?

I’m pretty sophisticated about the web, but for at least a few seconds I thought this was real. I also know there are lots of others who never make that connection and click the link, trying to clear their name and giving up their account information instead.

As a, sort of, public service, I’m putting a copy of the phishing message here, so you can see what I saw that tipped me off.

First, the return address. It looks like came from some a strange domain:, in Italy. Tracing headers, it looks like it really came from Belgium. Bottom line is, all PayPal’s mail comes from

The website you get to after clicking the link is in France, assigned to:

role: AMEN NOC

address: AMEN – Agence des Medias Numeriques

address: 12/14, rond-point des champs elysees

address: 75008 Paris, France

phone: +33 8 92 55 66 77

The second tipoff was the link on the email. It didn’t match what showed up in my status bar. If that toolbar is off on your PC, you should go into the view section of your mail program and/or browser and turn it on now.

There should probably be some ‘truthing’ built into browsers and mail programs to discern when what you see is not what you get. Instead, it’s easy to get fooled by a clever phisher who has done a good job of socially engineering his bait.

Is the phony PayPal site you’re sent to a zombified computer? Possibly. Did the thieves wait until it was closing time in France on a Friday afternoon before hatching their plot? Probably.

There was a time you couldn’t walk through Times Square in New York with your family. It was sleazy, scuzzy, unsafe. Over time, that changed. I hope the Internet can be effectively policed as well.

Discovering Skype

Earlier today, I got an email from my friend Bob Wood in Austin, TX. He’s having a computer problem, as Windows XP fights with an application written in the ‘golden days’ of computing.

I picked up my cellphone and gave him a call. We ran through the typical trouble spots and found nothing.

As we went through a list of programs in msconfig, I looked at the cellphone and saw we were already 20+ minutes into the conversation. Hey – I’m not made of minutes!

I think it was then that Bob mentioned Skype. Skype is a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) service.

VOIP isn’t a new concept. In fact, we already use a VOIP service at home as an extra phone with unlimited Connecticut calling.

What makes Skype so different is its excellent integration into your PC. It took under 5 minutes to download, install and activate my Skype account. From that point forward, I was talking to Bob PC-to-PC. In that mode, Skype is free!

There are also ways to use Skype to call an old fashioned phone. That’s what my friend Peter did while traveling through France. Calls from a PC to a telephone cost a few cents a minute – even when calling from Europe.

The voice quality was excellent. There is no noticeable lag. Bob said radio stations could conceivably use Skype for remote broadcasts. I agree.

Where Bob and I disagree is his contention that Skype is a telephone killer. It’s good, but it’s not convenient. You need to be near your computer. It’s not portable.

It’s an adjunct, not a replacement. However, it’s a pretty darn good adjunct.

Greetings From Birmingham, Alabama… Y’all

I was planning on leaving for Birmingham a little before 4:00 PM. Helaine had a suggestion – leave earlier.

How do you react to that? You really have no choice, because if you leave ‘on time’ and miss the flight&#185 it’s incredibly embarrassing. On the other hand, what’s a little time in the terminal?

I left early and the trip was even quicker than I had anticipated. It took 20 minutes door-to-door.

This is not LAX or JFK I was going to. This is Tweed/New Haven Airport. This little field is a gem. All it’s missing is frequent service! Right now, you can fly to Philadelphia via USAir (prop) and Cincinnati on Delta (jet) and no place else.

I’ve attached two pictures to give you a feel for the place. The first, a residential street scene is actually the last street you drive on before you get to the airport.

Tweed is in a neighborhood.

The second shot is the ticket counter. This is not a cropped shot. This is everything. The whole shooting match. USAir’s on the left. Delta’s on the right.

What’s good about the airport is that it is so easy to get around in. Everything is close. Everyone is friendly.

I hear about people driving to New York or Hartford and say, “why?” Yes, sometimes these bigger airports are appropriate, but Tweed has so much going for it and too few people use it.

I cleared security and headed upstairs to my gate. Though there is a jetway, these little jets (mine was a Canadair CRJ40) board from the tarmack.

In the gate area, a TV suspended from the ceiling was showing Fox News. I looked up. The picture was an Air France passenger jet on fire at Lester B. Pearson Airport in Toronto.

Oh my God!

The dozen or so of us watched attentively. What kind of omen was this?

The flight was called and we all walked back downstairs and onto the field. I had brought both my bags as carry-ons. The bigger didn’t fit in the overhead.

The one advantage smaller jets and prop planes have is the ability to check something at the plane. You get a little ticket, watch it get put into the belly of the jet and then pick it up at as you deplane. No waiting for checked baggage. It’s sweet.

As we took off, fully nine minutes early, the plane accelerated like a little sports car. Other than my ride in a Navy F/A-18, I can’t ever remember a takeoff with this much ‘push you into your seat’ kick. The climb was swift and smooth.

I’d liike to say the flight to Cincinnati was smooth. Instead, we bumped our way up to 32,000 feet.

The CRJ40 is a very nice plane. It is about the right size for a single aisle regional jet. There are 40 seats and a crew of three.

I didn’t have a tpae measure, but it seems like the distance between rows is substantial. The width of the seats is not. I’m 5′ 9″ and I was too tall for the bathroom!

We landed in Cincinnati (actually, Northern Kentucky) about 7:15. We were sent to C72 with my connecting flight at C12. It’s as far as it sounds.

As I walked through the terminal, I looked at the TV screen to see my flight and an earlier flight to Birmingham, leaving in ten minutes. Was it possible?

I got to the ticket counter and explained how I had just flown in, was scheduled to leave later, but would gladly take a seat on this flight. No problem!

I walked onto the CRJ 700 and settled into the aisle seat in row 17. The man sitting at the window was speaking to someone on his cellphone. Swedish possible? It had that ring to it.

Whereas the 40 seater is sized right, this 70 seat jet is all wrong. It is cramped and much too long for a very narrow single aisle.

For takeoff and landing, one of the two flight attendants sits in a jump seat centered on the rear bulkhead. I turned to her and asked if this was punishment for something she had done wrong?

We were in Birmingham by 7:30 CDT. That meant it took three and a half hours to fly from New Haven to Birmingham. Unreal. That’s more than I could have ever asked for.

I walked into the terminal and, seeing the courtesy phones used, called the Radisson on my cellphone. Ten minutes later a van driven by a very nice man with a very bad hairpiece drove up.

We started to the hotel, but before we could get off airport property, his cellphone rang. There were more. Would I mind?

The hotel is fine, though nothing special. It could have been a Holiday Inn or Sheraton or any of a zillion moderately priced business hotels. It does have a floor mounted air conditioner in this room which is noisy.

It also has something I’ve never seen in any building before – a 13th floor!

More later today from Birmingham. Registration for my conference is at noon and I’m bushed.

&#185 – I have been flying commercially since 1967. I have never missed a flight – never. I have stated this fact to Helaine enough times that she is entitled to slug me if I ever say it again… which I will.

Significant Weather Night

It was a busy afternoon at work. The Storm Prediction Center issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch a little after 1:00 PM. They weren’t kidding.

As the afternoon progressed and the storms moved in, the watch turned into a series of warnings. At one point I decided it was futile to separate them and just told everyone to get inside and wait the weather out.

You know the old phrase, “It never rains, it pours?” That is so true with my work. The workload on a day like this increases exponentially. There’s so much information coming out, I don’t think viewers can absorb it all. So, you simplify a little in order to make points everyone will understand.

My friend Peter had it worse than me. He was scheduled to leave Philadelphia tonight, heading to France. In order to upgrade and get a larger seat, he was flying Philadelphia – Washington – Frankfurt – Nice. Ouch!

On his way to Philadelphia International he got a call telling him his flight to IAD was canceled!

He had hired a car to drive him to the airport which then turned south, heading to the Washington suburbs. I don’t want to think about how much this drive will cost – this is a very long trip. There’s not a chance United will absorb any of his cost.

We spoke a few minutes ago as he approached the terminal. He’ll make the flight, but this is going to be a very long night for him.

Meanwhile, here in Connecticut, the severe weather has moved on – thankfully.

Calls at 1:30 AM Are Never Good News

I worked my normal shift last night, getting home around midnight. By 12:30 AM I was downstairs, on the sofa, computer at my side, watching some shows I had recorded&#185 while away in Florida. Helaine and Stef were asleep. The house was quiet.

Then, the phone rang.

I figured it was my Cousin Michael or my friend Paul. They’re the only two who would call at that time… though Michael would be calling on my cellphone not the family number that was ringing. I moved quickly to the phone, trying to catch it before it woke the girls.

It was Gil Simmons, one of our meteorologists at the station. I didn’t need him to tell me how awful he was feeling because I immediately heard it in his voice.

Gil was scheduled to work 5:00 – 7:00 AM on-the-air, filling in for Dr. Mel who already had the day off and was unavailable. Matt Scott, our other meteorologist, is in France. That left me.

The last time we got this far down the depth chart was 20 years ago when I stayed all night and did morning coverage for the arrival of Hurricane Gloria.

What are you going to do in a situation like this? I really couldn’t say no. I definitely didn’t want Gil to try and leave the house… not that he could. Yes was my answer. I was going to go back to work.

It was already too late to think of getting any sleep, so I killed some time and went upstairs to change from pajamas to a suit.

I left the house a little before 3:00 AM and made it to the station very quickly. As little traffic as there is at midnight… that’s like rush hour compared to 3:00 AM. The streets near my house were empty. There weren’t many more cars or tucks on I-91 as I headed south.

Every show on TV has its own individual format. As I walked in, I immediately headed to the producers and asked them to give me a little slack as I felt my way around this foreign ground and then headed to my desk to draw maps and update the forecast.

I was surprised at how quickly the two hours on-air went by. There are lots of weather hits and certainly a concentration on a very short term forecast – much more so than what I do at night.

I was back home and back in bed before 9:00 AM. Of course I still had my ‘real’ job! So, after a few hours of sleep, it was back at work.

I wouldn’t want to do it everyday, but considering the circumstances, working a double is doable.

I will be curious later tonight to see how quickly I go to bed after getting home. I’m saying this as if I have no free will in the matter, which often seems close to the truth. I can tell you with over four hours before quitting time, I’m dragging.

&#185 – What will happen to the word “taped?” With DVR’s TV shows will be stored on disk, not videotape. Still, we talk about “dialing” a phone number, even though we’re punching it out on a keypad.

Another Day in Paradise

The phone didn’t ring at 4:00 AM. No balloon trip again. I’m not sure I understand, because a glance at the weather observations show low winds. Helaine is upset and we’ll attempt to get our money back because it’s now too late. What a shame.

We took a group of 9 to breakfast at Paris. Max, Steffe and Ali all said they were tired, so we drove – though it’s a pretty short drive. Melissa led the way and brought us into the self park garage. That was fine, but I realized it was probably the first time I had ever parked my own car in Las Vegas.

Isn’t that strange.

Valet parking is so common, and always free. I has never thought about doing it any other way. The 6th level of the garage gave me a different photo perspective of the city.

Speaking of valet parking, Helaine and I have a theory that the best legs seen in Las Vegas aren’t on showgirls but valet parking attendants. They are constantly sprinting everywhere and it shows. Originally, when Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun opened in Connecticut, I expected to see the same thing – but didn’t.

It’s funny. No matter how much building there is, no matter how many people say the market is saturated – or near saturated, building continues. I’m not talking about little additions. These are substantial buildings with huge cranes and loads of activity. These is more construction activity today in Las Vegas than there has been in my twenty years in the New Haven area.

If you were going to pick a location to model you hotel after – a place Americans would flock to, it probably wouldn’t be France. Forget my terrible 7th grade experience in Mme Gobstein’s French I class at Campbell JHS. America just doesn’t get along with France and vice versa. We both look down our noses at each other – especially on matters of taste.

Paris is modeled after France in nearly every obvious way. Outside the hotel are models of the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower. Inside the hotel, the corridors are made to look like quaint French villages, with blue skies and sparse cloud cover.

We ate at the buffet, also looking like a French village – though there usually isn’t a display for Keno numbers on real French walls.

The food, especially for breakfast, is very good. My favorite part is the freshly made crepes. I had the mixed berry crepe with apricot sauce. Atkins be damned this week! I was surprised they only had mini bagels, which are inappropriate for cream cheese and lox.

After breakfast, Helaine, Steffie and Ali headed out to shop at the Aladdin Hotel’s Desert Passage. The rest of us went back to Mirage, where my parents and Michael met up with Molly and Abie – old friends from New York City who are part of the immense non-native population which dominates Las Vegas.

Before I go, a few quick observations.

This is a service oriented community and most employees have insurance and other benefits, even in positions that usually don’t get those, like food service employees. It is a city where a working family can actually buy a home. Most workers I come in contact with are happy in their jobs, or at least understand that making me, and others like me, happy is an important part of their jobs. Everyone says hello. Everyone says thank you. Everyone seems interested in helping me have a good time.

I used to think I would, someday, retire to Florida. Now I’m not so sure. The more I experience this climate, the more I like it. Even my folks, Floridians beyond a doubt, find this scorching weather easy to deal with than the hot and oppressively humid conditions they deal with 4-5 months a year.

Finally, this is a wide open town. If there’s any question about that, just look at the ads on the tops of taxi cabs. There a few inhibitions or worry that kids might be looking. The photo on the left is relatively innocent compared to what is handed out on Las Vegas Boulevard… even to 17 year olds like my daughter.

Blogger’s note: I continue to add photos to the gallery for this trip. You can see them by clicking here. The whole Vegas trip has its own category, which means you can link to these stories specifically by clicking here or read about the 2003 Vegas trip here.

Convicted Killers I’ve Known

I don’t think of myself as traveling in a rowdy or criminal crowd, yet there are two killers I’ve known in my life.

One was a friend from college, George. I lost touch with him only to receive a letter years later after I had appeared on Good Morning America. He was watching from prison.

George did his wife in and then buried her under a freshly poured cement basement floor. Considering the crime, and considering he was convicted of manslaughter and not murder, there must have been extenuating circumstances.

This seemed very out of character for George. I had never known him to be threatening or violent – ever.

The other killer in my life is a little more notorious, Mumia Abu Jamal.

I knew Mumia on the late ’70s when he was a newsman and I was a disk jockey at WPEN in Philadelphia. I remember him as being very soft spoken with a beautiful deep voice. His copy was very well written. He was lacked any knowledge of sports. For heaven’s sake, he was asking me for sports pronunciations and background.

Because of the station’s format and our “naming convention”, Mumia was forced to have a more Anglo first, middle and last name and became “William Wellington Cole.”

You can’t make this stuff up! In retrospect, that was embarrassing.

I have no idea whether he killed the policeman he was convicted of shooting, but my guess is, he did. He had become more radical over the years and, I suppose, angry.

This is all brought to mind since he was made an honorary citizen of Paris today.

I believe the French have really honed their revulsion toward us and our society to a fine, sharp point. This is just another way to tweak us.

It must be sad for them to live in a country that is no longer an important member of the international community. I’m not saying we have foreign policy geniuses running the show, because we don’t, but our opinion, muscle, and money still count for something. France, on the other hand, is a marginal player at best.

C’est la vie.

Continue reading “Convicted Killers I’ve Known”