Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Can a Service Outage be Fraud?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

I’m in Germany for the always excellent Open Source Monitoring Conference (review coming) and I wanted to have data for my mobile phone. At the airport we stopped at a Relay store and bought an Ortel SIM card for 20 euros (well, €19.90). Since Ronny was with me I just let him activate the card (the process was mainly in German) and we got on the train to Nürnberg.

During the two hour trip I must have exhausted the small amount of default data that came with it, and thus began an odyssey that took over 24 hours to get resolved.

First we tried to go to the “Mein Ortel” site, but it was down.

Then, we downloaded the “Mein Ortel” app from Google Play. It loaded but we could never authenticate.

This lasted for hours.

After we had arrived at the hotel, we noticed that the website, at least, had become available. But at any point when we tried to purchase more time we’d get still another error.

They do have a customer service number, but they charge €0.49 per minute to use it. In desperation we called it but they had closed for the day, so there was no resolution to be had on the first night.

The next day we tried, unsuccessfully, to get the web site and the app to work. Finally Ronny called, was put on hold (!) and then told that they were having issues with their payment system. Why a total lack in the ability to accept payments would require so much time to determine that you would have to be put on hold is beyond me, but my guess is that Ortel just wanted to ratchet up a few more euros from me.

At lunch we went in search of another provider. We found a Base store that sold Ortel and Blau SIMs, but we were told that Blau may take up to 24 hours to activate. We then found a Vodafone store but they wanted €45 for a SIM. In the end, we decided to buy an Ortel voucher (the SIM was activated at least) for €15 and with the help of the lady at the Base store managed to get the credit applied, and I should have service for the reminder of my stay.

My question is: isn’t is fraud to take money for a service and then fail to deliver that service? I’m only here for three days and I was without data on my phone for more than a third of the trip, all due to the fact that Ortel can’t be bothered to implement network management.

I’m doubly surprised that this happened in Germany, since they tend to be more strict on these things than most countries.

Yeah, I know “first world problems”, but as someone who is in this country with nearly 300 other professionals to discuss monitoring it seems like Ortel could benefit from sending some people to this conference. As commercial network-services become even more prevalent and important, I do expect to see the implementation of fines for outages.

Anyway, if you are ever offered the option to get mobile service from Ortel, run the other way.

Alinea

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Note: This is a travel/food blog post with no OpenNMS content. As usual, feel free to skip.

I consider myself insanely wealthy. Not in terms of money, most people could always use a little more, but because I’ve managed to meet some truly amazing people in my life, and even better, there still seems to be a nice supply of them. My life has been greatly enriched because of it.

One such person is Geoff Davis, who I met in high school (he was a year younger but in all my advanced courses) who now works at Google. The last time I was out there he and his bride took me to dinner in the Mission, and while we were talking about food he mentioned the Alinea.

The Alinea restaurant is located in Chicago, and it is one of only thirteen (when I booked it was ten) Michelin three star restaurants in the country. I happened to be in Chicago this week, and as this trip was planned months ago I was able to book a table for six. The experience was pretty amazing.

The name comes from an archaic mark similar to the “paragraph” symbol: ¶. The alinea looks more like an inverted “D” with two vertical marks, and in the name of the restaurant it represents “a new beginning”.

The booking process was unique as well. I like to cook, and occasionally (very occasionally) after one of my better efforts, someone will say “you should open a restaurant”.

Hell no. Owning and running a restaurant is incredibly hard work. People who aren’t into food (and some who are) just don’t realize it. Part of the problem is that people have few qualms about either canceling a reservation at the last minute or not showing up at all.

The Alinea addresses this by selling tickets instead of taking reservations. I’m not sure it would work for every restaurant, but when you have a place with a) high demand and b) a prix fixe menu it seems to work well. There is a long discussion of the history of the ticketing system available so I won’t repeat it here, but it did resonate with my innate fondness for unusual business models.

The restaurant itself is very non-descript. Most of our party met at Boka next door for drinks (an excellent restaurant on its own right with its own Michelin star). I probably wouldn’t have known where to enter the Alinea if I wasn’t shown the way.

You enter in via a dark corridor highlighted by red lights, and it seems to narrow a bit. When you reach the end you are greeted by what I would come to recognize as the level of service that helps the Alinea keeps its stars. For our group of six there were at least three people there to take our coats. One pair in our party had arrived with their car, so the staff took the valet parking slip to make sure the car would be ready when it was time to leave. We were served by no less than twenty people during the evening but it was perfect – they were there when you needed them and quickly gone when you didn’t.

We were shown upstairs to our table. The restaurant only accepts parties of two, four or six. Party of three? You buy an extra ticket, and since they are quite spendy my guess is you’d find an excuse to invite Aunt Edna out for the evening.

Just a quick note: I wanted to immerse myself in the experience so I took no photographs or notes. I might get some of the details wrong so I will apologize in advance since my memory isn’t what it used to be.

Our host Miguel, I would not call him a server even though he did serve us food, welcomed us and explained how the evening would play out. We were to have 15, maybe 16 courses and there was an optional wine pairing. He stressed that the wine servings were modest and that it would end up being about four glasses of wine total. The “maybe” 16th course was a special: white truffle risotto. When I visit my friend Antonio in Italy (another amazing person who has enriched my life) I always tease him about this very expensive food. When he asks what I want to eat I say “tartufo bianco”. I love truffles but as Cat, one of our dinner companions, pointed out, having such an extravagant course here would be like gilding the lily. Plus, the $150/person cost put it out of my league – I had to cash in my Christmas and Birthday presents to swing the dinner alone.

I got excited when they prepared to bring out the first course. They placed little white pillows on the table in front of each of us and on it was a caviar spoon (I love fish eggs of any type). Miguel explained that the silverware we’d need for each course would be placed on the pillow and that we were to leave the used items with the serving dish in order to keep the pillow clean for the next course.

Speaking again of the crazy level of service, if one of us got up to use the restroom, one of the staff would immediately remove the napkin and replace it with a fresh one. Cat explained that napkins are meant to be used, and no one should have to come back to a soiled one. Crazy, but cool.

The first course was Osetra caviar served with a variety of other flavors. I was not going to do the wine pairing, but I agreed to start off with a glass of champagne (Pierre Moncuit Blanc des Blancs Brut NV) as did Ron (what else do you pair with caviar?). Demetri and Cat did get the pairing, while my lovely bride Andrea ordered a glass of Riesling and Colleen stuck with water.

The caviar was delightful.

The second course arrived in the form of two large “tumbleweeds” made up of intertwined brown vines. Each was about twice the size of a basketball. We were told we had to find the second course hidden within the branches. In each ball was hidden a piece of salsify, a root vegetable that had been cooked sous vide and heavily seasoned. It matched the color of the vine exactly but had a much softer texture. It was tasty, although this is one of the few places I’ve eaten where you had to ask yourself “is this bit the food?”.

The third course was skate, cooked sous vide and seasoned with brown butter, lemon and herbs. The paired wine was an A.J. Adam “Dhroner” Riesling (Mosel 2012). I made a joke about “Dhroner kebabs” that fell flat. Demetri had me taste some of his and I liked it so much I changed my mind about skipping the wine pairing. It was the most tender skate I’ve ever eaten, and it makes me want to explore sous vide cooking even more.

Course number four was ebi, or sweet shrimp for those of you who like sushi. It was paired with Muscadet Sevre et Maine “Granite” (Domaine de l’Ecu 2010) which I found to be too mineral. I remember liking this dish but I don’t remember too much of the details, since it was eclipsed by …

Corn. The fifth course arrived served in roasted corn husks, causing me to remark “look, the world’s most expensive tamale”. It was far from a traditional tamale. The corn was whole, roasted and served over a bed of creamy grits. The whole thing was seasoned with truffle, manchego cheese and sherry. Think about how much corn you have eaten in your lifetime – this redefined it for me. We were told that this was the next to last night it would be served as the seasons were changing. When asked how they were able to get the corn off the cob yet have it hold its shape, the secret is that the whole cob is dipped in clarified butter so that the kernels can be sliced off but still stick together.

The sixth course arrived on pieces of wood that used to be barrel staves. It was trout in white pepper, coriander and broccoli. Outside of eating off a stick (we asked and were told the staves were cleaned in the dishwasher and then burnt with a torch) in the middle were pieces of bone – a small bit of spine and the plate near the cheek of the fish. We were told that, indeed, this was food. It was surprisingly tasty, although I think I cut my tongue a little on the spiny bit. This was paired with a Chablis (Laurent Tribut 2011) that I quite liked.

Flowers made up the seventh course, mainly lilies, with rambutan and a caviar lime sauce.

Now at the halfway point, the staff brought out two stone plates topped with pieces of wood. They set these on fire, and the smoke and light added a nice ambiance.

Course number eight featured matsutake mushrooms, which I adore. It was served with a number of sweet flavors, including a huckleberry foam and tapioca. In keeping with the Japanese association with this food, the pairing was sake, Tensei “Song of the Sea” Junmai Ginjo-shu (Kumazawa Shuzo, Kanagawa-ken). I loved the food but just liked the sake (I’m pretty particular about sake).

The ninth course was a bit of a surprise. The wood/fire centerpieces, which had now gone out, were dissected and out of them came our food. It was charred pork belly served with compressed parsnip. Yummy. It was served with our first red of the evening, Donkey and Goat “Testa Vineyard” Carignane (Mendocino 2013), which was very nice.

Dish number ten was also unusual. It was a warm butter-based broth served in a small, concave bowl made of wax (it reminded me of nothing less than a huge contact lens). Suspended above it on a steel pin was a piece of potato and truffle. You were told to pull the pin, causing the items on it to fall into the broth and then eat the whole thing in a shot. Tasty, but I spilled a little of mine. I believe it was on the table for about 450ms before someone had wiped it up.

The last mainly savory dish of the night was squab. Served on a piece of dark wood that looked like the top of a tree trunk, the roasted squab was served with carrot, potato, beet and an orange sauce. There was also a piece of squab liver as well. The pairing was another red, Valpolicella Classico Superiore (Tomasso Bussola 2009) which complemented the meat well.

The twelfth dish started the transition to sweet. Called “graffiti” it was a hazelnut candy, like a praline, served with balsamic vinegar on a matching piece of gray stone. This was the only misstep by the staff. Ron doesn’t like balsamic vinegar but they missed his request not to spray it on. I like balsamic but this dish was only “good” for me. The pairing, however, was a Vergano Chinato Moscato “Luli”. Lately I’ve become enamoured of sweet dessert wines like Sauternes and this Moscato was delicious. I’ll seek it out when I get home.

Probably the oddest dish (in an evening of odd dishes) was dish number thirteen. Featuring blueberries, part of the dish was a foam made from Bubble Yum™ chewing gum. I double-checked to make sure we could eat it. Believe it or not, it really worked. The pairing was another Muscat wine, Jorge Ordonez “Victoria” (Muscat, Malaga 2013) which I liked considerably less than the Vergano, but it was still good.

If you read about the Alinea, you’ll often see pictures of transparent white balloons. That was our fourteenth course of the evening. Made with a green apple candy, the balloons are served filled with helium with a taffy string. The way we would told to eat this was to try and suck the helium out of the balloon and then talk. Yes – fun with food. It is this kind of whimsy that made the evening worthwhile, and the fact that in the end you could eat pretty much everything was also a plus.

The final course was the most elaborate. We all moved to one side of the table which was then covered in a large rubber sheet. The head chef himself, Grant Achatz, came out and using about 15-20 small dishes painted our final course directly on the table. It was a combination of tropical fruit flavors. There was mango, passion fruit, compressed melon, a coconut meringue flash frozen in liquid nitrogen, a kaffir lime “candy” with edible wrapper, roasted banana, pineapple – and I forget what else. The chef was professional if not extremely outgoing. I was so busy watching him and his associate work (the table size required two people) that he was there and gone before I knew it.

The final wine pairing was a Passito di Pantelleria (Fernandes 2006) which I honestly can’t remember. It was at this time I first looked at my watch and realized that four hours had passed.

Leaving the restaurant was as efficient as our arrival. Not only were our coats and bags waiting for us, so was Ron’s car and two taxis for the rest of the group.

If you are into food and can make it to Chicago I can highly recommend the Alinea. Better yet, if you have some amazing friends like I have in Ron, Colleen, Demetri and Cat (plus my BFF Andrea) it will be an experience to remember. Yes, it is pricey, but one of the keys to happiness is to buy experiences and not things.

In that realm I am a very rich and happy man.

Fear of France

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

For many years I’ve had an irrational fear of France. I don’t speak French and through television and other media I’ve been led to believe that the French are rude and distant, and the small amount of time I’ve spent in that country (or in French speaking Switzerland) did little to allay those fears.

Which is a shame since there are aspects of French culture that really gel with me. Good food and good company, a decent work/life balance and an appreciation for beauty and art are things that are sometimes lacking in my native society. Of course, the anal-retentive part of me would cringe at other aspects of French culture, such as the general lack of urgency over most things, but still I think there is more to love than hate.

For the first few years after I started working with OpenNMS I really couldn’t take a proper holiday. I might be able to squeeze in a three day weekend here and there, but the luxury of unplugging for a couple of weeks was beyond me. A decade later things have changed, so this year Andrea and I decided to take a long holiday with a week in the UK and a week in Paris.

David and I had been in Paris back in 2008 but I’d never really had a chance to see the city. Of course, the reason Andrea and I went had little to do with the art or history of the place: Paris is crazy thick with Ingress portals. Seriously, we flew across the ocean to play a computer game.

This, of course, required the purchasing of a local SIM card. Now one of my favorite things about being involved in OpenNMS is that almost anywhere I go I can find someone who likes the application. I posted a note to the mailing list and got a nice reply from Daniel Ranc. Daniel is a consultant and a professor at INT (Telecom & Management SudParis) and uses OpenNMS as part of his courses.

He recommended that we use SFR, as they had a plan where we could get 2GB of data for 30€. Now the challenge was to find a store.

Next to our hotel was a Bouygues outlet so we stopped there first. The lady in front of us was buying an iPhone 6 Plus (that sucker is huge) but even though it was iPhone launch day, I assume any craziness happened early in the morning. The salesperson told us that a “carte SIM” with 3GB would be 50€, which seemed spendy, so using the hotel wi-fi I found an SFR store a few blocks away (Paris is a very walkable city).

The guy at the SFR store told us that we could buy the SIM card there, but in order to “charge” it we would need to go to the “Tabac”. In Paris a Tabac is a part of a cafe that sells things like cigarettes and lottery tickets and, apparently, mobile phone access. You can identify them by iconic red and white signs.

While I wasn’t sure I fully understood his directions, we found what looked like the right place, but the lady behind the counter said she couldn’t help us. Thinking we had the wrong place, we wandered around for an hour or so until we met a man who told us where to go, which turned out to be the same place we started. This time we tried a little harder, and a gentleman helped out and sold us two “recharge” tickets for 35€ each. Since they worked we figured Daniel was just off on the price, and we happily started hacking portals.

That lasted about a day.

Apparently what we bought had something like a 100MB limit which we promptly exceeded, so this time I used a combination of Chrome and Google Translate to navigate the SFR website. I found the exact plan that Daniel described, but the site wouldn’t accept any of the four credit cards I fed to it (even though a legit-looking confirmation box with the proper bank name popped up each time). So I dutifully copied down the proper plan on a piece of hotel stationery and off we went to the Tabac.

By this time I had picked up more French so I was all “Bonjour, pouvez-vous m’aider, s’il vous plaît” and I handed the lady (the same one as before) my hand written piece of paper and she was able to set us up with no problem. It was the start of my becoming a lot more comfortable in France. We then wandered around our neighborhood and spent a lot of time in the Parc Monceau

My French improvement would continue on Sunday when I actually got to meet Daniel in person. He and his son Lucas picked us up at the hotel and took us to the Île Saint-Louis.

Paris is a roughly circular city as defined by a ring road highway that surrounds it. It is divided into 20 administration zones, called arrondissements. The first arrondissement is an island in the middle of the Seine called the Île de la Cité (home of Notre Dame and the oldest part of Paris) and the others spiral out from there. The Île Saint-Louis is in the 4th arrondissement and our hotel was in the 17th. You can always tell where you are by the post code: 750xx where xx is the arrondissement.

We found a place to park and walked around the island. Daniel and I talked tech while Andrea hacked portals, and we found a nice café for lunch. Parisians love to eat outside and this was no exception, except that we were lucky to be under an awning when a short shower broke out. With that exception and one other evening the weather was perfect for the entire week.

He and Lucas had to run to do some errands after lunch, but we made plans to meet up later in the week.

Most of our time was spent in parks. The public parks in Paris, even the small lesser known ones, are amazing, with priceless works of art available for everyone to enjoy. Since priceless works of art translate easily into Ingress portals, we had a lot of fun wandering around and linking them up. I know I was supposed to be inside the Louvre with thousands of other people, but I have to say that I loved being outside in the nice weather looking at beautiful things.

On Tuesday we faced our usual travel challenge of laundry. It is hard to pack for two full weeks, so we usually plan to do some laundry during our trips. In a lot of countries, like New Zealand, you just drop it off for a “wash, dry and fold” and come back a few hours later. Not so in Paris, but we did find an “laverie automatique”. This is where I learned another lesson of Parisian life: hold on to your coins.

America is one of the few places that doesn’t use what I would call high value coins. Most countries I visit have the equivalent of a one and two dollar coin, whereas in the US the highest value common coin is a quarter dollar. The machines in the laundry required coins and change was pretty much impossible to find. Seriously, there are banks in Paris with “no change” signs on them. Still we managed to scrounge enough together with some strategic purchases from the marché across the street (where the lady was so kind and delightful while she explained that she couldn’t give me more coins) to get the clothes cleaned.

That night we met up with Daniel, Lucas and Daniel’s wife Clarisse at a place called La Gueuze that specialized in Belgian food. While this naturally included Belgian beer (yay!), to me Belgian food is synonymous with mussels (moules).

Here is where I witnessed the most rude event of the whole trip (a minor one), and it was funny because it was between two Frenchmen. We had some confusion on the order. Three of us wanted mussels, but Andrea wanted the set “formula” menu (one appetizer, one main course and a dessert chosen from a list). At first Daniel thought Lucas wanted mussels as well so he ordered four and there was a lot of spirited talking around the table in both French and English. At one point the waiter just sighed, snapped the ticket off his pad, crumbled it up and walked off.

About five minutes later he came back and he and Daniel interacted as if nothing had happened, and we ended up having a nice meal. Lucas showed me a mathematical brain teaser that I hope to try on someone real soon (I got about 60% of it right).

I had snails. I think I would eat pretty much anything doused in butter and garlic.

Earlier we had met Daniel near the Luxembourg Garden, which was just swarming with portals, so on Wednesday we came back and spent several hours there. It was once the grounds for the palace of Marie de’ Medici, and the building is now home to the Senate chamber of the French Parliament. On the grounds are a model that was used for the Statue of Liberty as well as the outstanding Medici Fountain.

On Thursday we did our only real touristy trip by visiting Versailles. I’ve been wanting to visit there for years, especially after reading the Baroque Cycle. I often laugh when people, especially Americans, criticize French military might because if your skin is pale your ancestors lived in fear of King Louis the XIV. The scale of Versailles defies description – the Gardens cover 800 hectares or over three square miles. We spent over ten hours there, and it was really cool to be there in the evening after the crowds had left.

We covered a lot of Paris. We bought a “Paris Visite” ticket that let us ride any public transportation (bus, tram, metro or RER) within the ring road.

The only regret is that I should have gone with the Bouygues SIM card. Not only did I spend too much for ours, the SFR coverage would have issues, especially near Montparnasse. The phone would show 3G but nothing would work. It seemed limited to that one particular area – hey, SFR, if you are reading this, get OpenNMS.

Overall, it was an amazing trip and I’m eager to return. I found the Parisians to be friendly and the city itself very beautiful. It was a little spendy, even with our airfare and hotel being covered by frequent traveler points, so I am motivated to make OpenNMS successful so that I can visit as often as I like.

Keep Austin Weird

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

I got to spend a few days down in Austin this week. I like this town, and as most people know it has become a bit of a hotbed for tech with a lot of companies either moving here or opening offices (I just found out that Atlassian, makers of Jira and Bamboo, among other things, is opening an office in Austin).

Usually when I come to town I get to see Eric Evans. Eric, the guy who coined the modern usage of the term “NoSQL“, lives an hour away in San Antonio and outside of the daily scrum call I don’t get to see him as much as I’d like. However, he just had rotator cuff surgery and when I sent him a text about meeting for dinner his reply was “I’m not yet wearing pants and can’t tie my shoes so the answer is probably no.”

Yeah, there is a “no pants” theme to this post.

On a whim I decided to see if my friend, favorite mad scientist and evil genius William Hurley (aka whurley) was around. As luck would have it, he was.

Speaking of people I don’t get to see very often, whurley is one of them. I think it would be a full time job just to keep up with his projects, and we haven’t had a chance to spend any time together for several years so we tried to cram a lot of catching up into a short evening.

When we drove up to his house the first thing I noticed was a candy apple red Cadillac ELR parked out front. whurley has a large Twitter following, so Cadillac gave him the car to drive and tweet about. This is Cadillac’s entry into the luxury electric hybrid market. It has pretty aggressive styling for a Cadillac, but it is more of what we old folks used to call a “2+2” instead of a true four seat car. It took some acrobatics to get three full sized adults into it for a short trip to grab some Chinese takeout.

Another pleasant surprise was to find out that he is now married, and I got to meet his bride Pamela. As might be expected with anyone associated with whurley, she is exceptional, and welcomed us into her home with short notice.

William + Pamela // Kauai Wedding from John Hoel on Vimeo.

whurley knows that I am a privacy advocate, so he showed me a TED talk he did on the issue, but instead of leading with, say, references to 1984, he goes back in time to talk about the Jacquard loom. This loom was one of the first programmable machines, a forerunner of computers, and it was used to manufacture cloth for clothing. If you think about it, clothing could be considered the earliest form of privacy, so it is a bit ironic that this ur-computer was used to create privacy whereas modern computers are now used to decrease it.

One of the reasons I like being around him is he makes me think. As an old guy, I am constantly amazed at how the younger generation seems to be so eager to give up privacy by sharing pretty much all details of their lives on-line. I’ve also noticed that there seems to be less concern about nudity. I’m not saying that all twenty year olds are running around naked, but compared to 30 years ago when I was in high school, the socially accepted norms for modesty have changed greatly.

But now this seems to make sense. If clothing is the primal form of privacy, one would expect this from a culture in which privacy is less important. And I’m not sure this is a bad thing, as I don’t believe anyone should be ashamed of their bodies, plus it helps me toward earning my “Dirty Old Man” merit badge.

(grin)

In David Brin’s book Earth he envisions a world without privacy, and there are a lot of positive aspects to it. Recently Scott Adams has blogged about the subject, and he makes a number of valid points. The issue I have is that the world we are creating isn’t a utopian transparent society but instead one in which an oligarchy controls the majority of information to use however they see fit, and to me that is dangerous.

So I plan to strive to increase my privacy and, with few exceptions, I’ll keep my pants on.

Portlandia

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Last week I was delighted to return to Portland, Oregon, for the annual OSCON conference. While I had a fun time at OSCON, I was only there for Wednesday and this post is about Tuesday. I’ll talk about the conference itself next. So this post contains little OpenNMS content but might be interesting to those of my three readers who like travel.

I got to PDX around noon and took the MAX into the city. My plan was to drop some stuff off at the hotel and then head to the conference, but as usual my life was overtaken by events. By the time I dealt with my various e-mails and other obligations, it was fairly late in the afternoon so I opted for a nap before dinner instead of trekking over to the Convention Center.

Dinner included me, our OpenNMS guru extraordinaire Ken who was up from Salem, and Greg. Greg used to be an OpenNMS client before he changed jobs to work for a non-profit, but like all OpenNMS users he is super intelligent and amazing to be around. I never miss a chance to spend some time with him.

Ken showed up in his cool, new BMW diesel wagon and drove us across the river. A friend of mine who is also a chef recommended we try a place called Pok Pok and Greg seconded the recommendation. He was worried that it might be crowded, but it being a Tuesday night we figured we’d take our chances. It was also a little earlier than I usually eat dinner, but even then our wait for a table was an hour.

In the meantime we went across the street to the Whiskey Soda Lounge. Greg told us that when Pok Pok started to get popular, people would migrate to nearby bars to wait for their table. Sensing a business opportunity, when a building close to the restaurant became available, they opened up the Lounge.

While we didn’t order much food, we did have a couple of drinks waiting for our table. I really enjoyed the Tamarind Whiskey Sour, which is something of a signature drink. They also had some decent drink specials. The only food we got was a bowl of peanuts, but in keeping with the Thai style cuisine of Pok Pok, the peanuts came mixed in with mild chilis. While the Lounge was nothing out of the ordinary, it was nice to unwind before dinner and catch up.

Our table was ready in an hour as promised, and the wait staff in the Lounge were the ones to tell us about it (which I thought was pretty convenient). Now Pok Pok is one of those places that seems to have grown organically, and our table was in a section that was basically outdoors with a covered roof. Considering how nice the evening was, I preferred our table to the ones downstairs in the main restaurant which struck me as a little claustrophobic.

The food was good and unusual. Greg and I are pretty much “pescatarians” so we stuck with fish. We had catfish (Cha Ca La Vong)

as well as whole tilapia, which was a special.

Afterward, for dessert Greg suggested that we go to an ice cream shop called Salt and Straw.

Now I am an ice cream nut. I make it at home. I go to classes to learn how to make better ice cream. And my favorite ice cream is Jeni’s from Ohio which is simply fantastic.

How do you describe something that is nearly an order of magnitude better than fantastic?

I’m not sure if it is the creaminess, the wonderful flavor combinations or just high quality ingredients, but this stuff is good.

Greg told me that the long line was actually pretty short for this place but I still I felt bad when I got up to the front and wanted to try every single flavor as the line got longer behind me. I limited myself to five, and received a heaping tablespoon of each one to taste.

The first was the signature Sea Salt with Caramel. Wonderful. I’ve just been introduced to salted caramel as a flavor and I’m quite fond of it.

Since I couldn’t just stop on the first one, I also tried their Double Fold Vanilla and Chocolate Gooey Brownie. Both were superlative.

The fourth flavor was Lavender and Honey. When we walked in another customer was walking out with a big purple scoop, so I just had to try it and this was almost my choice but I had to try one last flavor: Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper.

As the youths like to say: OMG.

I love strawberries and this flavor combination just caught my eye. One of the issues with making great ice cream is to limit water. Water forms ice crystals which ruin the texture on the tongue. This makes working with fruit difficult due to its high water content. Usually when I make strawberry ice cream, I roast the fruit to get rid of some of the water, and then I puree it and mix it in with the cream. You don’t want chunks because they screw up the texture when they freeze.

Salt and Straw gets around this by not only pureeing and mixing in the fruit, they have made a type of jam that they swirl into the ice cream. So you get amazing amounts of fruit flavor without sacrificing the texture. This was a softer ice cream than the others but it was so, so, good.

Both Ken and Greg thought the ice cream as good as well. Greg pulled a “native” by also purchasing a pint to go. You can skip the line and head straight to the to go freezer, but I wanted to get back in line to try some more flavors so I doubt I could do that.

Anyway, it was a great “soft landing” for my trip. I also got a few laughs when talking to the locals. I’d tell them, in my deepest southern drawl, that I knew all about Portland from watching that documentary on the city: Portlandia.

What makes that show funny is the deeper truths it parodies, but that’s one of the things I love about that town.