Saturday, December 29, 2012

Announcing Gym Ninja for iPhone

Gym Ninja!
I'm excited to announce a recent side project I've been working on with my buddy Alex called Gym Ninja. It's a new app for iPhone which helps you quickly and effectively keep track of your strength training at the the gym.

See more details and a youtube demo here:, and you can find it on the App Store here:

Have a happy and healthy 2013!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My (new) dream jacket

Yes, I know.

I posted back in Oct 2011 that my dream jacket was the Arc'teryx Alpha LT in the glorious "Squid Ink" purple colour. That colour still is the best jacket colour of all time, ever.

BUT. I'm now actually serious about entering the world of Gore-Tex Pro Shell ownership, and with great power comes great responsibility, as we all know well.

As such, I have been inspired to study like hell the details of Arc'teryx's line of epic jacket marvelousness, and as it turns out... I am not an "Alpine Mountain Climber" who would benefit from the specific features of the aforementioned purple jacket in all of its magical feature-heavy bounty. Rather, I need something which doesn't sacrifice durability for light weight, and the length of the Alpha series is actually a little short. Theta is too long for me, and Beta - quite like the last of the 3 Bear's Porridge's - is juuuuuuuussst right.

You little beauty
So, I think the Arc'teryx Beta AR may just be my (new) dream jacket. And that dream has almost come true. Gonna look for it over the break and also compare with a few of the newer jacket types. Gore-Tex Pro Shell seems to come in this newer smooth format too, which I will look into, but I suspect I'll stick with the classic style. "AR" in this case stands for "all around", and this is a super-versatile beast which is going to make rain run from me in light conditions, or when combined with my wool hoodie, in more wintery conditions like skiing. I guess I better take this puppy skiing this year!

Look for another excited post when I buy the heck outta this amazing piece of future camping/hiking/backpacking/skiing gloriousness.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh MAN!!!!!!

Also: I hope everyone is having a happy and healthy vacation. :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thoughts on "Positivity", by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson

I just finished the book Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life, by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. Yes, the title and fluorescent colour of the binding is a little loud for those of you who don't (already) wear neon shoes or hawaiian shirts to work (yet), but lest we judge a book by its cover... ;)

Anyway let's get down to it. I won't review the whole book, just a few comments about a few specific sections that were of particular interest or rang particularly true to me while reading.

Positive Psychology is teh awesome
As my previous post suggests, I'm getting really interested in recent developments in the positive psychology field. After watching "literally" a bazillion TED talks on the subject, emailing Shawn Achor and Tal Ben Shahar and Neil Pasricha and Chris Guillebeau and a few other AMAZING KICK ASS AWESOME people doing AMAZING KICK ASS AWESOME things in this world (and having them ALL write back to me... whhahaaaaaat??!?!?) my interest and excitement about this field of study has only increased.

Why the hell do I need to learn about positivity?
If you know me, you're probably wondering this. Well, as the great Socrates says, "The unexamined life is not worth living", so let's get to this examining! In all seriousness, I know I naturally am this exuberant/positive/excitable person and always have been, but I'm just kinda interested to know why. I'm wondering how I can better affect others, how I can work more dynamically on teams, how I can take what I have and turn it up another notch. The great and constant pursuit of self-improvement.

Dr. Fredrickson's Positivity Ratio
Dr. Fredrickson's main point in the book (based on her research in positive psychology) is that it's not actually the intensity of positive moments that lead you to have a positive, happy life - rather it's the ratio of positive emotions over negative emotions on a long-term, consistent basis. (For the math nerds out there - myself included - she gives the ratio P/N, where P is positive emotions and N is negative emotions. Later, she goes on to explain the negative emotions are weighted more due to something called "negativity bias", and so you need significantly more positive experiences in a given day to outweigh the negative ones because they are "heavier" as such).

Flourishing vs. Languishing
She collaborated with a research team who did mathematical modeling of the positivity ratio phenomenon, and the ratio ended up being roughly 3 to 1 in a variety of controlled situations. Above this ratio, people can be classified as "flourishing", and below as "languishing". The 3-to-1 ratio is a form of "tipping point" and she discusses different forms of positivity and ways to increase your personal ratio over time (both increasing positivity, and/or decreasing negativity).

She seems to understand that the material can lend itself towards flowery language, and she generally has a direct tone, though not in all cases. The area of study is somewhat new, and I found she mentioned many times that the studies are all "backed by science" :) Certainly they are, and she describes the rigor of her studies, but it's too bad that she feels she needs to justify the field of study. I guess it draws a lot of criticism from the more-established forms of Psychology... but in any case I certainly think the area holds a lot of worth and promise.

So that's what the book is about, now I'll talk just briefly about some specific thoughts I had about specific sections.

The Flourishing Personality Type
As Dr. Fredrickson mentions in her book, a "positivity ratio" with her instruments above 3.0 acts as a tipping point. Given consistient measurements above 3, a person is described to be in a "flourishing" state, which was an exciting personality to read about. She discusses that people who are flourishing (a word she borrowed from Martin Seligman, I suspect), perform at extremely high levels, and are so excited about what they are doing and their life, that they not only live well, but they are driven to do well for their surrounding communities. This personality type is inspiring to most, and people who flourish pull in other people with their energy and enthusiasm, and help push them upwards too. (That's the "contagion" effect of positivity). There are plenty of personal life implications of flourishing: enjoyment, happiness, achievable challenges, stable relationships, resilience, being awestruck, open and flexible to new situations... lots.

Why World Travel rocks
I feel like, in general, I understand the benefits of the majority of those benefits as they relate to my personal life. But one thing I've never really thought about is why I LOVE traveling so much. World Travel is always a brand new situation that is certainly challenging but also achievable and generally safe. It's fascinating, it's exciting, it allows you to connect with new people from different countries and learn and expand your world-view... it has almost all of her forms of positivity all wrapped into one. No wonder I love backpacking so much. :)

On that note, one of her unusual studies that originally meant to study something else, stumbled over a proof that positivity helps you recognizes faces from races other than your own more quickly than less-positive people. That's pretty wild and awesome, and plays into Dr. Fredrickson's summary that positivity makes you more "open", including more open to new and different opinions, and in this case, people of other races. Pretty interesting results. Another +1 for my love of travel!

Flourishing People -> Motivated Volunteering
Her studies show conclusively that positivity makes you more creative, and able to make connections between different/disparate elements. As she mentioned, "flourishing" people are also particularly keen to do volunteer work and give back to their communities. I think this clearly explains my interest in the OLPC movement. As I mentioned in a prior post, I am really excited about how OLPC combines a bunch of my personal interests all together into one thing: Technology, Education, and Philanthropy... it's pretty freakin' awesome. And of course, the people I've met so far that volunteer with OLPC are a really interesting, dedicated, kind group of people... so I'm bound to meet some other "floruishers" too. This actually reminds me a bit of OSSSA (Ontario Secondary School Students' Association) - an organization of student leaders that I hung out with a bunch in high school, and made some lifelong friends from it. Everyone there was so motivated, so driven, so positive and interesting and awesome. I don't think I've ever seen that many awesome people together in one place since.

The Creative Class
Finding the OSSSA's of adult life is tough, but there are many flourishers out there. TED seems to be the intellectual gathering of those kinds of passionate minds. Chris Guillebeau's WDC Conference in Portland looks pretty damn amazing and totally my kind of thing. I think there is a lot of this good energy in San Francisco, as it seems to be a real magnet for creative, hard-working, motivated, passionate people. My buddy Andrew Lam suggested I read "Rise of the Creative Class", which discusses exactly that - that places like San Francisco are a magnet for inspired, passionate, talented people. So, as in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, it would seem I have "chosen wisely" on my place to live.

Positivity and its effect on Business
I'm really interested in the implications of positivity on business success. She discussed this briefly - that high performing teams have high connectivity between team members, more outward focus and tend to ask questions rather than advocating their personal point of view only. (At Pixar, I remember they told the interns on our first day that the spirit of Pixar was to say "Yes, and..." rather than "No, but..."). Shawn Achor's book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work is one of the next books to read sitting on my shelf. I'm psyched to learn and think more about this. Let's call that a goal for next year, it's time to finally catch up on some sleep over the holidays. :)

Monday, December 17, 2012

MIT Sloan/NBER: The Importance of Being an Optimist

Several months back, this article was recommended to me, it's from the MIT Sloan Business magazine, which pointed to a research paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The paper is entitled "The Importance of Being an Optimist: Evidence from Labor Markets", and it was a fascinating read.

This article kicked off an interest in (finally!) starting to do some more reading, and specifically reading positive psychology works. I was just about to post about the last book I read, and realized I'd never posted these last notes as a blog... so posting now, with some headings for easier skimming :)

Optimism is much more than skin-deep
From the intro: "Most of the effect of optimism on economic outcomes stems from the part that is not inherently observed by one’s peers”: I love this. This points directly at a struggle that can plague the enthusiastic person – having a positive attitude through thick and thin is incredibly hard, and requires consistent effort... but, to the untrained eye, an enthusiastic person may come off as naive, “green”, superficial, inexperienced – though the true story may be many more layers deep. I did a talk for the new interns last week and discussed a similar theme: optimism is my chosen strategy, and the optimist (or perhaps, “positive realist”) takes situations as they come in and actively aims for the best possible output. We aren’t unaware of the array of potentially bad outcomes, but choose instead to actively steer the situation hard towards the best possible result.

Hints towards benefits for the kind of Software Engineering work I do
From page 23 (summarized): the optimist has good positive coping skills, allowing them to reframe situations, plan a course of action effectively, and disengage from unrealistic courses of action with relative ease. They mention the rewards of the balance between flexibility and persistence on a given project. That feels like a hint towards Agile software development practices, in general. From page 26: “Life is filled with innumerable occasions in which people must carefully balance competing forces: the desire to abandon a goal when it proves unattainable or undesirable, and the need to stay the course when temporary setbacks occur.” The paper describes how making a choice with uncertain payoffs in the future requires a subjective analysis of different future states of nature. I’ve never thought about my optimism as subjective, but that makes a lot of sense!

Can it be taught?
One thing the paper did not hit is the components of the “contagion” factor. The effect of an inspiring, positive, and involved leader on a team is incredibly powerful. So powerful in fact, that it would seem an effective leader should ideally want to be a dispositional optimist. This makes me wonder if it’s possible to teach these skills; though I’d hope it is, I suspect it’s not.  If we could manufacture this kind of “magic dust” then every leader would be buying it. But perhaps there are some ways to inspire this sort of world-view in people who do not already have an innate disposition for it.

Maybe he/she's born with it?
I liked how they discussed the importance of skills shaped in Early Childhood. My Mom has a degree in Early Childhood Education and was my first school teacher. I attribute the large majority of my success and happiness in life to my two epic parents. Three if you count my older sister too :) I’m getting really excited about research in Positive Psychology and this paper is inspiring me to read more in that area. Effectively measuring these optimism “skills” seems a tough mountain to climb given how subtle they are. They hint at this on pg 26 suggesting that optimism in ubiquitous in a wide range of life decisions – sort of a catalyst in the system – so I wonder if we can truly understand the long term benefits... sounds like time for further reading :)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

SFFS: The Art and Science of Lucasfilm classroom material

This was super cool, came across this classroom handout which was a "take home" survey/study questions that the San Francisco Film Society gave to the kids that attended our talk series with SFFS earlier this year.

I didn't realize they'd made course material to go along with our talk, really awesome to read these questions!

Great job, SFFS! They have some really awesome film studies curriculum for young motivated students in the Bay Area. Amazing stuff!

Thoughts on The Hobbit in 48 fps/High Frame Rate

Just got out of an opening night screening of The Hobbit in 48fps, the first ever major film to release in this new frame rate format.

It was a fascinating example to watch from a technical standpoint - just seeing what 48 fps is capable of (and how much clearer 3D is as a result) was pretty neat just technically.

Artistically, though, I'd say the results are at best a mixed bag. There are occasions where it works beautifully (eg the 3D clarity during some fight scenes, rain looks pretty awesome), and there is some hero character work that is particularly stunning that all flows together just fine in 48fps... Gollum's Facial Animation!?!?!?!?!?!?!? OMG!!! Amazing.

So while some things worked in 48fps, at the same time the "stunning vistas" are often lost because Matte paintings looks very much like Matte paintings being panned over. It pulls you right out of the movie. The "watching a play" feeling is strange... it's a new vibe and not necessarily bad, and I see this movie as a proof of what can be done and craft that can be honed as the technology progresses. Those speedy pans though are really hard to get used to. You get a great "window in on the scene" action, it's really immersive, and then there is a wide, sweeping or handheld pan that is too fast and has no motion blur and throws you right into the Soap Opera look. The lighting and compositing felt like it was disjointed sometimes, it's hard to put your finger on it. It sortof feels like the 48 fps is so "realistic" that it sometimes pulls you out of the movie experience, which is not great. Other times though, it's much more immersive than 24fps 3D could ever be. The clarity is definitely awesome in those moments. I actually prefer the slow-mo action scenes in 48fps and the dramatic moments... I thought those were generally more effective than the faster pans/cuts.

Summary: Glad I saw it in 48fps. It's really exciting to see huge technological changes like this on such a large blockbuster film, and it's worth supporting the new craft. It's far from perfect, but it shows some interesting promise and a lot of room for directors and filmmakers to use it to their artistic advantage as we all start to understand more about it, and how to optimize visual effects to make best use of it.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Cnet Crave: My Best Tech Gift Ever: A 133MHz IBM PC 350

Loved this story. Reminds me so much of my elementary and high school days, opening up my (well, my Dad's) new Gateway 2000 computer and marveling at the magic happening inside. Getting a 14.4 modem and learning web design when coding HTML by hand was the only way to do it :) Such an awesome, rapidly changing time for computer technology - and definitely got me hooked, too :)

Star Trek Into Darkness trailer

Well done, ILM :)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Ad in Waterloo Magazine!

This is super exciting, when I was back in Waterloo for my Alumni medal a couple months ago, the fine folks in the Math Faculty asked me to do a photo shoot to help advertise the Young Alumni Achievement Medal program. This ad just ran in the Fall 2012 quarter of the Waterloo Magazine.

Good times :) Was awesome to take part in this, thanks Waterloo!!

Friday, November 30, 2012

"We shouldn't mistake participation in the interactive world, with mastery over it"

This is stellar. "We shouldn't mistake participation in the interactive world, with mastery over it." Thanks for sharing, Jeremy! Very sweet kid, and totally awesome talk about technical education.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Website updates

Just updated my website with some more details about recent volunteer work, as well as new rotating banner images from my South America trip.
The big update though is that my South America trip journal is complete!! Check it out here:

Final Peru/Brazil/Argentina Journal post: Links to all blog posts

That's the end of another Trip blog! Here are links to each post from my Peru/Brazil/Argentina 2012 trip. Thanks for reading :)

Peru/Brazil/Argentina 2012 Journal


Peru/Brazil/Argentina Wrap Up: Memories

June 2, 2012
Peru/Brazil/Argentina Wrap Up: Home and Gifts

We've been back home a few days, unpacked and everything is back safely. I downloaded and looked at some photos, SO awesome :) I had a second to take some photos of the cool gifts and house stuff I bought while in South America!

Thinking back on the trip, there are such great memories. At the end of a trip like this, it sad that it's wrapping up, but at the same time it's always so nice to be home, to have nice warm showers with water pressure, toilets with a consistent sanitary standard (assuming you stay away from downtown public bathrooms or train/bus station ones, ha), tap water that you can drink without it destroying your insides, cab drivers that at least follow *some* traffic laws... :) haha.

All these crazy things though are also what makes it so great to travel. Silicon Valley always talks about "disrupting" an industry... how about "disrupting" your own life? It's gloriously wonderful to throw yourself out of your comfort zone, experience culture and food and the magical nature of foreign countries... each moment opening your senses to something new, something unexpected, something you never could have dreamed of. Calling back to our man Dr. Seuss in "Oh the places you'll go" - all these moments while traveling won't be perfect, some things will be less fun, some things will be hard, some moments will downright suck and you'll just wish you were back home. But those moments give you perspective for those glorious travel highs, where you are taking it all in, enjoying the moment for the magic that is flowing full-throttle into your soul, inspiring you and taking you upwards to a better life. Those moments when you learn about other cultures, other people's life experience... there is no better moment I've ever had in my life to teach me more about myself, and give me better perspective of my own role in the world.

And when a trip is done, it's also just nice to finally come home. :) Back from a big adventure, regaling the world with stories of your travels (as I hope you have enjoyed reading in this blog), back to the city you love, the work that inspires you, and the people you have missed a lot.

Another great trip!

Mike Jutan

Yerba Mate gourds and bombillas
Carved toucan from Iguazu Falls
Carved balsa snake from the Amazon
Cafe Tortoni espresso cups and milk jug
Lots of tasty snacks! Yerba Mate, Havanna Alfajores cookies, Tea, Pisco Sour mix, and more and more Tea :)
Spanish/Jewish blessing for my home
New shoes!
Mezuzzah/decoration from Buenos Aires
Hamsa keychain with Argentinean colours
Tastes of different Piscos, a Pisco for mixing Pisco sours, and a "sipping" Pisco
Funny Andean hat I got in Aguas Calientes
Socks for Mom!
Cool bag I got at the Pisac Market in Peru

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Peru/Brazil/Argentina Day 28: Cafe Tortoni and Packing up

May 30, 2012
Argentina Day 28: Cafe Tortoni and Packing up

Aww, last day of the trip.

What an AMAZING adventure though. Crazy times. This was an awesome length for the trip - it has been an epic adventure but we're all ready to go home and have a real shower and look at our photos. :) We started with a quick coffee in the morning and then headed out to go see Cafe Tortoni.

This is a famous cafe in Buenos Aires which some awesome people frequented in the past (Albert Einstein, included!) and it was great. I got a "Submarino", a hot milk with a chocolate submarine that you mix into it! Also I had a queso medialuna (cheese croissant) and it was fantastic. I saw water siphon bottles and asked for one for our table, but they couldn't do it for some reason... maybe they just serve out of them at the counter into glasses for you. The mugs/espresso cups were so awesome at Cafe Tortoni.

Cafe Tortoni
Submarino! A chocolate that you drop into hot milk, and it was shaped like a Submarine!
Tasty egg/cheese croissant
Argentinian Churros
This rocked
Hahaha, the craziest expression ever
We walked to the Pink House (Argentinean "White House"). "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" was playing on some speakers near the Pink House. How fitting.

The "Pink House", where Eva Peron addressed the crowds of Argentinians
From there we wandered markets and some churches, wandered some shops, and found some last-minute gift requirements or things we'd been meaning to purchase but hadn't yet.

Awesome Church
I found a cool mate gourd store and bought 2 more. :) I kept thinking about those awesome espresso cups at Cafe Tortoni, so I walked back there and got 2 cappuccino cups with saucers and a milk pourer. I found the closest Havanna store (the place that sells packaged Alfajores, cookies with Dulce de Leche in them) to our apartment, and got a couple of boxes to take home for friends. I didn't go crazy like Frank and Jess, who bought like 12 boxes :)

Back to the apartment and now it was time to clean up and get ready to go. Pack, chuck out garbage, etc. The duffel bag worked out super well, an idea Jess had to take a folded duffel in my backpack on the way there, and then check it as a 2nd bag on the way back. Good call, Jess. :) Raquel came to check us out and that was fantastic, she was so nice. She stayed while Frank and I literally ran across back to Havanna to buy tons of cookies for them to take home as gifts. Frank spent most of the deposit we got back on cookies!! :)

Frank packing up
The cool room I stayed in
Our lounge from the past week
A view of glorious Buenos Aires
Back to the apartment, and our taxi car was already waiting for us. We loaded up our bazillion things, and headed out of the city, sortof "collectivo-style" - in the style of insane South American driving that scared the crap out of us back in Peru. :) "This guy could turn this thing on a Centavo!" He was driving on the shoulder for a while, which was awkward and reminded us why traffic laws are necessary. Lanes in general were totally ignored, and we said to each other, "Instead of traffic laws and lanes, they have car horns!"

So the driving was crazy and Argentinean-y which was a little nuts, but fine. As we got out of the city though things got more, uh, "interesting", I guess.

We were juuuuust getting out of the city and onto the highway and the toll booth arrows mostly were green but turned to red "X's' as we approached. Then they ALL turned to red X's. So you couldn't enter the highway. Uh? Everyone on the major 12-lane highway then starting doing U-turns and turning around to go the other way. Uhh??! We had no idea what was going on. Our driver sighed and seemed annoyed that the highway had just suddenly closed, but, as I mentioned, he could turn that thing on a dime (and he did).

We drove through a few dodgy neighbourhoods, our driver ocassionally winding his window up. Uhh?? He was hauling ass on this tiny side streets, it was both impressive and terribly insane, and we were wondering if leaving only 2.5 hours before our flight was good enough. There was a CRAZY amount of local traffic, totally backed up, everyone ignoring street signs and crosswalks and so on, using their horns like crazy, all because we had all been re-routed from the highway. Always keen to arrive very early for international flights, I was mentally calming myself and preparing mentally for us to arrive at the airport at 7:00 for our 7:55pm flight...

Jess announced after many turns in local windy roads and tons of traffic, sitting in car fumes, "This air... SUCKS!" We burst out laughing... at both the hilariousness of her comment and comedic timing, but also at the sheer helplessness of being in another country and being forced to go with the flow. Oh well. After about 40 min of spinning at insane speeds around tiny neighbourhoods and honking his horn at maybe every single old person in Buenos Aires that crossed the street during that time... we FINALLY got out of the scenic route and back onto the highway. Sweet glory!

We joined the highway just after the blockage was clear, and there was NO ONE behind us. It was weird. We were tearing up the road after getting onto the highway. The posted speed limit was 130 km/h, and I was surprised and somewhat overjoyed to notice that our driver was actually driving at the posted speed limit. That may have been the biggest surprise of the evening. :)

After mentally preparing to arrive at the airport at 7:00, we actually got there at 6:22pm. WOW. What an amazing driver. We tipped the heck outta him for getting us there in one piece. He should stop driving a cab and become a Formula 1 Racer instead.

We checked in and I got my duffel bag wrapped up. Checkin, security and customs was fast, which was nice after that crazy ride. I asked the lady at the desk what happened on the highway, and she said sometimes the toll collectors decide to go on random strikes because they want higher wages, and this is possibly what happened. She seemed quite annoyed by it, implying that the educated people in Argentina work hard, and these toll jobs are well-paid enough for what they are, she implied. She thought it was crazy that they would strike like this, but I asked her how often it happens and she said reasonably often. Pretty crazy! After all this, a Coca Light was in order!

I tried to change money in the airport and they said to do it inside the checkin. In there, they asked me if I had a receipt, as in, did I have the receipt from when I originally changed money at the airport. I didn't, I just got this money from an ATM. Weird. He said because of that he "couldn't change my money for me"?!??!?! Super weird. Time to go home :) I'll try to spend it in Lima on some Duty Free Pisco :) (As it turned out, I read later that the Argentinean government is really cracking down on money exchange in Argentina because there is a "black market" for the currency, where the rate against the US dollar is much less (or more?) and having tight control on currency exchange at the airport is one way they are trying to curb this currency black market... very strange.)

The plane was awesome, nice seats, inflight entertainment, great food. The ride to Lima was 5 hrs or so, but was maybe faster, say 4:25. We got back to Lima and had a couple hours before out next flight. We were happy to be going directly home to San Francisco instead of via Miami like on the way in. It will be nice to be home and start going through all my photos!! What an awesome trip.

I started thinking about all of the best experiences of the trip on the way home.

The Best Food:
  • Chi Cha in Arequipa, Peru. That was AMAZING.
  • Steak at La Cabrera on my 30th Birthday in Buenos Aires
  • Volta's Maracuya y Naranja ice cream
  • Cebiche in that random place in Arequipa on the town square
  • Food on the Peru Treks Inca Trail hike
  • Crazy fruits and juices at the Otorongo Lodge in the Amazon
The Best Events:
  • Day 3 of the Inca Trail: it was mostly downhill, day 2 was done (thank goodness!), and it was a good vibe of friendship between all the fellow travelers, we all know each other pretty well by then and were really comfortable.
  • Buenos Aires city stuff: shopping, Jewish tours, Kosher McDonalds, just general architecture and stuff to do
  • My Travel Buddies: what a great group!!!
This trip worked out SO well. In the past I've often traveled on my own, making my own plan and my own choices along the way, and just meeting up with interesting friends (or making friends) at hostels along the way. This time, it was so nice to go with people that have such similar travel interests/vibe to me, and it worked out SO well. I knew it would. It's tough to pick a group of friends that will mesh well together on a trip, and we just rocked it. No dramas! Frank and Jess are a heck of a great combo to be with! This was an excited, involved, adventurous group of people to be with... totally into trying new things and adventure, but not into stupid risks or unsafe things. A perfect combo!

Lima was good, I got a Chicha Morada and Cebiche at the airport, it was very good!!! We got onto the plane and it was a nice one again. They gave us LAN branded yellow earplugs and a purple sleep mask, nice. I was asleep almost right away, and I totally missed the dinner on the plane. When I woke up, they gave it to me anyway :) I was so exhausted, I got about 5 hrs of sleep which was great.

Back we got to SF, and everything was super smooth, and people at customs were friendly which was really nice after such a long flight. Nice and quick, 1 hr SuperShuttle and back home!! Frank drove me back to my apartment so I could put down my stuff and change.

Tea, Shower... and then right to WORK. Yep :)

I used all my vacation days (and then some), so I went straight into the office, ready to catch up with people and clean up my Inbox. :) It's usually "work hard, play hard" - but after a whole month of playing super hard, it was time to get back to work.

What an adventure. And what an amazing and wonderful group of friends that I got to share it with.

Peru/Brazil/Argentina Day 27: Jewish Buenos Aires, Teatro Colón Opera

May 29, 2012
Argentina Day 27: Jewish Buenos Aires, Teatro Colón Opera

This morning I slept in after our crazy late evening last night for my birthday, while Frank and Jess headed to a tour in Recoleta. After a quick Gatorade/Drinkable Yoghurt stop for on-the-go breakfast, I grabbed a cab and headed up a couple hours later to meet them in the Recoleta area. We met up and we got some ice cream for breakfast (again. I love Argentina!) Volta is amazing!! This time I got Limon and Maracuya y Naranja flavours. It was epic. Volta is still the clear winner in front of all the other gelato options in Buenos Aires.

Volta gelato: breakfast of champions
From there we went for a walk down closer to Cordoba/Teatro Colón.

Awesome architecture
Love it!
I was going to stop then and head to the Shoah museum, but we were all hungry for lunch. So first, a quick jump on the Subte and back to Carlos Gardel station to get off at the Abasto Mall... for Kosher McDonald's!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We were so sad that it was closed last time (because we went on Shavuot... duh!) and so we headed all the way back there so we could try it. It was OPEN!!!!!! Yeah!!! I made sure to treat Frank and Jess cause they schlepped all the way there just for me :)

Yes!!!! And our visit to the Kosher McDonalds is finally a success!
Literally the only time I've ever seen a yarmulke and a box of tefillin at a McDonalds
Kosher certification for the restaurant! Describes (in Spanish) how the french fries are fried, etc.
Other than being super awesome and a Kosher McDonalds, just kinda looks like a regular McDonalds
No cheese on this Big Mac!
Oh yes, they DID have a ritual handwashing station :)
So excited
So fun to try this, the only Kosher McDonalds outside of Israel!
This was one of 3 McDonald's in the mall, but it's the only Kosher one outside of Israel (in Buenos Aires?!!!) It was so exciting and we had to try it. A guy in line was really funny, he had a yarmulke on and said, "You guys know this is the Kosher McDonalds, right?!" wondering if we'd gotten lost looking for the boring 'ol regular McDonalds. Nope, very intentional :)

We were wondering if the prices were going to be any different than the regular McD's (due to extra costs in preparation of the meat, or to pay for extra care in cleanliness in the kitchen etc...) but it was the same price as the other regular McD's in the mall! Nice! It was really funny and awesome to see a few specifically Jewish things in a McDonalds - there was a Yarmulke and Tefillin in a container there, presumably for the times where the Rabbi comes in to bless the kitchen and equipment. No cheese or bacon of course :) It was a meat-only restaurant actually, which makes sense. There was a ritual handwashing station which was so funny to see at a McDonalds. A certification document on the wall mentioned details about how the fries are cooked (in beef fat?) and they were much better than the ones you get at a regular McD's. I got a burger called the McNifica, so fun!!! It was tasty.

After all this Judiasm-meets-popular-culture excitement, we were still keen for more snacking and we got some amazing cake for dessert. We are crazy!! I guess we're burning lots of calories with all this walking around all the time :) The cake was huge but glorious, so we took some home for later.

Then we got this AMAZING cake
That is an ocean of Merange
Dulce de Leche is awesome
Frank and Jess went home to nap, and I headed downtown again to go to the Shoah Museum. There was a temporary exhibit in there about Eichmann in Argentina - it was in Spanish but it was still very interesting and there were lots of photos about his years spent hiding in rural Argentina after WW II. There was a section entitled "Why Argentina?" - probably something that all visitors to Argentina (including myself) are interested to know - as Argentina has a pretty strange and unusual history of both offering exile to Jews in WW II and also allowing Nazi war criminals harbour in the country as well. The exhibit was fascinating, and there was (as much as I could understand the Spanish), mention of Juan Peron's support of the Nazi party and of allowing Nazis into Argentina as a sort of "safe haven" after the war. Pretty crazy stuff. Though the exhibit did distance Argentina somewhat from Eichmann's protection in general - showing that he entered the country on falsified documents (including photos of the documents themselves) and that these documents were from Geneva and procured in countries other than Argentina. Pretty surprising to learn about all of this, but also interesting that the material was presented very matter-of-factly.

Headed to the Holocaust Museum, this was an exhibit about Eichmann's hiding in Argentina
Documents about the Holocaust surfacing in an Anti-fascist periodical in Argentina in 1942
Adolf Eichmann in gaucho (Cowboy) clothes, hiding in Argentina
Amazing exhibit at the Shoah musum in Buenos Aires, very emotionally powerful, and artistic interpretations of events.
Albert Einstein's exile
Sigmund Freud's exile
Anti-Communist/Anti-Semitic magazine from 1943 in Argentina
This was pretty crazy to see. A photo of a Nazi rally/party at Luna Park in Buenos Aires in 1937.
Further on in the exhibit was a memorial area for victims which was very nicely done. There was an excellent permanent exhibition with photos of Argentinean Jewish life before and after the war, along with a nicely written English translation. This was a very touching exhibit and had a very good tone to it - it was respectful but there was no sugar coating. There were also some tough photos to look at, but at the same time they did not rub your face in horrifying images - enough to educate and warn, but not disrespectful to the victims. Excellent museum. If anyone reading this goes to Buenos Aires in the future, I definitely recommend a visit to the Holocaust (Shoah) Museum. At the end of the exhibit, the was a hopeful tone, showing life continuing after the war, Nuremburg Trials, and justice. Lovely exhibit and museum. I bought a mezuzzah, one I'd been looking at when I was at the Museo Judio the previous week.

I finished up there and instead of taking the subway to Av. de Mayo, I figured it was close enough and I'd just walk. I walked by Teatro Colón to get a CD for Dad. I asked them if they had a CD made from the Orchestra of the Teatro Colón, and they said, "We have only one!" Easy!

Walking by Teatro Colon, where we'll be returning for an opera!
From there it was a nice walk down the Ave 9th of Julio, to Calle Floria, to Av de Mayo. I got some earrings for Norm at the Av de Mayo street markets. The artisans there were very, uh, "Artisan-y". Lots of dreadlocks and scraggly hippy clothes. Very artsy! While there I also got a Mate gourd and Bombilla straw. Then headed back home to chill and change into my new suit and shoes and belt, in preparation to head back to Teatro Colon for the opera tonight! The suit looks awesome, and we took some secret agent shots together. I still need to tailor the suit (we had to tape up the bottom cuffs of the pants because they aren't hemmed at all yet!) but it's OK for the theatre for now. We're sitting at the back anyway :)

Wearing my new suit, ready for the Opera!
Looking classy with Jess
Wait for it...
You can dress us up, but you can't take us anywhere
We took a cab over to Teatro Colon and man it looks glorious lit up at night! It was amazing inside, and there were some really awesome box seats we could see. We were way up in the $36 nosebleed section, but it was still epic!

In line at the Teatro Colon
Main steps at Teatro Colon
Orchestra and Stage
Amazing lights
This was so beautiful
Excited for the Opera!
The orchestra was awesome. The opera tonight was "Edipo", the Oedipus opera. It was sung in French, with subtitles in Spanish... close enough! We really loved it, and there were some interesting set choices (an airplane, the car driving and lights for travelers on the road, etc.). Intermission was fun and cool to be hanging out with lots of people who all seemed to be local Argentineans. I got a "Whisky National" for an intermission drink! The 2nd act was awesome too, crazy elaborate set pieces, Roman Colosseum style. There was "rain" in the epilogue, cleansing of Edipo's sins. Totally awesome. We were so glad to get a chance to see something in Teatro Colon as it had recently been under renovation and I think had only reopened 2 years before.

From there we took a cab to San Telmo and hung out at Bar El Federal, a place where Frank really wanted to go. It was great. I got a Roquefort pizetta and a Coca Light :) We also had a "Federal" fancy coffee! Fun times!!

Bar El Federal
Cool bar design
Some more late night food
All this eating late at night meant a walk home was in order, and we walked back to our apartment from San Telmo. Chillin' and chatting, we went to sleep quite a bit later, maybe 2ish. Another AMAZING day!!!!!! We are really packing in stuff here, though it hasn't felt rushed. What an awesome trip. Awesome peeps, too :)