Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Books That Take You Away

We are sympathetic to book store distractions.

A recent (crowded) walk through what some consider the world's most beautiful book store - Porto's Livraria Lello - adds to the allure.

Perhaps a few of these titles might be of interest during our "Safer at Home" time.

The Places in Between by Rory Stewart (Afghanistan)

The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of my Year in Iraq by Rory Stewart (Iraq)

Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (England)

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes (Italy)

My Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (France)

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik (France)

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme (France)

My Sister, the Serial Killer: A Novel by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Nigeria)

Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (South Africa)

The Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (South Africa)

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Japan)

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar (Libya)

The Quiet American by Graham Greene ( Vietnam)

The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come by John Bunyan

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Author), Eva M. Martin (Translator) ( Hungary )

Last Boat of Shanghai by Helen Zia (China)

The Food of Sichuan by Fuschia Dunlop (China)

The Anarchy by William Dalrymple ( India )

Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi (Ghana)

Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City by John Henderson ( Florence )

Under Red Skies: Three Generations of Life, Loss and Hope in China by Karoline Kan (China)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Japan)

Convenience Store Woman: A Novel by Sayaka Murata Ginny Tapley Takemori (Translator) (Japan)

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (Ireland)

Drive your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland)

Stillwell and the American Experience in China by Barbara Tuchman

Explore Livraria Lello and more in amuz iPhone/iPad Android.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Making Friends in Suzhou

Located 100 km northwest of Shanghai, Suzhou is a very popular Chinese tourist destination. Boat tours are offered along the picturesque canals. Some writers have compared it to Venice. Red lanterns hang from shops and bridges. The city offers no shortage of shopping and dining options.

The biggest tourist draw is the Suzhou Museum.

We arrived with enough time in Suzhou to see the city museum, enjoy a meal and take a stroll along the canals. Much to our chagrin we learned that only a few weeks earlier an advance ticket policy went into place. There were no available slots to tour the I. M. Pei designed building and gardens.

As consolation, we sought lunch. We discovered a place named “Jane’s Kitchen” not far away with solid Yelp reviews. “Jane” is a family name which we took as an encouraging sign.

We were delighted with the food.

What was most exceptional was the hospitality of the family who owned and operated the business. When they asked where we were from and what we planned to do, we mentioned our original intention of seeing the Suzhou Museum. Jane immediately suggested that after they ate their family meal and closed the restaurant, she would take us on a walk to a local education museum.

Jane and her 5 year son guided us down a few back alleys until we reached the Education Museum, which was housed in a lovely former mansion. The architecture alone was fascinating. The museum was not on a map and without her local knowledge we would have missed the experience. How cool to see education and achievement promoted from a historic perspective.

Jane’s English facilitated an engaging conversation about running a business and balancing being a mom. She works six days a week and her inlaws deliver and pick up her son from school every day. Mom guilt is not evidently universal. We giggled when I noted that all the esteemed scholars who made contributions to the Chinese education system were men. Our daughter, an experienced babysitter, bonded with her son as they attempted to shoot each other with webs a la Spider-Man. Hollywood blockbusters are universal as well.

We travel to broaden our perspective.

We purchased a world map puzzle that day which was centered on Asia. It was a good reminder that we all harbor our own ethnocentrism. The unexpected itinerary was a timely reminder to let go of preconceived notions about a country or culture. Asia is so populous it is easy to view the crowd and miss the personal connections.

I think of Jane with fondness and hope she and family are well.

It is worth stating the obvious during the global Coronavirus 19 pandemic that the Chinese people do not deserve to be vilified about transmission of a deadly virus.

Thanks to Jane and her family for showing us such warm generosity and human kindness.

Explore Suzhou, and the world with the amuz app: iPhone/iPad Android.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Experience while charging: “People stop for a comfort break rather than a fuel break"

"will the electric car mean the end of the road for roadside refuellers?

“[It’s] a phase of vehicles which is going to look like Blockbuster versus Netflix . . . they don’t coexist for any material amount of time,” he said, referring to the speed with which Netflix dispatched its erstwhile brick-and-mortar video rental rival.

Most petrol stations’ profit comes from selling food, drink and tobacco, not fuel. Only 38 per cent of profit dollars from American petrol stations came from fuel sales, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores, a US industry group." [1]

Questions. Questions. Questions.

What will happen to the Wawa's and Kwik Trip's of the world? How will they evolve (will they?) as Electric Vehicles (EV) become more common? Will destination experiences drive charging choices?

I considered these opportunities while driving Wisconsin's driftless region [2] recently.

One of my routes included a return to Madison from La Crosse via Sparta and Mauston.

Sparta promotes itself as "The Bicycling Capitol of America". A museum celebrates both cycling and one of the original NASA Mercury Seven Astronauts: Deke Slayton.

Travelers needing fuel, or a charge, may find the nearby Kwik Trip useful. Beyond an impressive selection of fruits and vegetables - and road trip necessities - Kwik Trip offers a sea of gasoline and diesel fuel pumps plus a charging station of sorts complemented by a picnic table.

Just across the road, Tesla Superchargers and a dog walking area are complemented by a Culvers. Butterburgers while charging. A well stocked Carr Valley cheese outlet is a short drive away.

Detroit's Beacon Park is the most interesting charging destination I've yet seen. DTE Energy installed Detroit's first fast charging stations next to a restaurant, Lumen Detroit, light features and a concert venue.

Competition for charging attention - and spending - appears set to grow. Explorers find amuz useful when plotting journeys.

Download it today: iPhone/iPad Android.

[1] Electric cars threaten to pull the plug on petrol stations

[2] Wikipedia on the driftless area.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Conflict 2020: Restaurant Experiences

This is an interesting article. Lindsay Christians surveys [1] the battle between restaurant owners and food delivery companies.

Getting restaurant information from Grubhub, EatStreet or Uber Delivery?

There is a better way. Explore Madison and the world with the amuz app: iPhone/iPad Android.


“We didn’t give them permission to put us on their platform and we don’t deliver for a reason,” said Le. “If a customer has ordered it, we don’t want to refuse something that has been paid for. But we’re trying to stop having our menu on these platforms.”

As Wisconsinites hibernate on frigid winter weeknights, demand for delivery naturally ticks up. Over the past few weeks, restaurateurs across Madison have been raising a chorus of frustration over the tactics of third-party delivery companies like DoorDash, Grubhub and Postmates.

In an attempt to acquire more market share and prove demand, some delivery companies scrape menus from restaurant websites and post them online without the restaurant’s consent or knowledge. This has led to bad feelings all around — diners upset that their food is cold, wrong or late, restaurants feeling duped and taken advantage of.

“We can only manage the business that we know about,” said Le. “If the delivery is a third party service, we don’t have any control or knowledge of what’s going on with the food when it leaves our restaurant.

“I don’t think anybody all of a sudden wants to find out they’re in an unknown partnership.”

Digital background

US court legalized website scraping [2]:
The decision was made during the trial of LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft) against a small data analysis company called hiQ Labs.

HiQ linked data from publicly available LinkedIn user profiles and then used it to consult employers whose employees posted their resumes on the site.

LinkedIn has tolerated hiQ activity for several years, but in 2017 sent the company a request (a cease-and-desist letter) to stop automated data collection from profiles. Among other things, LinkedIn claimed that hiQ violated the computer fraud and abuse act (CFAA), the main American law against hackers. Adopted more than 30 years ago, this law prohibits “access to a computer without authorization or with exceeding access rights.”
The Wisconsin State Journal has posted images from Yelp users, as well. [3]


  1. Delivery app purchasers expect a great product and receive cold food.

  2. Restaurants lose control of their brand experience

  3. Food delivery aggregators increase their "Total Addressable Market" or TAM. A larger addressable market is fodder for fund raising, valuation and marketing rhetoric along with fee opportunities.

  4. Google, the most popular search and advertising engine, copies much of the world wide web, email, android and other related activity. Google services are generally built on other people's data, including Yelp. [4]


Update: Up to 91% More Expensive: How Delivery Apps Eat Up Your Budget [1] Grubhub bubbub (and Eatstreet among others)

[2] Parsers case summary.

[3] The top 25 Madison restaurants of the decade according to Yelp.

[4] Yelp Accuses Google of Stealing Its Content Again

Friday, February 7, 2020

Ice, Ice Baby

An ice fishing enthusiast, the kind parking attendant wore multiple layers to better enjoy the clear Lake Geneva evening. She mentioned that, of course being inside the ice castles was colder than the parking lot. Following a new years’ resolution to “get outside more” my husband and I had likewise bundled up to explore the Ice Castle experience.

Billed as “an award winning frozen attraction located in six cities across North America”, the nearby Geneva National Resort and Club installation was too good to miss. Our companions for the evening included families and young couples.

The ice castle origins explain why it connects with that demographic. Founder Brent Christensen crafted his first ice cave for his family in a Utah front yard. He wanted his six children to get outside in the winter. His creation was a hit, sparking a business established in 2011. Brent's admirable mission is to “create happiness, laughter and unforgettable winter memories”.

The Geneva National facility has been transformed into an orderly entry to the frozen world. Tickets were sold out for the Thursday evening we attended. We did find the entry process slightly humorous when we were admonished “not to jump on or lick the ice sculptures”. Ice artists created hundreds of thousands of icicles. Considering the volume of visitors and common sense we had no intention of licking anything!

We entered the scene to the strains of a young family belting out the title track to “Frozen”. That did not last for long though as entering the ice world of tunnels, thrones, slides and fountains made visitors stop and gawk. Ambient music set the scene and complimented the surreal geometry of the icicles.

It was also clear that this place was Instagram nirvana.

LED lights create an enchanting rainbow effect beneath the ice sculptures. Of particular interest for the gram set were the frozen thrones. Thankfully there were also fire pits for warm ups.

Hot chocolate, coffee and adult beverages were on offer. In a few short months golfers will be practicing their tee shots where the ice castle once stood.

Definitely visit and “let it go”. This is a magical way to discover winter fun in Wisconsin!

Explore Ice Castles, and the world with the amuz app: iPhone/iPad Android.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Dog Days of Winter

Bayfield has a serene beauty in the winter. At a time of year when it is easy to burrow deeper into indoor activities and hibernate until spring, Bayfield beckons. It is a year round destination even when blanketed in three feet or more of snow. The great views overlooking Lake Superior are unobstructed and the streets uncrowded in late January. Still, there is plenty to do for cross country skiers, snowmobiles or even city dwellers who want to explore a bit.

We built a weekend around the 25th annual Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race [1].

For us the race was the perfect way to experience the Northwoods' forested beauty and cheer on the magnificent dog teams and their mushers. The Siberian huskies were exuberant and thrilling to watch. There were 8 and 10 dog team races as well as family and kids race events. One of the participants was from Alaska.

The Bayfield Chamber of Commerce [2] gets high marks for assisting with hospitality and race organization.

Waiting in the woods for the teams to progress on the race course, an out of doors tavern atmosphere developed. Lots of cheerful volunteers in their official bibs offered best guesstimates on the imminent appearance of the teams. It was almost like a surprise party where one anticipates the arrival of the honoree.

The race officials announced the imminent approach of each musher and their team. The crowd would enthusiastically cheer the swift progress of the dogs, then return to greeting neighbors and friends. Like any respectable tailgate next to coffee and hot chocolate, the Wisconsin trinity of brats, beer and cheese were available.

Bayfield’s spirit and hospitality were on display. We felt welcomed without any awkwardness or concern about who or why we were there. I chatted happily with a retired couple in matching snowmobile suits who clued me in about the accompanying events of the weekend which included a taco dinner to meet the mushers. The keynote speech of the event was to be given by an accomplished Jamaican musher, Newton Marshall, who raced in the fabled Iditarod in Alaska. I think this quote is apropos of the bonhomie and spirit of the event.
“It is amazing how much love and laughter they(dogs) bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” – John Grogan

Things we enjoyed in Bayfield area:

The Fat Radish

Bodin’s Fish Market

Washburn Cultural Museum

Cafe Coco

The Old Rittenhouse Inn

On a future trip we might even experience our own team ride at Wolfsong Adventures in Mushing.



Explore beautiful Bayfield, and the world with the amuz app: iPhone/iPad Android.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Addressing Airport Boredom: Brussels Edition

Rounding a corner to face a very long, slow moving queue is best avoided. But, sometimes we lack options, with only one narrow exit ahead.

I found Brussels Airport graphics to be illuminating and enjoyable, despite the lengthy line.

Someone decided to promote their assets, from the arts and comics,

to beer, biking and racing.

Smart. Explore the Brussels Airport in amuz, including panoramic scenes.

Oh, and a rocket, too

Tap to visualize your airport assets, from airside retail and advertising to ground transportation options.

Your airport, in their pocket. amuz