WP_20141201_11_22_50_ProPacking my technology whenever I travel is always a pain in the ass.

I write when I travel. I have tried using a tablet with portable keyboard, a 2-in-1 (MS Surface), but a real laptop always works the best for me. I also seem to attract drinks into my keyboard, so I’m hesitant to drop a lot of money on a travel computer. (On our trip to France I had a neat little Toshiba slim laptop, and a kid knocked my entire glass of wine into my keyboard. It was never the same)

I also like to have some kind of book, maybe a media tablet, and my phone and the bits that go with that. Then I need cables, connectors and chargers. And a bag to hold all this crap.

I have settled on a regular carry-on bag for travel, a Tommy Bahama canvas and leather duffel (I found it on sale at Ross). It isn’t a roller bag, but a true duffel bag. I’m actually a bit too tall to pull a normal roller bag, and the soft bag lets me squish it into an overhead bin that wouldn’t fit an extra roller bag. That can make a big difference on a crowded plane. I also have a regular dopp kit set up. I keep all the bath and shaving bits, a first aid kit, brush and razor packed all the time. I never have to hunt around to find stuff when I pack.

But I think I change my computer bag each time we go. I’ve saved several over the years, and nothing is really “just right.” I’m using a really nice Ogio computer travel bag on this trip, it has just the right amount of pockets, everything is organized well, I really like it. But seat dimensions have changed on the newer planes. This is great actually (at least if you fly Alaska Air, which we do almost exclusively) as the seats are slimmer and more supportive, meaning more knee and leg room. But the space under the seat is just an inch or so shorter than it used to be. So this bag won’t stand up under the seat in front of me. Nuts.  The seats now do have a power charger, both 110v and USB, so that’s really nice. I have to figure the bag situation out.

I tend to grab my Kindle, and I have an 8″ Dell Tablet. They are both slim, and charge from USB. My phone is a Windows Phone Lumia 1020, and it has a camera attachment that acts as an extra battery. It also charges from USB. So all those can share a set of cables and chargers, or now use the seat charger. Neat.

My current laptop is an older Lenovo X301. I got it used (they are really cheap). This was a top-end executive laptop when new, and is slim, light, has a 13″ screen, and an SSD drive. Since it isn’t an Ultrabook design, it actually has a full compliment of real ports, this helps a lot when you are traveling about, no need for a bunch of adapters. (Having Ethernet, VGA, 3 USB, is nice) You can get one for around $250 or so online. If it gets broken I’m not out much. I don’t really need much of a computer when I travel so speed isn’t really an issue.

My blog is on WordPress. You can edit and write online, but I can’t always count on having a solid connection when I have time to write. MS Word is good. On the PC it actually has connectors for most blogs, and is pretty good for blog work. I use Scrivener for longer writing, but I haven’t done much of that type of writing on the road. My favorite tool for blogging is Windows Live Writer. It was last updated in 2011, and only has a few features (Blog connections, formatting, picture uploading, etc. But it is fast, syncs correctly each time, and I love it. I was using a MacBook for a while, and used MarsEdit as blogging software, but it is really geared towards HTML editing as opposed to writing. I was glad to move back to a PC to use Writer again.

I have a nice set of Skullcandy folding headphones as well. I These aren’t as nice as Bose headphones, but these fold flat so they slip into the bag better.  They do have a bit of trouble overcoming the rumble of the plane, but they are pretty good. I’d like to use a set of earbuds, but my ears are just the wrong shape for those to work. I don’t really listen to music, but I like to pull down a few podcasts to listen to.

I have a mini Mobile hotspot (from FreedomPop) if I needed a connection and none was available. It uses the Sprint Network, so it isn’t any good for International travel. I didn’t need it on this trip either, but it’s there just in case.

Two travel apps that I use regularly: Tripit: the app reads the service from the Tripit website, and works as a central tracking resource for all our flight numbers, hotel, car, tours, etc. Everything is organized and I have it all in one place. We also use the Alaska Airlines app on our phones, so we can in check in advance (and try to score a First Class upgrade) and use the Eticket for security and boarding. Since I use windows phone, Cortana automatically does flight time tracking, and warns us if there is traffic on the way to the airport.

Most people don’t need as much stuff as I carry. I keep trying to strike a balance between stuff and space, and stuff seems to win. I need to check the dimensions of the seat and some of my bags at home, and will readjust my gear to match for our next trip.

WP_20141130_13_39_19_ProIt’s good to have a long weekend to spend in the heat. While we are in California, Seattle is being hit with a cold snap and snow. We really aren’t sorry to miss that. Good thing we left Oscar with his wiener dog coat at the dog sitters.

We hit the Zoo here, called “The Living Desert”. It’s pretty slick, and has a great collection of desert animals and gardens. Sasha was thrilled to go with Yulia to ride on a camel. It’s not something you see all the time. We then went over to the Giraffe station, where it was feeding time. The zoo had just added a new station where you could pay and you could get to directly feed the giraffes. I have to say, Giraffes are big. You look at them from a distance, and they seem pretty tall, but just the head up close is HUGE. If these things were meat eaters you would se them running people down and snatching babies out of carriages with their prehensile tongues. Goddamn terrifying. We managed to catch the Jaguars waking up from a nap. As always, big cats at just like little cats, except they can kill you. Although I should note, that our cat tries her best to kill us, so we keep her small.

Mexican food here is great. We hit a great restaurant on the main drag in downtown Palm Springs. It takes up almost the whole block. Even then, it was still a wait to get in, but well worth it. I had a spicy pork and a side of chunky guacamole, washed down with a large margarita. We also hit a small family taco joint and I had to keep myself from eating tacos non-stop. We have a little family Mexican joint near our house in Redmond, and you can always tell the differences in the family recipes , with homemade sauces and specials. It just doesn’t compare with chain food of any kind.

My dad’s house is pretty close to Shields, the original family date farm out in the valley, but we actually hit the Saturday market, and found great dates from a smaller grower. They were fantastic, dried just right, still plump with a little bit of white starting to form on the skin. We must have bought 5 pounds. I love dates.

Over in Palm Desert we hit Paseo, the fancy shopping strip. It’s a cool walk, lots of fancy cars to see, some neat shops. Lululemon actually had a sale rack, and the girls found some great stuff there, and I hit Tommy Bahama. Every year I’m on some mailing list and get  $50 gift card from Tommy Bahama, I’m not sure why. I actually remembered to put it in my wallet this time, so I poked around the store to see what looked good. I was lucky to find a nice straw fedora, actually in my size. I had a great Straw hat from Tommy a few years ago. Nice weave, wide brim, and I wore that hat until it literally fell apart. I haven’t seen that style at any of their stores again. For some reason, most of the hats seem to have a cowboy flavor now. Must be the new style. This fedora isn’t too hipster, has a good weave, and fit. So I was pretty pleased to get a new hat after all this time.

This morning, we took a trip out to the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea used to be one of the top inland sea resorts during the 50’s and 60’s. But the waters increased in salinity from runoff and natural reasons (the lake had no flow through, being created by accident in a river flood around 1900). And today the resorts are gone, the lake is a dead sea, with beaches covered in dried fish and a very interesting smell. The desert is a harsh mistress, and it takes little time for abandoned buildings to disappear back into the sand. The concrete shells remain, empty streets circle sandy lots,  most everything else is gone.  The old marina house has been rebuilt into a community center. But there really isn’t much community. It stands out of place, almost out of time.

The rest of out time is resting. Sitting by the pool and fire pit. Some beer, some wine. Some football.

Lots of family.

WP_20141129_19_26_20_ProReally, It’s all about the back yard.

That’s what my dad says about his house in La Quinta, just outside Palm Springs proper. He’s retired and and lives during the winter down here. They were looking for a winter home for several years, and considered several Hot locations. Hawaii, Arizona didn’t work out. Either too costly, too far to fly, or something just didn’t click. Palm Springs has a lot of places that are nice. Great golf courses, great tennis, nice shopping, and easy to get to by plane, or even driving from LA. They came across this house, which was bank owned, in a good, blue collar neighborhood. It’s a pretty basic house, and needed some interior work, but, Holy Shit – the back yard.

Apparently the previous owner worked for a pool and spa company. It has a sweeping pressed concrete patio, fire pit and tiled BBQ station, and a custom pool and spa done in Desert rocks with twin waterfalls that cascade in. It’s amazing, seriously better than several hotels we have been at. Sasha has been in the hot tub almost constantly.

We had Thanksgiving dinner out on the patio, in the warm winter desert air. It was a simple, traditional turkey dinner. Honestly, I like that best. I find when you try to get too creative with a traditional dinner, you lose something and it is rarely worth the effort. The Turkey was good and moist, Perfect Yams, cranberries, and stuffing. We picked up the wine from the local store (Bordeaux, of course). Yulia’s friend Anya drove out from san Diego and brought a terrific pie from someplace that everyone knows and I had never heard of.

Right after dinner, we had a Hawks game to watch. Unfortunately, it was on NBC, and the Dish hare is shared with Seattle and didn’t have local channels. We spent the afternoon working out how to find the game, and  finally figured out the deal. NBC has game streaming online, but you need a Cable Company login to make it work. I tried my xfinity account and it worked fine. We then got a VGA cable to hook my laptop to the TV, and set up some speakers on the laptop. Bingo. We’ve got game.

Great watching the Hawks spank San Fran. The pie was great, and we polished off the wine. it’s a cliché to eat, drink, and watch football, but hey, it works. That’s a good Thanksgiving.

WP_20141127_16_35_42_ProThanksgiving is really one of the better holidays to use for escape. It is great to spend time with family, but it doesn’t take too much to warrant a good reason to bolt out of town.

A few years back we did a trip up to Whistler as out Thanksgiving getaway. We had a few ski lessons the year before, and thought this was a great way to use that practice and take a break. the problem we found was that November was a bit early in the snow season, so only the upper slopes were open, and those were above our skill level. We still had a great time, but we got beat up by the mountain, it was cold, and pretty expensive.

This year, we are heading down to Palm Springs to visit my dad.

With the really nasty cold snap that hit Seattle, getting out into the sun will be a welcome change. My dad spends the winter at his house in La Quinta, just outside of Palm Springs proper. There are five or so small towns all linked together that make up The local Area, but everyone refers to the collective area as just Palm Springs.

I really love the area. The desert is fascinating, and you can find funky ‘60s homes not too far from brand new developments. go just a little bit out and there are encroaching ghost towns, it only takes a short time of disuse before things fall apart in the sand and heat. Some of the ghost towns are like the Salton Sea resort. Salton Sea was a huge resort town in the ‘60s.  Now, it is a series of crumbling buildings and an evaporating salt lake in the desert. Newer ghost developments are a series of neighborhoods that were in the early stages of going up when the ‘08 market crash hit.  You can find streets and driveways all laid out, but no homes. For a while, there were areas with newly built homes, abandoned in construction, but those seem to have been completed or torn down finally.

I’m also rather fond of dates. That’s a bonus as Date farms are all over the place in the desert. Last time down here we were able to drive about and hit some small local farms. These were really just families who had date palms in their yard and sold what they grew. Those were really some of the best dates I have had. Not just the big Medjools, but several of the smaller types different sizes, colors, and flavors. Really fantastic.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to the desert.