Monday/ Amazon Go, is a go

The Amazon Go store here in downtown Seattle opened today to the public (required for entry: an Amazon account and a phone with the Amazon Go app). I still have to go and check it out.

The main store concept is that there are no check-out lines. There are hundreds of cameras in the ceiling, sensors on the shelves, and bluetooth beacons in the store, to track and update what is taken as the shopper goes through the store.  As far as I can tell there are no physical carts that one pushes through the store (I don’t see any in pictures from inside the store). The shopper brings a carry bag/ shoulder bag to put items directly into. So this is smaller volume and higher-end grocery shopping than at say, one’s traditional grocery store.

Here’s the little tutorial from the Amazon Go app.
And these are pictures I grabbed from Twitter, from local TV stations KOMO4 (top) and King5 (bottom). Ironically, the store with no check-out line, had a line to get in at the door this morning. Later on the line disappeared, though.


Sunday/ Hing Hay Park’s dragon

The red dot is Hing Hay Park, and the red frame is the International District.


There was a break in the rain today, and so I took the streetcar to the International District.  I took a few pictures at Hing Hay Park, and browsed around in the Kinokuniya bookstore (Japanese).

By then another big band of rain clouds were passing over the city, though, and I got a little wet before I made it home.

Main Picture: This dragon mural is facing Hing Hay Park. I love dragons. Insets: Cement benches in the park have beautiful Western chess boards and Xiangqi (Chinese chess) boards built right into them. Chinese chess is played with 14 pieces for each player: two each of Advisor, Cannon, Chariot, Elephant(!), General, Horse, Soldier.  Pieces are placed on the intersections of the lines and not inside the squares as in chess.

Saturday/ another year, another march

A few signs from the march today.

I went marching again today (here is 2017), joining friends in the Seattle’s Women’s March (protesting the Trump Administration).

We were not as plentiful as last year’s 100,000+ marchers;  the crowd size estimated to have been around 40,000. It was cold and rainy, and the weather might have been a factor.  Some 300,000 people packed the streets in Chicago, and 120,000 in New York City. And in Austin and Dallas, Texas, the crowds were larger than last year.    

Friday/ President Art-Of-The-Deal & his Republicans shut down the government

In a way, it’s fitting that under the Republicans, the government shut down – on the eve of the dysfunctional Trump administration’s one-year anniversary. Since I don’t work for the government or the military, the shutdown does not affect me in a big way.  I do feel sorry for American kids on CHIP* and immigrant kids on DACA*, who are impacted.  It’s disheartening that politics and governing are so broken in the United States Congress.

*CHIP: Children’s Health Insurance Program.  DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive directive from the Obama administration that halted deportation of immigrant children brought to the USA by their parents. Trump rescinded DACA.

Thursday/ ‘excellent health’?

President Trump is in ‘excellent health*’, and mentally fit for office reported Dr. Ronny Jackson, presidential physician, on Tuesday.  Trump aced the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test, a brief, basic test used to detect mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. (Critics point out that Jackson is not a  psychiatrist nor a psychologist, and mention other tests that could have been done).

*Trump is in fact borderline obese and has elevated cholesterol. He maintains a poor diet, has a stressful job, and gets very little exercise. Dr. Jackson did admit that Trump has to work on his diet.

Here is Forbes magazine, weighing in:  We are invited accordingly to ask: ‘excellent’, compared to what? Even that tends to vary, but the customary answer would be: the prevailing norms of a given population or culture. The typical American, with a typical American diet and lifestyle, is at massively elevated risk for debilitating chronic disease relative to, say, the typical Blue Zone resident, or the atypical Americans who manage to take good care of themselves here in spite of it all. America overall is famous for spending more on disease care than peer nations around the world, while having far less health to show for it by the measures that matter most: years in life, life in years, and the bounty of both. Americans lag behind much of the developed world in longevity, and lag even further behind in vitality.

Here is the ‘Naming (the animals)’ panel from the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test. Hey! I have all three in my animal collection, I thought. (Mine are African Lion, Black Rhinoceros and Bactrian Camel).

Wednesday/ a freebie for my phone

I decided I’m still not ready to spring for a new iPhone 8 or iPhone X. So I went to the Apple store here in Seattle, to inquire about a replacement battery for my old iPhone 6s. (Apple has a special offer of $29 for battery replacements for certain older phones. Normally they charge $79).

Well – it turned out that I’m going to get the battery for free.  The analysis they ran at the store showed that the battery in my phone has gone through 533 charging cycles, and its capacity is now down to 80%.  It is also from a batch of batteries that had since been marked as slightly flawed – hence its free replacement.

Here’s how a typical modern mobile phone Li-ion battery works, highly simplified. The positive electrodes (cathodes) are typically lithium-doped cobalt oxide; the negative electrodes (anodes) are graphite, with a separator in between. There is also an electrolyte, lithium salts in an organic solvent. A large number of these electrode layers are ‘jelly-rolled’ into the pouch to increase the current that the battery can discharge during its use. Lithium ions migrate back and forth depending if the phone is used, or charged. The electrolyte and electrodes degrade over time, though.  Some researchers are working hard to find a solid-state solution (a battery with no electrolyte).  They believe these solid-state batteries would last tens of thousands of cycles instead of a few hundred.  [Picture: Infographic for Galaxy 7 Note phone, by Samsung]

Tuesday/ Rovaniemi, Lapland

Rovaniemi (pop. 62,000) in Lapland is just south of the Arctic Circle.

Last night I watched ‘Lapland Odyssey (2010)‘ (Finnish, subtitled in English).  It reminded me a little of The Hangover (2009): three buddies on a mission to help the one who’s in trouble with his girlfriend.

I was intrigued by the movie’s snowy landscapes, and the flashes of Northern lights in the sky.  Some scenes feature Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, in northern Finland.

The town was virtually destroyed during World War II, but today it’s a modern little city billing itself as the ‘official’ home town of Santa Claus (it has a Hotel Santa Claus), and for viewing the Northern Lights.

Some screen stills from ‘Lapland Odyssey (2010)’. The three friends set out on a road trip to Rovaniemi, and run into Russians that ran into a reindeer. The snowman is safe from melting (avg. daytime winter temps -8 °C/ 17 °F), and in the final picture Janne makes up with girlfriend Inari.


Monday/ Martin Luther King Day

Monday was a federal holiday in the United States, marking civil rights giant Martin Luther King’s birthday – 89 years ago to the day.  King and Nelson Mandela were contemporaries, but never met.

The South African government refused to issue King a visa in 1966. Mandela was in jail by then – arrested in 1962 for conspiring to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Mandela first visited the United States (he made three trips) in June 1990, four months after his release from prison.  A ticker tape parade was organized for him in New York by New York City Mayor David Dinkins.

King’s widow Coretta Scott King, attended Mandela’s inauguration as South African president in 1994.

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Marian Robinson tour the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial before the dedication ceremony in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy).

A Beautiful Sunday

It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny day here in the northwest corner of the United States (56 °F/ 13 °C).  I made my way down to Pike Place Market and the waterfront and bought a book at a second-hand book store there. Where are you from? inquired the owner. ‘Oh – South Africa’ I said, simply.  My camera bag completed my appearance as an international tourist.

Here’s the Seattle waterfront by Pier 59 today. That’s the Seattle Aquarium, the green building with the solar panels on the roof.

Saturday/ the disaster alert is itself a disaster

The emergency alert that was sent out to cell phones, radio broadcasts, and TV transmissions.

At 8.10 am on Saturday, more than a million Hawaiians were jolted with an ominous text message: ‘Ballistic missile threat inbound, seek immediate shelter’.

The message was generated by accident by someone during the shift change-over at the Hawaii Emergency Response Management Agency.   It took 38 minutes to send a correction text.   Governor David Ige announced later that the early warning system was suspended ‘until further notice’, and that the procedure will be changed to require two people to activate the alert*.  The White House shrugged.  ‘Merely a state exercise’ said deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters, and that President Trump had been informed.

*It’s just mind-boggling that this was not done to start with – and quite incredulous that the designers of the system’s messaging had created no follow-up options of ‘Cancel Alert’ or ‘Threat Over’ or ‘Safe Now’.

Sunday morning: Front Page of the Honolulu Star Advertiser.


Friday/ a stock market melt-up?

Bloomberg Businessweek already calls the run-up of the stock market a ‘melt-up’.

It’s not even mid-January, and the stock market is already up 4% for the year.

Veteran investor Bill Miller said on CNBC this week of the US stock market, that there might be a ‘melt-up’ this year.  Bond investors could soon decide that they are missing out, and start pouring lots of money into equity funds.  This scenario could add another 30% of valuation – this to a stock market that has now gone up for nine years, with no 10% (or more) correction since 2011.  Whoah.  That would be a time for even the most optimistic investor to start to panic.

Bill Miller pointed to the U.S. 10 Year Treasury Note, and said if the rate breaks through 2.6%, and heads towards 3%, that bond investors could start bailing out of bond funds and cause a stock market melt-up. (An increasing bond yield means existing bond holders will get a lower return when selling their existing bond investment).

Thursday/ the President of the United States is obnoxious, and then lies about it

So this happened in the Oval Office on Thursday, when Trump discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal.  Trump, per the Washington Post: ‘Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?’ .  On Friday morning, Senator Dick Durban confirmed that he used the word several times.


Early Friday morning, Trump denied in tweets that he used derogatory language, as the fall-out continued. The government of Botswana sent a letter inquiring if they are a sh** hole country as well.  (And how about South Africa, President Trump?). The US ambassador to Panama announced his resignation.

Wednesday/ snacking on grape nuts

My new favorite snack cereal is Post’s Grape-Nuts. I see it has been around a long, long time. It is made from wheat and barley, so no grapes and no nuts! It does have a nutty taste, and was originally thought to contain grape sugar.

Mr. Post created his cereal way back in 1897. The box reads on the front: ‘Fully Cooked, Pre-Digested, Breakfast Food/ Grape-Nuts/ A food for the brain and nerve centres’. The Super Mario video game character on the 2018 box was created by Nintendo Japan, in 1985.

Tuesday/ 52 places to go, 2018

Hey! Seattle is featured on the New York Times list of 52 places to go for 2018.  It’s quite a spectacle, the set of pictures that the New York Times compiled, some of them animated.

The familiar (to me) sight of the Amazon biospheres in downtown Seattle. [Picture: New York Times]
I go ga-ga over geometrical structures, and stylish, steely buildings, such as these in Oslo, Norway. [Picture: New York Times]
Is it a truck? Is it a train? It’s the Stoosbahnen funicular, near Lucerne, Switzerland. [Picture: New York Times]

Monday/ money questions (in Germany)

The Frankfurt Allgemeine newspaper that I brought back from my trip, has a 6-page supplement with 40 questions about money (in Germany, and for 2018).
Below are short answers to the questions, that I roughly translated to English.
1. Can saving be fun? Yes. Start early in life and save consistently. It is fun to see one’s money grow.
2. Should I spend my money before inflation comes and everything becomes more expensive? Yes. On the whole, and for durable items, it’s a good time to be a consumer.
3. When will there again be interest paid on savings accounts? The bitter answer is: it will still be a number of years. 
4. Is it wise to buy Bitcoin? Probably not. It is very risky. 
5. What kind of insurance does everyone need? Germans are fearful. Still, insure for ruinous events only, such as one’s home and the life for the bread- winner. (My note: Germans have universal healthcare).
6. Is it a good idea to buy (German) government bonds? No, not worth it in these times. 

Continue reading “Monday/ money questions (in Germany)”

Sunday/ hair that is ice = hair ice

Hair ice found in the Olympic forest.

Check out this amazing picture of hair ice. It was posted on the local TV station’s web site, and is from the Olympic forest nearby Seattle.

Hair ice forms on moist, rotting wood from broadleaf trees when temperatures are slightly under 0 °C (32 °F) and the air is humid. Swiss and German researchers found that the fungus ‘Exidiopsis effusa’ in the wood, as key to the formation of hair ice.

Saturday/ such a ‘stable genius’

‘The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.’ -Albert Einstein

A book by Michael Wolff called ‘Fire and Fury’ was published on Friday (the printed copies quickly selling out), adding fuel to the speculation about President Trump’s sanity and mental fitness for office.

And what does President My-Nuclear-Button-Is-Bigger-Than-Yours do? He claims he is ‘like, really smart’, and then corrects himself. No, he’s actually a ‘stable genius’.  (Well, your tweets make you look like an unstable idiot).  Looks like we’re in for another long year in politics here in the United States.

Friday/ unpacking

I unpacked my bags today, and started going through my mountain of junk mail.

It’s bitterly cold on the East Coast (Boston at -6 °F/ -21°C), and frozen iguanas are falling out of the trees in Florida.  Zoologists say they will ‘thaw’ again and come back to life.  Here is Seattle it was a balmy 49°F/ 9°C today, with rain.

Top: My porcelain mugs and creamer survived in my luggage without breaking.  It’s for my coffee in the morning, and from porcelain manufacturer Rosenthal’s factory in Selb in Bavaria, that dates back to 1879.  I love the colors and the simple design.  Bottom: I took advantage of my stop at Heathrow to get my grubby hands on the shiny new 12-sided one-pound coin, as well as the new £10 polymer note with its cool holographs. The first note printed was reportedly given to the Queen, the second note to Prince Philip, the third to Theresa May (Prime Minister), and the fourth to Philip Hammond (Chancellor of the Exchequer).

Thursday/ east, west – home best

From the toy store at Heathrow airport: a cute little ‘Celebration’ teddy bear.


I’m home from my world travels, east and west, north and south.

Our flight to Seattle today went without incident. My checked bags that British Airways had held overnight, had made it onto my new flight as well.


The flight path shows us about 7 hours into the 10 hr flight, crossing over Iceland, Greenland and Canada. I sat on the wing of the Boeing 777, and snapped the sky outside every few hours.


Wednesday night/ adventures in Terminal 5

I missed my connection to Seattle. We left Frankfurt way too late. High gusting winds (across Europe today), delayed our departure by 50 minutes.  Then upon arriving at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, we spent another 20 agonizing minutes on the tarmac, waiting for a gate to open.

As soon as I got off the plane, I made a run for it.  There was still 10 minutes to spare to the Seattle departure time, but no-no-NO! – not enough time, they said at the security check point, stopping me.  (Why is there another security checkpoint for connecting passengers? Maybe it’s a United States destination thing only.)

So now I stood in line at the British Airways counter for 40 minutes. Re-booked my ticket to Thursday.  Exiting through passport control took even longer. One ‘crosses’ the UK Border into the UK (big bold letters at passport control).  By the time I made it to the airport hotel it was four hours later.  But hey! Today is done, tomorrow is another day, and I will have another shot at making it home.

Clockwise from top left: boarding the British Airways Airbus A320 at Frankfurt airport | Approaching Heathrow airport; that is the city of London and the Thames river below | Baggage claim but no bags for me: they hold it and will put it on the Thursday flight. Luckily I have a change of underwear and socks in my backpack! And I wear the British Airways emergency pack XL t-shirt as a night gown :) | Our ‘HotelHoppa’ shuttle bus at Terminal 5.