Grand Canyon River Expedition with Hatch as Outfiter

River Rafting the Grand Canyon

My Family and I just completed a marvelous 9 day expedition on the Colorado River from Lees Landing launch, down through the marvelous Grand Canyon National Park.  We used Hatch as our expedition outfitter/organizer and we were absolutely thrilled with them, our crew, their end-to-end service, and of course, the amazing experience and majesty of the canyon/river.  I wanted to post a few thoughts here for the benefit of others considering the trip, and, Hatch as an outfitter for your adventure on the Colorado/Grand Canyon. Hatch was FANTASTIC.

Here’s what we did:

  • From Las Vegas, we took a regional small plane flight from the city of Boulder to Marble Canyon (not really a town per se, more like a landing strip for the plane and next to a bridge that crosses the Grand Canyon in the “Marble Canyon” area of the park). The flight was arranged with the help of Hatch expedition folks but was a cost separate from the expedition itself.  Here at the upper North-East of the Grand Canyon National Park we met our group which totaled 16 family members, some of whom took their own cars to park at this location, or, who took shuttles from Las Vegas by land.  We all stayed the night before departure at the Cliff Dweller’s Lodge, a very nice little motel on the side of the road with clean updated rooms, with a nice little restaurant and supplies shop for food/water/snacks.
  • We awoke early and met the Hatch Expeditions team at our hotel, loaded up in a van, and 15 minutes later we were at Lee’s Ferry, the departure point for the trip (where we met our boat, boat captain, and “swamper” who would assist the boat captain–thus making our total boat party 18 folks).
  • We then boarded out boat and started our journey down-stream which comprised of 9 days 8 nights.  The trip can be configured to be 7 days or as long as 15–in our case we were in a motorized boat (small outboard engine powered the vessel through rapids and long stretches that would require some real paddling effort), we saw other groups that were in mixed use paddle/cayak configurations… i can imagine any and all configurations to be great fun, but the motorized option was definitely optimal for our group that included children ages 10, 12, and 14, as well as several 60-70 year olds in various states of good conditioning (but not strong enough to be paddling a boat for 4-6 hours a day every day).
  • Each day consisted of a routine of (a) rise with the sun, (b) breakfast and break camp usually before 7:30am and on the river (c) a mixture of river rapid ridding, short stops for short walks, and longer stops for side-canyon hikes that lasted upwards of 3 hrs round trip, (d) lunch break mid day usually in a shaded river-edge spot, (e) more rapids and or hikes in the afternoon, (f) make camp landing by 4pm, set up camp, relax a bit before (g) dinner and then lights out with sunset.
  • All camping is on rivers edge on sandy beaches that have mix of rocks/bushes–very very comfortable camps on cots/tents as needed, but we slept outdoors with no cover all nights and enjoyed the stars.  Warm temperatures in July averaged 80+ at night and 100 during the day.  No mosquitoes, very pleasant lack of nuisance bugs of all kinds, with exception of red-ants that re everywhere but only bit 1 in our party 1 time…
  • Fantastic meals and snacks entirely organized and prepared by our captain and swamper.  Our responsibilities as passengers included helping unload/load the boat, and setting up our own camp and sleeping equipment.  We participated as a group in helping with cleaning post-meals, but largely were taken care of by the crew (i don’t know how they did all that cooking–but they did).  Meals were *VERY* good and complete with mixed preparation, sauces, sides, etc…. we were NOT wanting of food comforts, ever!
  • End of trip involved being picked up in a helicopter and flown out in groups of 6 to Bar10 Ranch, from where we had our first showers in 10 days, before boarding a small plane and being returned to Las Vegas area (this flight is included in the expedition fees from Hatch).

In summary–absolutely great experience for all in our group, it truly is a once in a lifetime, one place in the world kind of experience.  Where else can you travel 180+ miles through a national park, take in the absolute majesty of millions of years of natural geology, and never see any cars/villages/cell-phones, etc.?  I now understand why this trip is on so many people’s lifetime “bucket lists”… surprisingly, it wasn’t on my list before taking the trip, but upon returning, i would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys nature.  Hatch was a wonderful outfitter and I will strongly recommend to my friends who consider the same trip–their attention to customers, professionalism, great equipment, and real meaningful multi-generational commitment to the park and river guiding (grandpa Hatch started the company in the 1950s) is evident in the excellent service they deliver.

Grand Canyon Rafting 2015-1324Grand Canyon Rafting 2015-1025 Grand Canyon Rafting 2015-1026 Grand Canyon Rafting 2015-1129 Grand Canyon Rafting 2015-1245

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F80 BMW m3 Kidney Grill Replacement Install

I changed the kidney grill “bib” from the factory chrome to a matching black; this is apparently pretty common cosmetic upgrade/change, and it was ultimately pretty easy to do–however, i found the online documentation/help to be a bit confusing so I thought I’d pass my learnings forward herein for others, feel free to post a question if I can help you out with more details.

before after f80 grill

First, I bought from IND who were very good with customer service, prompt on delivery, and super knowledgeable when i called a few times with questions before and after purchase.  Highly recommend.  Here’s the F80 Front Grill Surround part that i ordered.

Here’s what the part looks like:

Front Grill

IND provides a DIY video tutorial which is generally correct, but, it was not sufficient for me to succeed with the installation.  Here’s the video:

And here’s what was wrong / additional information needed to be successful:

  • In addition to a Torx 27 tool to remove 6 screws that hold the top of the bumper to the frame (which need to be removed in order to lift the bumper forward to gain access with your hands to the rear where 8 separate tabs snap the plastic of the cover to tabs on the bumper), there are 2 ADDITIONAL screws that require a Torx 25 screw driver.  It may be possible to complete the project without pulling these additional Torx 25 screws, but I would not recommend as it would put needless pressure on the plastic bumper element.  See photo for location:

torque screws

  • With all screws removed, the next step is correct in the IND video, but grossly oversimplified.  it is VERY tricky to find and remove the 8 individual snap/pressure points to get the original grill off the bumper.  After 20 minutes of fidgeting and trying to figure out what to do, i found this very helpful and more accurate video illustration that correctly captures the effort and steps needed:

  • Despite being much harder/trickier then the IND video made the project look, it is actually only a 10 minute project and very DIY… just a little tighter space to work with and some small hands come in handy given the tight spaces.

I love the result and i think it is a great cost/benefit upgrade, much better looking!

Here’s some additional photos in the process which i wish I had as reference, hope they help you out:

pulling off

In photo above: try to get one grill off first by starting with top 3 fasteners, then either the left/right one which allows to start to pull out of frame (as seen in picture, where top 3 and left 1 (so 4 of the 8) have been unfastened), with the right 1 and the bottom 3 still to go.  Once all 8 of them are unsnapped, the piece just pops out.  And THEN, the other grill is easy, as you can now stick your hand through the empty space you created, making for a much faster remove  of the 8 snaps.  It took me 10 minutes to do the left grill, and less than 1 minute to repeat for right side.

Photo below: shows both grills removed.  Inserting the new grills is a simple push/snap gesture, takes 2 seconds each.  So all the work is in getting the existing grills to pop-off!

grill offAnd here is the finished result:

IMG_1478

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Play It Again Sports & Ski Seattle Location = SUCKS

ripples of bad customer service

It has been nearly 3 years but i’m still smarting over the horrendous customer experience that I had at the Play It Again Sports & Ski store in downtown Seattle (the one by REI’s flagship store).  Every time I drive by their location and see their sign, my blood boils a little–so I figured I’d take the time to write up my experience, in hopes of helping their business to fail!  I’ll keep it short so it doesn’t suck up too much more of my life…

I went into the store with my wife and 2 boys ages 9 and 10 at the time, and purchased 1 new pair of boots, 1 used pair of boots, and 2 used pair of skis.  I was helped by a young woman who’s name i no longer remember, but who at the time i did (let’s call her Beth).  Beth was very nice/friendly and helped us find the right equipment amongst their buckets of random used stuff (pretty good inventory).  I did this on a personal credit card, and as always, threw the receipt away on way out the door because who keeps receipts when great customer service stores never require a receipt for legitimate issues that arise (read on).

My 9 year old thought his boots were too tight, so i came back to the store with him after 1 day of use of the equipment, 2 weeks from the original date as it was a weekend errand.  I was greeted with what I assumed to be “distrust that this customer is trying to rip us off”, and told that exchanging the boots for a different size was going to cost me $20 USD unless i had the receipt.  The reason, “because how are we to know that you didn’t buy those boots a year ago and are now coming in to upgrade for free”.  Wow, even if that is the thought going through the cashiers’ mind–to say that out loud to a customer?  For what–to get another $20 bucks at the risk of pissing the customer off at being called a thief/con-artist?  Alas, i saw Beth and said “Beth, you remember us, we were here 2 weeks ago for over 90 minutes picking out boots and skiis,  you were so helpful, remember us?” To which Beth stared at me with a blank stare and said… “Nope”.

I haven’t been back since, nor will i ever, and I’ve told everyone i can at the slightest opportunity that the store SUCKS… it literally is the single worst customer experience i’ve ever had in retail.

And no, the employees were not jr/unexperienced–the guy that gave me the hardest time was the shift-manager or the manager or the owner, because when i asked if I could speak to a manager, he proudly told me that he was the person responsible and he was only too proud to demonstrate his mastery of company policy, nay incompetence at basic customer service skills.

As a counter-point, a few months ago I was at the Peet’s Coffee and Tea location on Greenlake, where my wife and I realized shortly after ordering at the cash register that neither of us had our wallets.  After watching us fumble and look at each other in consternation, the cashier kindly volunteered that “this one is on us, no problem” and treated us to our morning coffees.  That too is a story i tell often and at every opportunity i get, and i’ve found myself buying more Peet’s and less Starbucks (across the street) whenever i’m at that particular location and in the mood for coffee (which is 2-3x a week).

Little customer service moments are always HUGE to the customer.  Organizations that don’t intellectually get that, and are not slavishly pursuing customer happiness and delight with every ounce of their energy and resources… will loose.

Play It Again Sports & Ski downtown Seattle, here’s to your catastrophic business failure!

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My Apple Watch Review, vis a vis Fitbit Surge

I sold my Apple Watch after 1 week of use, here’s why!

After a sordid 1 week fling with the Apple Watch, i decided this AM that I had had enough and i posted it for sale on my internal company bulletin board.  I hope to unload it quickly to a lucky colleague so that she/he can have at least a week of fun, if not a lifetime!

Apple Watch

Here’s my experience with the Apple Watch, starting with the many cons/problems that led me to such a rapid falling out of interest for what otherwise should have been an exciting new product for a ultra geek early adopter like me! :

  • Another device that needs to be charged every night and that with any kind of active use during the day, runs out of battery before dinner time (and thus creates more battery anxiety that governs the use of the device during the day!)
  • Another USB cable to take on business trips or vacations, with a completely proprietary charging end which thus requires that this cable be taken anywhere if the watch is going to be used for more than 1 day!
  • I’m not a watch guy to begin with–haven’t worn a watch for 10+ years, and only started to have a time-piece on my wrist in the last year because of my interest in activity trackers (i’ve owned 3 to date, and found myself liking having the time on my wrist again and not needing to reach for my phone to get the time throughout the day).  But the Nike Fuel Band, FitBit v1, and FitBit Surge (the 3 trackers i’ve owned) are all much better casual time-checking tools as they are smaller/lighter and or can be charged 1x per 7 days.  This is a huge tradeoff for me–i can take a business trip and not need another cable, and, they use a standard cable that works with other things besides themselves.
  • The daily activity app is lame.  I like the visualization with the cool colors and wheels, but am totally disinterested in tracking “minutes of activity”, “number of hours in the day where you stood for at least 1 minute”, and “calories”.  I’m much more interested in tracking miles walked/traveled, stairs climbed, points against an index of activity (such as fitbit steps or nike fuel), etc. type metrics
  • The exercise tracking app is lame.  I’ve had a lot of experience with FitBit and Strava apps as well as MapMyRun.  All much better than the app on the watch which does not integrate with any gps/map functionality despite its dependency on the phone?  Or if it does, after 1 week of use I couldn’t figure out how to do that, which means it is an impossibly confusing and hard to use device which is just as bad!  The heartbeat tracking on the watch is very intermittent (not continuos throughout the day, like the FitbitSurge), which makes it just a “approximate” tracker of heartrate at best, and at worst a waste of battery since it read my heart rate at 180 beats per minute for a contiguous 30 minutes today on a run (which is at least 10% too high as that rate of beats would have killed me!)–i sense the heart rate reader is just crap bad (maybe they can fix with a future software update).
  • The UI for finding and loading apps is lame.  It has a dedicated button to get to “friends” screen, which in 1 week i didn’t use once.  When i want to IM or call a friend I reach for my phone.  However, when I want to use the various apps on the Watch (which I did often) such as the exercise, music play controller, Strava app, stock picker, settings menu, New York Times reader, etc. you enter into wacky land of hunting and pecking with tiny screen real-estate and the scrollable nob.  I found that by the time i found the app and got it to load (very slow to load apps, eg: 3-5 seconds per app) i could have much more quickly reached to my pocket and pulled out phone and gotten to the information/app i wanted.
  • The actual “killer apps” for me on the Apple Watch turned out to be…. none.  there is nothing that i found myself using the watch for that was actually useful, or fun, or exciting, or … anything other than “meh!”.  That coupled with the hassle of taking it off to shower (it is not water proof), taking it off to charge each night, and having to look at yet another cable to drag with me everywhere I go so it can be charged… wow, really underwhelmed.

Just to state some positives for fun, and to practice being a positive person:

  • Its cool how it lights up the screen when it senses i’ve raised my wrist or otherwise gestured with the intent of looking at the screen.  it works most of the time–only a few times did I find myself having to tell it to turn on by touching the face
  • several nifty/cool UI concepts at play that with iteration could really be fun/work.
  • lots of support from 3rd party apps–good for apple to being such a powerhouse monopoly with the attention of phone app developers… there were almost TOO many applications, i found myself almost wishing there were fewer so i could focus on a few great ones (most of them are not that interesting)
  • the band fits really nicely, doesn’t chafe, and snaps on/off easily but securely.
  • The dictation voice-to-text is good, you could use to send text messages to friends without pulling your phone out of your pocket (if you aren’t a total Dick Tracy want to be dweeb!)
  • The talking to the thing as a microphone/speaker to answer a call works if you are Dick Tracy and don’t mind being a dweeb!dich tracy

So i’m going to go back to my FitBit Surge–charges 1x a week, tells the time, is a better health tracker for both casual activity (walking around) and exercise (has GPS and more accurate distance and performance tracking, and a great community of friends that use fitbit, and integration with Strava which I use for more serious training for marathons and such).  Here’s a photo of the surge next to my apple watch on its last day of use (when i wore them both to compare the data they generated).

Apple Watch and Surge

I actually am not sure who the Apple Watch is for other than people that really like watches?  If the battery life approached 5-7 days on 1 charge, it was 50% thinner, and the physical buttons or other macro gestures could be linked to the 3-4 apps I actually care about (so it was faster to get it to load the info/app that I want when i want to use it), i would give it another try.  Otherwise, this is the first apple product in 15 years or so that I wish I hadn’t bought (last time that happened was… wait, that has never happened!?)

God forbid anyone would buy a product like this and pay $10k+ for the Gold Edition.  I can’t think of a less practical way to spend that kind of money–the shelf life on this thing, at very best, will be 1 year.  Apple desperately needs to make a v2 of this product that overcomes the many, many, many v1 deficiencies that I think make this a product strictly for super-fan-boys and or fetishist of watches.

Update: after a day on my company bulletin board i had no offers–i guess the demand amongst my peers is zero?  So i ran it over to the Apple store and was given a full refund, no questions asked–A+ customer service Apple, once again.

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Strava and FitBit Surge Together / Review of Fitbit Surge

I’m training for the Copenhagen Marathon in May of this year (2015), and have been using Strava and a new Fitbit Surge device to track my runs.  Unfortunately the two systems are not compatible (update May 2015–they are now compatible, details towards end of this post), and I can’t use the heart-rate readings from the Fitbit Surge as health data inside the surge app.  I just completed a 15m training run and I thought I would post the side by side data that the two apps gathered in hopes this might be of use to other runners considering using either of these two systems.

Strava Report

Fitbit ReportSome immediate observations about the differences in the data that was gathered:

  1. The GPS tracking of the Strava, which is running on my iPhone 6, is much more accurate than the location readings on the Fitbit Surge.  The Strava/iPhone readings are really precise and show small variations in my 4 laps around the lake.  The Fitbit Surge GPS is almost comically “loose”, suggesting a meandering variation on each lap, sometimes straying into the lake itself or across non-existent streets.
  2. The splits/pace information is pretty consistent.  I tried to start both devices tracking at the same time, but the differences in the splits and the total distance and time of the run may be as a result of slight differences in start time, and, when I paused for a 40 second water break mid-way i manually paused the fitbit clock, but the Strava was on auto-pause and may have taken a different sense of that timeframe.  That would account for the 2:05:08 (fitbit) v 2:05:34 (strava).
  3. No idea how to rationalize the 15.01m Fitbit distance vrs. the 15.3m for Strava, which results in the pace discrepancy:  Ftibit says i had a 8:20 overall pace, Strava 8:13 pace.

My sincere desire is that Strava and Fitbit will get their systems connected, not sure who has the burden to do what work, but certainly can’t be very far from core to their missions to support as many devices/APIs as possible in this connected health tracking wearable category?  Strava is focussed on community, Fitbit on devices–let’s go guys!

Later update (March 10 2015): I’ve continued to run 4-5 times per week using both Fitbit Surge and Strava and can add some new data:

  1. The Fitbit Surge is VERY inaccurate in terms of distance travelled on a run, whether that be a 3 mile or a 21 mile course, on road/path or on a treadmill.  I’ve seen a consistent 15-20% under-report of distance run in both free-run (GPS tracking on) mode and “treadmill” run mode.  In Treadmill mode the distance travelled is under-reported almost comically–the device is just pretty much worthless in accuracy on a treadmill.  I would think that the device’s software could compare my GPS enabled and not-enabled runs and correct itself to a better estimate of my gait/pace based on the other data its sensors are gathering.  Alas, the software is clearly NOT doing that kind of comparison of the data and optimization to individual user performance.
  2. The Fitbit Surge is VERY inaccurate in terms of geo-location in GPS mode, and as a result, the pace readings during a run are absurd as well.  While running at a 8:15 minutes per mile pace the surge will report anything in a range of 7:45 to 9:30–ostensibly because it has no idea where i am physically on a map.  The readings that come back from my runs are hilarious–showing me running through buildings, into lakes, etc.–yes, it is approximately correct, but nowhere near accurate enough to track distance and therefore useless for pace and overall splits.
  3. While i have no second heart rate monitor tool to compare the readings to, i’m also confident that the hear rate readings are wildly inaccurate, as during a long run where i’m in a steady state zone of pace/energy/effort, the heart rate readings will ramp up and down by 10% range which is attributable to inaccuracy of the device’s readings, not variations in my heart rate load.

Here is a recent run that Strava reported as 21.1 miles, side by side with Fitbit.  Notice the accuracy of tracking on Fitbit Surge leaves much to be desired–which makes the device pretty useless as a serious fitness device:

Side by side Strava and Fitibit Surge

Give my first 2 months of experience with the Fitbit Surge, i would not recommend as a health tracker–way too inaccurate.  I’m actually now very curious about the Apple Watch which is shipping soon, given that it will rely on the phone for measurements which i’ve found to be much more accurate (via Strava).

Update May 2015.  So a few things happened next for me.  On a 15 mile run i tripped and fell face first into a ditch.  At the time i had enough natural endorphins pulsing through my body that I just got up and kept running–but within 24hrs i was in incredible pain along my left rib-cage.  For next 5 weeks I have been laid up and haven’t been able to run, alas, the travails of training for marathons (this seems to happen to me 50% of the time I train).  So i missed my marathons (i had rescheduled my target run to the San Luis Obispo race, since I was ready for a earlier race than the originally planned Coppenhagen).  At this point, i’ll be re-starting my training for a late summer date tbd.

But, in that timeframe a lot has happened:

  • Fitbit released a patch to firmware that some have asked/suggested might improve accuracy.  I have yet to try (will update once I do).
  • Fitbit got their act together and there is now compatibility with Strava, http://strava.fitbit.com, which seems to push performance data back and forth between the two systems.  Yay for fitbit.  I’m going to try soon, have linked my accounts but am not yet pushing real miles through the system so need to get my runs up to 5+ miles for the data to be interesting.
  • i got an Apple Watch, and have started using it as yet another ecosystem of data and sensors.

Apple Watch

So, here’s my first impressions of the Apple Watch as a fitness and performance sports tracker:

  • I miss my Fitbit.  Apple’s passive tracking focusses on 3 key performance indicators (KPIs)–how often you stand for 1 minute in an hour of each of 12 hours of a day, how many minutes of “activity” you have in a day, and how many calories you burn in a day.  I miss the Fitbit Surge’s focus on steps and distance and stairs/steps, which felt more accurate and meaningful to my daily “activity” goals.  The Apple Watch notion of standing for 1 minute of each hour leads to several little notifications throughout the day while i’m at work at the end of a 60 minute meeting that has run over a few minutes… when suddenly not only I, but the other geeks in the room with a new Apple Watch, all get this little buzz on their wrists.  I feel like a lemming!  The little concentric circles in the UI of the watch, each representing one of the 3 KPIs, is *very* cool visualization, but the KPIs that are being tracked are not for me!
  • As a distance/performance tracker, i’ve had limited experience but the Apple Watch application with the green circle and a figure running, which offers tracking for various walk, run, swim, row, pedal type sport workouts, is really pretty lame.  It allows distance, calorie, or time targets or Open setting to just track–but it doesn’t track GPS activity on the watch or give splits or any other serious feedback on performance.  I think apple will add more integration of this data in the future, or build a companion app for the iPhone… but for now, this is pretty much useless.
  • Strava does have a nice handy companion app so that you can start/stop and get other workout data from the watch, while the phone in your pocket running Strava does the real work.  This seems likely to be my continued preference, and also gives me a remote on the watch face to control the playback of my iPhone spotify account (which i couldn’t do before without taking the phone out of my fanny pack on long runs).  So i thin the Apple Watch is going to be a great REMOTE to control my iPhone, but not a self-contained tracker to replace a wrist worn GPS tracker or activity tracker of any kind.  Weird, yet another thing to put on my wrist/pocket while i run which also does NOT actually do all the things I want!

Apple Watch and Surge

Ok so here we go, 4m run using all three: fitbit surge and Apple Watch on my wrist, Strava running on iOS on my iPhone 6 in my fanny pack:

  • Apple Watch exercise app says I ran 3.83m, 32:54 time, 288 calories (active), 61 cal (resting–no idea what that is because I was running the entire time, must be part of run where my heart rate was in a lower range, nay, incorrectly reading as low as I was running fast first mile), 349 total calories, 8:34 pace, average heart rate 175bpm (yikes, i’d be dead if that was true–i’m 44 years old).  Pretty poor and inaccurate data.
  • Fitbit Surge says i ran 4.00 miles, 32:38 time, 8:09 pace, calories burned 474, and average heard rate 160 bpm and of the 33 minutes heard rate was in “peak” range 30 minutes, cardio range 2 minutes, fat burn 1 minute (seems like much much better heart rate readings than the apple watch.
  • Strava says i ran 4.00 miles, 32:40 time, 8:01 pace, burned 686 calories.  Not sure how I get the strava/fitbit data to sync, i don’t see the fitbit heartrate data in the strava app… nor did either app post to the other in any other way that I can see.  Hmm…

So, 3 pretty messy and different reports.  The time differences have to do with me not being able to exactly start and stop them all at once as I had to fiddle with each device.  I like the mileage reading from strava+fitbit now showing exactly same figure, which i know from measuring on google-maps to be accurate!  that’s an improvement on the fitbit surge with the new firmware (it has never previously reported this run as 4.00m).  Here’s the mapping data from fitbit and stava side by side, which looks much better than previous runs (i would still like to test on a longer run and with more varied route, but this does look like it has been fixed by the firmware update last month to fitbit surge!)

strava fitbit side by side

In figure above the Strava track is on the left, Fitbit on the right.  I can definitely see huge improvements in accuracy and much more frequent samples in the Fitbit Surge data, which actually caught a few subtle route details that were missed by the Strava plot.  This is a huge improvement.

Based on this run’s data, if Fitbit and Surge data integration is actually working (still tbd how to make that work) i think i might sell the apple watch to a colleague at work who wants it, and go back to using the combination of fitbit and strava.  The apple watch is a turkey–too little battery life (1 day), not enough useful functions, and crappy sports tracker.

I’ll add to this post if I learn more.

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buuteeq’s new name?

So a lot of folks have emailed me this week asking me “what happened to buuteeq”, so i thought i’d write a quick informal post to document for the seo bots.  As of first week of January 2015 we’ve changed the name of the buuteeq hotel marketing platform, it is now part of Booking.com’s BookingSuite family.  You can now find us at http://suite.booking.com

BookingSuite

I remember very fondly the day/time that Brian Adam and I named buuteeq, while in a hotel room in Beijing in January of 2010.  The company was originally called Hanbao Software (“hamburger” in Chinese), and it felt like that placeholder name (while undeniably cute/funny to native mandarin speakers), was not going to work for us as we got ready to start offering the product to hotels (at least with a straight face).  We spent a good 2+ hrs brainstorming, and thought ourselves brilliant when we opted for the kabal of letters that was b-u-u-t-e-e-q.  I was smitten with the visual balance of the double “u” and double “e” framed by inverse symmetrical b and q letters.  At the time (2010), what self-respecting tech startup didn’t want an impossibly silly misspelling of a common word, as their mark?  Alas, if we could have estimated the spelling-bee tax that buuteeq would become: over the years we probably spent a collective multi-hundred-thousand minutes (as a team) spelling the word on the phone to baffled listeners: “b, u, u, t, e, e, q… yes, like “buuh-teeek”, or “boutique”, the french word”.  Would have been so much simpler if the boutique dot com word was not parked by a domain squatter (and impossible for non french or english native speakers to spell without help!) Despite the spelling challenges and sarah lacey hating it, buuteeq as a mark served us well.  It captured the aspirational brand ambitions of our hotelier customers… all of whom have a unique product and a unique vision, and need technical help telling that story to prospective guests through digital channels.  We continue that journey as BookingSuite, a much easier to spell mark! and one that has instant recognition as part of planet earth’s #1 accommodation site, booking.com!  Booking Yeah!

I’ll also include a 1 paragraph description of buuteeq for the SEO bots looking for “what is buuteeq”.  buuteeq was a software company founded by Forest Key, Adam Brownstein and Brian Saab in January 2010 that build the world’s first digital marketing system for hotels, the buuteeq Cloud DMS.  The company grew to have thousands of hotel customers and 100s of employees before being acquired by the Priceline Group in June of 2014.  Forest, Adam, Brian and the entire product team continue at the company as part of Booking.com’s BookingSuite offering, with many more details yet to come about the innovation roadmap i’m beyond excited and thrilled about–more so than when this journey began nearly 5 years ago!  We’re having a blast and the party is still in its early days!

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Recommendations for visit to Madrid, Spain

I  lived in Spain during a study abroad year in college back in early 1990s, and have returned several times since for business and pleasure.  I’ve found myself writing up some of my recommendations for “what should i do if I visit Madrid” for many friends, and after completing this recent email (below) i figured i’d throw it on my blog as I’ve noticed that my “Things to do if you visit Chile” blog post has gotten quite a few visitors in the last year and has been nominally useful to others.  So in that spirit, here are my recommendations for things not to miss in Madrid and immediate vicinity (eg: within 90 minute train ride).  Note that this was written for a friend of mine from China, so i was stressing cultural elements that she would find particularly interesting!

These are the “towns near madrid to get out of the city to see some smaller towns:

  • Toledo: small cute town with lots of nice walking things to see, museums, churches, and need small streets on a hill.  Town with lots of history.  it is 40 minute train ride SOUTH of Madrid.  Plan a day trip there and back with a nice lunch.  You may want to join a tour with a chinese speaking guide?  it is easy to just go on your own, but, you might enjoy a guide as there is a lot of history?
  • Salamanca and Segovia.  Salamanca is a bigger small city about 90 minutes North-West from Madrid which is really great and has a lot to see, it is also a nice drive to get there.  on the way there right on the freeway is Segovia, lovely small town.  Both are worth seeing, you can do them together in 1 long day eg: start early, drive in car or train, to Salamanca–walk salamanca and see the Plaza (central square), the Catedral (church), and the university campus (very old university, where Chrisopher Columbus did some planning to go to america).  Then, go back to madrid via Segovia, have a lunch in Segovia (lunch inSpain is between 2pm and 4pm, so you could have lunch at 3pm at a nice restaurant) then walk Segovia–Roman ruins from an Aqueduct that is 2000 years old, and great little small town with lovely streets).  This is a BIG day, but it can be done.  Other option is to break this up into 2 trips.  Both are worth seeing.  If you only have time to do 1 of these, Segovia is closer and thus easier so do that.  Salamanca is really neet, but maybe too far.  I did in car and really liked the drive, but you may find that stressful?  I don’t know?  Trains are very good in spain so that’s always a easier way!

In Madrid be sure to see:

  • Go to a Flamenco Show.  Usually they start at 12am or even 1am (very late).  There is a great place called Cafe Chinitas that i have always liked.  you buy tickets/reservation, then go and have drinks and watch dancing and singing.  MUST DO, super cool, very very unique/different style of music.  All of these are good places:  http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g187514-c84779/Madrid:Spain:Flamenco.Guide.Madrid.html
  • If there are any Bull Fights in season i would go, very interesting and old fashioned–sad to see bulls killed, but i recommend.  I don’t think they have them in January, however, here is the bull ring website just in case:  http://www.las-ventas.com/
  • If you can, go see a professional soccer match for Real Madrid or Atletico Madridspanish LOVE soccer, amazing experience.  You can find tickets always, might be expensive, but seeing Real Madrid play (one of best teams in the world) is a real experience!

Then there are the traditional tourist sights:

  • Plaza Mayor &  Puerta del Sol walking area (public squares)
  • Jardin del Buen Retiro (big park, go in daytime, at night not so safe, daytime no problem)
  • El Prado (huge museum full of amazing OLD art collections, get a guide of some sort or recording in chinese, without a guide it is pointless as there is too much to see!)
  • The Palace (king and queens) where there is a lot of stuff to see
  • dozens of other museums…
  • and dozens of fun neighborhoods to just walk around in and look at people and windows of stores etc.  your hotel can help you with that…

Food (lunch is 2-4pm, dinner is 10-12pm–they really really really do eat at that time, you won’t find the best restaurants open before then!  make reservations for the popular places!)

  • Must try = Botin.  A bit touristy, but really good and REALLY old, in continuous service since 1700s.  eat the suckling pig and the lamb, both are incredible!  http://www.botin.es/?q=en  It is near the Plaza Mayor so nice walking area.
  • Go to dinner one night on Calle Huertas (that means “Huertas Street”), it is a street filled with neat restaurants and bars that you can walk up and down in about 40 minutes round trip.  Lots of people out and about walking in this area at night, fun to people watch.  Plaza Santa Ana is a nice square surrounded by restaurants right by this street, so maybe walk the street, then eat at the restaurants on the Plaza.
  • Tapas” is a style of food where you stand at a bar (usually, although you can also have them at a table) and order small plates of different types that they will give you while you have a small beer.  you can go to a bar, have a small beer and a “tapas”, then go to another bar and do the same, and in this way walk between many bars/restaurants eating “tapas” along the way.  it is a style of “moving restaurant experience”.  very fun.  You can go to many neighborhoods where there are lots of “tapas” bars near each other.  There are also some new “markets” that have nice organic produce and lots of little stands for tapas”–one such market is this one: Mercado de San Miguel Pza. San Miguel, S/N 28013 Madrid, Spain Be sure to try: Tortilla Espanola (eggs and potato pie), Jamon Serrano (spanish cured ham), Queso Manchego (spanish cheese that is amazing), Gambas al Ajilo (shrimp in garlic), and anything else you see that looks tasty!
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