My 2017 year in travel

A number years ago, when my personal and professional life took a major turn, I committed myself to traveling more. Prior to that, I was fully wrapped up in work, and when i wasn't, I just wanted to stay local where I was comfortable. It was a short-sighted view that kept me from really experiencing life.

Since then, I've had some of the best times of my life while traveling near and far. I've grown in my knowledge, respect, and appreciation for other cultures. I've improved as a human being, and I think I've even gotten better at my job because of travel.

In 2017, I failed at traveling internationally. I try to do at least 1 international trip a year, but this year that didn't happen (I don't count Canada as international...its too similar to the USA to be considered a growth experience for me). I had planned to go to Argentina, but job changes resulted in putting that trip on hold, for 2018.

So, 2017 was a year of domestic travel for me! I traveled a fair amount, returning to some places for the first time in years, and revisiting common destinations. In fact, in 2017 I moved from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco, California, so some of my travel was to PDX, the first time I've been an adult visitor to my 'home' town.

This year's travel included:

  • Two trips to San Francisco as a visitor, before I moved in February
  • Five trips to Portland as a visitor, after moving to San Francisco in February
  • Moline, IL/Davenport, IA...also called the Quad Cities
  • Chicago, IL
  • Wichita, KS for a family reunion
  • Orcas Island, in Washington's San Juan Islands
  • Las Vegas
  • Seattle three times (once for work, twice to visit friends)
  • Two Hawaiian islands (Oahu and the Big Island)
  • Hartfort, CT
  • Isle La Motte in Vermont's Lake Champlain (with some time in Burlington)
  • Toronto

I also got to explore my new home of Northern California a bit! I spent a few various days in wine country, including a spa day in Calistoga on one trip, some wine tasting around Heildsburg on another, and kayaking in Lake Sonoma while playing hooky from work. One weekend my girlfriend and I went to Palo Alto, just 30 miles away, in search of a hotel with a pool and air conditioning...totally worth it!

With that, here are my flying stats: 

  • 40 flights
  • 37,307 miles traveled
  • Average of 933 miles/flight
  • Most unusual flight: About 70 miles on seaplane with 3 take-offs and landings
  • 5 different airlines (mostly United)
  • Thats 23% fewer miles, 20% fewer flights than 2016

Here's to more international travel in 2018! Where should I go? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
— Mark Twain

Adventures in cooking

I just had an incredible meal: wild caught salmon filet with a roasted cherry tomato & red chermoula topping, next to a caramelized endive salad with pine nuts and a lemon dill vinaigrette. The entire meal was organic and fresh. It was paleo, low carb, satisfying, and just $14. Most importantly, it exploded wth flavor and I loved every bite of it.

In fact, I made this meal myself! I have no professional or even home chef experience, but in about 30 minutes I chopped, squeezed, seared, roasted, and cooked this meal from scratch, so-to-speak. I had all the ingredients I needed, no more and no less.

Our salmon with cherry tomato, endive, chermoula, and lemon-dill dressing

This meal came from Sunbasket, the meal delivery service I've been using since March of this year. Sunbasket is similar to Blue Apron, Home Chef, HelloFresh, and other meal subscription services. Once a week, I get an insulated box on my doorstep that has all the ingredients and recipes for 2 to 4 meals that week. All the ingredients are included, perfectly portioned. The recipes have easy to follow step by step instructions. I simply provide salt, pepper, olive oil, and a desire to put in a small amount of effort towards a great meal.

Below is my review. Sunbasket didn't put me up to this, I just love the product and want to share my experience with others. I'm not being paid for this post, but if you sign up with my referral link, I'll get an account credit.

Why a meal delivery service?

My girlfriend and I decided to try a meal delivery service because we wanted to spend less money and consumer fewer calories than our lives had been experiencing. We were either going out to restaurants or ordering in 5-7 nights per week. My wallet, and waistline, were showing it. Using a service like Sunbasket results in far fewer calories consumed, and less money spent, than our typical routine.

Our meals end up being either $12.50 or $14.00 per person, depending on our selection of 2 or 3 meals per week. This is less than even the local taqueria in San Francisco where we live. Far less than our favorite restaurant just a block away, where we'd easily spend $30 per person, not including drinks.

For me, the calorie savings are most important. I'm the type of person that eats whatever is in front of me, as much as is in front of me. Restaurants in America really like to put food in front of us. I suspect that when eating dinner out, I'm looking at a minimum of 1,000 calories...even when ordering a salad. With a meal delivery service like Sunbasket, my portions are reasonable and subsequently, so are the calories....between 550 and 700 per meal.

Why Sunbasket

There are a large number of options for meal delivery services. Blue Apron is probably the most well known, and the company even went public recently. I have no doubt that had we selected Blue Apron, Home Chef, HelloFresh, or any other service, we'd have been reasonably happy. That said, Sunbasket offered some benefits that we were attracted to.

First was the option to select different types of meal plans. We wanted low carb, and while that isn't an explicit option with Sunbasket, they do have a paleo option that offers exactly what we wanted...protein and vegetables, no high-carb, wheat-based products.

We also liked the organic nature of Sunbasket. While we are not religious about eating organic, we select organic options when they exist and are reasonable replacements for non-organic. Sunbasket is 100% organic and non-GMO produce, while meats/seafoods are all humanely raised, antibiotic and hormone-free. Similarly to their commitment to sustainable foods, we liked that Sunbasket ships their boxes in completely recyclable and compostable packaging. The ice-pack is nothing but cotton and water. The insulation is recyclable. You can optionally send the box back to Sunbasket for re-use. This made us feel a lot better about the level of waste with a concept like this.

Finally, we were happy with the delivery day for our zip-code. This is something that took me by surprise, but when I tried to sign up for a different service while living in Portland last year, the only delivery day I could get was Friday. With Sunbasket and living in San Francisco, our delivery day began as Wednesday, but was soon moved to Tuesday (yay!) and this week was Monday for an unknown reason (more yay!).

Since we selected Sunbasket, a few other benefits have popped up. We love that we can pause/skip a week. We like that we can do 2, 3, or 4 nights per week. Their customer service is great, and the product has been improved (faster delivery, more meal plan options, etc).

This week's box, just 2 meals due to our other evening commitments this week. Everything needed is in those brown bags, and the meat is perfectly chilled during transport.

I feel like an accomplished chef

We are experiencing all the benefits we expected with Sunbasket, and then some. I wasn't expecting to learn as much about cooking, and as much about flavor as I have! As it turns out, there are some easy ways to amp up the flavor of any meal, and I'll take these tips with me well beyond my experience with Sunbasket.

Use salt and olive oil liberally

One thing you'll notice when following a Sunbasket recipe is that you'll salt everything, sometimes more than once. If you make a dressing, you'll be instructed to salt it. When you cook meat, you'll be told to salt the meat liberally. Salt isn't just flavor itself, it brings out flavors in the other ingredients, especially proteins like steak.

Similarly, Sunbasket will make you go through a lot of olive oil, and thats a good thing! Nearly everything is cooked in olive oil, many things rubbed and coated in olive oil, and most dressings are an olive oil base.

Do yourself a favor, and ensure your kitchen is always stocked with artisanal salt (flor de sel), and high quality olive oil. You'll thank me later.

Citrus flavor comes from the peel

Its no surprise that citrus, like lemon and lime, packs a lot of flavor. What I didn't know is that most of the flavor is in the peel! When making Sunbasket recipes, you'll find yourself "zesting" every single lemon or lime in your basket. Literally every time the recipe calls for lemon or lime, you'll be told to zest and use with the juice. So much flavor!

Spices from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia are amazing

If you need to add flavor to a dish, turn to spices that have a historical or cultural origin in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The flavors I've experienced with Sunbasket are incredible, and typically when a flavor blows me away, the ingredient is rooted in a spice from one of these three regions of the world.

Chermoula, from tonight's dinner, is from Algeri and Lybia, made from cumin. Tomorrow night, our pork dish has kimchi, an ingredient from Korea. Harrissa is a common spice rub from many of our past meals, a flavor that originates in Lybia and Tunisia. Sumac, basil, and sesame oil are all common ingredients, and all things that are less common in American or European cooking.

There are so many tasty vegetables

I've also discovered that I can have a variety of tasty vegetables at home! I don't have to eat only green beans and broccoli. With Sunbasket, we eat a lot of endive, celery root, fennel, radish, and arugula. Sure, I've had and like all of those things, but I rarely cook them at home. I now know that my options for easy and tasty veggies goes far beyond green beans and broccoli.

Give it a try

If you've been curious about meal delivery services like these, I recommend you give them a try. I believe all the popular services are commitment free (cancel any time) and come with a free week to get started.

Sure, you could go to the grocery store and by all these ingredients yourself for less, but if you are like me, you won't be able to make meals as tasty as these, and you won't be able to do it without an ounce of food waste like you can with Sunbasket.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not being paid for this post and I wrote it of my own accord. That said, if you sign up with this link, I'll get a $25 credit in my account. Thank you!

You look ridiculous with those wires hanging out of your ears (Or, Apple's best product in years)

Seriously, you look ridiculous with those white headphone wires hanging out of your ears. Remember when those wires meant you were cool? That you had the latest technology and were a trend setter? They now say that you are lame. You are behind the times. You don't know what cool is. You might as well wear socks and Teva's.

 Remember this? Ads with images like this graced billboards, magazine pages, and tv, making white headphone wires the symbol of cool.

Remember this? Ads with images like this graced billboards, magazine pages, and tv, making white headphone wires the symbol of cool.

A shift in style, fashion, and technology is happening. Apple defined what digital cool was, and they can change anytime they want. They are replacing the old cool with new cool. The new cool is also the best product they have made in years: the Apple AirPod Bluetooth headphones. This product is so well designed, so well made, they will go down as one of the best product's Apple has ever made. I love this product, more than I ever thought I would. Below is my review.


A few months ago, I purchased a pair of Apple AirPod headphones. AirPods are Apple's first foray into wireless, bluetooth headphones. Sure, they own Beats which offers a few bluetooth options, but this is the first offering under the Apple name, and with the absence of a headphone jack in the iPhone 7, a critical offering.

 Image Credit: Apple

Image Credit: Apple

With this product, Apple took some risks. Instead of making bulky over/on the hear headphones, or those silly around the neck wireless/but not really wireless headphones, they stuck with their iconic headphone design...just without the wires. That means the headphones are two, small pieces. They also look rather funny, with the "stem" that the wires would usually exit from, poking down out of the hear into thin air.

Had I told you a year ago that this is what Apple would do, you'd have thought I was crazy. Today, I am here to tell you that I think this is the best product that Apple has released in years...maybe since the original iPhone. Apple will sell 100's of millions of this product, at the price of $159, which is an attractive combination for Apple and it's shareholders (I am one).

So, why do I like these headphones so much? Read on.

Simple design

The design of these headphones shows exactly what Apple does so well: simplicity. There is nothing unnecessary on these headphones. No buttons. Plain white. Small. Beyond the physical design, they just work. They simply work. Easy to pair. Easy to use. When I first got my hands on them, I thought I'd have to figure out a new way to interact with a nuanced device, but I was wrong. They work out-of-the-box with almost no thought.

Pairing & using

Getting started with AirPods is easy. Just take them out of the box, and while near one of your iOS devices, clip open the lid on the case. They'll pair right away, with some handy visual indicators on your phone to confirm whats happening. One of the things Apple was really smart about was integrating AirPod info into the iOS operating system.

Of course, they also pair with your MacOS devices (laptops & desktops), WatchOS, and any other device that supports Bluetooth 4.0 or higher...even your PC or Android phone. Paring with non-Apple devices won't be as easy, but they still made it nice and simple, with the product's only physical button being a nearly invisible pairing button on the back of the case for pairing with non-Apple devices.

Simple pairing aside, the best feature of AirPods is how easy they are to use! Remove them from their case, put them in your ears, and you are ready to go! Seriously, no other action necessary! No power button, no need to pair, no need to select an output source. They just work, flawlessly! Whether with my iPhone or MacBook Pro, these headphones are the most simple bluetooth device I've ever used.

A few other things: They connection never seems to drop or degrade, I don't have to repair to reset, like I have had to do with some non-Apple bluetooth devices. The range is also great. The version of Bluetooth that they run is rated at up to 60 feet and I can confirm that they do operate well at 30-60 feet from the source. I also find the sound quality to be just fine...I'm not an audiophile or a music nerd, I only need decent sound for podcasts and short term music listening.

Battery & case

Apple did something unconventional for bluetooth headphones when they designed the AirPods, they made it a 3 piece product. The headphones are individual, disconnected pieces for the left and right ears, and they come in a case, making for 3 pieces of hardware.

There is a great reason for this. Apple has created a great combination of size/portability and battery life. They did this by putting a few hours of battery power in the headphones, and many more hours of use through a battery in the case. The case serves as a place to hold/secure your headphones, a way to charge them, and a way to recharge them on the go.

I got my AirPods in mid-April and have used them off and on 5 days per week since then. In early June, I count only 5 times that I had to plug the case into a lightning cable for recharging. Thats because the battery capacity in the case is enough to recharge the headphones themselves many times over. A headphone charge should last for 2-3 hours of continuous use, but I tend to use them for 20-60 minutes at a time, and then put them back into the case for safekeeping and automatic recharging. So, my headphones are almost always at 100% charge when I use them.

This combination of small batteries in the headphones themselves, a larger battery in the case, and a design that encourages placing in the case between uses has resulted in fantastic effective battery life. Like electric cars, battery life is typically the #1 concern of any wireless device.

Light sensors

The first time I used my AirPods to listen to music, I discovered a hidden and useful feature. Each headphone has a light sensor to detect when they are in your ears or not! They way Apple uses this feature is to pause/stop audio....and I presume to also conserve battery life.

When wearing AirPods, removing one from your ear will pause the audio you are listening too (music, podcast, whatever...might also pause audio/video but I haven't tried that yet). Putting the headphone back in your ear resumes the play of audio from where it was paused. Removing both headphones is like pressing stop, putting them back in your ear will not restart your audio.

What a simple, useful and unexpected feature! Thank you to the Apple Engineers that thought of this, its truly a feature that makes these headphones a delight to use.

Tap to control

In addition to removing headphones from your ear to control your phone/computer, there is one other way to interact with your Apple devices through the AirPods: double tap either one of the headphones while in the ear.

The default setting for double tap is to engage Siri. This is handy if you have your phone put away and want to do something like check the time or compose a text. The action on double tap can be changed to play/pause music, and I suspect with future software upgrades to both the AirPds and iOS, we'll get more possibilities.

Its Siri though that makes these headphones powerful. I suspect that Apple will take on Amazon Alexa via headphone integration, not through an in-home device. The killer use-case for voice controlled technology is mobile, and physical devices like Echo speakers will go the way of the landline telephone. Apple knows this and is building for a future that revolves around personal mobile devices for voice commands, and these headphones are a key element of that plan.

What could be improved on

Of course, the product could be improved in a few ways. I miss volume control. The freedom of wireless allows me to put my phone away more than wired headphones allowed for, but I can't control the volume except for with my phone. This is slightly annoying.

I also find that switching between devices to be less seamless than I'd expect from Apple. I use my AirPods with my iPhone and with my MacBook Pro. During the workday, I'll switch between the two a few times. There is no seamless or easy way to switch, and I can't be connected to both at once. So to switch, I have to disconnect from the Bluetooth menu on one device, and initiate connection to the other device. When I do this, it seems to take a long time for the connection to be established.

Finally, I wouldn't mind some other features, like wireless charging, longer battery life, and even some basic noise canceling would be nice. Those things will come with new iterations over the next couple years, and you can bet that I'll be first in line to buy new generations of this amazing product!

Is Comcast intentionally ripping you off?

I am sure the first thought that goes through the mind of many when reading this headline is "of course Comcast is ripping me off!" Comcast is one of the most hated service providers in the U.S. They have some of the lowest customer satisfaction possible, their pricing tactics outrageous, service unreliable, and your relationship with them hard to cancel.

Now I believe I've figured out another way Comcast is ripping off their customers, and this one is blatant. I believe Comcast is selling you internet speeds that they know you won't achieve with the equipment they charge you to use.

See, twice now in the last two years, in two different Comcast markets, I've swapped out the standard Xfinity internet modem/router that Comcast rents to its customers, for my own equipment. Before each of these swaps, I was experiencing internet speeds much slower than Comcast advertised and that I paid for. After each of these swaps, I experienced the internet speeds that Comcast advertised and that I had paid for.

 Internet speed using the Comcast Xfinity equipment rented to customers.

Internet speed using the Comcast Xfinity equipment rented to customers.

Last month, I decided to swap out the rented Comcast internet hardware for my own. Over the past 2 years at my girlfriend's apartment in San Francisco, I had been getting internet speeds of about 30mbps at best, with pretty poor coverage around the apartment. Instead of the Xfinity equipment that Comcast rents to us, I plugged in an old and inexpensive Motorola modem, and attached a Google Wifi router to that. Our internet speed went from 30Mbps at best, to just shy of 120Mbps, reliably. We pay for 120Mbps.

 Internet speed after ditching the Comcast Xfinity equipment and using my own.

Internet speed after ditching the Comcast Xfinity equipment and using my own.

So why did it go from 30Mbps to 120Mbps? The only difference is that we stopped using the Comcast Xfinity equipment and used our own.

Same thing happened to me in Portland in early 2015. I paid for 120Mbps but experienced 40Mbps-60Mbps on the Xfinity equipment rented to me. Then I switched to a cheap Motorola modem, and a cheap Western Digital router, immediately increasing my internet speeds to a reliable 120Mbps.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the Xfinity modem/router doesn't support the Xfinity speeds we pay for. If this is the case, this has to be a known truth at Comcast. If both of my conclusions are true, then this is fraud pure and simple.

Sure, I am only one person with two experiences, so thats not enough to conclude wrongdoing, but the technical side of this would be pretty easy to test and document. Then the only question is if Comcast knew it was doing this. I bet the average lawyer could prove this in court with ease.

What do you say, do we have a nice class-action on our hands?

My 2016 year in books

The amount of reading I do goes in waves. I aspire to read much more than I did in 2016. A good year for me is 10-15 books, but this year was far fewer: just 5. I typically read non-fiction (biographies, business, behavioral economics, personal improvement, etc), but this year 40% of the books I read were fiction. Here is a list of what I read in 2016:

Gideon's Children by Howard G Franklin

I actually started this book in 2015 but it took me a while to finish it, mostly due to its size. This book was written by a family friend who passed away in 2016, a couple months after I finished reading this book. Gideon's Children is historical fiction, based on the early adulthood of the author. It chronicles the efforts of a group of public defenders in the Los Angeles area during the 1960's as they fought for the rights of African American's in the legal system. If you are a legal wonk or a student of civil rights, you'll enjoy this book.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is the first person telling of Nike's origin story. As a life long sneaker head, University of Oregon alum, occasional entrepreneur, and former Nike employee, this book was exactly what I needed in 2016! Knight focuses the book on the years after Stanford, and leading up to the company's IPO. Its a great telling of the entrepreneurial journey that often comes with financial woes, growing pains, relationship struggles, and more. I'd recommend every entrepreneur read it, as well as any Nike or footwear enthusiast.

A Hero is Always Alone Sometimes by Jonny Effing Lucas

Another book written by a friend, this short story was a fun tale of a lonely man dreaming to be a super hero. Its a great read for a teen or an adult looking for a quick escape. As someone that doesn't read much fiction, I didn't expect to like the story as much as I did (the twist at the end got me)! Jonny's next book is coming out soon, and he even has a teen novel published under a similar, but more noble author name!

Sprint by Jake Knapp

A business book, and the most simple books I've read, but one I really enjoyed! Sprint uses real world examples and a straight forward framework to teach teams & entrepreneurs how to validate product ideas quickly. Using this framework, in just 5 days, teams can select a problem to solve, generate ideas, select a path forward, build a prototype, and test with customers/users. After reading this book, I am determined to use this process in my work during 2017! If you are an Engineer, Product Manager, or Entrepreneur of any kind, I highly recommend this book. Think outside the box, its not just for software or technology products!

Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

This book came as a recommendation from one of the Product Management leaders I work with at New Relic. Its part "how to turn the ship around" and part "how to be honest and direct in work conversations." Effective communication is something I am fascinated with, in part because I screw it up more often than I'd like. I am in the middle of this book, a victim of my choices to spend free time doing less valuable things than reading, but I am committed to finishing it up soon.


What books did you read last year, and what are your reading goals for 2017? Share by tweeting at me!