Monday, June 18, 2018


Watkins Glen is amazing! The gorge and waterfalls in the state park take your breath away. Natural beauty at its finest. The campsite is serene and offers peaceful bliss. Adorable little chipmunks scurried around my tent all day. Hiking in the woods was superb and I could walk from my campsite to the gorge.

Not insignificantly, you can also return to civilization. There's an excellent BBQ place in town (Nickel's Pit BBQ) with the best hot chicken wings I've ever had -- and that's saying something.

Travel feeds our soul and belly. Put Watkins Glen on your bucket list.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Watkins Glen

I'm hitting the road this morning, heading up to bucolic Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. As they say in the movies:

          Elwood: "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas,
          half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark... and we're wearing sunglasses."
          Jake: "Hit it."

Saturday, June 9, 2018

New York City

I had a nice time in NYC today. Visited a spy museum (very entertaining), savored brunch at Russ & Daughters cafe, shoe-shopped at Fluevog and ended the day with coffee and pastry in Soho. One weird thing, though; a woman next to me at the R&D counter ate her bagel and cream cheese WITH A KNIFE AND FORK. Huh? Who does that?!

P.S., I'm reading a best-selling book by an ex-CIA agent (Jason Hanson) on how to use spy techniques in normal life. The book's Acknowledgements page made me laugh out loud so I'm sharing it with you below.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Spy Stuff (Hidden Containers)

Spy gear is cool as historical fact but, even better, you can adapt it for use in life today. Two fun examples I currently use are presented below.

Spies have obvious need to conceal messages. The way they do this is by converting ordinary objects (which attract no suspicion) into secret containers. During the Cold War, for instance, spies from Russia took American coins, split them open and hollowed them out. The coins, when re-attached, were indistinguishable from others in circulation. Russian spies then put secret messages into the coins which were safe from detection and could be easily transmitted to another person. (Messages were often on "microdots," shrunken words that could be read with a magnifying glass.)

Another smart device was a smoking pipe (back when smoking was common). The pipe contained a secret chamber in which a paper message could be contained. An ingenious part of this idea was that if the spy was afraid of being caught, he could twist the handle of the pipe, opening the secret chamber to the burning bowl of tobacco and the message would be instantly destroyed. Problem solved!

Now how can this stuff help you and me? Let me show you...

I have -- and you can buy one on Amazon for $10 -- a hair-brush I carry for travel. Nobody suspects the hair-brush of being anything other than that and, yet, it is a terrific place to store money. On the road, you often want to conceal some cash in case you lose your wallet. The hair-brush has a hollow handle which can hold up to twelve bills ($1,200 if you use hundreds). This spy-idea protects your extra cash on trips because no thief who breaks into your luggage or hotel-room is going to steal a hair-brush. Here's a picture:

This model comes in black, purple and red. Only $10. And it brushes hair, too!

Another spy idea I use is what appears to be a construction bolt (large screw). The bolt is hollowed out and the inner chamber is reached by twisting the top part off (which on a normal bolt doesn't move). Again, nobody would suspect this ordinary object of having a secret compartment.

Do you know what I use this for? To carry powdered jalapeno hot sauce. I toss it in my pocket along with my keys and when a restaurant meal is bland, I pull out the bolt, unscrew it and toss some instant heat onto my dish. Yay!

As shown above, learning how to be a spy can help you live normal life better!

The Secret

Yesterday I rode my motorcycle for two hours to visit a store and buy something I can get anywhere (loose tea in Port Jeff). There's a lesson here: do what you love, no matter how crazy it seems to others. Happiness is simple: pursue intrinsic joys and ignore social convention.

P.S., This ice cream cone, mounted on a building, is bigger than you are!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Spy Stuff

From an early age I have been fascinated by spies. The idea that you can privately be someone very different than your public persona resonates in me. Perhaps you can guess why...  :-)

Plus I grew up during the Cold War when espionage was everywhere in entertainment (e.g., James Bond movies). The subject captured my young mind to the point where I asked my parents for toy spy gear. My wishes were granted one Christmas when I got "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." toy kit. It contained a (plastic) briefcase that shot (plastic) bullets out of a hole in its side, using a trigger in the handle. It included secret listening devices, invisible ink and special spy paper that dissolved in water. My imagination went wild as I embarked on top-secret missions that saved the world from destruction. You're welcome.  :-)

The appeal of this stuff never disappeared. Recently one of the best shows in the history of television -- "The Americans" -- just ended a long run. I saw every episode from the beginning and was thrilled that the main character, a life-long spy, is a woman! Played by the amazing Keri Russell (remember her from "Felicity" or "Waitress"?), Elizabeth Jennings wear dozens of convincing disguises and is capable of brutal violence. She is the flip-side of me. I'm forced to act tough in society when in private, I'm a marshmallow. That's the nature of spying: creating a false public front.

You probably aren't aware of many spy tricks used by my colleagues so this week I'm going to post some explanations that I promise will be interesting. The techniques are real and drawn from our history going back to the Revolutionary War. Also I just discovered there's  spy museum in Washington, DC that I must visit soon.

Stay tuned!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Summer Travel

I've been making plans to ride my motorcycle this Summer. Here are the destinations:

- Watkins Glen: I hear the state park in this Finger Lake region is one of the most scenic in the country. It's 300 miles from my home.

- Potsdam: North of the Adirondacks, this rural town is home to my good friend Aimee. 380 miles.

- Montreal: I love Canada and this is one city I haven't visited yet. 400 miles.

- Columbus, Ohio: I like this Midwestern city whose biggest draw is my friend Emma. 575 miles.

- Detroit: Two years ago my pal Sara showed me the many attractions of this transitioning city; I'm returning to hang out with her. 600 miles.

- Hudson, NY: The hippest town in all upstate. 150 miles.

And that's only through August. I enjoy rides in September and October when the weather is still good and places are less crowded.

You might wonder why I'm so active, particularly since I have a full-time job that demands time and energy. It's because of uncertainty in the future. Nobody knows what tomorrow holds. I choose to enjoy life while I have the chance. Even though I'm still "young" and in good health, things can go South fast. I had a friend Geoff who, in his forties, got a brain tumor and died suddenly. Also, in my family, my mother and brother passed away at early ages with little warning. I don't take longevity for granted.

Where are you going this Summer?