Saturday, April 14, 2018

TED 2018, day 5: One last session

We gathered for a last time this year in the TED theater for a morning session they called, "What matters."  It's a wistful time at TED, because you're both exhausted and overflowing with ideas and feelings, and also want to keep enjoying the beautiful experiences they've created for you. 

First up was some music from A Tribe Called Red, a DJ group that mixes urban and indigenous music and forms.  I enjoyed it well enough, but I am not likely to be the main audience for anything near house music. 

Famous venture capitalist John Doerr then talked about the management technique he learned from Andy Grove and swears by:  OKR, short for objectives and key results.  His enthusiasm for and belief in this system was strong and clear, and he argued persuasively that everyone should use it.  I see value in it, but I don't consider it the only answer or a perfect approach. 

Gary Liu, a former tech person who now is CEO of the South China Morning Post, basically told us how big China's internet business is and how it's coming for us all.  The stats certainly are compelling.  If you want to get a good sense of just how large China's online world is, check out this talk.

TED's Chris Anderson then interviewed Netflix CEO and philanthropist Reed Hastings.  Their talk unearthed very little new information, though Hastings' exact answers were at times interesting.  The funniest moment came when Anderson pointed out that Hastings was a billionaire, to which Hastings silently nodded assent, and that Hastings had donated hundreds of millions of dollars to education charities, to which Hastings again nodded assent, and then asked Hastings how many hundreds of millions he had donated.  Hastings' answer was that he didn't exactly know.  Wow. 

After a quick break, architect and designer Walter Hood talked about his work in creating urban spaces that serve social causes as well as being functional.  I look forward to seeing some of his work. 

Mark Pollock and Simone George then took the stage in what was one of the most emotional talks of the week.  A couple, they met when he was blind and an athlete, and a while later, he broke his back and became paralyzed from the waist down.  They discussed their ongoing struggles with his challenges and all they had done to help push for cures for paralysis.  Their efforts and their love touched everyone.

Designer Ingrid Fetell Lee talked about how design affects joy and the kinds of designs that elicit joy, as well as the difference between joy and happiness.  Her presentation started slow but picked up speed and interest.

In the final talk of the show, comedian Baratunde Thurston did a wonderful job of both wrapping it all up and poking fun at everyone and everything related to this year's TED.  We laughed a great deal, and then we headed upstairs for the indoor picnic and final meal of TED 2018.

Most people I talked with during that meal were both ready to be home and eager for next year's conference. 

I feel the same. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

TED 2018, day 4: another intense day

Once again, I'm not going to cover every speaker, but I will touch on the majority of them.

The first session, "Insanity. Humanity.", kicked off with a funny and occasionally creepy presentation from James Bridle.  He started with YouTube content, such as surprise egg videos, that targets small children, and expanded from there to talk about how advertising and automation are driving a great deal of basically useless content that nonetheless draws millions of views.  He ended his cautionary talk with the suggestion that we bring digital literacy to all, so everyone will understand what people and companies are doing with this kind of content. 

Yasmin Green, the director of R&D for Jigsaw, discussed her work in trying to stop the process of radicalization before people are deep into it.  Their "redirect method" involves ads that explain the dark side of the recruiting messages from radical groups.  Her team is also working on technology they call "Perspective," which can tell you how people are likely to perceive your comments.  Though I am all for stopping hate speech online, I am not at all comfortable with software editing my compositions in the cause of its agenda--even when I agree with that agenda. 

Emily Levine delivered a wise and funny talk that began with her telling us that she has stage four lung cancer.  Among my favorite comments of hers were, "Fantasies:  exactly like goals, but without the hard work," and "My cancer isn't that aggressive; it's kind of like the Democratic leadership."  We all stood after her presentation.  I could listen to her talk for hours. 

In one of the more unusual talks of this year, Elizabeth Streb, whose bio in the TED program said she was an "action and hardware architect," talked about helping people fly--but often only for a few seconds, until they hit the ground.  As odd as the talk was, I enjoyed it. 

Dylan Marron's talk on his podcasts and other work is one you definitely should not miss.  He mentioned only briefly his "Sitting in bathrooms with Trans People" podcast and focused instead on his show, "Conversations with People Who Hate Me."  In it, he calls people who have posted online nasty comments about him and just chats with them.  "Empathy is not endorsement," he commented, and I could not agree more.  Great stuff. 

The session closed with a smart and interesting presentation from Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei on repairing broken cultures.  She felt the key to fixing any culture--and she applied this at Uber as a consultant--was to repair trust, which you do, she said, by being authentic, rigorous in logic, and displaying empathy.  Another talk you should not miss, and one I'm still pondering.

After a short break, we filed again into the main theater for the ninth session, "Body electric." 

Inventor, scientist, and entrepreneur Mary Lou Jepsen demonstrated some amazing technology for being able to scan people with a device about the size of a belt that she said they could deploy at scale to replace much of the function of MRI machines.  Though you may already be tired of me saying this, yup, don't miss this talk. 

Floyd Romesberg showed us how his team has created synthetic life that possess two more DNA "letters."  This tech is exciting and terrifying, and I have to hope that not only his organization but also many others are working on making sure the tech comes with ample safeguards. 

In another DNA-related talk, Dan Gibson discussed how his team can print DNA from an emailed "recipe."  He also showed video of the devices involved in the process.  Also both exciting and terrifying. 

Sex educator Emily Nagoski explained the phenomenon of arousal non-concordance and why with any partner you must always trust the person's words, not their body.  Almost all people would benefit from watching this talk, and I tend to think all men should. 

The musical group Ladama entertained us with a couple of their songs.  I hope to pick up more of their music.

MIT professor and bionics designer Hugh Herr talked about the problems of bringing information back from prostheses to the brain and showed some solutions.  Much of the talk centered around a new lower leg and foot his team had created for a rock-climbing friend, and the friend even came out at the end.  Fascinating stuff.

At that point, Bill and I hustled over to a nearby hotel for a lunch for The Climate Reality Project.  Former Vice President Al Gore delivered a compelling presentation and answered a lot of questions.  I still feel that if this version of Gore had run for President, he would have won. 

We then went upstairs in the same hotel for a workshop on impromptu speaking.  I don't feel weak in this area, but I always want to do better, and the leader was TED's main speaker coach.  I learned multiple useful tips, and the workshop was generally fun. 

Back at the convention center, we hit the theater for the last session of the day, "Personally speaking."

Illustrator, artist, and author Christoph Niemann delivered a funny presentation on conveying ideas with images. 

Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu discussed what they learned by making Hill's apartment as smart as possible and them monitoring all of its network traffic.  The bottom line was that, yes, all those devices are sending a ton of data about you back to the companies that make them.  In a smart house, as on social media, you are the product.

Rebecca Hwang discussed the challenge of finding an identity when you come from a multicultural background.  Her conclusion was simple but one we should all heed:  you have to create your own identity.

Jason Rosenthal, husband of deceased author and TEDActive attendee Amy Krouse Rosenthal, discussed dealing with his wife's death and trying to cope with it a year later even as he struggles to find joy in life. 

Violinist Lili Haydn treated us to one beautiful song.  I would love to have heard more. 

Performer Tamekia MizLadi Smith delivered a funny but sometimes insightful talk on working with non-clinical staff in healthcare. 

In a talk I found very moving, Chetna Sinha told the story of how she came to start and grow a bank for poor women in India.  I loved the talk, which included the wonderful and smart line, "Never provide poor solutions to poor people." 

Singer Elise LeGrow sang three songs that were originally from the famous Chess Records.  She has a lovely voice and made me want to find her album.

The last talk of the session was in many ways its best.  Oskar Eustis, who directs New York's Public Theater, started with the history of theater and wound his way to a surprising and moving conclusion that earned him a standing ovation.  I'll be surprised if this talk doesn't appear right away, and when it does, you should not miss it.

The evening concluded with a big party in the community theater one level down from the main stage.  We stayed longer than normal and actually talked with a few strangers, but as the DJ was taking the stage, we headed out. 

Wow, are my brain and heart full.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

TED 2018, day 3: spinning up and down and all around

My head, not the conference, is doing the spinning.  After a day full of sessions and a Jeffersonian dinner on spirituality, my brain is fairly full and I'm exhausted.  So, today I'm going to retreat even more deeply into the land of greatest hits and not even try to mention every speaker.

The first morning session, "Space to dream," delivered solid talks.  My favorite was from Nora Atkinson, a craft curator, who discussed and showed many images of the art from Burning Man.  Years ago, I yearned to go to Burning Man, and parts of me still think it would be great, but other parts think it might well suck.  This talk gave fuel to the former.  Either way, I admire the art she showed.  The talk in the session that I found a downer was physicist Stephen Webb's discussion of whether we were alone in the universe.  He concluded that we were, but that we should be thankful for that.  Fair enough:  we should be glad we exist.  I still hope he's wrong and we one day meet aliens.

The second morning session, "What on earth do we do?", was rich in scientific content and generally strong. 

Physicist Aaswath Raman talked about a new material that basically lets you wick heat to the upper atmosphere.  I won't tell you how it works; check out the talk when it comes online. 

Chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox discussed ways to pull carbon dioxide out of our air.  Her analysis was strong and intriguing.

Environmental data scientist Angel Hsu talked about using richer data sets to truly understand the state of pollution in China. 

In a fun talk I want to believe will work but seriously doubt, Rodin Lyasoff showed video of and discussed a prototype, electrically powered, VTOL, autonomous personal aircraft.  Who wouldn't want your plane to fly you to work?

Penny Chisholm discussed Prochlorococcus, the smallest photosynthetic microbe.  This little rascal proved to be fascinating, and her enthusiasm for it and love of it was contagious. 

Marine ecologist Enric Sala brought the room to its feet with a compelling, data-driven argument for banning fishing on the high seas.  I am now all for this notion.  Do not miss this talk when it appears. 

After a food truck lunch, I headed to a different theater to catch "How dark is the future?", a 90-minute interview of Steven Pinker by Chris Anderson.  Pinker came across as completely prepared and unflappable.  I look forward to reading his book, but so far, he's sold me that on the whole, things are getting better. 

The sessions concluded with one they called, "Wow.  Just wow."  I very much enjoyed its first talk, a presentation from Chinese computer scientist and investor Kai-Fu Lee.  He argued that what we humans can do better than AIs are to love one another and to create.  I'm not sure the latter is true--ref. the next talk--but he was very entertaining.

Speaking of that talk, in it Pierre Barreau, a young entrepreneur, discussed his AI, AIVA, which he taught to compose and play music.  He played one of its original compositions, a piece he had it create around the conference's theme of amazement, and I have to admit that to me--and I confess here to massive ignorance of classical music--it sounded pretty good.

Luhan Yang reviewed the research that let her team breed pigs free of a retrovirus (named, amazingly enough, PERV) that makes pig-to-human organ transplants unsafe.  With pigs free of PERV (what a story title!), one big hurdle to such transplants is gone. 

Simona Francese, an analytical chemist, discussed some amazing work in extracting data from the molecules on fingerprints using mass spectrometry.  We're talking CSI stuff here that is actually ahead of the TV shows (I think; I confess to not watching any of them in years). 

Singer-songwriter Luke Sital-Singh performed two sad songs and explained why he wrote only sad songs.  I enjoyed them and will look for his music.

The sessions concluded with rock climber Alex Honnold's story about free-climbing El Capitan.  I have zero desire to go rock climbing, but I still very much enjoyed his talk.

Dinner this evening took place right after the sessions ended.  We all headed out to local restaurants for one of TED's Jeffersonian dinners.  Ours focused on the topic of the future of spirituality.  The food was decent, and the discussion lively. 

Wow, am I tired, but I am also very glad that I get to come to TED.  It is a great privilege, and one I treasure.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

TED 2018, day 2, ends with a bang

I took no photos today, so I can offer only my brief text reports.

The first session of the day carried the title, "After the end of history..." and focused more or less on the state of the world.

The initial speaker was to have been historian Yuval Noah Harari, but he couldn't get from Tel Aviv to the show.  In classic TED style, he instead appeared live via hologram, a nifty effect indeed.  He talked a lot about the differences between nationalism and fascism.  He concluded with the point that control of our data is the most effective tool a fascist regime or dictatorship can wield today.

MIT professor Cesar Hidalgo began by saying that he was a bit disappointed in democracy and went on to cite low levels of participation in elections in many countries.  He argued that though direct democracy was unlikely to work, a blended democracy using agents that aggregate the opinions of groups of people might.  I left unconvinced but interested in his thinking.

Neuroscientist Poppy Crum, the chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories, showed us how much our devices can tell about us and some of the potential risks and benefits of that type of tech.

Economist Kate Raworth argued that we can make economies thrive and distribute wealth better without needing them to grow.  I am interested in reading more of her argument, but at the end of the talk, I was unconvinced.

Another MIT professor, Max Tegmark, talked about the future of AI and what we needed to do to make sure that when (not if) artificial general intelligences pass human intelligences, we can be as sure as possible that they will not hurt us.  Despite the way that sentence sounds, he was relentlessly upbeat and focused on encouraging us to steer toward a future we want.

After a short break, the next session, "Nerdish delight," for the most part took us in a different direction.

Yet another MIT professor, Dina Katabi, showed us the amazing work she and her team have done with using everyday Wi-Fi signals to track movements within buildings and, more importantly, provide a great deal of valuable health data.

Supasom Suwajanakorn discussed and demonstrated his work in sampling images and voices and using them to make video that appears to be people saying things that in fact they never said.  He began his research as part of a project to create interactive presences of Holocaust survivors, but what he can do now is both incredible and terrifying.  He also discussed some of the countermeasures he is creating to combat his own technology.

Giada Berboni walked us through some of her work with flexible robots, a field of study that shows great promise in, among other areas, robotic surgery.

Simone Giertz, who apparently is a YouTube star but whom I had never heard of, treated us to a fun and funny presentation on her hobby (and now job) of building useless machines.

Rajiv Laroia followed with what felt like basically an ad for a 16-lens camera from his company.  I found the talk and product very interesting, but I would have liked more tech and less product pitch.

The next talk, from Token CEO Melanie Shapiro, addressed a timely and fascinating topic, digital identity and its protection, but again felt like a product pitch.  The pitch raised a ton of interesting "how does this work" questions, but she answered none of them.

The session ended with a great interview of SpaceX COO Gwyne Shotwell by TED's Chris Anderson.  As someone who wants us to go to the stars, I predictably loved this one.  If you're into space exploration, check it out as soon as it comes online.

After a lunch break, I attended a breakout session on podcasting by Roman Mars, the creator of the podcast "99% Invisible" and co-founder of Radiotopia.  I learned a reasonable amount and came away more interested than ever in podcasting--but sure I would want audio production support.

The fourth session of the show and the day's final one was "The Audacious Project."  This set of talks made me glad I have already signed up for TED 2019.  You should go check out the project's site, but it's basically TED moving from the $1M TED Prize to trying to attack major problems at scale.  In this case, the first set of winners from the Audacious Project need over $600M to tackle their issues, and with the help of TED's program and the money of a lot of big donors, they're already raised over $400M of that amount.  Each of the causes deserve support, and I was at least intrigued and often moved by all the talks.  As soon as these are online, if you have the time, check them out.  I wouldn't do them any justice here.

I do, though, want to single out two.

Public defender Robin Steinberg's talk on the problems with our bail system and how her group, The Bail Project, was attacking them was a beautiful, frightening, and galvanizing presentation that brought the whole theater to its feet.  Do not miss this one when it's available.

It's late, and now I'm feeling guilty about not covering the others, so do check them out.  I must, though, mention one more.  T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, co-founders of GirlTrek, talked about their plan to expand the GirlTrek walking for health and social good program to reach a million African American women.  Their passion and intelligence and, most of all, stories hit us all in the hearts and again brought the room to its feet.  Do not miss it when TED posts their talk.

Expect tomorrow's post to be short, because I am once again up way too late and planning to get up way too early.  My head and heart are full, which is exactly what I want from TED.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

TED 2018 kicks off in style

I'm back in Vancouver, B.C. for this year's TED conference.  I look forward to each year's event, and each year I come away inspired and with a great deal to process.  I expect this TED to be no different.

Though Vancouver greeted me with its usual gray, rainy weather in the morning, by afternoon the views through the conference center's huge glass walls were amazing. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

The first two sessions of today were not on the main TED stage.  Instead, they were shorter talks from TED Fellows.  I'm trying to get at least a reasonable amount of sleep this trip, so rather than review every talk, I'm only going to hit a few of them.  In the two Fellows sessions, most of the presentations were basically introductions to the work each Fellow was doing.  I ended up wanting more depth from almost all of them. 

I was intrigued by Essam Daod's work trying to provide mental health care to refugees, to help people both cope with their PTSD and to limit its effects by working with them as quickly after arrival as possible.  Rola Hallam's work with hospitals in Syria was inspiring; she and her organization,, are doing a great deal of good with very limited resources.  Adam Kucharski's data-driven approach to infectious disease research and prediction struck me as a very sound and practical way to attack this issue. 

Paul Rucker's talk on systemic racism hit me hard.  We have so very much work to do here. 

DeAndrea Salvador, a North Carolinian, works on the inequities of energy costs for poor people, something I think we should all try to help with. 

I appreciated the way Kotchakorn Voraakhom attacked the flooding problem in Bangkok and her emphasis on urban design and planning as a way to help make us more climate resilient.  We're going to need that in the years ahead. 

We were treated to multiple musical moments, all of which I enjoyed.  My favorite was the one that began the first Fellows session, an absolutely lovely performance by cellist Joshua Roman. 

The main stage talks, the "real" TED talks, began at 5:00 p.m. today.  All the talks were interesting, though few seemed to me to contribute a great deal to the ongoing conversation surrounding their topics. 

That said, the topics were important enough that simply hearing about them is important.

Tracee Ellis Ross discussed the continuum of male aggression against women, noting that the existence of a range from seemingly innocuous to downright horrific is itself a problem.  I certainly agree that this is a male problem, and we men need to own it and address it. 

Diane Wolk-Rogers, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, shared her experiences at the February 14 shooting tragedy and discussed options for preventing more such horrors.  As she noted, there are no easy answers, but I have to hope that we as a country are going to attack this problem.

Jaron Lanier's talk was as odd and yet as interesting as one would expect.  His perspective is always worth understanding, even if you don't agree with it.  In this case, I thought he raised many excellent points about the usage by big companies of our data, but I doubt his cures would actually work.

In a musical interlude that was all fun, The Soul Rebels, a New Orleans bass ensemble, played three long numbers that I very much enjoyed.

Zachary Wood discussed how important it is for us to hear viewpoints different from our own and to really talk with people who hold them.  Our country needs more discussion and less shouting. 

Kirsty Duncan, Canada's Minister of Science, discussed some of her country's attempts at suppressing science and what a bad idea that was.  The implications for the U.S.--and every other country--were obvious.

The session closed with Steven Pinker arguing, with masses of data that he used in his new book, that in fact we as a species are making progress and slowly improving all aspects of life on the whole.  He didn't try to say we didn't have huge problems or that the improvements are not unequally distributed--he's way, way, way too smart for that--but his case was persuasive and helped the day end on an upbeat note.

After the sessions, we had a dinner party with the usual TED foods, but then Chris Anderson and company treated us to two unusual shows. 

The first featured two dancers performing while hanging from ropes outside our windows. 

They're not easy to see in this shot, but look to the center.  The show was fun, though notable primarily for its setting.  

After that, at 9:00 sharp, a local fireworks team, as Chris Anderson put it, crammed a 15-minute show into one minute.  They launched from a small barge in the harbor, right outside the convention center, so the show was close and fun, but I had to shoot it through glass, so my pictures aren't great.  

Predictably, I loved the show.  I am a sucker for fireworks.

Well, here I've gone and written a small treatise when I promised myself I would not.  Don't count on me doing that again this week.  It's now late, and due to the early starts that TED seems to love, I have to get up in the sixes, something I hate.

A good day at TED.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Now more than ever

Despite the political climate, I believe this, and I believe we need to remember it.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Check out this cool PT sabbatical video

Hi, blog folks.  Long time, no chat.  I have a few things I aim to share with you over the next little while.  (Yes, I am working away at the next Jon and Lobo novel, which is why I've been absent from here.)

I've written many times in the past about how proud I am of PT's sabbatical program.  A new video, this time about Dan's sabbatical, is now live.

Check it out.

I am privileged to work with a great team, most of whom choose to do cool charity work on their sabbaticals. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Bye, bye, Grand Cayman beach

Today, I travel home, so today I also say goodbye to this wonderful place.

Click the image to see a larger version.

The weather remains bad by local standards and great by me.

I cannot recall when I felt so relaxed and energized and healed.  I'm sure I'll turn into a stress monkey quickly enough, but right now, I feel great.  I'm going to hold onto the feeling as long as I can.

I love being at home, so I'm looking forward to that, but I found this vacation so great that I am already planning to be back at the 2019 Cayman Cookout for the same amount of time.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bad weather makes for great walking

What passes for bad weather here--seventy-five, overcast, windy--is still so lovely I could sit on my balcony and stare at it for hours.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Walking on the beach is particularly fun when the waves are crashing a bit and the sky is constantly changing.

Sunset was beautiful both from my room

and from inside the Seven restaurant.

I accept that my love of this place is irrational, but I do love it here.  Having a vacation of this length has been wonderful, and I will enjoy every moment until I board the plane tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What passes for bad weather in Grand Cayman continues

and I continue to love it. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

The high is only 77 or so, the skies are cloudy, and the water is cold enough that I don't go into it every day or for long.  For sitting on the beach and enjoying the ocean and sipping a virgin mango daiquiri, though, the weather is just fine.

I did exactly that today after a small but quite satisfying lunch at the club lounge.

Dinner was at Blue by Eric Ripert, this time the Blue menu.  It was, as always, superb.

Cayman beach life is relaxing life.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Georgetown, chicken, and chickens

The weather continues to be cloudy but warm, with occasional hints of rain but, so far today, no actual showers.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Heading down the island to Georgetown seemed like a good plan, so a taxi ride later and I was eating jerk chicken and conch fritters at the Caribbean Kitchen.

Even sharing the fritters, I finished barely more than half my sandwich and less than half my fries.  It was all tasty, though not outstanding.  The conch fritters were the star of the meal.

Chickens are all over this island (well, except at the Ritz-Carlton, where I've never seen any), strutting around as if they own the place.  This rooster and hen felt as if the road and the sidewalk were theirs and we were mere trespassers.

It all feels just fine, though, as humans and chickens seem to share the space easily and happily.

I've accomplished remarkably little each day here, and yet I'm fine with that, enjoying resting and reading and doing little.  My capacity for doing so little continues to amaze me.

Cayman beach life is low-demand life.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A lazy Cayman day

After a delicious long sleep and a bit of futzing around, and despite all the clouds and the strong breezes, the ocean beckoned.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Lunch was in a Ritz chair on the sand, a lovely tradition.  A grilled cheese sandwich with tons of bacon and a side salad, along with my frequent beverage, the virgin mango daiquiri, made a delicious feast.

After getting quite warm--temperatures were in the high seventies and the sun was peeking through the clouds a lot--I spent some time in the chilly water enjoying the waves, then repeated the process in the much calmer pool.

A red sno-cone was a nice treat along the way.

The rest of the day proceeded similarly:  slowly, lazily, and entirely, for my purposes, perfectly.

Cayman beach life is easy life.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A windy last Cayman Cookout day

I absolutely love storms on islands.  The waves and the wind and even the rain fill me with happiness.  So, when I saw the rough chop and heard the breakers and the wind today, I was very pleased.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Others on the island seem less happy, but for me, particularly on a day when events occupy most of my time, this weather is grand.

The big daytime event was the Bon Vivant Amateur Chef Competition and brunch.

As the amateur chefs on stage compete in a TV-style cooking competition, the judges (chefs Emeril, Irvine, Andres, Boulud, and Ripert) watch them work and eventually eat their creations.  Meanwhile, the huge crowd enjoys brunch from something on the order of two dozen stations scattered down a reception area and porch outside the ballroom.  I focused on not over-eating and on sampling only things I knew (from the reports of others or knowledge of the food and the chefs) to be good.  The approach worked well:  I enjoyed every dish and left full but not overly stuffed.

The next event, Rum and Robusto, is basically a drink-and-smoke-cigars gathering around a pool. I usually make only a quick pass through it, but today I ended up in a few interesting conversations and also just enjoyed the breezy weather--which served to keep the smoke away from me.

This guy had the best job of the event.

A nice addition was a pair of stations at which people could paint.

I liked more of the artwork than I would have expected.

All in all, the attendees seemed to have a good time,

and I enjoyed my brief visit to it.

The traditional final Cayman Cookout event is a dinner at Blue for which each major guest chef prepares a course.  This year, the tenth, brought a gala dinner with, naturally, ten courses.  The table settings were lovely,

and the menu promised amazing treats.

The chefs delivered on the menu's promises.  I enjoyed every single course, but the most amazing was the last, the dessert. 

By description and first glance, it was an apple with a side sauce.  After you pushed into it with your fork, though, it was so much more.

Sweet, complex, and entirely lovely, this dish was a complete success. 

Hats off to all the chefs, but particularly to Chef Thomas Raquel, the pastry chef of Blue, for this wonderful finale.

And so the Cayman Cookout event draws to a close.  I am fortunate enough to be staying here and enjoying this wonderful place until Friday, but I have to admit that I am both done with huge meals for a bit and also already looking forward to next year's Cayman Cookout.

Just my usual Saturday

Slept late and awoke to another perfect day in Grand Cayman paradise.  I forgot to take a picture of the sky, which late in the day clouded over and then rained on us, but for most of the day the weather could not have been better. 

I headed to an 11:30, two-hour, gourmet lunch featuring the food of Chef Dominique Crenn. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

Each of the four dishes was delicious. My favorite was probably the Harbison cheese tart covered in truffles.

Yes, just another typical Saturday lunch.

I then hurried off to catch a session from Chef Michael Mina and his team, as one does on a lazy Saturday.  I hadn't known much about Mina, but I left the session impressed by his passion, his knowledge, and most of all, his focus on building a great team and giving credit to its members. 

After a short break, I joined a large crowd in listening to Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain tell stories, answer questions, and crack each other up.

I had to do a little work after that, and then I read for a bit before departing for the Emeril vs. (Robert) Irvine dinner, which rain had caused the hotel to move indoors.  There really was no competition, just one room full of people eating Emeril's food--I was there--and another with people enjoying Irvine's.  Emeril spoke to us a few times and mentioned in his first visit that the sold-out dinner (most events here are sold out) was a tribute to his mother, who died this past August.  It contained many dishes she made for their family when he was young.

Like any typical Saturday night dinner, this one included a small band playing some New Orleans jazz.

The evening concluded with a special tenth-anniversary live concert by the rear pool. 

My introverted side shifted into high gear and added the impostor syndrome nitrous booster as I realized that I was nowhere near cool enough to be at this party. 

And that was before the water dancers

and the synchronized swimmers

put on a show for us. 

The live band, a group from Barbados, then took over.  People were dancing and drinking when I left.  I expect they're still at it.

Yeah, just my typical Saturday night.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Way too much of everything

was the Cayman Cookout's motto for today, or so it seems.  Way too much beauty and sun. 

Click an image to see a larger version. 

Way too much fun, with Chef Jose Andres arriving in a helicopter, from which he leapt into the ocean, where a jet-ski picked him up and dragged him to shore.  He made his hour presentation as much fun as always, his manic energy both boosting the crowd and feeding off it.

He also had his team prepare and share with us an absolutely sinful creation:  Jamon Iberico with Ossetra caviar.

Wow, was it delicious.

Way too much food at Chef Sean Brock's delicious but heavy four-course lunch at Andiamo.

His country ham--a special one he'd started some time ago--with local fruits and heirloom peanuts he brought with him was the lightest of the three savory courses, and it was filling.

Way too much heat under the pavilion tent for Chef Daniel Boulud's presentation, which despite being oceanside managed to wilt many of the audience members.  Despite that, Chef Boulud himself stayed calm and gracious throughout the hour. 

I'd like to say Chef Rick Bayless' presentation had way too much information, because he shared an enormous amount of data with us--as well as serving us a great taco--but it really wasn't.  Chef Bayless is a great communicator who comes across as an amazingly nice guy. 

Way too many people at the Barefoot BBQ on the beach, where a wide assortment of food stands served freshly made delicious small treats while a live band played and people ate, drank, and mingled.  Oh, and we watched a guy in a jet pack perform in the dark over the ocean for us. 

All in all, it was a typically great Friday at Cayman Cookout, which is to say, quite an amazing day.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Excess is now the norm

At least for the duration of the Cayman Cookout, too much is the baseline, and we go only up from there.

Today's events began with a caviar and champagne (I skipped the champagne, of course) lunch that Paramount Caviar hosted at Blue by Eric Ripert.  The menu promised many treats

Click an image to see a larger version.

and the chefs delivered: every dish tasted great, including the dessert, which fortunately for me did not taste too strongly of coffee.  It's hard to complain about a lunch that includes a dish with Ossetra caviar.

Meanwhile, outside the weather rewarded the organizers with a perfect day.

After a short break, I spent an hour sitting under a tent on the beach, listening to and watching a demonstration from Chef Dominique Crenn and her team.  I've never eaten at one of her restaurants, but after tasting her food here, I will hope to do so the next time I'm in San Francisco.

On the way to her demo, a grackle in a nearby bush decided to announce her/his presence.

He clearly was not afraid of me.

Back at the room, the hotel had left this odd treat.

It proved to be surprisingly tasty.

Another break, during which I was lucky enough to enjoy this dusk view. 

It was then time for one of the many Cayman Cookout traditions: the auction and wine fair/buffet dinner.  This is the place at which years ago I bought the week in an Italian villa. The event was the most crowded I've seen it.

Fortunately, the food remained good--though not great--and I managed to escape without buying any stays anywhere in the world.  Though I would have preferred it far less crowded, on balance I have to call it a success.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A trip to Caymana Bay

All the usual weather sources forecasted rain for today, but they were all wrong; it was absolutely beautiful.  This late-afternoon shot shows about as bad a sky as we had today, and no rain fell from it.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Almost all day, the sky was sunny and mostly clear, with only lovely white cloud tendrils ambling overhead.

Instead of sitting oceanside, I opted to go into Caymana Bay, enjoy some Indian food for lunch, walk a bit through the small local farmers' market, and eat a cup of gelato.  A rooster and hen were also taking the air; you see a lot of chickens around here.

A few folks enjoyed the fountains whose sole purpose seems to be to let people choose to get wet.

After some time doing email and reading, I walked over to Andiamo, the resort's Italian place, for a lovely waterside meal of Caesar salad and pasta.

I love being here, doing little, and (mostly) not feeling guilty about it.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Rain and sun and ocean and sand

Today brought rain and sun and despite it all was still beautiful. 

Click an image to see a larger version.

Rather than risk my usual lunch outside, I grabbed a small plate of snacks and a Diet Coke from the club lounge.

I'll miss my privileges there, which vanish tomorrow and don't reappear until next week.

When the rain stopped, it was time to sit in a chair on the beach, sip a virgin mango daiquiri, and contemplate life.  After enough of a walk on the beach to heat me up, I worked up the stamina to go into the ocean up to my neck and then to dive underwater.  The water felt way better after the walk than it had before that time.  I followed this up with about two minutes in the equally cool pool and was completely refreshed. 

Dinner tonight was at the marvelous Blue by Eric Ripert.  I won't hit you with pics of all the courses, but I have to show off their signature tuna foie gras masterpiece, which was every bit as delicious as ever.

It's hard to explain this dish, but suffice to say that it's been on the menu at Le Bernardin and here at Blue since Chef Ripert first created it. 

A good day despite the rain.


Blog Archive