Wednesday, August 31, 2011

AT&T Has Affordable International Data Roaming Plans. Why Not Us?

Yes! You are not dreaming! AT&T does offer reasonable and sensible data roaming plans whereas most other carriers in the world keep ripping their customers off. Of course the US$ 199.99 plan for 800Mb of data is expensive but compared to what most carriers charge in France, it simply is the best deal ever. Those same 800 Mb of data roaming would cost with a French carrier 800 times EUR13 which amounts to EUR10400 which translates into US$15000! Can you believe that? I call for all mobile carriers to come to their senses and stop preventing their customers from using mobile internet abroad by charging them a reasonable price.

If AT&T can do it, how come other carriers don't?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What To Make Of Near-Death Experiences?

A recent spike in accounts of near-death experiences by some of my patients has led me to re-examine this fascinating phenomenon. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it is described as a process occurring when one is dying or already dead. It usually consists of a feeling of painlessness and happiness accompanied by seeing an intense white light at the end of a tunnel. Some people who have experienced it report meeting religious figures or long deceased loved ones before being called back on earth after being successfully resuscitated.

It is amazing to think that this phenomenon occurs in almost the same way across all cultures. Of course, this doesn't address the question of whether it is only a physiological process or a spiritual one. Wikipedia has a very interesting entry on this topic which I can only encourage you to read.

I was just recently struck by a very vivid experience related to me in which a person was in contact with their recently deceased daughter. Of course, it could all be attributed to their imagination but what if it were "real"?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Love And Death - Ebo Taylor

Just a nice song that I recently discovered!

Cosmic Entanglement, Consciousness & Bodily Existence

Witnessing the last moments of existence of a living being only reminds us that our existence, in this world that we call ours, is transient and fragile. Although we spend most of our days not thinking too much about it, we are bound to face this reality from time to time and ultimately at the time of our death. It is, in fact, both appalling and essential that we avoid such concerns on a daily basis for our existence would be otherwise flooded with angst and sorrow.

However, in these moments when we are faced with the vanishing of life, we sometimes, feel that we can grasp a short preview of what our existence and the universe are all made of. Of course, such realizations could arguably be described as vain attempts at dealing with grief. I like to think that, though pointless, these moments can only help our understanding of the universe or whatever that might have a purpose in it.

Does it seem so far-fetched (which religion or philosophy isn't?) to think that our bodily manifestation is nothing more than a mere puppet remotely controlled by our true self emanating from a different plane of existence through some sort of cosmic entanglement?

Death could be conceptualized as the simple action of severing this cosmic connection, disconnecting our true self from our "puppet". I have such a hard time believing that our material existence is the only reality. There has to be a more transcendent explanation than simply accepting our condition as it is.

How can we believe that either there is nothing else than the creation of our consciousness and its destruction at the end of our life? Or that something magical and/or religious is there to explain it all? Can't we theorize something in between? Why wouldn't there be something linking our physical universe to a spiritual one obeying our yet-to-come understanding of science?

Isn't there something transcendent in all creatures able to ask themselves such questions? And by that reasoning, can we reach some sort of partial conclusion that we, or part of us, can exist in so many different planes of existence that our true essence does not vanish but only evolves through multiple states and connections?

Monday, August 22, 2011

RIP Our Beloved Dog Boy

Today is one of the saddest days in my life for our beloved dog "Boy" died yesterday at the age of thirteen. Grieving an animal can be as painful as losing a close family member. I lost my mom eighteen years ago and my dad five years ago and what I'm going through today is very similar. I had also lost a dog when I was 15 and I remember how empty it had left me.

I had already written a blog entry about Boy (whose original name was Freud but became Boy with time). He had been fighting a terrible form of cancer known as myeloma for the last three years. He put all his energy into this fight and I can only have the utmost respect and admiration for the courage he showed during his fight. When, three years ago, we thought he was gonna die in a matter of days, we were all devastated. It seems that our prayers were answered as Boy got to live another three years and we cherished every single day that we got to spend with him since then. Though taking multiple medicines including chemotherapy, he continued to live happy and for the most part pain free.

Despite multiple eye surgeries and being blind in the end, he never ceased to play and to show us unconditional love. This is a lesson that all human beings should learn from him: to be compassionate, dedicated and to love unconditionally. His seven pounds of flesh and blood showed that no matter the size, living beings can do spectacular things. He made me firmly believe that dogs are man's best friends.

I want to pay tribute to his existence by posting some pictures of him and a video.

We will miss Boy terribly. All his naughty habits and special kindness. We will never forget his special way of playing with a ball as he would always go run for it but never bring it back. We thought it was the cutest thing. We will never forget his favorite toy Charlie:

We will never forget how he used to play with his basket or any rug. This was his special way of playing by himself:

I can only believe that Boy is now watching upon us from Dogs' Heaven where he definitely deserves to be:

Dear Boy,

We will always love you. I hope you understand that we had to put an end to your suffering yesterday. You never deserved to suffer the way you did in your last days. We couldn't let you keep on being in pain for us. We know you struggled until the end to stay with us, to stay for us. But now the pain is gone and you can enjoy your after life.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fine Dining: Hakkasan Restaurant At Fontainebleau Hotel in South Beach - Miami

The famous Fontainebleau Hotel, where both Goldfinger and Scarface were filmed, was recently remodeled and it does seem to be in the same league than a Las Vegas Hotel. I must say that this property does look very sleek and features fabulous restaurants.

As one of those restaurants is the much hyped Hakkasan, we had to try it out. Keep in mind that  this restaurant offers a Miami Spice Menu on certain dates (for more information click here) which is undoubtedly a great value. We were amazed by the setting of the restaurant, its vibe, the service and of course the food. We had the chance to be welcome by the manager (thanks to our friend Mihai at the Delano Hotel) and had a fabulous and perfect dinner there.

Here are some pictures of the food that we had:

Perfect Dim-Sum (the best we had in our lives):

Their signature dish: Peking Duck with Caviar: a very inventive and divine combination. Here is a picture of the caviar:

The Peking Duck:

Peking Duck and Caviar combined in a pancake (my personal advice would be not to use the accompanying sauce and go easy on the cucumbers and scallions):

If it were not for the food, the whole restaurant decor would be worth a visit. So, it does qualify as a must-go place on a trip to Miami!

Fine Dining: Meat Market Restaurant - South Beach (Miami)

When you are on vacation for two weeks in the same city and you go twice to the same restaurant in two days, I think it tells a lot about how satisfactory the food must be.

This is what happened to us at the Meat Market restaurant on Lincoln Rd in South Beach, Miami. We did take advantage on our first dinner of the Miami Spice Menu. For those of you not familiar with it, let me explain what Miami Spice is all about. Every year in August and September, most of the best restaurants in Miami offer on certain days a set menu priced at US$ 22 for lunch and US$ 35 for dinner. This is, in most cases, an absolute bargain. Of course, we found it to be extremely valuable at Meat Market where the food as well as the setting and service are close to perfection.

We so much enjoyed our Miami Spice menu that we had to go back the following day although we knew the Miami Spice menu wasn't available. Here are pictures of the great food we had there:

Kobe Beef Sliders (one with cheese, the other one with Foie Gras):

Kobe Beef Skewers:

Lamb Chop Duo:

20 Oz. American Kobe Beef with Mac & Cheese (not on the Miami Spice Menu):

Key Lime Pie:

On the must-go scale from 1 to 10, this restaurant is a solid 10!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Summer 2011 Burger Awards

In all modesty, I consider myself the No. 1 hamburger expert in the world. After years of trials and errors, taking pictures of them and tasting them, I believe I have accumulated the knowledge equivalent for Burgers of the Ancient Library of Alexandria. Needless to say, I am more than willing to share my wisdom with the rest of world since, as a cousin of mine recently said to me: "You were a spoiled brat when you were a child and at one point, you decided to become a decent person". I might add that I don't know how long that decent period in my life lasted, probably not more than a few minutes but anyway, the point is that I am willing to share.

Burger joints in the form of restaurants rather than fast-food venues seem to become more and more trendy nowadays. The number five seem to be a burger number since at least 2 chains feature it in their name (5 Napkin Burger and Five guys). So, I naturally decided to include only five of them in my review. In-N-Out Burger would deserve to enter the competition but as they have no restaurants on the east coast, I couldn't sample them on my current trip. I did, however, post an article on my blog not long ago about them.

I am just going to list my selection starting with my least favorite joint to finish with the best, IMHO.

Here comes 5 Napkin Burger:

Their burger was ok but didn't qualify as exceptional. Their ground beef patty is way too thick which makes the burger not juicy enough. Their cheddar is only ok. All in all, a decent burger but not sure I will go back.

The Counter Burger:

Same complaint: when making a 2/3 pounder, why not break it down into two or, even better, three juicy patties in order to make this burger breathe. The cheddar was good, as well as the bacon but I wasn't very impressed.

Five Guys:

Now we're talking Burger magic. Five Guys feature great hamburgers. I, particularly, like their jalapenos in a burger. This was a juicy burger with very good cheddar though it could have been melted a bit more. The buns happened to be too cold though. Five Guys is an excellent burger joint and I will definitely be back!

Bill's Bar and Burger:

Lovely burger, very juicy. Perfect size. They also have great cheese fries, loaded nachos and spicy Margaritas. This place is a must go. It is very close to my favorite burger restaurant featured below.

Shake Shack:

Shake Shack started in 2004 in Madison Square Park in New York and they are growing rapidly. Their burgers reach the Xanadu or, should I say, Xanadu of burgers in my opinion. They are juicy and fresh. The buns are perfect, all the ingredients taste great. I'm having a hard time deciding to go eat at any other place when it comes to burgers as I can't fathom a better burger (besides mine of course, in all modesty again) than theirs. If you haven't tried it yet, just run to their closest location!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Air France A380 Business Class Review: From Paris to New York

Flying aboard the A380 has finally become a reality for me and although this A380 review is not the first one in its category, the flyertalker in me had to do it! So, here is my experience flying aboard AF6 from one airport named after a French president to another airport named after an American president.

As you can see in the picture above, the A380 is huge!

There are three jetways for boarding: two for the lower deck and one for the upper deck. The one closest to the cockpit is for First Class passengers. The configuration is as follows:

- Lower deck: First class in the front and then Economy all the way to the back of the plane
- Upper deck: Business Class in the front and Economy all the way to the back of the plane

This is a view from the jetway to the upper deck:

View from the upper deck business class cabin:

View of the inside of the business class cabin. Nothing new in the implementation of this business class compared to other planes besides the change from the color blue to brown for the seats. The A380 doesn't feature the latest business class seats introduced by Air France last year.

Note sure if the colors are accurate on this picture: the seats are brown instead of the usual blue:

Champagne as a preflight drink. Why can't they fill the glasses a bit more?

Starters: foie gras & shrimps


Main course: chicken fillet. This was good but my first choice of main course was Truffle Taglioni. They had unfortunately run out of them when they got to my seat.

The Mezzanine: located all the way in the front of the upper deck. This is a huge waste of space in my opinion. Three screens where you can view artwork or whatever the inflight entertainment system is showing whenever/if it is actually working. Why don't they make it a full bar?

Staircase to the lower deck at the back of the upper deck:

Inflight Entertainment System: in addition to the usual audio/video offerings, you can see live videos from the plane with three different cameras: one in the front, another one in the tail and the last one underneath this big bird! However, the system had to be rebooted for the first three hours of my flight before it finally worked. Nothing was available until then: no movies, no music. In general, the system offers many choices of on-demand videos but it is very slow and feels unresponsive. The old Inflight Entertainment System on Delta, though less sophisticated, is at least snappy which feels great in terms of user experience.

All in all, I was amazed by the quietness of the A380 even during take-off and landing. The downside to it is that you can hear passengers snoring two rows behind you and you realize how noisy business class seats can be when electric motors are in action. Another issue was service. Although the crew was very nice and attentive, it seemed they were overwhelmed by the amount of passengers in the business class cabin. It took more than an hour and half for service to begin. If you add that to the two hour delay before take-off on this particular day, I ended up eating lunch at 5:30pm after feeling famished for almost an hour!