April 30, 2017

Elton John show in Las Vegas

There are any number of great shows on the Las Vegas Strip, but Elton John: The Million Dollar Piano is my vote for “not-to-be-missed” musical extravaganza. You have to like rock and roll, but familiarity with John’s song catalogue is not a prerequisite for enjoying this spectacle. He has a kick-ass back-up band with two of the members having played with him starting in 1969. There is definitely some age on this stage, but you wouldn’t know it from their energy and cool-factor demeanor.

Elton wows the audience with his brilliant playing and his powerful vocals (albeit amplified with lots of reverb), but he also talks with the audience about his friendship with John Lennon and his love of performing. When he speaks, you forget you are in a Colosseum with 4,297 other listeners.

A word about the stupendous electric grand piano Elton plays throughout the show, specially made by Yamaha, the instrument features over 68 LED video screens. The 120-foot-wide and 40-foot tall LED screen across the back of the stage adds to the visuals. Videos include shifting design images, a collage of Elton wearing unique clothing throughout his career and a touching white gardenia film tribute to John Lennon.

The audience is singing along during the show, jumping to their feet after numbers, and clapping along with the three percussionists in John’s band. A select few in the front rows are invited to the stage towards the end of the show for the opportunity of shaking the star’s hand.

If my ears did not deceive me, I believe Elton John said his two children, Zachary (age 6) and Elijah (age 3) were seeing their father perform in Million Dollar Piano for the first time that evening in Las Vegas. I bet they were mightily impressed. I certainly was!

Seven Magic Mountains outside of Las Vegas

Seven Magic Mountains

If you need a break from the casino culture on the Las Vegas Strip, consider a short trip outside of the city to view a special art exhibit, the Seven Magic Mountains by Swiss sculptor, Ugo Rondinone. The seven 30-foot brightly-colored totems are made up of large stacked boulders that give one the feeling of a psychedelic Stonehenge.
Ten miles south of Las Vegas, the art installation is near Jean Dry Lake and Interstate 15. The Mojave Desert becomes a free art museum with a short drive outside of Las Vegas well worth the trouble.
The installation opened on May 11, 2016 and will be viewable until May 11, 2018.

My niece, Maye and me

You can order Seven Magic Mountain prints by Gianfranco Gorgoni or “mini mountain” stone sculptures by Ugo Rondinone at:

Chicago’s CTA Holiday Train and Bus 2016

How have I missed the CTA Holiday Train in the 25 years that it has run on the tracks around the Chicago area? To this day, I have only seen video footage of Santa with reindeer and sleigh gliding through the wintry urban scenery. Each brightly lit train car has an elf inside passing out candy canes. Yesterday was the last Santa train this season on the yellow line. Santa drove his CTA sleigh from Nov. 29 through Dec. 23 on all eight CTA train lines. Drat, missed it again!

The CTA also runs a special Santa bus which makes runs on the various city bus lines. If you were taking the No. 3 King Drive bus yesterday, you may just have been lucky enough to board this festive vehicle.

These photos and the video below will have to suffice until next year when we can perhaps view these illusive sights with our own eyes:

Google Arts and Culture site

google-arts-and-culture-logoWhen traveling, I love visiting museums, gardens and venues of visual beauty. Unfortunately, my wish list of places to visit continues to grow, while my time to travel remains relatively small.

Google Arts and Culture comes to the rescue with a comprehensive web site that allows the viewer to virtually visit a host of cultural and natural sites all across the world. biodivwand_c_carola-radke-mfnBio Diversity Wall at the Natural History Museum in Berlin

Some of the web site headings include Your Daily Digest, Stories of the Day, Zoom in and Explore by time and color. A seemingly endless number of virtual tours are available including Ford’s Theater in Washington,  10 Downing Street in London and the Taj Mahal in India. One can do searches by art movements, artists, historical events or places along with a host of other topics. Every visit to Google Culture and Art home page could be a different, enlightening experience.

I see from the internet address that Google Arts and Culture is still in beta-testing mode, but the site looks quite polished and professional in its current state.
On my next Google Arts and Culture experience, I plan to make virtual visits to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and to the Great Barrier Reef. Excuse me while I pack my virtual suitcase.


Micro Wind Turbine for off-grid power

Imagine packing a contraption called the Micro Wind Turbine that is no bigger than an umbrella and can catch enough wind to power your electronic devices when you are “off grid.”

The inventor, Lausanne design student Nils Ferber, is looking for partners for his 2-pound invention that can capture wind at night and on overcast days when sunlight is not an option. The Turbine can power up electronics directly or charge the device’s battery pack.

Campers and survivalists, take note.


The National Parks – National Geographic Book

As a companion to our celebration of the 100th anniversary of our National Parks Service, National Geographic has published a glorious illustrated history of our national natural bounty, The National Parks. Kim Heacox, a former ranger and award-winning author, provides the informative text that accompanies the outstanding photos.

Every page is a visual delight with shots of our most beloved national parks, but pull-out panoramic photos of Sequoia National Park and Yosemite in California plus Canyonlands National Park in Utah and Haleakala National Park in Hawaii are simply breath-taking.

This would be a great addition to your coffee table, but most major libraries should have copies that you can borrow.

Let us hope that Fox and Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of National Geographic’s famed publication and television network does not mean a diminution of its quality or reputation. This lovely book gives one hope.

Find a Way: the inspiring story of Diana Nyad’s historic swim from Cuba to Florida

While listening to a sports report from Wimbledon, the English world class tennis tournament, I laughed when the voice was identified as none other than Diana Nyad.

Her name is now familiar to me  since I have been immersed in her inspirational book, Find a Way about her historic swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida. Not only can the woman swim like a fish, but she can really write. We learn that she studied comparative literature and can speak several languages so this lady is definitely not just a sports jock.

The book starts with one of her failed attempts at swimming between the U. S. and Cuba and then goes back in time to give the reader a sense of the life she has led. Early in her memoir, we find out that she was sexually molested by her father and her swimming coach when she was a teenager. She also writes about her preference for women as sexual partners. There is nothing titillating in the choice of her words, just simple honesty about the positive and negative events that have shaped her remarkable life.
Her first attempt to swim from Cuba to the U. S. occurred in her 20s and was a failure. We read with euphoria of her completing the 40 year old dream in her 60s.

Supposedly Hillary Clinton tweeted congratulations to the 64-year-old swimmer when she completed swimming through the treacherous waters between Cuba and the U. S.  The former secretary-of-state said that Nyad’s feat outshone her own brushes with “sharks.”

Nyad’s beautifully written memoir profiles someone who is disciplined, focused, courageous and even poetic.

Three cheers for strong women, of any age.

Solar Impulse 2 plane flies on sunshine

Who are Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard?
Swiss pilots and founders of the company Solar Impulse. Not only are they currently flying around the world in their high tech plane, but they are promoting clean technology.

The plane uses no earthly fuel, but only sunshine to power the the carbon fiber invention.

The wing span of the plane is longer than a Boeing 747 but the airplane itself weighs only a little over 5,000 pounds (about the weight of a pick-up truck.)

The web site has impressive photos and videos of the record-breaking airplane as it journeys around the globe.


Olli electric driverless buses, testing in a city near you?

Family members have stated that “you’re not getting me in one of those contraptions that don’t have a driver.”  They may be eating their words sooner than they think.

Olli is a driverless, electric bus that can transport 12 people, is 3-D printed and is operated by IBM’s Watson, “a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data.” In other words, it’s a computer program that can understand human language and instructs the vehicle where to go and how to get there. Passengers will be able to summon a bus using an app similar to Uber.

Trials just started in Washington, D. C. with Las Vegas and Miami to follow later in the year. The  Olli mini-buses can be 3-D printed in ten hours and assembled in just one.
As someone who does not like to drive, I say, “Bring Olli to Chicago, pretty please!”

30º i februari, Swedish TV Series on Netflix

Swedes visit Thailand in droves so is it any wonder that Swedish tv producers have created a series, 30º i februari that features Scandinavian characters visiting this beautiful Southeast Asian locale?

There is the lonely, Swedish middle-aged heating system installer who is looking for an Asian bride. A wheel chair-bound man has been reluctantly talked into a vacation by his long-suffering wife. A woman who has suffered a stroke moves to Thailand and buys a resort with her two daughters, in hopes of finding a less stressful life. The previous Thai resort owner becomes her business rival. His ex-druggie son is in love with one of her daughters.

Throw in a transgender Thai massage therapist, a young female Swedish dive instructor and police that could rival any of our over-zealous U. S. law types and you have a potent dramatic mix. Imagine “Dallas” set in Thailand, but with a decidedly quirky Scandinavian flavor.

If you are up for for gorgeous scenery, quirky, flawed characters and a plot that is by turns dark and zany, this may be the ten episode show for you. I recommend you have your Thai carry-out restaurant menu handy so you can really get into the mood.