Wrong Since 1998: It Was Lactose Intolerance, Not Gluten

Note: This is a personal blog entry that is off topic for the blog, but I'm posting it here so it's public and searchable by others who might have had similar issues.

I've had a sensitive digestive system my whole life, and back in 1998 it got so bad that I went to my doctor about it. He gave me a sort of prescription strength Immodium, and not happy with treating the symptom and not the problem, I went to a different doctor, went through a bunch of blood tests and an elimination diet, and ended up cutting out gluten (long before doing so was trendy). I definitely had less issues and lost some weight, but things were still never quite right, and I would occasionally have serious problems (although less frequently than before). In recent years, cutting out gluten has gotten trendy, and a lot more quality gluten free options have become available, and I started availing myself of them--and had even more problems. I would occasionally binge on excellent gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, or local gluten-free cup cakes, or fresh cooked gluten-free pizza, and in each case I would have terrible digestive problems the next day. So late last year, I decided to followup with a gastroenterologist. He did more tests, didn't find anything physical and suggested that I take a probiotic and keep a food diary. Things got a little better, and I actually started eating gluten again, but I still got occasional problems which seemed pretty mysterious.

After a month of eating gluten again, things seemed better but still not 100%. So I went back through the food diary, and found that the day before any problem day, I had eaten food with lactose (not all of which was immediately obvious, see below). I had long suspected that lactose intolerance might have been my real problem, but in most of my online research I always turned up things that  said, "symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours", where my problems almost always are the day after I eat a problem food--typically 12-24 hours later.  

In addition to digestive problems, I had long had what I thought was an allergic reaction to some (typically greasy) foods--I'd get post nasal drip, and would have to clear my throat for half an hour or so after eating. So with all this information I went to see an allergist who specialized in food issues. It turned out that he himself is lactose intolerant and also had the long reaction time, and he suspected that lactose was my issue too.  But being a good diagnostician, he gave me some more info and suggested that I continue my detailed food diary with this in mind and come back in a few weeks. He also did a bank of food allergy skin tests, and I came up completely clear, and that the throat clearing/post nasal drip was actually "silent reflux".

After being wrong for so many years I was a bit hesitant about jumping on the lactose intolerance bandwagon, but carefully avoiding lactose, further food diary recording and a followup visit with the allergist had me pretty convinced that it was lactose all along, and a few things recently have supported the lactose intolerance hypothesis pretty strongly. First, it turns out that some breads are made with butter and some are not.  So by cutting out bread all those years I cut out a source of lactose. In addition, by cutting out things like bagels (which are generally not made with dairy products) I was really cutting out the problematic cream cheese; by cutting out the pizza I was really cutting out the mysterious pizza cheese blend. I love cheese and this was another source of confusion--lactose is the sugar in milk and while some cheeses have a lot of it, aged cheeses (like cheddar, parmesan and swiss--not likely coincidentally my favorites) and processed cheeses have very small amounts of lactose and I seem to be OK with them.

So for the last couple months I've been judiciously reading food labels and cutting out as much lactose as possible.  But that's not easy to do on the road. So on my recent storm chasing trip (writeup here), I was careful about what I would eat--or at least I thought I was. I was doing fine, and one frantic day (storm chasing can mean eating a lot of crappy foods) I ate a couple candy bars (my only dinner while on a storm) that I thought didn't have dairy, and I ended up with horrible problems.  I went back and more carefully read the label, and sure enough it had a milk ingredient in it--I had just missed it.  As an experiment, the next day I tried the same candy bar but took some Lactaid, a digestive enzyme that you take with the first bite of food.  And the next day I had no problems. So for the rest of the trip, with every meal that I didn't cook (which was all of them) I took Lactaid and had no problems.  And when I got home I tried one last experiment--I ordered a regular, gluten-containing pizza, and took Lactaid as I started eating and when I finished, and had no problems the next day.  Last night I was at a party and ate some likely butter-containing bread, but forgot to bring the lactaid, and sure enough, had problems today.  It seems pretty likely to me that the lactose intolerance hypothesis is correct.

So after these experiments and continuing to study food labels, I'm avoiding lactose whenever possible, but it's great, after so many years, to have a better handle on the situation, and with the Lactaid I have a solution for travel, which I love to do and has long been problematic. I'm going to focus the food diary now onto figuring out the foods that cause the silent reflux.  

And why the picture of Double Stuf Oreos?  Oreos, it turns out, don't contain milk and therefore also don't contain lactose (just don't eat them with milk).  My biggest problem after avoiding these kind of foods for 17 years or so is now to restrain myself from making up for lost time and overdosing on Oreos.

Storm Chase-cation 2015

For the last few years (here's last year's writeup), I've headed out storm chasing (explanations here and here) on the Great Plains as soon as my classes end, which is also generally also the end of peak chasing season in the southern plains.  This year I flew into Dallas (best flight/car rental pricing), and then headed up to Wichita Falls, Texas. This time last year, Wichita Falls was under an epic drought; this year, they got years' worth of rain just in the month of May.  I've got before and after photos of Lake Arrowhead here.  And from there, I ended up doing 3500 miles in a couple giant loops of north Texas and southern Oklahoma, with a brief jaunt into eastern New Mexico.

The first part of the trip there wasn't a whole lot going on weather wise, and I missed some of the few big storms that happened, but I did see flooding in Wichita Falls, a severe-warned gust front gust front, and then more flooding, the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, and even a wild boar.  I saw him jump across a little gap in a field and then he was washed away and had a long swim.  After that, I got on the north side of a crazy tornado-warned blob of hail, and it ended up chasing me into suburban Wichita Falls, TX, where I rode the storm out in a car wash (there was big hail in this storm).

Click on any photo for a larger version:

On May 27, I picked a target of Shamrock, TX, which put me in a great position to get on the amazing (and well documented by 100's of chasers) Canadian, Texas storm.  This storm moved slowly and erratically, and I was one of only a handful of chasers to end up on the back (West) side of the main tornado, as you can see in the photos below.  This storm moved slowly and dropped at least four tornadoes if not more.

After that storm, things got spotty again, and I drifted back to Amarillo (and the Cadillac ranch) and then onto Lubbock where I set up for the arrival of a huge severe-warned gust front.  I didn't get great photos because I got road raged by a redneck in the first town I set up in, then eaten alive by mosquitoes in several other spots because of the severe and widespread flooding.  I ended up in a bank drive through west of Lubbock and held down the tripod through 30-50 MPH winds and many technical problems to get a few lightning shots.

The weather then moved too far north for me to get to and make it back in time to Dallas for my flight, so I met some old friends in Fort Worth and saw a couple great bands (photos here) thanks to the recommendation from another friend.  I also saw some of the Trinity River flooding.

All in all, it was a great trip, and I hope to be back out there again next year...

Al Goldstein Memorial

Back in the late 1980's, I was working for a special effects company on Long Island. When we had work here in the city, we would stay at the fabulous Edison Hotel right in the heart of Times Square. The Edison is still there, but those who only know the post Disney Times Square of the late 2000's really couldn't even imagine how rough the place was back then.  Rough, but exciting.

Inside the Edison too, even the TV showed that NYC was different. Because of Manhattan's diversity, it has FCC "community standards" unlike anywhere else in the country, and this means that, after 10pm, if you were flipping across the cable channels in the hotel you would invariably stumble onto leased access channel 35, and...nudity. Two shows dominated that channel, Robin Byrd's stripper show, and Al Goldstein's Midnight Blue. There really is no way to adequately describe what Midnight Blue was like, so if you're not easily offended, watch this very not safe for work clip:

Goldstein was way, way ahead of his time in many ways, and even by the 1980's, when I first became aware of him, he had already established himself as one of the most vociferous defenders of the first amendment. Of course these days, with the anything goes internet, the idea of prohibiting anyone from seeing anything is pretty much dead. But that freedom--for good and bad--we owe, in part, to this hedonistic, gluttonous PT Barnum of porn. 

Brooklyn, evidently has "higher" community standards than Manhattan, so when I moved here in 1990, Al was not on my TV (but he was when I later moved to Manhattan). And with Goldstein's self-destructive personality, the rise of the internet (built on free porn), and even the cable companies selling "smut", Goldstein ended up becoming homeless and destitute (Al's friend Penn Jillette eventually rented an apartment for him). Goldstein eventually offended or alienated just about everyone who knew him, but my friend Viveca was one of the few that stayed with Al until the end.  And she helped to arrange a wonderful memorial last night, and I was lucky to be able to go, and help honor a hero.

The event also was evidence for me that although New York is a lot more homogeneous place these days, there is still a diverse core of interesting people here, and we can use our community standards to help us to see the good in people, even when they might offend us. That's why I'm still here after nearly 25 years.

Here's a few photo highlights from last night, and I have many more photos here

Update 5/22: Captions by Viveca

Erica Dubno and Herald Price Fahringer's backs

Erica Dubno and Herald Price Fahringer's backs

Albert Jaccoma on right with visible wristband talking to Chris Stevens. Co-organizer and Al biographer Josh Alan Friedman visible behind them.

Albert Jaccoma on right with visible wristband talking to Chris Stevens. Co-organizer and Al biographer Josh Alan Friedman visible behind them.

Tere Gerber, Al's assistant from Screw

Tere Gerber, Al's assistant from Screw

Display of selection from Al's "collections," curated by Josh Safdie

Display of selection from Al's "collections," curated by Josh Safdie

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dirty songster Jeffrey Lewis

dirty songster Jeffrey Lewis

 Event organizer Larry "Ratso" Sloman

 Event organizer Larry "Ratso" Sloman

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Uncle Lou Amber, porn chauffer, showing his scrapbook to Museum of Sex Director of Operations Kelley Cordell

Uncle Lou Amber, porn chauffer, showing his scrapbook to Museum of Sex Director of Operations Kelley Cordell

Event co-organizer and Al biographer Josh Alan Friedman

Event co-organizer and Al biographer Josh Alan Friedman

Pioneering freedom of speech lawyers, Al's defense attorneys Erica Dubno and Herald Price Fahringer

Pioneering freedom of speech lawyers, Al's defense attorneys Erica Dubno and Herald Price Fahringer

Gilbert Gottfried

Gilbert Gottfried

 Sex writer and actress and founder of Miss Vera's Finishing School For Boys Who Want To Be Girls, Veronica Vera

 Sex writer and actress and founder of Miss Vera's Finishing School For Boys Who Want To Be Girls, Veronica Vera

Adrienne Gruberg, widow of Steve "Grube Tube" Gruberg. Adrienne also read a letter from sex educator and performance artist Annie Sprinkle

Adrienne Gruberg, widow of Steve "Grube Tube" Gruberg. Adrienne also read a letter from sex educator and performance artist Annie Sprinkle

: Event co-organizer and Al's lawyer Charles DiStefano

: Event co-organizer and Al's lawyer Charles DiStefano

 Dara Gottfried taking a picture of her husband, 

 Dara Gottfried taking a picture of her husband, 

 Cousins Albert (left) and Richard Jaccoma. Richard ran Screw magazine.

 Cousins Albert (left) and Richard Jaccoma. Richard ran Screw magazine.

Charlie DiStefano's 1962 Cadillac, featured with the 69ers Motorcycle Club in an honor guard for Al.

Charlie DiStefano's 1962 Cadillac, featured with the 69ers Motorcycle Club in an honor guard for Al.

More on Goldstein in his NY Time obit, and there's a great documentary too.

Update 5/23: Welcome AVN readers!

Beautiful, Baffling Cuba-Part I

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The keeper of the light house at Havana’s Morro Castle welcomed us, and reached up and grabbed an old crank on the beautifully maintained, antique drive mechanism for the light. I thought he was showing us some history, but through our interpreter instead discovered that in fact, this lighthouse is still manually operated. In 2014.

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It’s not like they don’t have electricity which could be used to automate the system; the operator is able to watch TV (they probably get pretty good reception up there) during the five hours that the lighthouse mechanism will rotate after being cranked.  He also has a telephone, and even a fan for hot weather:

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It’s just that this is Cuba, and that’s just the way things are here, in this beautiful, bizarre place, full of contradictions and surprises, and with a history virtually impenetrable to outsiders on a brief visit like the one I did in January. It's not like what I expected--some sort of totalitarian dystopia--nor was it like other countries I've been to, like the Dominican Republic, where you see extreme poverty alongside great wealth. 

Cuba, of course, has been behind an American wall since before I was born (and I turned 50 last year). I've had many friends who traveled there illegally through Canada, Mexico, or the Bahamas; it’s apparently not illegal for US citizens to travel there, but it is illegal to spend money without permission from the US Department of the Treasury (and even when you travel legally you can't use a US credit or debit card anywhere in the country). I've long wanted to go there, and as a photographer, when I heard about a photography-based “people to people exchange”, which was licensed by the US Treasury, and taking place when my City Tech classes weren't in session, I jumped at the opportunity.

I went through a company based in western Massachusetts called Common Ground Travel, who navigated the incredibly byzantine bureaucratic maze set up by our government, basing our trip on a license granted to the NYC-based Center for Cuban studies. The trip had been developed with the great photographers Joe Dimaggio and Joanne Kalish and featured time in and around Havana, with a outing to Varadero, the land of all-inclusive resorts and home of a beautiful beach, and also the beautiful Viñales Valley, a UNESCO world heritage site.

There were surprises from the first minutes of the trip. We had to meet at the Miami airport at 4am to have time to check in for our 8am flight. Common Ground’s amazing fixer, Debbie, greeted us there at this heinous hour and navigated for us the four-part check in (first ticket voucher, then passport, then baggage weighing and then baggage payment). While Debbie was working her magic, all around us Cuban Americans waited (under Obama, family travel restrictions have been eased) to check in for the next flight with 100’s of pounds of goods (and, presumably, cash) shrink wrapped into their suitcases. We saw coffee makers, TV’s, clothing, canned goods--you name it. The flight time was less than a ¼ of the length of the check in process, and we flew right over the Florida Keys and Key West (which I had just visited--photos here and here and here).

The Havana airport was like any other fairly modern Caribbean airport I've been to, and once again Debbie worked her magic and navigated us right through the Cuban customs and border protection without incident. We then were met by our excellent Cuban crew: tour guide Ismelys and bus driver Ernesto who worked for a Cuban tour company, which (like most things) was owned by the government (something that's still very hard for an American to wrap his head around). During a pre-trip conference call, they mentioned that we would be riding around on a bus in Cuba, and I thought this would be some old beaten down wreck, but we were surprised instead a comfortable, shiny new Chinese bus, with A/C and everything. Going into the trip, I figured our experience would be tightly controlled, and that our government minders would be telling us what we could do and what we couldn't. Instead, throughout the trip, we were given honest and direct answers, and nothing was ever off limits. We did travel on a specific agenda, but that has more to do with our US license than anything in Cuba. 

Riding from the airport was a bit surreal because the area was immaculate but also desolate, with workers cutting the grass with machetes and the only blatant (and to me, hilarious) propaganda billboards we saw on the trip (sorry for not having pictures of that, I was still groggy from the 3am start to the day). After we finally got checked into the hotel (with the 8am flight we were there way, way before normal check in time), I was again surprised, since the Hotel Nacional, while old, was very nice and I even had CNN and the Weather Channel on the TV (others had plumbing problems but my room was very nice). 

I rarely spend time in any hotel room, so I immediately headed out to check out the surrounding neighborhood. No one told me where or when I could go, and, beyond standard group trip logistics, this was true through the trip. I moved to New York in 1990 at the peak of the crack/crime wave here, so I have a pretty well-developed sense of street risk, but during my entire time in Cuba, even when wandering, alone, far from the tourist areas, I never once felt threatened or even uneasy. I certainly got some strange looks, and in the tourist areas there are definitely aggressive swindlers and beggars, but I had worse during my last trip to Paris. And the camera I was carrying was worth 20 years of a typical Cuban salary of about $12 a day.

Leaving the hotel grounds, I was immediately struck how the the entire, crumbling infrastructure of Havana is one huge monument to the failures of the socialist economic system. It’s like a much cleaner and more lively Detroit (my Detroit photos here). From here out, I’ll let the pictures do the talking, with a few notes here and there.

The hotel:

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The old cars that are shiny and well maintained are for tourists, and they charge a lot more than regular taxis (which are a mixture of old Russian and Chinese cars, and a few Mercedes):

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I never turned my phone on in the country, but without weather radar I spotted this storm anvil in the distance:

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The sunset with the storm clouds was incredible:

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Later, I took the tripod out to the Malecon, the ocean front highway, and got a bit of a distant lightning display--my first thunderstorm in months!

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I woke up the next morning way too early so I went back to the Malecon at sunrise (facing east,  obviously--Key West is 100 miles to my left):

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From a distance this looks like a modern waterfront until you look closer.

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I met the group and we headed to the Casablanca area:

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Everywhere you look, there are street dogs and cats. With so little money, I don’t think pets are high on the average Cuban's priority list:

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Tourism is the number 1 industry in Cuba, so they didn’t seem to mind that we crashed their church service:

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Throughout the trip, it was demonstrated to us that in Cuba there is freedom of religious expression; we even had a show demonstrating dances rooted in several different religions. These ladies are at a store for religious articles.

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These people were apparently waiting to buy their food rations:

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We saw dogs on roofs in several places, I still don’t know why:

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We rode a deathtrap of a ferry across the harbor:

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Apparently, there were life jackets in the back, but we would have never had a chance if this thing capsized.

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The guy to my left has a Led Zeppelin shirt and is holding a semi-nude painting he said he made.

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People can afford very little electricity, so the meters are tiny and the wiring would never pass inspection in the States:

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The non-tourist busses were often jammed; this passenger was helping the driver merge:

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It’s an island with a big harbor, and yet we hardly saw any boats.

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I guess the flight risk is too great. Apparently, under Raul Castro things for the Cuban people have improved greatly, and now they are allowed to travel out of the country. But on a $12/month salary, it would take a lifetime to get enough money to take a trip. Tourism is the #1 industry in Cuba, and because of that, everyone wants to work in this industry where they can make tips. 

All around Havana we saw many seemingly abandoned construction sites; this one actually seemed to have some work going on:

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This was like the worst-stocked bodega in New York , but we were told it’s kind of a typical Cuban store:

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This is a wedding hall:

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There was a strong north wind for several days:

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These were apparently wealthy homes along the Malecon, “abandoned” after the Revolution. Now they are apparently like public housing. Even though the state owns most of the businesses, our tour guide told us that she inherited her house and that under Raul she was now allowed to sell it. 

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The decay is so prevalent that you don’t even notice it after a while. I only noticed it again after a friend on Facebook commented on one of my photos.

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After dinner we went to a (tourist) club:

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The driver of this car told our group he paid $26,000 for the car. We assumed he got the money from relatives in the states.

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The next morning, we took a run out to Varadero, a town along a beach full of all-inclusive resorts. Along the way, we stopped at an old fort. I checked out the fort and then others in the group wandered across the street to a garden. I headed over after, and I’m glad I did:

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We met this man, although I didn't catch his name:

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This is his home (and that's JoAnne shooting him, I have my version of the shot here):

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It was spotless. He had a couple light bulbs and off to my left, a TV. 

The fort had--for Cuba--a pretty nice bathroom. Outside the hotel or tourist restaurants there is rarely a toilet seat, and never toilet paper. I guess both are too expensive.

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These are the electrical linemen:

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In a town and at the resort we saw young girls getting their sweet 15 “Quinceañera”shots. I guess leopard print is popular.

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The coast was beautiful, even on a cloudy day:

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We stopped to check out a baseball game and fellow New Yorker John I crashed the game:

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That night Debbie took us to a privately-owned restaurant:

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Apparently, under Raul Castro, Cubans can now start and own a business, you just have to give 30% to the Government (actually not a bad tax rate by our standards).

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I woke up again way too early the next day so I headed out once again to the Malecon:

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We visited a synagogue to drop off medical supplies that some of the group had brought down. 

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Debbie asked some of the Cubans we were working with if they needed anything of the supplies, and while they would never have asked, they really appreciated things like extra shampoos from the hotel, and even aspirin. 

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We visted the way too touristy and yet beautiful old Havana section:

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I wandered away from the main area and found a small factory:

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Google translate of the sign says:

bring water to drink 
wash hands before eating 
keep staff hygiene 
the containers should be clean 
wash hands with aqua chlorine

In the main square, they were setting up for a concert the next night, and it looked a lot like a US production--in 1985.

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And yet they had a brand new forklift:

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I've been working in entertainment technology for a long time, but I had never seen these dimmers before:

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But from Googling it seems they come from Malta.

Scary wiring:

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It’s not all old cars in Cuba:

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We visited a market:

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I wandered into this bizarre old building, which is apparently a giant ice cream shop:

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I wandered in the back door but when I went out the front there were people waiting in line to get in.

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A bike rack:

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Squarespace (my web host) seems to be getting pretty unstable with a post this big, so I'll stop here and pick up in Part II.


Many more photos here and here and here and here.

Tesla's Wardenclyffe Site--Future Home of the Tesla Science Center

On my way out to check the Sandy-cut breach of Fire Island Sunday, I stopped in to see the site of  WardenclyffeTesla's final laboratory. I had long known this site was somewhere in the area (it turns out I had even ridden by it on my bike and didn't even know it!), and with the very successful campaign to acquire the property and build a museum, I figured it was a good time to visit. Tesla had the lab and a nearly 200 foot tower built in the early 1900's, and it became part of his tragic undoing. 

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The tower was unfortunately demolished in 1917, and the site eventually became a photo products factory which was cleaned up in the 1990's and is currently owned by Agfa. The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is in negotiations to  buy the site (I donated, and you should too!).   That's a great project, but it's going to be a lot of work, as you can see:

You can still see the original, Stanford White designed building here in the side view.

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More photos here.