Monday, May 13, 2013

CIM Conference, Toronto

We're back, blog!  I had hoped to update sooner or even mid-trip last week, but the social schedule didn't really leave time for that.  Additionally, part of the reason for the delay is that I have some very strong feelings about Canada, and have been debating how much of that to include in this post.  I've decided to leave all that out, not to avoid offending Canadian readers, because I really couldn't care less about that, but because I didn't feel like getting that long winded.  I'm going to try to make these blog entries shorter because I think that will make me more inclined to write them, at least for the time being.  Anyway, the relevant material starts in the next paragraph. 

Some of you may have seen the photos on Facebook from my trip to Denver in February for the SME conference, and the CIM conference is the Canadian equivalent.  Both of these events are combinations of trade shows and technical symposiums, organized by their respective national mining organizations.  I mostly attended technical talks at the SME conference since Modular didn't have a booth there, but at the CIM we had some space in the booth for the Canadian Komatsu distributor (Modular being owned by Komatsu), so I had to staff the booth both days.  I also had to travel to Toronto on Sunday, since the show started Monday morning at 10.  I don't mind traveling on weekends but some people don't like to do it and avoid that when possible, so my boss would be joining me up there on Monday evening.  I left Tucson at 6:30 AM and arrived in Toronto at 3:30 PM, and by the time I took a taxi to the hotel and got checked in it was 5.  The convention opened that evening with a social reception, and I wanted to check out the Komatsu booth to see what I needed to do to prepare for Monday morning, so I walked about 15 minutes to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and got registered.  I had forgotten that these conferences are sort of dressy affairs, so in my t-shirt and jeans I felt really out of place among all the people in khakis and dress shirts, or even in suits.  For that reason, I tried to minimize my time there on Sunday evening, but in the registration packet there were two free drink tickets for the reception, and all through the exhibit space were buffet tables set out with finger foods, so I got two whiskey and cokes and a plate of (Spanish?) cured ham before getting out of there.  I took a taxi to a Scottish restaurant I had seen online in my pre-trip research, where I drank a healthy amount of scotch and ate some fried delicacies.  Narrative break for pics!

The view from the 28th floor of the Sheraton Centre; I was amazed how many condo buildings are under construction in Toronto so I composed this shot to show the dichotomy between old and new

 Here's a better view of the building across the street from my hotel.  I didn't know what it was at the time and figured it was a museum of some sort, but apparently this is the Law Society of Upper Canada.

 Another famous building on the same plaza, this is the Canada Life building.  The spire at the top transmits the weather forecast with a color coded light display.

Also on the plaza in front of my hotel, Toronto City Hall.  Can you tell it was built in the 60's?

Here's a view of the CN Tower from where I estimate that we parked in a gravel lot on our family vacation in 2001 or 2002.  I don't recognize the Toronto from that long ago era anymore, as now the approximate location of that gravel lot is one of possibly hundreds of condominium towers.

A view looking toward the lake from the spot I mentioned below the previous picture.  These are some of the condo towers I mentioned.

I accidentally went into the South building of the convention center instead of the North building where I should have been.  This is the pedestrian bridge over the rail yard that divides the two, with the sun coming in the colored windows.  I didn't get time to properly center this photo, which will bother me until the end of my days.

The exhibit floor, in the foreground on the left are the tables where I later (stole?) obtained a plate of ham.

Regardless of my feelings on Canada, I give credit where credit is due.  This is a common sight in public places, and something that would not be at all possible in the US due to our chronic laziness/apathy.

The infamous, over-hyped plate of ham.  Eaten while riding an escalator (as seen above) and also while walking down Front Street.

I took this picture prematurely, in anticipation of eventually getting delicious poutine from one of these trucks.  Alas, I had no Canadian cash (or American cash, for that matter), and I went the whole trip without getting any poutine.

This was parked outside the entrance to my hotel, it's a Tesla electric sports car.  Bieber has one of these!

Pretty sweet looking dash display in the Tesla, just one giant screen.

On my way to my failed attempt to take the subway to dinner, I bought the typical Canadian coffee.  It was gross they didn't give me one of those cardboard things to keep me from burning my hand.  Tim Horton's is extremely overrated.

My Whisky tour of Scotland at The Caledonian on College St., a really cool neighborhood.  I had never had smoky scotches before, and I learned that I really don't like them.  My favorite was the Speyside.

I didn't get a full dinner but I had a Scotch Egg, which is a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage and then breaded and deep fried.  The egg was taking a while so they brought me some sweet potato fries with curry ketchup.  Everything pictured was very tasty, though not particularly healthy.

I ended my Scottish experience with a deep fried Mars bar a la mode accompanied by another glass of the Speyside scotch I had enjoyed earlier as part of the sampler.  This is an action shot of confection mid-consumption.

Finally, here is the evening view from my room.

The next morning, I went to the booth and stood there all day trying to meet prospective clients.  There wasn't a lot of favorable traffic for Modular at this show, since it's largely an academic crowd, so I spent a fair amount of time talking to my fellow booth staffers as well as the people in nearby booths.  We had some issues with the demo that was shipped up from Tucson so I unsuccessfully tried to troubleshoot that for the morning, but unfortunately ended up having to take it back to my hotel at the end of the night to further tinker with.  Our booth did have a guy with an espresso machine to try to bring in traffic, so I partook in that to help alleviate my scotch headache.  I ate lunch at the convention with the provided meal ticket and then later that afternoon my boss arrived from Tucson, and we went out to eat at a cajun restaurant called N'awlins.  

My fancy cappuccino americano, if that's a thing.  There were bowls of chocolate flakes and cinnamon to dress your coffee, so I liberally applied both to concoct a delicious morning beverage.

Convention lunch: Swiss chard ravioli and roasted potatoes, with bread and butter and one of each of the four dessert options.

I walked around for a bit and saw this cool desk at the Michelin booth made from a tire.

The only country who likes putting their flag/national symbol on stuff more than America, is Canada.  This is because they have a pathological need to distinguish themselves from their better known neighbor.  I like to call this "little brother" syndrome.

N'awlin's had a list of martinis named after famous New Orleans personalities, of which I tried as many as possible (approximately 7).  Of course, this ended up being a bad idea.  At any rate, here I am with a Miles Davis, I believe, which had Peach Schnapps.  Note the fancy pinky.

After leaving the restaurant, I parted ways with Bill on a quest to find a poutine restaurant that accepted credit cards.  Despite being a major city, however, everything in downtown Toronto appears to close at 11 on your standard Monday.

The second day at the convention was much the same as the first, except my boss was manning the booth with me so there was one more person to talk to in order to pass the time.  At 3 there was also a reception with snacks and beer, so that was a nice early end to the day.  My old boss Remi and I met up for dinner at Earl's while Greg and Bill went to a formal gala dinner, and we met up with them afterwards at a ritzy bar called Barchef that creates molecular gastronomy drinks with outrageous prices.  We were joined by a customer and his wife from a major account in the Canadian oil sands, as well as two other people that Greg knew.  This was a lot of fun because the molecular gastronomy drinks were very interesting (and expensive, like at least $25 a pop), and the bartender was very skilled and ad-libbed a spicy Sriracha based drink for Bill that was amazing.  After leaving Barchef the customers all went back to their hotels but we 4 Modular employees walked around the neighborhood looking for poutine, before settling for some gyros.  My flight left Toronto at 6:30 AM so I had decided not to go to bed for fear of missing the plane, so after getting yelled at and ketchup covered fries thrown at me by a rude lady in the gyro place, I went back to my hotel and changed clothes before taking a cab to the airport at around 3:30.  Then I killed some time, drank some fluids, and got on the plane to LAX, where I watched The Hobbit (really good) and The Campaign (not very good).  I got back to Tucson around 4 PM, took a taxi home, and went to bed.  This ends the summary of events, let's view the remaining pictures.

Convention lunch day 2: Braised beef and wild rice pilaf, with bread and butter, and carrot cake.

Part of the convention was a symposium on space mining; this was one of their prototype machines.  I didn't get much info, because I was working the booth, but this still pretty far-fetched in my opinion.

My halibut and chips at Earl's, a Canadian chain that has a huge branch in downtown Toronto

This is one of the molecular drinks, that is supposed to taste earthy with strong flavor of truffles.  You eat the cream in the white spoons and then take a sip of the liquor mixture in the glass.  I didn't get a very strong earthy flavor from it, but that glass was like pure alcohol.  Also you can see the blue and red drink that one of the clients ordered.

Another molecular drink that Remi ordered, with alcoholic jello cubes and a glass chilled with dry ice mist.  There was also a freeze dried edible flower, but it didn't taste very good (we shared and sampled all the molecular drinks as a group).

Here's Remi enjoying his unique libation

The final molecular cocktail, which was supposed to taste like the beach.  The glass with the beverage is on the left, with a cauldron of dry ice in the center (not for consumption), and an edible version of the drink on the plate on the right, which was a "pearl" of the drink with an odd texture, accompanied by vanilla foam.  The taste of this didn't remind me very much of the beach but it was salty and fragrant, there was no hint of seafood or anything.  

My last photo of the trip, as we left Barchef we saw a Ferrari parked on the street, so I guess we were in a pretty nice part of town.  Makes you wonder what this guy keeps in his garage . . .

Alright I'm going to wrap this up with the customary apologies for quality of narrative and excessive rambling, etc.  My next trip is to Phoenix for a few days for a minor conference; I'm not sure if I'm going to take my camera to that yet since I've already been there two years ago and it wasn't really anything special.  So my next post may be a flashback from some old European adventures, but I'm not making any promises on content or time frame.  Hasta la proxima!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mina Dolores, Chihuahua

Hello everyone, good evening.  Well as promised in a status update earlier this week (last week?), I have decided that I want to start writing my blog again.  I thought about it and instead of starting a new blog I'm going to resume this one, with the goal of trying to recapture some of the sense of wonder and enthusiasm for life I had during that period.  I plan to post a mix of current events/trips, as well as picking up where I left off on the Spain travel blog to show everyone the pictures I have from the trips I never got around to documenting.  So it will be a very disjointed adventure, timeline-wise.  Of course I had lots of plans about the last iteration as well so we'll see how often I write in here this time.  OK intro over, if I think of anything else I will add it in another post later.  On to our latest exciting voyage!

This past week I traveled to the Dolores mine in Chihuahua, Mexico.  This opportunity was found by my colleague Alec, who also accompanied me on the trip.  Alec is a go-getter and this particular sales opportunity is very attractive to Modular because the mine has already paid a deposit and agreed to install one of our competitor's systems, but since they agreed to meet with us we figured we had a chance to go down and change their minds.  Unfortunately the mine is located in a very remote area and can only be accessed by privately chartered planes (there are roads, but apparently they are dangerous and unpaved - the danger isn't because of the lack of pavement though, but from the bad dudes who tend to roam this part of Mexico) which fly to and from the mine on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings.  So even though we really only needed a few hours of these gentlemen's time, we had to pass two days at the site.  On Tuesday morning I flew from Tucson to Phoenix to meet up with Alec, and then caught the only daily flight down to Hermosillo, where we spent the night before getting on the mine planes at 6:30 on Wednesday morning.  Before we did that though, we checking into our Holiday Inn and got a restaurant recommendation for La Siesta, at a hotel down the street.

La Siesta is nothing to look at from the outside, but based on our fellow diners it appears to be the Chili's of Hermosillo, in that it is "where business is done."  We got a couple of Indio cervezas and perused the menu before deciding on a 1.142 KILOGRAM (probably like, a lot of pounds) steak platter that also came with ribs, nachos, beans, guacamole, bread, and probably other stuff I'm forgetting.  The waiter assured us that it wouldn't be weird for two men to share, so we ordered that sucker "medio cocido" and began our eager wait.  Well of course anyone with a passing knowledge of the metric system can imagine that this was way too much food, so after eating probably less than half we waddled back to the hotel to prepare to get up and to the airport by 5 AM.  Picture break!

The view from my room.  If you're ever staying at the Holiday Inn in Hermosillo, try not to get a room in the back building that faces the neighborhood behind; there's a lot of barking dogs. 

Only part of our 500 peso feast at La Siesta, a delicious and decadent experience. 

We knew our flight was leaving from the General Aviation terminal instead of the Commercial terminal the next morning, but I wanted to play it safe so at my insistence a taxi was waiting at 5 AM to take us back to the airport.  Unfortunately for Alec, this wasn't necessary, as we were the only people sitting in that building for about an hour.  Pilots started arriving and preparing their small planes, which I assumed they used to commute somewhere, while we kept an eye on a jet parked on the tarmac that had 5 windows on each side, which we figured had about 10 seats and was probably the mine plane.  We were wrong.  After passing through "security" and 10 feet later walking out the door onto the pavement, one of the pilots we saw earlier told us to follow him, and he led us to his little Cessna (actually he led Alec to one and me to another; there were six people going to the mine that day so they had sent two planes).  Each plane had three rows of two seats, but the back two seats were used to luggage.  My pilot told the other two passengers in our plane to get in the middle row, while holding his seat forward like you have to do in a 2 door car, and then I climbed into the co-pilot's seat.  Alec and I both agreed that we were glad we didn't know about the size of these planes in advance, as it would have given us a lot more time to get worried.  The flight was pretty uneventful otherwise; I watched the gauges the whole time and our speed never went above 130 knots, and when I got a little motion sick I stared at the gauge that shows whether or not the plane is level, since I couldn't see the horizon out the front of the plane.

Here's my ride, basked in the Sonoran sunrise

The view from my seat.  I was very careful not to touch ANYTHING, but I did have to move my knees occasionally for the pilot to flip some switches.  There were also foot pedals I wanted to make sure I didn't interfere with, so I kept my feet tucked under my seat for the whole hour.

My (fearless?) pilot.  I didn't get his name, but he didn't offer it either.  So I pretended to take a picture of the scenery off to the left to get this picture.  Smooth.

Dolores Mine (International?) Airport (gravel strip in the middle of nowhere)

Downtown at the mine camp, only a 30 minute van ride on dirt roads to get to the pit.  We had a second floor room, one single bed and a set of bunk beds.  Other than dormitories, the camp has a dining hall and a gym.

Well as you can see from that last photo we got to the camp and our room was assigned, and then we took a van ride out to the offices to meet with our contacts.  We chatted briefly with the Director of Technologies but we wanted to organize meetings with the Mine Manager and the Maintenance Director, who had very busy schedules.  So we were shown to a vacant office and told we would be contacted when needed.  Unfortunately we couldn't get any face time for the rest of that day so after breaking for lunch in the office lunch room and then getting a mine tour in the late afternoon, we got the vans back to the camp for the evening.  There wasn't much to do there so we had dinner in the dining hall and then I watched Breaking Bad on my laptop until bed.  I'm gonna take a mid-paragraph sidebar to apologize for the deteriorating quality of narration at this point but I'll chalk that up to getting back on the blogging horse, which is making this whole week trip kind of difficult to slog through.  Anyway, Thursday at the mine was pretty similar to Wednesday; we got up at 5 and had breakfast, then caught the vans at 6:30 to the offices.  We got to do our presentation for the Mine Manager at 8:30 for about an hour and a half and both he and the other attendees seemed fairly receptive, so we're going to be compiling a detailed proposal to send to them later next week.  But after the presentation we were back to our "office" to pass the day on other things, before wrapping up at the end of the day with our primary contact and going back to the camp for dinner.  The planes back to Hermosillo leave at 8:30, which is right after they arrive bringing in the new mine visitors, so the next morning we did the dining hall routine and then caught one back for our transfer to Phoenix.  We met a guy from Freeport McMoran at the Hermosillo airport who also ended up sitting next to me on the flight to Phoenix, and he turned out to be friends with Dr. White, the founder of Modular, so I mostly discussed that for 45 minutes instead of reading the latest issue of Historia y Vida (a history magazine from Spain that I used to buy when I lived there, that I try to pick up everytime I'm in Mexico).  Finally, when we landed in Phoenix at 1 I waited around in the airport until about 5:30, when Beth and Nick picked me up to go to a Coyotes NHL hockey game with a bunch of other friends.  I passed those four hours eating ahi tuna tacos and drinking rum and cokes, and then watching more episodes of Breaking Bad.  So here are the pics illustrating the remainder of this journey.

Here's a view of part of Dolores Mine from the designated viewpoint

The mine is in the middle of the Sierra Madre, a very rugged and beautiful mountain range that runs through most of Mexico.  These are some cliffs formed by the nearby river that you can see from most parts of the mine.

A typical dining hall meal - spaghetti, picadillo (ground beef and peppers), and a ham and cheese sandwich, with watermelon and horchata

Our office in the mine administration building, complete with our safety vests and man purses

Alec and I having a blast in the back of the Cessna on the return flight to Hermosillo

This informative photo shows the souvenir shotglass that I had just drained of the free sample of the Bacanora (local version of tequila) that you can see in the background.  Yes this was around 9:30 in the morning and yes, Bacanora is even less pleasant to drink than actual tequila at that hour (but don't ask me why I know that)

These are my delicious seared ahi tuna (one of my favorite animal products, as Beth can attest) tacos at Chelsea's Kitchen in the Phoenix airport

Finally here is the view of the ice from our seats at the Phoenix Coyotes game

OK everyone, thanks for sticking with me if you made it to the end of this entry.  Next week I'm going to Toronto for the CIM conference, so I'll take some pictures there too.  And again, I also intend to write some updates of what I remember of the remainders of my European travels, so be on the look out for those too.