Non-electronic Nike Adapt Max Alternative

If you like the look of the Nike Adapt Max but either don’t want to pay a couple hundred dollars for them or don’t like the auto lacing technology, you can get the “analog” version: the Nike Air Max INTRLK. It’s obvious from the side by side that these two shoes are directly related. Though I think the Nike Adapt Max looks better, the fact that TSA precheck may flag these shoes and the enormous extra cost of the Adapt Max means I’m going to pick up the INTRLK instead. Note that the INTRLK only comes in women’s sizes but Nike’s product pages all link to a size guide to help you convert to men’s.

Which Canada Goose Jackets have the Backpack Straps?

One of my favorite features on a Canada Goose Jacket are the internal backpack straps so you can wear your jacket on your back when inside or when it gets too warm. Sadly there’s no filter on the website for this feature and in fact it’s often omitted from the product description. Thankfully a very helpful brand ambassador listed all of the jackets with the straps for me:

  1. Langford Parka HUMANATURE
  2. Wyndham Parka/Black Label
  3. Osborne Parka/Black Label
  4. Macmillan Parka/Black Label

There are probably a few more that are either out of production or something. Here’s a picture of the Crofton Puffer with the straps but it wasn’t included on the list.

Cheapest Michelin Starred Sushi in Tokyo

So you’re in Tokyo enjoying a rare visit to Japan. You need to treat yourself to the best sushi to make it worth while. There are 16 Michelin starred sushi restaurants in Tokyo marked $$$, special occasion, on the Michelin website. I’m going to list the cheapest of those 16 restaurants with omakase in around $150. For reference a yen is worth a bit less than one US cent.

Aside: There are a few restaurants marked $$$$, spare no expense, that includes some two star restaurants. But I think a simple Michelin star would do the trick without costing me a month of rent. Plus I find that I typically spend more than the review estimate at restaurants.

  1. Udatsu Sushi: 8,800 JPY for Lunch Omakase L1
  2. Sushidokoro Kiraku: 12,100 JPY
  3. Sushi Ichijo: 13,750 JPY for lunch
  4. Sushi Matsuura: 16,500 JPY (removed because their official tabelog now lists the price at 20,000-30,000 JPY)
  5. Sushi Keita: 17,000 – 21,000 JPY (from reviewers)

None of these can be easily booked online and I don’t speak any Japanese. I’m most intent on getting the lunch Omakase at Udatsu Sushi, it’s confirmed on their website and their official tablelog that their lunch nigiri is a very affordable 8,800 JPY. They don’t have lunch reservations available on their opentable, ikyu, or hot pepper. They also don’t pick up the phone when I call.

My Amex concierge has informed me that reservations in Japan are almost always exclusively booked through a hotel concierge. Wow their jobs really make sense over there, I’ve barely utilized hotel concierges beyond passing recommendations. Unfortunately, I’m staying at capsule hotels and I doubt they have dedicated concierges. Neither of the capsule hotels’ front desks were able to help my Amex concierge book a reservation.

The most expensive option, Sushi Keita, seems to be bookable through a service on byfood.com, a completely English website, with a 2,000 JPY fee. I’m not sure if this service is directly related to the restaurant but it looks like their selection of restaurants is at least curated.

Sushidokoro Kiraku was available for lunch reservations on pocket concierge, somedays you can only create a reservation for two. Sushi Ichijo can also be booked on pocket concierge and ikyu with a minimum of reservation for two people and it can be booked on tabelog for one person. It looks like they allow reservations about two months in advance. They also answered their phone but they don’t speak English.

The US Military’s Bachelor’s Degree in Esports

Okay I’ll admit, the title is a bit misleading: the degree comes from American Military University, a private university where most military tuition assistance is spent. Though one could choose almost any program to apply tuition assistance, AMU gives military members a discount making their degrees cost exactly the amount military tuition provides. Because of this, over half of the military members in university attended AMU, at least this was the case when I worked at an Air Force Education Center in 2020.

And AMU has rolled out it’s most exciting degree yet, a Bachelors Degree in Esports. The military values education in its promotion and commissioning boards. Though exactly what degree you get often doesn’t matter, it just checks a box. I can think of multiple pilots with degrees in political science and space officers with degrees in sociology. So if you need a degree, any degree, why not get one that’s free with tuition assistance and in a subject area you’re passionate about? I’ve already got my degrees but in another life I would’ve loved to have done this program.

The military has a long history of using Esports and videogames for recruitment efforts. We have team jerseys and internal tournaments to select our pro teams. High level players can be paid to train and attend Esports tournaments through the same program as military Olympians. The Space Force, the smallest military branch by far, won the 2021 interservice Call of Duty tournament, the CODE bowl, then launched the trophy into space (kinda, it probably fell short of the Karman line). Semper Supra!

The McCloy Ball, An “Official” Viennese Ball in the States

Ever want to go to a ball? Like a real one? Well the most famous ones are in Vienna, they host about 400 every winter and have the strongest “ball culture”. But what if you didn’t want to make the trip to Europe? Well according to old tales of the internet there are two Viennese balls in the United States sponsored by the city of Vienna, about as legit as you can get. One of them is hosted right here at Harvard by the Kennedy School in conjunction with the Harvard Club of Vienna. It’s called the McCloy Viennese Ball and it’s hosted every year in the winter at the Harvard Club of Boston.

Actual Picture of McCloy Ball, featured image up top is not from this event.

Now I say old tales of the internet because this mention has since been deleted from the Wikipedia and from the McCloy Ball’s event pages. My guess would be that the city no longer sponsors this event and the connection was likely lost during the COVID pandemic. There are still some old google crawls thanking the City of Vienna for their support and an archived press release on the City of Vienna’s site reporting that a city councilor hosted the ball on behalf of Vienna’s mayor. So I think it’s safe to say this ball was at least an official Viennese ball at one point.

I’d be confident enough to call this a “real” Viennese ball, just a bit remote from the others in the city of Vienna. I’m not sure what other balls are officially sponsored by the city but I’m going to cross “go to a Viennese ball” off my bucket list with this technicality.

The North Face Nordic, a cheaper alternative to the Nuptse

If you want to be like Goku chances are you’ll be spending a few grand on a second hand Supreme X North Face By Any Means Necessary jacket. Many people would know the jacket as North Face’s most recognizable product, the Nuptse. This makes it a common item for collaboration with brands like Gucci. Though the all black colorway is closest to Goku’s, this jacket is most commonly seen and recognized in a two tone colorway.

Men’s 1996 Retro Nuptse Jacket

The Nuptse starts at $320 even without any hypebeast collaborators, a hard sell for most people especially if you’re not in love with retro fashion. I’ve only seen the Nuptse on sale once at Pac Sun.

It’s not very well known but North Face sells another similar puffy called the Nordic. You can’t find it on their website and there are few online listings of it. The Nordic has bomber style collars and cuffs with four colored panels instead of three making the black part shorter. The difference is obvious with the pictures here but in person everyone is going to think you’re wearing the classic North Face jacket. Here’s the deal: the Nordic is on Amazon for low as $170 depending on the color / size and it’s also found at outlets for $160. It’s basically a half price Nuptse.

The North Face Men’s Nordic Jacket

The picture here makes the black section at the top look oddly short but in person the jacket’s style looks correctly proportioned. Fun fact: The 92 Nuptse has like three and a half colored panels, the more common 96 Nuptse has three.

92 Retro Anniversary Nuptse Jacket

The Suite First Class on ANA with Points is Impossible

So you got that Amex bonus and you want to go to Japan first class. As a savvy traveler you also know that nicest first class offering is from ANA, first class called “the suite”. The most efficient way to do this is by transferring your Amex points to airline points, a 1 to 1 conversion on a normal day. ANA however only allows round trip purchases with their points, and they charge 180,000 points for that round trip. But Virgin Atlantic can book ANA flights too, and they can book one way flights, and they only charge 60,000 one way! That’s a great deal. Checking a random date, this is a $16,500 dollar product one way, that’s an exchange rate of 27 cents a point. Typically points are worth only one cent making this one of the most efficient uses of points anywhere! The catch: it comes with a whole bunch of restrictions due to the difficulty of getting a flight.

1. You need to fly to / from JFK.

ANA operates 3 first class routes to / from the United States at JFK, ORD, and LAX. ORD does not have the new first class. Two of the three flights from LAX have the new first class but LAX only has confirmed first class until OCT 31. They haven’t decided if they’ll continue. First class seems to be going away in a lot of places, which is very sad in my opinion.

2. You can’t be picky with dates.

These seats are extremely rare. From JFK there is currently one first class award opening in the middle of August, a year from when I’m writing this. No first class availability on the way back. The furthest you can book a flight is a year out and I had them check the whole year. Japan has a great public transport system to augment commuting by walking but it’s over 90 degrees in August so it won’t be comfy walking around. Be ready to take whatever flight is open but I personally wouldn’t go during the Summer. There are openings before the OCT first class cutoff from LAX but tourism to Japan currently requires a visa and a travel group sponsored by a travel agent. Slim pickings to say the least.

3. You’re flying solo.

You can of course book another seat somewhere else on the plane for a traveling companion but the odds of two award first class seats being available on the plane are slim to none. Bummer because the center first class seats have a wall you can lower.

4. You’re only going first class one way.

Take first class whichever way you can, get a business class seat for the other flight. The stars would really have to align for you to find first class award seats a reasonable timeframe apart, the next first class opening is probably at least a month away.

5. It takes multiple attempts and time to get a ticket.

Award seats become available randomly to my knowledge. The United site provides live availability at this link by selecting book with miles. Look for ANA numbered flights, ANA flights with a UA flight number won’t count like DEN-NRT (UA 143) though as discussed earlier only JFK has first class. This is a really tedious process since you can only look at one day at a time and it takes forever to load. So if you want first class usually you have to call ANA first, wait on hold, have them check each month for first class award seat availability, then check on UA’s site to see if partners have access to the ticket, then call Virgin Atlantic to book the ticket.

Finding the Best Ryokan for the Most Authentic Japan Vacation

So lets say you dream of Japan, a far off world with vastly different culture and lifestyle. You want to take a vacation there but want to experience traditional houses with paper walls, eating and sleeping on the floor,,, that kind of thing. Well a hotel ain’t gonna give you that experience, you want a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast type thing where you can really be immersed.

Well many of these often cater to Japanese domestic tourists, their websites are in Japanese (if they even have a website), and it’s not like you have many friends that could recommend you a place to stay across the world. How would one go about selecting a Ryokan? Many of you know that I have an obsession towards the Michelin guide (probably because of my obsession towards food) but here’s a little known fact: the Michelin Guide used to also review hotels. And when they were in Japan they also reviewed Ryokans.

The Michelin Guide is a… difficult source. They only have the latest recommendations listed on their website and often it’s impossible to find past recommendations without the physical book. I dream of one day compiling the Michelin Collection and creating a database but that would cost literally thousands of dollars for the more rare editions. Currently if you search for a hotel in Tokyo on their website, no Ryokans will show up. An article written in 2021 on “The Reinvention of the Ryokan” also has no Tokyo entries. I know Michelin guides were created to encourage driving but I guess I’m looking for a diamond in the rough, a traditional place to stay in the most urban part of Japan.

I’m really set on Tokyo because that’s where everyone visits. So let me spell out what I’m really on the hunt for: A Michelin recommended Ryokan in the city of Tokyo. Hotels used to be rated with “pavilions” if you’re curious and Ryokan recommendations have those pavilions stylized to look like traditional Japanese housing in the old red books. According to Wikipedia there are 10 Michelin Rated Ryokans in the Tokyo, Tokohama, and Shonan area. Here’s the real problem and the reason this is a “deep dive”: that Michelin Guide resells for about $150 to $250 right now.

The sourcing on Wikipedia brings us to the Wayback machine, where we can see a press release from 2011 on the 2012 edition. In this press release they only list one Ryokan called Sekiyo in Shonan, not Tokyo. I know from searching for the Michelin Guide that other editions of the “Tokyo, Tokohama, and Shonan” area guide have been released so I presume that the other 9 mentioned on the Wikipedia page are from other years.

Take a look at these Amazon listings: The 2013 guide is in Japanese, the 2011 guide is in French, the 2012 guide is hundreds of dollars. The Michelin Guide has release a modern Tokyo edition in 2022 being its 15th edition implying guides as far back as 2007. The press release for the 2022 edition makes no mention of hotels. I cannot even find one for sale and I suspect this is because from about 2013 onwards I only see Japanese editions, they may only be sold in Japan which of course makes a lot of sense from their marketing perspective.

I’ve also found a green guide that highlights places to stay but the green guide focuses on attractions while the red guide focuses on hotels and restaurants. What I really want to get my hands on is the latest Michelin Red guide with a Tokyo Ryokan recommendation. From what I can tell, there are no online PDFs available for purchase and no previews of their contents listed. So when you need to scan a collection of books you don’t have and can’t afford, you go to the library.

My local library system, the Denver Public Library has Michelin Guides but none on Tokyo. My ace in the hole access to the Harvard Libraries often helps me with rare books but I guess they didn’t think the Michelin Guides were important enough because they don’t seem to have any in the Harvard Library system.

So honestly, I’m left with the scraps here. The 2013 books on I think are all in Japanese. The 2012 red book is the latest one I know of where they rated Ryokans but it’s really expensive. The 2011 book I can only find in French. That brings me all the way down to 2010, without even knowing if they recommend a Ryokan in here, if it’s in Tokyo, or if that Ryokan even still exists. For what it’s worth I see 2011 in French, 2009 in English, 2008 in English and that almost completes the history because from what I can tell they started in 2007.

So I’m going to purchase all the English ones from newest to oldest in my search: 2010, 2009, 2008.

2010 edition has no Ryokans. To be continued…

My Favorite Denver Restaurants

This is list is going to be updated as I find better places to eat. I guess my greatest qualification to make this list is that I eat out every single day living in LoDo.

Ultreia

Tucked away in Denver Union Station is a small and very authentic Spanish restaurant. Get the Trio de Jamon with a wine pairing. They have a real Jamon Iberico on display, their bar is extensive, and the Ulteria font is inherited from a winery in Spain.

The Collective Green Eatery

The best avocado toast!

Aloy Modern Thai

The Khao Soi dish reminds me of curry my mom made. My favorite part is that half of the noodles are uncooked above the soup allowing me to have cooked and crunchy noodles in one dish.

Matsuhisa

Yes, I’m a Nobu fanboy but I really don’t think the other high end sushi places around are as good.