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Do you pay the local, tourist, or rude-tourist price?

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Merchants in Venice (hey, wouldn't that be a good title for a play?) have a system, according to this article from the UK's Telegraph (via BoingBoing):
Tourists who do not want to be ripped off in Venice were advised yesterday to drop their brutish behaviour and try to learn a bit of the local lingo.

A "significant proportion" of the city's bars and restaurants are now operating two or even three price lists: one for tourists, another for locals, and a third for "sympathetic" tourists who make more effort than the usual grunted demands.

"There are different pricing levels," said Franco Conte, the head of the Venetian branch of Codacons, the Italian consumer rights group.

"If you are Italian, a croissant and a cappuccino costs €3.50 (£2.40)," he said. "If you speak another language, it costs €7.

"In restaurants, a pizza and a drink for two people costs between €20 to €25 for locals, perhaps cheaper for Venetians - but €50 to €60 if you are forestieri." In Italy, the word forestieri applies to all strangers, who are said to be "from the forest".

Maria Tosi, who runs a tobacconist, said tourists could do simple things to try to get a better price such as saying hello when entering a shop or restaurant, or learning a few words of Venetian dialect.

"It really offends us when they walk in, make their demands and walk out," she said. "We Venetians spend all our time being polite to each other."
But the Telegraph article notes that the shopkeepers don't have it all their own way:
(Venice tourist authority head) Mr Renato observed that many tourists now bought their sandwiches and drinks in local supermarkets.
Buon giorno, y'all . . .

Implants fight epilepsy, glaucoma

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At Science Blog:
Brain implants predict and prevent epileptic seizures:

One research project focuses on a tiny transmitter three times the width of a human hair to be implanted below the scalp to detect the signs of an epileptic seizure before it occurs. The system will record neural signals relayed by electrodes in various points in the brain, said Pedro Irazoqui (pronounced Ear-a-THOkee), an assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

"When epileptics have a seizure, a particular part of the brain starts firing in a way that is abnormal," Irazoqui said. "Being able to record signals from several parts of the brain at the same time enables you to predict when a seizure is about to start, and then you can take steps to prevent it."

Data from the implanted transmitter will be picked up by an external receiver, also being developed by the Purdue researchers.

The most critical aspect of the research is creating a device that transmits a large amount of data at low power. The transmitter consumes 8.8 milliwatts, or about one-third as much power as other implantable transmitters while transmitting 10 times more data. Another key advantage is that the transmitter has the capacity to collect data specifically related to epileptic seizures from 1,000 channels, or locations in the brain, Irazoqui said.

"The fact that this circuit can deliver such a vast amount of data and, at the same time, be less power hungry than anything else that's out there is what makes this important," he said.

Another implant project seeks to monitor eye pressure in order to prevent onset of glaucoma:

"Glaucoma is one of the big two irreversible, but preventable, causes of blindness," Irazoqui said.

The disease causes blindness from a buildup of fluid pressure in the interior chamber of the eye, killing fibers in the optic nerve. Glaucoma patients go to the doctor periodically to have their eye pressure checked. If it is high, the doctor prescribes medication or performs surgery.

"The problem is that your interocular pressure spikes over hours, sometimes minutes," Irazoqui said. "So you can be fine today and fine in six months and spend three months in the middle where it's very high, killing your optic nerve. What you really need to do is check it often, every couple of minutes, but you can't go to the doctor every couple of minutes for the rest or your life. So what you need is a device that measures your eye pressure continuously."

Cities spread further, faster than thought?

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I'm writing fiction, about an alien who comes to earth and . . . well . . . you'll just have to read the stories once I get them done.  Anyway, this story is apropos my stories, if you get my drift:

Beyond Mesopotamia:  A New View of the Dawn of Civilization:

Archaeologists shared findings from dozens of urban centers of approximately the same age that existed between Mesopotamia and the Indus River valley in modern day India and Pakistan. The "most dramatic evidence," Lawler reports, comes from area in southeastern Iran, near the Halil River and south of the modern city of Jiroft, where a team led by Yousef Madjidzadeh has uncovered the remains of a large and wealthy city.

"The ancient city in the mid- to late 3rd millennium B.C.E. covered more than 2 square kilometers, dominated by a large citadel flanked by a massive stepped platform to the north," the story says. "A room excavated last year in the citadel includes a 2-meter-high brick human torso, ochre paint still clinging to the surface. The sculpture, says Madjidzadeh, is the largest of its kind from that era."

Cemeteries in the area have been looted, but still, Lawler said, they demonstrate the affluence of the ancient residents. "Madjidzadeh found one large tomb cut into limestone that appeared untouched since it was robbed in antiquity," he wrote. "A stairway leads down to a chamber containing eight burial areas; scattered throughout were 600 carnelian beads and other precious materials." At a nearby dump left by looters, researchers "found 1200 small lapis and turquoise beads, pieces of 40 or more chlorite vessels, and 40 to 50 copper vessels—at least one with ornate embossing."

Brain implant revives man

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Yahoo News/Reuters:

"His skull was completely crushed and he was left for dead," his mother told reporters in a telephone briefing.

He spent the next five years in a nursing home with no hope of recovery. He would occasionally mouth the word yes or no, but could not communicate reliably or eat on his own.

His parents agreed to try the experimental treatment in August 2005, and doctors saw immediate results.

He was alert and could move his head to follow voices.

He can now drink from a cup, recall and speak 16 words, and watch a movie.

Rezai said he is engaged with his family, playing cards with his mother and taking short trips outside the facility.

They implanted a device in the brain and provide small electric pulses for 12 hours a day, something called "deep brain stimulation.  Truly remarkable and amazing.

Good Customer Service: Regent Seven Seas Cruises

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Here's a letter we wrote to Mark Conroy, President of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, about our recent Hawaii-Tahiti cruise:

June 11, 2006

Mr. Mark Conroy
President, Regent Seven Seas Cruises
1000 Corporate Drive, Suite 500
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33334

Dear Mr. Conroy:

We are writing to comment on the wonderful cruise we experienced on your April 18-May 14 Hawaii-Tahiti cruise aboard the Seven Seas Mariner. As you may recall, our previous experience with your company, aboard the Seven Seas Voyager in December, was unfortunate. Our experience this time aboard the Mariner more than made up for the Voyager experience.

We have documented our Mariner voyage extensively on our web site, which you can find at http://www.medary.com/article.php/Mariner-Hawaii-Tahiti-2006. The cruise was, in short, everything we expect from a six-star luxury cruise, and we hope that our cruise journal posted online reflects that.

There were so many Regent crew and staff who made our trip remarkable, that it’s difficult to know where to start. Our suite stewardess, Evi, was very attentive and enthusiastic, and was a delight from the beginning of the voyage to the very end. She left Regent at the end of the cruise to go back home to Indonesia since her contract was up. During our voyage, she had expressed interest in coming back for another contract with Regent, although in our discussions with both Evi and with Hotel Manager Giuseppe Ginanneschi, we learned that she received a “DNR” due to her housekeeping performance. I would hope that, should she ever wish to return to Regent, that your company could find a place for such an energetic and bubbly personality as Evi, perhaps in a different customer-facing role.

The ship’s crew, under the leadership of Captain Guillou, was exceptional, friendly and helpful, and going about the business of maintaining and running the Mariner with unobtrusive competence. Captain Guillou himself was every bit as personable as we had been told before we sailed. We look forward to many more cruises on the Mariner because of the talents of the ship’s crew. We also enjoyed the fact that it seemed like everyone knew our names and greeted us frequently.

The wait-staff in the restaurants and lounges were uniformly excellent—so much so that it is very difficult to single anyone out. Arnel in the Compass Rose Restaurant was maybe the best waiter we encountered. We had him as a waiter once, early in the cruise, and not again until two weeks later, but he still remembered such details as my wife’s preference for ice water with lemon and a straw. Marinela, a sommelier in Compass Rose, was also excellent. The service was outstanding in every Mariner venue. This is a credit to the very attentive head waiters and maitre d’s, and restaurant managers under the leadership of Hotel Director Ginanneschi and Dining Room Manager Gary Roberts. Mark Stanton in La Veranda was particularly good, and we were sorry to hear that this was his last cruise as he was retiring. We enjoyed our dinner with Ivar Drageseth, and found Chef Cornel Ruhland’s tour of the galley particularly fascinating. Having canapés delivered to our suite every afternoon was also an unexpected surprise.

(One note—we had asked for the recipe for an excellent Indian carrot pudding, gajjar ka halwa, but we instead received a recipe for “traditional” carrot cake. We would still love to have that gajjar ka halwa recipe but didn’t receive it by the time we disembarked.)

We found the entertainment organized by Barry Hopkins and his staff to be very entertaining, amusing, and informative. Entertainers Mark Haslam and Rodi Alexander were particularly good. We had an opportunity to chat with Ms. Alexander at length one morning and found her to be as personable off the stage as she was talented on-stage.

Please pass along our appreciation to all of the crew and staff of the Mariner and to all the Regent employees who made our Hawaii-Tahiti cruise so memorable. We enjoyed this cruise so much that we did something we have never done before: we booked another cruise while on the Mariner for next year. We will be traveling with my wife's parents on the Panama Canal transit beginning April 27, 2007, and we all look forward to experiencing the exceptional service we received on the Mariner.

Sincerely, etc.

cc: Mr. Gair O’Neill, Manager of Guest Relations

The American Restaurant - makes good

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Our story 'til now can be found here. We received a response from Mr. Melesse, the General Manager of the American Restaurant in Kansas City . . . as you'll see, the results were quite acceptable:

February 6, 2006

Thank you for your letters dated November 22, 2005 in which you described a less than satisfactory experience at The American. I am disappointed that your experience was any thing but satisfactory.

As discussed on the telephone, your input has allowed us to review our service timeline and share your experience with the service, culinary and valet team.

Thank you also for your letter dated January 11, 206 please accept my sincere apology, I had every intention of writing to you after our conversation, I have no excuse for not following up on this.

To express my sincerity and encourage you to come back, I am enclosing a dining card for $100.00. Feel free to make arrangements and share with me your experience next time. I look forward to seeing you soon and many thanks for taking the time to report the service defect. We will work hard to be worthy of your continued patronage.



Solomon Melesse

General Manager

American Restaurant

Radisson Makes Good

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Radisson Seven Seas Cruises has responded to our complaint letter regarding our Carribbean cruise. They sent us a letter of apology and an offer of $750/person off our next cruise. I'll post the letter when we get back home.

We've already booked another RSSC cruise, so we'll be giving Radisson another chance.

Thanks to Radisson for stepping up.

Update 2/7/2006: click on the "read more" link below to view Radisson's response letter to us.

Outback Steakhouse

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Sometimes, good customer service means a good response to the human mistakes that sometimes get made. Hats off to the Sioux Falls, SD Outback Steakhouse. My wife's letter to them (follow the "read more" link):

The American Restaurant

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The American Restaurant is one of Kansas City's better restaurants. Unfortunately, my wife and I caught them on what is, to say the least, an off night. Our letter to them is in the extended article (click "read more"):

A Bad Cruise

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To companies: bad service costs big money. In the case of the story told here, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises likely won't ever see the $100K-plus that my wife and I were prepared to spend on one of our mutual lifetime dreams--a sea cruise around the world.

Our story is in the format of the letter my wife composed and we sent to the CEO of the cruise line in question. We'll post any response we get from the company. Click on the "read more" link below to read the whole sorry affair.

Update 1/12/06: We just received a call from Debra Richards of RSSC who said that they've received our letter and are looking into it. She said we should expect a response in the next couple of weeks. Thanks, Debra.

Update 2/2/06: We received a letter of apology from Radisson. We'll post the text here when we return home.