Robert Gentel’s Blog

I got on a plane to get home, but found out why my friend was murdered instead

February 21st, 2010

Today something very odd happened to me, and I’m writing it down here quickly to try to record every detail.

I boarded a flight in Denver, on my way back to Costa Rica this morning. I ended up sitting next to someone who looked familiar and I asked him if he played poker in Costa Rica. He said he had, and that I had looked very familiar to him as well. Then he dropped the bomb on me, saying “did you know Alvin….” He finished his sentence but I was a bit taken back and didn’t catch it. Alvin was a poker buddy who was murdered in 2007 and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “I was his roommate,” he continued and once again Alvin was the subject of the kind of surprise that floors you (when he died, a Costa Rican had joked to me about how the person in the news must be my friend because he was an American, and then I looked and it actually was).

Alvin had died in a gruesome scene that I won’t go into in detail except to note that three people had been found stabbed to death, Alvin had seemed to have killed two of them in the initial reports (that speculated about a love triangle gone wrong) and part of what made it hard for me was that I didn’t know what had happened, I didn’t even know if my buddy Alvin had started it. And because he was a poker buddy, and I didn’t even know his last name or anything it didn’t seem like I’d ever get closure on this. He was just one of those guys you knew from seeing all the time but whose family and friends were strangers to me. It’s not like I’d hunt down his family to try to find out what had happened.

But today, serendipitously I found out what went down by happening to sit next to his former roommate and co-worker from Pokerstars on the plane. I won’t go in to the gory details (that were hard, but relieving to hear) but I will say that it appears to have been a case of Alvin being the kind Alvin I knew and that the other two had begun stabbing him in his sleep in order to rob his place. He was left for dead but got up and killed them both while they were loading up his stuff in his car to take away.

It’s hard to explain, but I am so very deeply relieved to find out that Alvin was the victim of their disgustingly stupid plan to rob him as opposed to what else could have been the case to make him kill two people. Back when it happened I thought it was the case, and I stopped walking around with a wad of thousands of dollars like he used to (it’s a poker thing, we need to carry money to be able to buy into the games), but the story the newspapers tried to sell about a love triangle left a little doubt in my mind that he might not have been the kind person I thought he was. It is insanely weird to find out this way so much later that this doubt can be put to rest, but it feels strangely peaceful to do so.

Rest in peace Alvin, you were good people and you went out strong against those fucking bastards. I may be a bad person for saying this but I’m glad you killed them, what they did to you was nothing short of disgusting after the kindness you showed them and how you let them into your home.

Don’t burn the queen….

May 25th, 2009

A few years ago I was playing a tournament and was nearing the bubble without many chips. I needed to commit to a hand soon, or the blinds were going to bust me. I was dealt a queen, and then another queen that flipped over before I quickly slapped my hand over it to try to save it from being burnt. Nobody saw the card but the dealer insisted on burning it anyway, denying me the pocket queens that would have kept me in the tournament.

Today I played a brief 1/2 session which ended on a similar note. I played my first hand (KQ) in a multi way pot that nobody hit and I was able to take down and it gave me some chips to play with and I promptly moved off my cards and stole small pots to quickly build up my stack. Then right after I changed gears I was dealt Aces, which got 3-way all in action against kings and 3. The player with the 3s said he thought he was in last place pre-flop but wanted to “gamble” and it paid off for him as he spiked a 3 and ate most of my session profits.

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Keeping the poker streak alive… and wishing the poker players would

May 24th, 2009

Tonight was a decent night at the poker tables. I’m no longer playing full-time as most of my friends know, and play only a couple of times a month at most these days while I refocus my efforts on the web development and marketing and sure enough, now that I don’t do this full-time I can’t lose.

I haven’t lost a live poker session this year, and though I don’t know exactly when this streak started it’s been close to a full year now without any live losses. I won 2k+ tonight on the 2/5 tables. I wasn’t getting any hands, but picking my spots to steal the pots I needed to stay even. Then with pocket Jacks two people bet hard in front of me, one of them bet $300 and made me think a full minute about laying it down despite my read telling me this was a bluff.

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Ok, so I take it back. Continental doesn’t rock.

May 19th, 2009

After tweeting in praise for Continental I must retract my compliments. See, while they did reschedule the flight I missed free of charge they told me I would have 60 minutes to clear immigrations and customs in Houston and connect to my San Diego flight. I’ve done that before many times so I didn’t think it would be a problem till I actually looked at the tickets and noticed they quoted me the wrong times. My flight landed in Houston at 5:25 and my connecting flight was for 6pm.

I knew it was going to be tight when it took till 5:35 to taxi up to the terminal and deplane, but I gave it the good ole college try, and despite needing to piss so bad my teeth were floating I did in fact clear immigrations and customs, get the train to the other terminal and run to the gate in time. I was already making plans to make a bee line for the bathroom when I was cheerily informed at the gate that “We knew  you weren’t going to make it and we booked you on the next flight.”

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What’s up with the “How many triangles” question?

February 2nd, 2009

Just curious, it was a riddle I answered on able2know (see How many Triangles can you find in this Image?) that started to get a steady stream of visitors many years later. Just over the last few days the visitors have spiked, and I’m wondering where all the sudden interest in this puzzle is coming from. I suspect it’s something like a Facebook app that is becoming popular and if you happen to know of a Facebook app like this please let me know in the comments.

I’ve started to blog about tech on Agile Webmasters.

August 1st, 2008

Agile Webmasters is a new web development blog I started with a couple of writers where I plan to do any blogging about tech products. If you saw a post here about Google and wondered why it’s gone it is because I am going to post it over there.

If you work on the web check us out and subscribe to our RSS feed.

We bought a condo

May 14th, 2008

I have been quite busy over the last two weeks. I bought a condo from my buddy Tri and have been busy moving.

It’s in Santa Ana which I like more than Escazu and Moravia (the other places in Costa Rica I have lived) and we are trying to get everything settled (got the blinds, waiting on the AC, trying to figure out how to import a sliding glass dog door from the states…) and moved in.

We finished the moving, and because the elevator is not yet running (it’s a new building) we did it all up the stairs. It was a pain but on the positive side it kick started my efforts to get back into shape. I’ve now been walking the dog in the neighborhood (and there are some great walks right nearby) and sleeping better. I’m even waking up early and getting a full night’s sleep which I rarely did in the last years (I am a night person and don’t usually sleep much).

I started my lil’ garden on the balcony and am having fun in the new place.


May 1st, 2008

Here are some random observations on our brief trip to Panama.

The TACA flight from San Jose, Costa Rica to Panama City, Panama took little over an hour, which was a welcome relief from longer visa trips I’d made and a lot better than the 18-hour bus ride it would have been if I’d given in to my anger at TACA and boycotted them. Arriving at the airport we checked out some of the large duty-free shopping area that I’d read about. It was fairly standard airport fare such as spirits, cigarettes and perfumes. I’d hoped to pick up a book to read but the airport surprisingly did not have a bookstore. There were also few eateries and the whole mini-mall in the airport was a repeat of the same gift shops you find in most airports. My girlfriend shopped at a Tommy Hilfiger store on the way back but I’d otherwise recommend you do your shopping outside of the airport as its convenience doesn’t offset the fact that it has little to offer.

We took a taxi to the hotel I’d planned on staying at only to find that it was fully booked, so we let a taxi driver take us to one of the hotels he obviously had a kick-back deal with (based on his sales job on the hotel). It was nothing special and I was sure we could find a much better hotel for the price but I didn’t want to spend the time looking so we checked in.

We were considering a visit to the duty-free zone Ciudad de Colon but it was a long trip (to the other coast of Panama) of several hours and I didn’t think we’d be doing enough shopping to merit the visit so we headed to one of their famous malls (the Albrook Mall) to achieve one of our two goals in Panama (shopping and visiting the canal). The mall was large and definitely much better shopping than anything you can find in Costa Rica, with much larger selection and much better prices. We ate and headed back to the hotel.

The taxis in Panama don’t use a meter, and they use a system of zones to determine fares, but they were very fair and within the city they were usually charging $1.50 to $3 and didn’t try to “stick it to the tourists” once with us, which is very different from many cities in the region that I’ve visited. They did, however, drive like absolute nuts as apparently is the custom in Panama. The regard for traffic laws (like the direction of traffic, stop lights and the basics) is much lower in Panama than it is even in Costa Rica, and the result is a lot of really frustrating traffic jams where everyone is trying to get through an intersection at once and refusing to give an inch. I saw a bus and a car face-to-face and the woman in the car honked like mad and yelled obscenities refusing to back up and let the bus continue its turn in front of her. The bus had muscled its was into the position and couldn’t go anywhere until the woman backed up and gave it space so onlookers shrugged and indicated to her to move or be crushed. She eventually did and we all moved a half car length forward.

The drivers and traffic are cartoonish and comical from afar but frustrating as hell as you realize the roads are fine and the traffic would not be too bad if the idiots would simply understand the notion of turns. As in green your turn, red their turn. Another curiosity were the flamboyant buses. Old American school buses are common in Central America where a lot of autos that are scrapped in the US end up. But in Costa Rica they often stay yellow and there are more typical passenger buses (manufactured in Brazil) that comprise most of the passenger fleet. But in Panama the overwhelming majority of passenger buses are private (as in the guy driving it may be the owner of the one-bus company) and they airbrush the buses and put lights inside. The blacklights inside look like a cheap disco and on the outside they resemble a hippy’s airbrushed van. They were very interesting!

Panama was very hot in comparison to Costa Rica’s central valley so we only visited the old city’s ruins briefly and headed off to visit the Panama Canal. We went to the Miraflores locks and had lunch in their restaurant and took the tour. It is an underwhelming sight as you can’t appreciate the full magnitude of the canal from this one vantage point (though it’s the best) but it was interesting enough. There was a ship in the locks upon arrival so we were able to see what we needed quickly and now I have seen the Panama Canal. I’ve always wanted to, but it’s really the least interesting tourist sight I have seen.

That afternoon we headed back to Albrook Mall we were close and we have a Multiplaza Mall in Costa Rica and though I’d like to have seen the Multicentro Mall (the largest in Central America from what I’ve read) I’m not big on shopping and took the lazy route. My girlfriend shopped for clothes while I looked for electronics. I didn’t find a lot of the items I was looking for (but I’m a geek and am looking for very specific high-end stuff) so I ended up doing that boring “watch your girlfriend shop” routine.

In the mall were the oddest mannequins I have ever seen. Nearly all of them had DD chest sizes and would look like exaggerations even on porn actresses. I thought it was bizarre but my girlfriend thought my interests were not cultural when I tried to point them out to her (I didn’t need to, if you caught one out of the corner of your eye you might flinch thinking they’d explode). The populace wasn’t thusly endowed so the clothes on the mannequins were often stretched till they were nearly threadbare. I really don’t get this marketing and can’t imagine that it works well.

All in all, it was another perfunctory visa trip, and from a Costa Rica resident’s point of view I can recommend Panama for it’s great shopping but can now say with relative certainty that Costa Rica’s neighbors to the north and south are simply nowhere near as interesting to travel in as Costa Rica.

TACA Airlines - One of the Worst Airlines I have done business with

April 27th, 2008

I’ve traveled extensively in my life but never had to deal with an airline like TACA. The typical experience with TACA is unintelligible customer support (in their own language), a phone system that drops your calls when on hold or transferring at nearly a 50% rate and simply lazy incompetent staff.

Last trip I took with them (to Nicaragua) involved a checkin time of nearly an hour. That wasn’t an hour waiting in line or anything. It was nearly an hour at the desk waiting for them to get their asses out of their hands and get a simple, baggage-free checkin done. During that time the other 4 members of the staff huddled around one of their cell phones leaving the growing line behind us waiting the whole time as well.

Today I am calling TACA to pay for my tickets tomorrow. They tell me that I should pay over the phone because doing so at the airport would require arrival 4 hours before the flight. Now I’ve been calling them for about a week trying to pay them, but their credit card processing service is invariably off line and every time I’ve called so far they have dropped the call while transfering or holding, requiring me to start all over again.

This is the most ridiculous level of competence I’ve seen in an airline in all my life. A damn shame they don’t have enough competition in the region to make this change.

But if you can, avoid TACA!

Steven King’s Dreamcatcher

April 26th, 2008

I don’t have a lot of options in way of reading material here in Costa Rica. The English-language literature sections usually comprise one or two shelves in the biggest bookstore chains. So I picked a familiar name in Steven King. I’m not a big King fan. I think he’s underestimated as a writer often but the typical King fare isn’t my bag. I liked the books I read in his Dark Tower series a lot and The Shining well enough and figured I’d give this Dreamcatcher a try. That it was long was part of the appeal, given that paperbacks are almost double the price here and at the rate I was reading I was on track to spend a couple hundred in books a month. I figured a nice long one would keep me busy a while so I picked it up.

This may well be the worst book I’ve ever read. And at nearly 900 pages it may have actually made me dumber. He could have done so well with it, he had great touches and I still maintain he is a great writer. But the alien invasion plot was just so incredibly stupid that nothing could make it a good book.

King is a good writer who needs someone (Tabitha?) to smack him upside his head when he gets a ridiculous idea like the “shit weasels”.