Archive for December, 2006

I have recently decided that I am going to buy a different vehicle.  I currently drive a 1995 Honda Accord that is in very good shape but has a lot of mileage (270,000 kms).  Even though I am certain I could get a couple of more years out of it, it is better to sell too early than too late; the stock market has made that fact brutally aware to me.

Furthermore, my car has some rust around the wheel-wells, plus it has a large crack across the windshield that’s been there since I got it 2.5 years ago.  The high beams don’t work, either.  That stuff could all be fixed, of course, but again it simply is time to upgrade.

I’m looking at getting a Toyota, either a Camry or a Corolla.  I’d definitely prefer the Camry but would probably be okay with the Corolla.  The problem is that checking out the dealer prices, a newer Camry costs around $5000-$8000 more than an equivalent year Corolla.  For that reason I’ve been considering getting a Camry that is only a couple of years old, perhaps a 2003.  Those run around $17,000 – $20,000.  A 2006 Corolla, by contrast, runs upwards to that but average around $15,000, maybe slightly less.

I’m in a bit of a quandary.  I have no intention of buying new.  In a year’s time the vehicle can depreciate in value 30%.  I’ve bought stocks that have moved against me by 10% in one day, let me tell you I hate buying stuff that loses its value that quickly.  So, I’m left with buying a pre-owned vehicle which is fine by me.

The quandary I’m in is whether or not I go with the slightly more expensive and slightly older Camry, or the newer and slightly cheaper Corolla.  The Camry is probably a better car but the extra $4000 it would cost is money I could put to use in the market.  Even if my loan is a difference of $100 per month, that’s still $100 per year I could invest in the market or save up for a trip.  On the other hand, I like the look of the Camry and reviews in forums usually put it a little higher than the Corolla.  On the other hand, it logically makes sense to spend money on things that go up in value.  If I go with the cheaper car I can put the difference in a security that could be worth more in a year’s time.  The car definitely won’t be worth more in a year’s time.

Ideally I’d like a Camry with less than 80,000 kms for around $15k.  It’s basically buying an undervalued car at a good price (kind of like how I buy stocks).  Sigh… this is a tough decision.

One thing that has occurred to me is to buy the cheaper car and invest the different in Toyota’s stock.  Now there’s an interesting idea except that Toyota doesn’t pay a dividend (unlike Honda).  If I held the stock for 1 year I’d ideally like it to pay a dividend as well as have it go up in value.  It’s extended right now, but maybe that’s the route I will go.

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A couple of months ago I downloaded Windows Live Writer.  As far as blog publishing tools go, this is the all the blogging software that I need.  I can pick which blog I want, write a post, and then click upload.  Other than editing posts later on (which the software seems to be fairly limited in doing, it’s a Live Writer not a Live Editor or Manager), it does what I need.

However, I recently picked up a Mac laptop.  I didn’t replace my Windows laptop, I just wanted to have a Mac as well.  Now I need some blogging software for it that is similar to Live Writer.  I need it to be able for me to pick which blog I want to upload to and press Publish to upload it.  That’s what Live Writer does, that’s what I want my Mac blog software to be able to do at a minimum without having to start a new blog.  I have two; I’m not starting one more.

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2006 has not been a great year for the big cap tech stocks.  Apple is up 13% YTD, Microsoft up 12% YTD, Google up a mere 6%, and Dell is down 16%.

Cisco, on the other hand, has had a great year.  It’s up 56%!

But, Cisco appears to be the anomaly.  The high-flyers of 2005 (Apple and Google) didn’t do much this past year.  You had to have great timing in order to capitalize on their moves throughout the year.

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Not so painful anymore

I recently wrote that I had noticed some injuries that I didn’t even know I had while playing sponge hockey recently.  I had a game on Saturday, one on Sunday, and then another game on Tuesday.

I was feeling a little sore on Tuesday but I was quite amazed at at how quickly I had recovered.  I had some soreness in my hamstrings but it wasn’t nearly as bad as my first three games last year (or previous years for that matter).  It used to take me three days between games to get better, but one day after my Tuesday game and I am feeling pretty good.

Even my knee isn’t so sore anymore.  It didn’t bother me at all during the game, and my lower back has made great progress.  I figure I’ll be back to 100%, or close enough to it, once the regular season starts in January.

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I have made 12 trades since July and 8 of them have turned out to be winners.  These winning trades are Apple (AAPL), Celgene (CELG), Google (GOOG), Digital River (DRIV), Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), American Eagle Outfitters (AEOS), Garmin (GRMN) and Knight Capital (NITE).  Not all of these positions are open but all of them were winning trades.  Some of them I got out of due to adverse moves against me, but the average position is up over 15%.

The losing trades are EZ Corp (EZPW), down -6.7%, Psychiatric Solutions (PSYS), down -5.9%, Hansen Natural (HANS), down 7.0%, and Tenaris (TS), down -6.43%.  All of these trades I got out of when they started moving against me and triggered my stop losses.

The problem is that all of these trades would have gone in my favour had I stayed in them.  EZPW would be up 13.4%, PSYS would be up 7.1%, NITE would be up 11.8%, and TS would be up 34.8%.  For those first three, those percent gains are after the pullback in the past two weeks.

In addition, in each of those trades, I was initially up before they turned around and moved against me.  In fact, a lot of my losing trades started out as small winners (<5%) before turning around and shaking me out.  This means I have a problem on my hands: my stock selection is reasonably good but my timing has issues.  How do I stay in a stock without violating my stop loss?

As it turns out, I think that there are two methods: either improve my market timing or adjust my stop loss without increasing my position size. 

I don’t plan to improve my market timing much.  I sometimes buy on pullbacks and sometimes it works.  But precision timing is quite difficult.  I think the other solution is better.  I use a 6-8% stop loss based on a 1.5% position size.  I could probably increase that stop loss to 10-12% but keep the same position size.  This means I will be buying fewer shares, which means my transaction costs are now going to be a larger and larger part of my position.  This means that I need to increase the size of my account or find a cheaper broker.  But at least I have a plan to correct my "mistakes." 

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For years, Canada has been the United States’s number 1 trading partner.  We ship more exports to the United States (and the US imports more from us) than any nation in the world.  Only the combined EU is a larger trading partner.

However, that coveted position is about to be surpassed by China.  China is less than 10% away from exporting more goods to the US than Canada.  With cheap labour and goods available from China and huge US-China trade deficit, is it any wonder that they are taking over (so to speak)?

If the price of oil goes up, however, that gives Canada an edge.  Supposedly, the US imports more oil from Canada than any other nation.  Oil is down about 20% since the summer so that is contributing to the trade gap narrowing between us and China.  The contest continues.

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It’s been nearly two weeks since my ordeal in Fiji.  My throat infection has gotten a lot better, and many of my bruises have started to go away.  The scratches on my arms are all gone, and the ones on my left leg are mostly gone.

The problem is that while my bruising injuries have mostly gotten better, I found out that my knee (which I hurt on my first fall down the waterfall) is a lot more sore than I realized.  With the cold weather here this past week, I found that the outside of my left knee ached a lot.  I didn’t realize that I had hurt quite that much.  I pretty much ignored it after I got it but it came back to haunt me this week.

This past Saturday, I discovered a brand new injury.  My sponge hockey season has started this week (and I had three goals in two games this weekend), and as I was putting on my left shoe my ankle experienced a sharp pain.  This caught me by surprise because I couldn’t figure out where the pain came from.  The only thing I can think of is that when I hurt my knee in the first waterfall, I must have landed awkwardly on my ankle as well.  I still managed to play the game, but I had to be careful jumping over the boards.

To summarize, all of the damage to soft tissue has been healing quite nicely, but damage to ligaments or tendons is not going nearly as well.

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I recently came back from a trip to Australia and Fiji.  I created a two minute video and uploaded it to YouTube.  You can view it here.  It’s pretty good, everyone likes it.

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Trapped on a ledge

This is the story of the time I nearly died in Fiji, and I don’t think that is an exaggeration. I was on holidays from Nov 9 – 30, 2006. I spent the first two weeks in Australia and the next 5 days in Fiji (two days were lost to travelling down there, crossing the international date line).

I can’t seem to embed these pictures that easily, and there are quite a few of them. So, all of the pictures I have linked off-site but if you click on the links you can view them. Alternatively, you can view the entire slideshow by clicking here.

It was my third day in Fiji and the second day of the trip I was on of a four-day trip. The activity for the first part of the day was a hike in the mountains. It wasn’t really mountains but it was quite a few hills we had to climb. The hike was divided into three parts. The first was the “easy” part in that the track was fairly wide, but there was no shade. The fact that it was nearly +50 degrees centigrade made it tougher. I tried to drink some water but it kept evaporating by the time it poured out of the bottle.

The ground on the path is quite wide and the hills on the side are quite steep.

In this picture here, notice that there’s no shade at all and the sun is giving us a good old fashioned beating.

After about an hour on this part of the track, the path changed. It became narrower and much more difficult to navigate because it was muddier, steeper and slipperier. It was actually easier to walk this part of the trail because at least it was covered overhead by rainforest, and the trees made a canopy. However, there were parts of the trail that we had to watch our footing otherwise we could slip and fall.

The pictures here don’t accurately show all the difficult parts of the trail, because on the tough parts I put my camera away in my backpack since I didn’t want to drop and break it. Also, my hands were sweaty and I was starting to get it dirty.

The third part of the track was in the water. There was a trail but it was covered in water (and I knew it would be) and it was of varying depths of water. Sometimes it was up to my ankles, sometimes it was up to my knees, other times about the middle of my thighs.

It’s important to realize that there were a lot of people on this trek and that we did not move at the same pace. At first I was in the middle, then near the front then fell back to the middle again. I took a few more pictures and fell a bit further behind (in the middle) so there was nobody in my immediate line of sight. That didn’t really bother me because I had walked by myself on the trip before and caught up to some people.

It’s important to remember that the trail, while not particularly difficult, was also not particularly easy. I continued onwards and kept walking for a while and it must have been around 15-20 minutes. I wondered at first if I was going the right way but I did see footprints in the sand so I figured that it had to be correct. At no time do I remember ever seeing the path split off and having to make a decision about which way to go. People told me afterwards that several of them had gone the wrong way and only by a stroke of luck they happened to see a sign that was not well marked.

After a while I came to a waterfall to which I thought “This is kind of strange.” However, because I had been walking in water that was up to my mid-thighs I thought it was part of the course. I also knew that the end of the track was by a waterfall so it seemed natural to assume that this was near the end. I looked down the waterfall and it was about a 10 foot slide and drop. I can’t remember exactly how I went down it, but when I landed I hurt my left leg below the knee. I involuntarily let out a yelp when I came down. I thought that I had just been too cautious because I had braced myself and came down slowly. Had I let the waterfall momentum carry me I would have been okay because the water was fairly deep.

I walked forward and came to another waterfall which I went down, but when I landed the water was much deeper. I then went down another one, and then came to a fourth one (I can’t remember the details of how many I went down – at least four and maybe as many as six). The fourth one I thought to myself “What? That’s a steep drop.” It was very steep and I was afraid to go down it. However, I could not backtrack because the waterfalls I had come down were too high to climb back up. At this point I knew I had made a wrong turn somewhere but I thought I had no choice but to go forward. I chickened out of this waterfall in terms of going down it. I ended up climbing over the side, grabbing onto a tree branch and lowering myself down, free-falling the last 5 feet or so. When I landed in the water, I knew I was in deep trouble because I couldn’t touch bottom. I swam forward and went over a smaller one.

I knew that I had sustained some injuries but I didn’t know how bad they were. My basic strategy for going these waterfalls was to go down like a waterslide – on my back so that any bouncing around would hopefully be absorbed by my legs, back, and posterior. The problem is that unlike waterslides, the rocks weren’t smooth and they kind of dipped around so I would kind of bounce off them.

I finally came to another waterfall when I started to become very worried. This one was much steeper and I began to wonder how many more there were. I braced myself and went down it and this is when things got really bad. I bounced around on the rocks on the way down and at one point was free-falling upside down. I know I was upside down because I could see my legs flip around over my head and I could see the sides of the rock rotating. I landed in the water on my back and when I stood up, everything was blurry. I put my hands to my face and realized that I had lost my glasses. I looked down and saw a huge drop downwards, something like 30 feet down. There was no way I could go down there because if I did I would either be very seriously hurt or die. At the bottom were rocks and if I landed on it I would be in serious trouble.

I also could not climb up because I had come from too steep a fall. The next 15 – 30 seconds or so is not one of my prouder moments. It took about 3 seconds to ascertain the situation – I couldn’t see where I was going, I couldn’t climb up and I couldn’t go down because it meant I would probably die. I couldn’t stay where I was because water was pouring over my back and eventually I would either get tired and fall over the edge or slip and fall over the edge. I thought that I was going to die right there and then and I started to emotionally broke down (and I’m editing the story a bit to remove the less heroic parts). I started to call out “Help! Help!” even though I knew that nobody was coming to help me, there was no safety rail to prevent me from falling down and no wires or other safety devices that would prevent me from getting injured. In other words, I saw no means of escape other than getting seriously hurt, and that combination of terror and despair (that I was going to die) got to me.

I then pulled myself together because I didn’t want to die up on the cliffs of Mount Doom. I took another look around. I could see the other side of the waterfall, and in the middle of the waterfall there was a rock that the water was hitting and splitting over to the sides. I thought to myself that if I could jump across I might be able to climb down. I took off my hat and tossed it over to the other side; the wind took it and carried it all the way downwards. My reaction was similar to Homer Simpson’s when the Springfielders were recovering the lemon tree, and the guard dog is chasing Bart. Homer then tosses the sausages but the dog just swallows them whole. Homer’s eyes then went wide. That was me when the wind took my hat, except I said a word that rhymes with “bit.”

I then put my right foot on the rock and jumped to the other side. I landed on the side of the cliff and grabbed on with two fingers (in each hand). I adjusted my grip and I was supporting myself on the side of the cliff. I tried to pull myself up (even though I knew there were few places for me to go up). I tried to find a foothold but found none. It was too slippery and I had no grip. I tried to pull myself upwards but my arms were too tired. I replayed in my mind how far down it was if I let go. At this point my biggest fear was that if I let go, I would slide down but my momentum would cause me to fall backwards and down the “mountain.” I decided that I couldn’t just hang around where I was so I let go and slid a few feet downwards. I landed on my feet and stood there for a couple of seconds.

I had to climb downwards a little ways more. Afterwards I would re-examine where I jumped across and climbed down and thought to myself “How the hell did I do that?” I got to solid footing where I went down a series of rocks and got a bit closer to the bottom. From the bottom of the rocks where I climbed down to the bottom of the waterfall was about 20 feet, still too high to jump from, but also because there were rocks at the bottom which I would have to avoid. From the bottom where I was looking to the perch where I landed and thought I was going to die was about 15 – 20 feet (maybe less, but I didn’t have my glasses so who knows). I realized that I couldn’t go down anymore; I couldn’t go up, so I sat down and decided to wait around to be rescued.

These two pictures I took by holding the camera out over the rocks. It doesn’t look too deep but it does not accurately capture the perspective of where I was. In one of the pictures, you can kind of see a narrow ledge in which I considered sliding down, but you can also see it ends in rocks at the bottom which I would have had to avoid. Ultimately, I decided that going down would have been too dangerous. I judged in my mind that going down would solve the problem of being too high up but would introduce the problem having to go down yet another series of rocks.

The next picture is the waterfall that I landed in after my tumble. From that picture where I would have had to land (ie, the bottom of the waterfall), to where I took the picture, I had to climb up a series of rocks. It was about 20 feet vertically. In otherwords, the bottom of the waterfall to where I landed originally was at least 30 feet.

In these two pictures, I held the camera up over my head and snapped a picture of the waterfall where I jumped from. You can see the rock in the middle where I jumped (I think). At least I think that’s it, I have no idea where the hell I would have landed on the other side.

After sitting on the rocks for about 15 minutes, I finally figured out that I could climb up the rocks. I did so, and found that there was a ledge that I could walk around. It was about 20 feet by 4 feet. On one side it was bounded by the waterfall, on the other there was a rock about 5 feet high. I climbed up the rock and looked down. From here, I could see that the bottom of the waterfall curled around from the pictures above, which meant that even if I jumped down from the rocks, I would have had to go down yet another incline, which I had no desire to do.

This picture is about halfway up the rocks leading to the ledge where I would eventually spend the night.

This picture is of the rocks leading down to where I would take the picture (I think, I can’t exactly remember). Actually, in the whole ordeal I broke my digital camera. I took it out and turned it on, but the view screen didn’t come up. The light came on but that was it. I didn’t figure out until the next morning that it could still take pictures, I just couldn’t look at them afterwards. So, all these pictures of the waterfall are pictures that I did not preview, either before or after.

This next picture is the top of the rocks that led to the ledge. It’s hard to tell from the picture (it’s rotated at a 30 degree angle) but on the left is the large rock look-out and on the right is the edge of the waterfall.

On top of the look-out rock I could see the river. This meant that while I was somewhat close to the river and rescue, I had no way of getting down there. I couldn’t climb up, couldn’t jump down, and couldn’t climb down. Getting to the very bottom of the waterfall (from where I could see) was not an option because it was much too steep and there were no trees or branches that I could climb down.

At that point, I made a decision: I was going to sit on top of the rock where I could see the river and wait to be rescued. I knew from hearing on TV somewhere that if you ever get lost in the woods, stay in one place. That was going to be my plan.

I sat on the rock and put my bag beside me and decided to investigate how bad my injuries were. I had scratches all up and my left and right arms, and my elbows were bruised up. My left leg had some big scratches on it. However, the serious injuries were to my upper legs. My left hip had a bruise on it that was bigger than my left hand. My back, close to the rear of the pelvis bone, had several bruises on it. I couldn’t really see those but those injuries were the most painful.

I actually have a couple of more bruises further down my posterior, including one on the right upper leg and another further along the tailbone. The bruise in the lower right there goes down a little further and it is a lot more purple.

I checked over all my injuries and checked for broken bones. My arms were just scratched and my lower legs were as well. I checked my hip bone. It was sore and swelling but didn’t feel broken. I then moved my hands around to my back. The big gash in my back was definitely the most painful and there was another bruise beside it (that doesn’t show up well in the picture) that was very badly swollen next to the bone. However, because it was next to the bone I didn’t think that anything was broken. I received no injuries whatsoever to my head and I had no broken bones. I think I got off pretty lucky.

After I finished checking out my injuries, I began to formulate a plan. I was going to stay on top of the rock where I could see the river because around 3:30 pm I saw a boat go by. I shouted and waved my hands but it was no use. They could neither see me nor hear me. I even saw somebody go and get out of the boat on the opposite side of the river but to no avail. I guess they were taking a picture (since it would last longer).

My rescue plan was something like this:

  1. First, people had to notice I was gone. This could take a couple of hours.
  2. Once done, the search party would likely walk the trail again. This could take a couple of more hours.
  3. Once they didn’t find me, they would need to branch off to other parts of the trail. There wouldn’t be enough time to do this before it got dark if they wanted to find me.
  4. I thought I would have to be rescued by helicopter. It could take a while to convince the government to send one out. The next day, I pictured myself being carried out by helicopter, and for some reason I kept thinking about the episode where Homer falls down Springfield gorge and on his way out they kept bumping his head.

My overall plan was this:

  1. Stay on top of the rock while it was still daylight.
  2. Conserve my water.
  3. Go down into the ledge (there was a bit of a dugout around the edges) at night.
  4. Go back to the rock when daylight came.
  5. Formulate another escape plan if it took too long to get rescued.

My escape plans were the following:

  1. Sit on the rock where I could be seen and wait to be rescued.
  2. Alternatively, jump down the rocks to the bottom of the waterfall. I would be hurt but at least the drop wasn’t as far as when I first landed from the big fall.
  3. Alternatively, there were trees coming out of the side of the hill. If I could jump to one, maybe I could climb down it. They probably wouldn’t take me all the way to the bottom but at least I would be closer to the ground. The big problem here is that all the trees were too far away to jump to.
  4. Alternatively, scale down the cliff by ripping off vines and tying them together and forming a rope. This would take a very long time and it would have been very difficult to create a rope, but let’s be honest – I was going to have a lot of spare time.

As I said, I saw a boat go by around 3:30 pm so I knew if I could get down to the river I would definitely be rescued. The problem was that there was no way to safely get down there. The hours passed by and eventually it started getting dark. I knew that I was going to have to spend the night there (which I figured was the most likely scenario). I went down to the grove and put my legs into a bit of shrubs that were overhanging the grove. I then covered up the rest of my body with leaves, branches, grass and dirt. I used my backpack as a pillow.

It was very uncomfortable that night. I could not lie on my left side because of my hip. I could lie on my right side but it was tough moving onto it because of my injuries to my right side. I could lie on my back, but because of the way the grove twisted and turned I was unable to straighten out my legs. I kind of had to adjust them. It wasn’t too terribly cold that night, but it wasn’t particularly pleasant either.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. I looked at my watch about every 30-45 minutes. In fact, that night sucked (but at least I saved $25 on a hostel). I would not recommend anybody spend a night out in the jungle. On the other hand, people asked me if it was scary at night, and I said “not really.” The scariest part was on the waterfall when I lost my glasses. At least at night I was in no danger of being seriously injured. It was not dark out because of the moonlight and there were no animals out on the ledge. The only problem was that I couldn’t sleep at night and I would basically just be waiting until morning when I could be rescued. I found out later that the search party was out looking for me until 4 am. Had I known that I may have stayed out on the rock, but it would not have made much difference. There was no way for them to see or hear me.

Incidentally, I had a contingency plan in case there were any animals – I would climb up the rock in the case of a wild pig, based on the assumption that it couldn’t climb up the rock. If it could, I would run around the ledge and try to lead it to the edge. Then, I would swing around a small tree there and try to knock it off the edge. This was not a great plan, but it was better than nothing.

I lay around all night until it got light out. When it did get light out, I waited until it was sufficiently warm out such that I could survive being out of my grove (around 6:00 am). When that happened, I got up and went back on the rock. Around 6:30 am, I saw another boat go by. I waved and shouted again, but I have no idea whether or not they saw me. I sure hoped so.

Every once in a while, I would climb back down the rock and down to the bottom of the rocks leading to the waterfall. I began to better formulate my plan for jumping down. I decided to break up the overall plan for getting down there into a series of small tasks. If I could jump across to the other ledge, I could stick my feet in a crack and lower myself down, at which point I could get down to another ledge. I could possibly jump into the water at which point I could jump to the bottom of the waterfall. Then, I could climb back up onto shore. Basically, I broke up the problem into a series of smaller problems that had to be solved. The problems were first of all making sure that when I jumped across to the first ledge, I didn’t slide all the way down to the bottom due to wet rocks. If that happened I would be badly hurt (though I probably would not be killed). I kept doing this every 30 minutes or so because I didn’t want to be stuck on the mountain for more than two days.

I went back and sat on the rock and waited some more. Around 8:30 am, I heard voices, and not ones in my head. I looked up and saw a couple of people coming down the cliff. I realized that I was about to be rescued. They made their way down and they shook my hand. They were local Fijians that had been looking for me, and they weren’t wearing any shoes. They were like hobbits. But, I wondered, how are we going to get out? Well, one of the guys tied a rope around his waist, made out of a branch. I held onto the rope and we started to climb our way out. We went up the hill through the thick brush and debris. It was a difficult climb, it was quite steep (like stairs in a house). So, I guess I could have climbed my way out ultimately but I had no idea where I was going nor did I have my glasses. It took about 30 minutes to get out and finish the trail. We did return to the original trail and it was actually a difficult trail at the end due to the wetness, muddiness and narrow size of it. But eventually, we got to the bottom and I was on my way to freedom! We took a 30 minute boat ride back where I had some food in a person’s house.

I went to the hospital and had some x-rays taken, and the result was that I had no broken bones. I had no head injuries either, so I figured I got off pretty easily. However, now that it’s a few days later I am finding that I am suffering from short-term memory loss due to an inability to concentrate. I have trouble remembering new names and I often forget things that I just set out to do. For example, today when taking off my jacket, I took it off and put it in the closet and then closed the closet. I then realized that I also had to put my shoes in there. Also, when digging stuff out of my bag, I would go through it and find something else and close my bag, only to realize that I forgot what I actually wanted.

However, all in all, I still think I got off easy. And that’s the story of the time I could have died in Fiji.

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I have just recently returned from holidays, first in Australia and then in Fiji.  I have some pictures available of my trip to Australia here.  At the very least, check out the pictures of my new friends. 

I will upload my pictures from Fiji later, but I have fewer of them for two reasons: (1) I was in Fiji for only a few days, and (2) I broke my camera.  There is a story behind point (2) which I will talk about in a future post.  Trust me, this is a story you will not want to miss.

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