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Archive for May, 2012

I have written on this blog numerous times that I wish I didn’t own property and how I don’t plan to buy any for a long, long time.  My previous experience with it was too unpleasant (namely, that my place is worth 1/3 of what I paid, dropping 65% in four years).

But whenever I go to someone’s house and they have a nice one, I think to myself “I wouldn’t mind living in a place like this!”

But then I say to myself “No! Think through what means!” it means paying a lot more for a lifestyle I don’t really need. And with that extra housing costs, it means trade offs elsewhere. It means I can’t trade in the stock markets, and it means less spare money door traveling, and it means I feel much stingier for my charitable donations.

But the temptation is strong.

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Two years ago, I had to write an article for a conference in Vancouver and I had writer’s block.  That was on May 2, 2010.

Last year, I blogged about how I had writer’s block two years ago, and had it again.  That was on May 21, 2011.

This year, I once again procrastinated about writing this article.  I was going to work on it last weekend (May 19, 2012), but didn’t.  I pushed it off.  Yesterday (May 26), I did get a rough cut of it done.  Why is it that no matter how much time I give myself, I always write and finish my article about 10 days before the deadline?

I was proud of myself yesterday for cranking about 5000 words in 3 hours.  After I finished it (still have to edit it, I can’t write and edit in the same day because I can’t see my own writing errors), I said “Gee, that was fast.”  But was it really?

The topic I am writing about I have previously written about:

  1. Last year, on a post on my work blog (and subsequently published in an online magazine), I wrote a 3500 word article that I used as a baseline document.

  2. Two or three months ago, I wrote up a specification at work for how to implement this idea.

  3. Two weeks ago, I wrote up an Internet draft proposing my idea as an Internet standard.

  4. Friday at work, we had a meeting to discuss my idea and I wrote up notes on the subject.

When I looked at all that, I said “Gee, maybe I didn’t work nearly as fast as I thought I did.  Turns out I just did a bunch of work previously that I was able to leverage into this one.”

Not too shabby.

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The wife and I picked up a hand held GPS today – the Garmin Oregon 450:

Garmin Oregon 450 - GPS receiver

We didn’t buy one in order to navigate while driving (although that would be useful) but instead to assist while doing hikes around the state, and other states too, I guess.  We can view the map of where we are going as well as track the elevation and how long it takes us to do it.  We can then export the data for statistical tracking purposes. 

What an awesome reason to buy one!

The problem with the Garmin GPS is the software on it is hard to learn.  If Steve Jobs were the CEO of Garmin, he never would have permitted them to create a product like that.

What I’d like to buy is a GPS that works like an iPad – a touch device that you pinch the screen to zoom in and “depinch” to zoom out.  Easy.

But the Garmin Oregon is not like that.  The touch screen is pseudo-responsive. You have to (ugh) click the + and – signs to zoom in and out (what is this, 2004?) And plotting tracks around it?  Forget about it!

I remember back in the day when Google Maps let you do a push pin and navigate up and down streets and it would calculate the route according to where you clicked.  It would fill in lines from one push point to the next.  Those were the good old days.  But no more, neither Google nor Bing nor Mapquest let you do that anymore (at least not easily because I can’t figure out how).

Garmin lets you do it, but’s a pain!  You go to a trail and make a push pin.  But then to set the next point on the trail, it’s a hassle.  You set the initial point on the track you are creating, and then it goes back to the track screen.  Here’s the process:

  1. Create a new Way Point.
  2. Set initial point.
  3. Click “Map.”
  4. Zoom in.
  5. Zoom in again.
  6. Zoom in again.
  7. Zoom in again (4 times if you’re counting).
  8. Set the Start point.
  9. Click the corner X to go back to the Track you are creating.
  10. Click “Set Next Point.”
  11. Repeat steps 3-8, dragging the map (painfully awkward) to see more of the landscape.  While doesn’t turning the Garmin sideways change the display to landscape from portrait?
  12. Repeat steps 3-11 for each of the points you are creating along the map.  If the track winds up and down a lot of curves, you will end up clicking 70 or 80 times to make a 7 or 8-point trail.

Why can’t I view the map and create a bunch of push-points and create a path as I go?  Why do I have to navigate through multiple screens and each time I return to the map, it has forgotten the zoom I just set it at?

That is crazy!!!

There’s nothing that frustrates me more than technology that is not easy to use.  Just ask the wife, she’ll confirm it.

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Last month, while the wife and I were in Bali, the first day we were there we got to the town of Ubud. Ubud (pronounced Oo-bude, not you-bud) is about an hour and 15 minutes from the airport located near Kuta in the capital (?) city (of Bali?) Denpasar:

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The amount of traffic in Bali was heavy, it took about 2 and a half hours to get from the airport to Ubud.  Surprisingly, the taxi ride was only about $25 US.  Not bad.

Ubud is a small town crawling with tourists.  There are two or three main streets where all the action is.  The shopkeepers are not pushy on the main roads, but they are in the markets.  And not only that, if you walk down the streets in Ubud, there are people asking you if you want a taxi every two minutes.  That is not an exaggeration, you get asked for a taxi so often it becomes annoying.  I felt like making up a sign that says “No, I don’t want a taxi!”

Ubud is shaped in a bit of a loop in the main town part of it, and at the bottom of one of the loops is a Monkey Forest (the street is called Monkey Forest Road).  For only $2, you can walk through the park where the monkeys roam free.

We didn’t go to the Monkey Forest the first day.  Instead, we were walking down and looking at all the shops after we had gotten into town, moving in the direction of the Monkey Forest.  We had been up since early in the morning and didn’t have much to eat.  The wife, as she frequently does, said “I’m huuuuuuuuuuuungryyyyyyyy!”  But since she still had a bad stomach, we bought soda crackers from a convenience store.

We were walking down the street in the direction of the Monkey Forest but we didn’t plan to enter it.  Meanwhile, the wife was eating soda crackers, more or less oblivious to our surroundings.  I wasn’t paying that much attention either.

Suddenly, we noticed that we were surrounded by monkeys.  The Monkey Forest is open, there’s no gate or anything and they can wander in and out.  Well, a few monkeys had wandered out and spotted that the wife had crackers.  One of them eyed the crackers in her hand.

They surrounded her and started closing in.  “Uhhhh,” stammered the wife.  “Monkeys!” she cried out.

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“I’ve got problems of my own here,” I replied.  Other monkeys were closing in on me, too, eyeing my water bottle.

Suddenly, one of the monkeys climbed up on the wife and grabbed the soda cracker right out of her hand!  Just stole it!  “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” shouted the wife.  The monkey moved so fast that she didn’t have time to react.

Sensing our dismay, a lady came out of her shop and shooed the monkeys away from us, but also scolded us for bringing food into (technically near) the Monkey Forest.  It was the wife’s idea, not mine.

We walked back to our hotel about 10 minutes away, but I was choking back laughter.  Later that night when I showered, I started thinking about the incident and began laughing, unable to stop.  Even now, as I type this, I’m laughing a little bit.  It was (a little) traumatic for the wife, but comparatively funny for me!  A monkey jumped on her and stole her cracker, ha, ha, ha!

You had to be there.

And that’s the story of the time the wife was attacked by a monkey.

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On our recent trip to Bali, the wife informed me a little while before we left that she had booked a sunrise hike up Mt. Batur in Bali.  What’s a sunrise hike?  You hike shortly after the sun rises?

Nope.  It’s a hike where you are at the top for the sunrise.

To do this, we had to leave our hotel at 1:30 in the morning.  Along the way, we picked up a couple of other girls from Singapore and then made the drive from our hotel in Ubud to Mt. Batur, stopping at a restaurant (coffee plantation) along the way for breakfast.  Seeing as how it was 2:30 in the morning, and my bowels had declared war on my intestines the day before, I declined to consume anything other than tea.  They brought out banana crepes to eat but I declined.  I didn’t want anything bad happening on the way up the mountain, if you know what I’m saying.

The hike up Batur started at around 3 am.  It was completely dark other than the stars and the moon.  How do you hike in the dark?  You bring a flashlight and follow the trail, that’s how.  Even though we couldn’t see much, hiking in the dark wasn’t that difficult.  We had plenty of vision in front of us such that there was little chance of anything bad happening (e.g., losing footing).

The advantage of climbing at night is that it’s cooler.  And thank goodness it was because while climbing to the top, I started sweating.  I had to go up in shorts and a t-shirt even though it was kind of cool going up.  It was tough work, too.  The first part of the trail is a shallow incline, while the second half is a much steeper ascent (the total elevation gain is somewhere between 2200 and 3000 feet).  Believe you me, when you’re hiking this type of terrain, you perspire, particularly when you’re in a country so close to the equator.  It’s work!

We went up with two guides; one guy went up with us, and the other guide went up with the two girls from Singapore.  They trailed far behind us and arrived at the top much later than we did.  Our guide brought along some soft drinks and put on the hard sell for us to buy them once we got to the top even though we didn’t want them; that guy really ticked me off with his high pressure sales tactics. I was so irritated I was tempted to write a negative review about him on TripAdvisor.

Anyhow, the trail was a bit of a slog, although the wife has made me do tougher.  In addition, the guide learned a thing about the wife – whenever you’re tired and need a break, the wife doesn’t stop.  She just passes you and says “Just go slow.”  Translation: I’m going at the same pace I was; try to keep up.  When she said that when he suggested we take a break during one of the steep parts, and just walked right by him without stopping (“Just go slow”), the guide looked at me in disbelief and I just shrugged my shoulders.  This happens all the time.

Eventually, 3 hours after we started, we made it there for 6:15 am and the guide (the other one with the Singapore girls, not the pushy one) took our picture:

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Yeah, I know there’s a glare on my jacket but that was the best picture I have.  There’s a lot of condensation in the air and the rest of the pictures turn out blurry.  You can see I’m wearing my jacket plus a long sleeve shirt.  I put them on because we were at the top for a while and it got cold.

Here’s a shot of one of the other mountains:

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One thing that was kind of neat was while we were at the top, a bunch of other guys made it to the top, too.  They began holding a religious (Hindu?) ceremony while there.  One thing about these Balinese Hindus – they sure are devout.

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Mt. Batur is not just a mountain, it’s actually a volcano.  And, it’s an active volcano.  Now I know when most people think of active volcanoes, they think of large pits with lava brewing in them ready to explode at any moment.  Batur didn’t have any lava but it did have plenty of steam rising from its innards:

If you look at the left hand side of this image below, you can see a white cloud about half way up the image.  That’s not cloud, that’s actual steam coming out of the volcano (look hard; it’s not rock in amongst the green foliage).  You can climb down from the hiking trail to get a closer look but you can’t get any closer than from where I took this picture.  Well, I guess you can get closer but then it’s very difficult to get out, if you catch my drift.

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Batur also has monkeys living at the top of it.  I always thought that monkeys would be shy creatures, but not these ones.  They’ve learned that humans will give them food and they are not afraid to go get it.  We didn’t have any monkey incidents on this trip, but we did on a previous walk though Ubud.

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Finally, it was time to leave and come down.  It seemed like it took longer coming down than it did going up.  Maybe it’s because my stomach started acting up again and I couldn’t wait to get to the parking lot.  It’s also a totally different hike coming down.  Going up, you see nothing but on the way back, you say “Did we pass that on the way up?”  I was also surprised by how open it was.  I thought we went up in dense jungle the whole way, but nearly the entire way down it’s exposed with very little tree cover.

We made it down and we drove away, but stopped to take a picture from the road. From far away, you can see that a big chunk of the volcano has blown away and there are two peaks in the mountain.  We went up the higher one and that’s where we watched the sunrise.

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And that’s the story of the time we climbed the mountain to watch the sunrise.

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The poop coffee

Continuing on from my coffee story in Bali, there was one other type of coffee that we tried when we were there – Kopi Luwak coffee.

When we were going through the coffee plantation, we passed the cages of animals that looked a bit like cats.  We were told it was a kopi luwak:

They are slightly larger than a housecat, but definitely not as big as a dog.  They were caged because people use them to make coffee.

I don’t know what they feed the kopi luwak, but they feed it something.  It goes through its digestive tract, and then it poops it out.  The people then take the poop, clean it, and then make coffee out of it the same way they would for any other coffee bean.

They literally make coffee out of sh*t.  I am not making this up, you can look it up on Wikipedia.

Coffee from the kopi luwak is super expensive because it’s hard to harvest and is low production.  It is also 10x more expensive than normal Bali coffee (I did the math).  Still, I decided to try some.

The verdict? Meh.  They told me it was a delicacy in Bali, perhaps their best coffee (that’s what grocery stores selling it said).  But it wasn’t that good.  It was kind of strong, a little bitter, nothing to write home about.  While at first, before I tried it, I thought it would be neat to bring it home and get people to try it. But the taste didn’t justify it, especially for the cost.

The next time somebody says something tastes like sh*t, I’ll be able to try it and say “No, it doesn’t.”

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I don’t like coffee.

I haven’t liked it since I was… oh, I don’t know, as long as I can remember? I don’t like the taste of it, it’s too bitter.  There was a time in 2005 when I started drinking it at the office, but I discovered that the only way I could drink it was by putting a lot of sugar in it.  I decided that was too unhealthy so I ceased its consumption.  Even today, when I go to Starbucks I get one of the sugary drinks so as to drown out the taste of the coffee.

Fast forward to Bali.

We went on a tour of some kind and the wife informs me that we are doing coffee tasting.  “M’kay,” I said.  “This can’t hurt.”

Well, it did hurt.  It hurt my pocketbook, that is.  We sat down at the table of a coffee plantation and they brought out coffee for us to try in these small little cups:

They had a lot of different flavors but the coffee was fantastic!  I drank and tasted everything, it was so good I couldn’t believe it!  Is this the drink I’ve been missing out on all these years?  Why hasn’t anyone told me!?

I insisted to the wife that we buy some and take it home.  We ended up buying Vanilla, Coconut, Mochacinno, Ginseng, Lemongrass tea and Ginger tea.  Of course, these coffees had quite a bit of sugar in them, but that’s the only way I can drink them.

The problem is that the packs of coffee were kind of expensive, something like $10 per pack and they weren’t that big.  But each pack could give you something like 15 or 20 cups of coffee.  That’s not so bad, it’s like 50 to 66 cents per cup.  That’s way better than Starbucks.

However, when we got home, I discovered that the number of cups they told us we could get out of each bag of coffee was exaggerated; it takes something like 4 tablespoons of coffee powder to make one cup of coffee as good as it was down there.  Perhaps it is 15 cups of coffee, but the cups are as small as they were in Bali.

We can get maybe 3 or 4 real cups of coffee per container.  That increases the price to about $2.50 per cup, not much cheaper than Starbucks.  And considering that these things have quite a bit of sugar in them, they are not healthy.  That didn’t go according to plan.  For the price we paid, I’m not sure I would buy them again.

But man, at the time did they ever taste good!

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