Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Saints Row




I’ve been playing Saint’s Row the past few days. I’m having a great time with this GTA style game. The learning curve for this game was pretty large for me, there are so many goals, subgoals, enemies, etc. it has taken me awhile to get my head around what I am supposed to accomplish. Basically, you are a member of a gang with 3 other rival gangs fighting over territory in the city of Stilwater. By accomplishing missions, you can take over new territory. Sounds simple at first, but you are also trying to get cash to buy bling to deck out your character to increase your respect bonus and earn respect by completing various activities like jacking cars, wreaking havoc, insurance fraud, hits, etc. It’s a total blast to work through some of these activities, and some of the most fun happens when you least expect it. When fighting a gang war with a rival gang, I stole a police car. After wrecking into another car, my car flipped in the air, 360 degrees!!, and landed on the roof of the building next to where the gang war was taking place, allowing me to pop off all the leaders and save the day from the safety of the rooftop. Good stuff.

I’ve got a set of about 12 people on a hit list and I’m having a heck of a time trying to find them in their areas. No markers or anything, you just drive around hoping you find bump into them. So far I’ve only found one of them. Also, it seems you can rack up respect fairly quickly with the drug runs, they seem to be the easier of the various activities. Decking out your character in various clothing, which increases respect multipliers, is also a hoot to do. I wish on MS Live I could show an image of my character so other playa’s could see all my bling!

Overall, I’m having an awesome time playing this game, it’s a very rich, full neighborhood with lots of fun interaction, good game balance to keep it interesting, without the frustratingly outdated look of the game engine of the GTA series when Vice City was released. Also, despite about 10 hours on the game, I’m still not sure about a few things related to getting respect and motiviation. For example, why should I buy cars? I’m not sure what this does, perhaps I’ll figure it out in the next few days.

So yes, mom, I spent my Christmas jacking cars, dealing drugs, robbing stores, and blowing up various gang members. Good times!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

ps3s on ebay cheeeeeeap!

woah what a difference a wiik makes. ps3s are barely going for cost on ebay now. see it for yourself here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gears of War Hardcore Finished...

After struggling with RAAM for over an hour on Gears of War Hardcore and not making any visible progress, I decided to do an 'invite' for somebody online to play Dom. Turned out that was the right thing to do, we took RAAM out on the first try. Dom, when played by the bot AI, just runs up and dies in about 3 seconds on this final stage so it was me against RAAM. I didn't know if I was making progress or not, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say its nearly impossible to beat RAAM on hardcore by yourself. I did notice a couple times you could get him 'stuck' not able to shoot you, etc. and maybe get lucky that way, but it seemed that i could get a few shots off on him and he'd correct. Somebody exploits this bug here to beat him on insane, and I can confirm I was using a similar tactic on hardcore and think i almost had him but i got knocked out by the fire from the dudes flying by on the sides of the train.

Got Sneak King at Burger King today, gonna check that out, looks intereesting.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

History of Diamond Trade...

Good read here on the history of the diamond industrial complex.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sony Bravia commercial

Friend chad sent me this link, very cool Sony Commercial: http://www.bravia-advert.com/paint/thead/. I would have made it a link but for whatever reason the buttons to make a link are not available on beta.blogger right now ?!?. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

HDTV research Consumer Reports Summary

Doing some research to round out my home theater. Led to a few interesting findings I thought I'd capture in an entry. Consumer Reports did an evaluation for December 2006 that would be required reading and well worth the time if you're going to lay out $3,000 for a new display. They review LCDs, Plasma, Projectors, etc. and provide some great advice. I'll jot down some of the most suprising stuff here:

First, if you're a gamer and/or lazy, plasma is just about ruled out. Despite lower cost per square inch, there are issues related to burn in that still exist in these sets. I tend to leave things on while websurfing, taking phone calls, etc. and just pause the game or whatever, very bad for plasmas. Also the issues related to glare rule out plasma for me since I often game, etc. with the window open behind me in the mornings on weekends.

On reviews, the brands that came out in top 5 were JVC and Sony, Samsung got a number 5. This is on 40inch and larger sizes. JVC as number 1!! While I already have JVC DVD, VCR, and TV I was buying based on price/performance ratio at time of purchase and didn't really perceive them as a leader in quality. Dumb luck and have been very happy with their products (and remotes) to date. Very reliable, solid products.

JVC LT-40FN97 and Sony Bravia KDL-40XBR1 and XBR2 were top 3 in over 40inch category.

On Plasmas the highest ranked set would have been ranked 3rd overall including LCD and plasma, but its rankings were (in order for 50 inch and larger): Panasonic, Fujitsu, LG, Pioneer, HP. Fujitsu was $5500 bucks though, not in the same price category of the rest.

On warranties, my logic would be if you're buying a $3k product and can get a $200 warranty (the one at video only) its almost a no brainer to protect the investment due to its high cost of replacement of the LCD, etc. after the first year. Consumer Reports says keep the money in your pocket as the failure rates for LCD and plasma sets requiring repair (one to two year old sets because that is all they have data for) is 3% for LCDs and plasma. The failure rate is 10% for Microdisplays which to me is outrageous and enough to say I wouldn't buy one of these anyway. Not sure I'm going to take their advice on this but was suprised to see it, maybe i'd have more confidence with more data on a 4 year life span for example.

Also did some checking around the portland area for pricing, and while i tire of the radio ad it really is true that the prices at video only are SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper for these products than best buy. Sometimes as much as $600 or more at the $3k price point. Get clarification on their return policy though because I am not sure its the best in town (30 days swap out, no refund or some such, but once you have money with them you really have to keep your money with them). Sales rep seemed well read and was the one who referred me to the consumer report article in the first place. Walked over, pulled out his laptop, and pulled up the article right there in the store for me to read! That's the kind of service that makes me return.

A Tax Question

My job is in gaming and graphics. At a very high level, I spend my workday developing technologies and tools to create better games. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought twice about this and just dismissed it as even a possibility, but the fact that I have now been asked 3 times in the past 2 weeks about this issue I thought I’d ask it myself: Can I declare my Xbox360 as an unreimbursed business expense? It is without a doubt that using the device better equips me for my job, but I can’t say I ever considered it as a deductible expense. Just wondering what others thought.

Gears of War Storyline

Lots of the online forums have complained about a lack of storyline in Gears of War. I really think this has more to do with a lack of the storyline being exposed in the game. After playing through a second time I’m starting to understand more of the world the COG lives in and what is happening. I also took a glance at the strategy guide when at EB Games the other day. After reading through the backstory I think its much more thought out than people are giving the design team credit for.

Props to Cliff Bleszinski Lead Designer at Epic

I am super appreciative of the time and energy the team at Epic have put into making a great game experience. Cliff Bleszinski is a new hero for me, a master of game balance and design, its as close to perfect as I could imagine. Having taken a quick crash course writing my own 2D physics based game at the Indy Game Jam 2004 I realize that this is an area of specialization in its own right and one that is difficult to do well. Few can profess this at the master level, but Cliff B. is one of them.

Gears of War Co-op

I had a question the other day when a friend came over. Not wanting to lose my progress on hard-core, I was concerned about starting a new game because of a warning that came up about ‘saved progress will not be saved’ . Turns out that our confusion (I say ‘our’ confusion because the question was posted on several online forums as well with various incorrect answers) is because the save system is so much better done than we’ve seen in the past and allows for the dropping in of friends to play online, in person, etc. and not losing your progress on various difficulty settings as well as being able to play all the scenarios you’ve worked through. Here’s the result: the last menu option that says something like ‘play previous checkpoint’ or something like that is a confusing label: what this actually does is bring up a menu of all the previously saved checkpoints and what difficult you have completed that level on so you can pick the level you want to play with a friend or otherwise.

Gears of war Hardcore setting

After finishing Gears of War on the casual setting I’ve moved to hardcore. I’ve found the AI much more strategic and wise in its action, more like the feel that I’m playing something with some intelligence and not so much just a drone. Its taking me many more tries to complete the various scenarios. I’ve just completed act 3 on hardcore. Entering the base inside the earth was made difficult due to the theron (?) guards and their use of the torque bow. I spent about 3 hours before finally successfully finishing off the guards.

I have a great deal of respect for the entire team at Epic at this point. I am extremely picky and quickly bored with most games and have never played through at another difficulty setting, but this game is fantastic. I am frustrated of being sneaked up on from behind and on the sides, so Friday I bought a set of rear-speakers so I can better hear when enemies on their approach.

Despite gears of war being probably the best balanced game I’ve played, I am still frustrated as a player at the fact that I have to play scenario components over and over again despite having mastered them as I learn my way through a particular scene. For example, when the guards come through in waves, why am I always forced to go through wave one again and again to get to the part I am actually stuck on? When I was a kid it drove me nuts and it doesn’t make me any more pleased now. Gears of War does an especially annoying thing, which is repeat dialog you’ve heard a hundred times and doesn’t let you escape out of it. When the dialog does start, you also move slower while it is playing. If I had to guess its to load content in the background and the slowdown in activity allows CPU resources to be used to do the load of content for the upcoming battle (keeps you in the same region of space, no BSP node transitions, for example). Still frustrating and wish they’d have allowed mini-checkpoints more often in these scenarios for adults that have jobs, perhaps not save points but in the same game session you would not be forced to start over, I’ve played games in the past like this. Maybe the settings should be ‘novice’, ‘employed’, and ‘unemployed’?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

How to sell in the current Portland Real Estate Market

My condo finally sold after ~6 months on the market. I want to mention how I did this and point out some things about the buying and selling process. While incomplete, it does capture a few conclusions/best practices I have used to successfully move a unit in this market.

I put the house on the market thinking it would sell right away (in 2 weeks). It didn’t. After 2 months, it still didn’t. The market was changing, inventory was rising (still is). Fortunately, everyone is stubbornly keeping their prices high refusing to acknowledge that their property isn’t worth what you think its worth: its worth what people will pay for this property in this market. I dropped the price by 5K, then 10K after a month, then 5K, then another 5K. Each at 4 week periods (roughly). Some people think this is too aggressive, but I think they fail to understand the market in Portland: If you carry your property through October you have it until March. Fact of life. You can sell it this year or sell it next year, your choice. Its very unlikely you will move your unit on Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. People don’t want to put on booties to walk through your property during the rainy season. I was motivated to get out of this property and on with my life. I suspect you are too.

Paint matters
I underestimated how much it matters to people how small, superficial things matter. I spent $1500 to pain the entire unit. Traffic went up considerably; interest went up measured by callbacks, etc. I was shocked at how something so simple could change response. People aren’t rational when shopping. We also added a new sink and shelves in the pantry. Again, you could tell people were much more serious than previous. After the improvements (and with price drops) the unit finally sold. I would expect rational people to just price in a new pro paint job and make an offer if that was the sticking point, but that isn’t how it works. They could even make a complete and satisfactory paint job contingent offer, but nobody does this. Penny wise, pound foolish.

Staging
Do you know about staging? I didn't. Staging is when you rent furniture for your barren home in an effort to help the prospective buyers visualize what it would look like furnished. It works! In an environment that is a buyer's market, you need to do everything you can to move the unit, the cost is worth it. For around 700sq. ft. of space I spent around $300 a month to furnish it for the three month minimum from People's Furniture. Worked out well and was happy with how they handled the move-in, billing, and move out of the rental stuff.
Buyer’s commission
Another way to raise interest is to raise the commission for the buyer’s agent. I started at 2.5% and raised it to 2.7% then to 3%. Raising this commission is a very low cost way to increase interest in your property. At both times we cancelled the listing then relisted the property. Both times we saw traffic and interest spike for the first week.

Aggressively lower your asking price, AGGRESSIVELY
Aggressively price for the current market. Not the market of yesterday and not the market you want. The market of today. Your property is not worth what you think it is, it is worth what comps in your area are selling for. At the end of the day its square footage and location first, other things secondary. When you do a price drop, drop it by a measurable amount. Drop it so it matters and people notice. When I was listed at 250k, I went to 240k. Lowering the price slowly just looks weird. Do you want to sell or not?


Watch traffic patterns

Another thing the realtor is able to do is login to a database that tracks the traffic into a particular unit. You can see which realtors entered, their contact info, etc. This is useful to see if various activities are generating increased traffic. If they aren’t working, you are doing something wrong. Try some of the other tactics mentioned above.

Is it more important to sell or be right?
I know people who had their units for sale when I started and still have their units for sale when I am done. When they lower their prices, they lower them by $2400. They think they are selling in yesterday’s market when their gain was going to be 50% or more in two years. It won’t be. You are prolonging your pain. Now, they are stuck with the winter property problem. They look around at their paint job and tell themselves ‘there is no way I am selling less than X’, and they continue to struggle with two mortgages. On this note: don't buy something else until you've sold the unit you're in. For a few years it really didn't matter, turnover was abnormally high and your real estate was more liquid. Things are settling back to normal patterns now.

Results
So, during this process I’ve dealt with lots of armchair quarterbacks, strange looks from neighbors, and resentment because I’ve ‘lowered the value of the condos in the building’. Guess what folks? The MARKET lowered the value of the condos, I was just the first mover responding to the change. Up over 20% in two years after expenses. I'll take it.

END OF POST

A few other notes on realtors

Realtors on the sell side
On the sell side, you need access to a realtor so you can get your property listed in the RMLS (on the buy side, you can search the database yourself at www.rmls.com). You also want them to do the open houses unless you have lots of free time, and overall manage the transactions, questions, etc. In other words, I believe they provide sufficient value on the selling side and will continue to use realtors in this part of the process. The one exception is in a hot market where FSBO (for sale by owner) may work. However, time and again I hear the story of FSBO not working and eventually turning it over to a realtor. Plus, there is the realtor conspiracy to blacklist any FSBO property. Just be aware of your current situation and appetite for the hassle of selling if you do it without a realtor. I don’t recommend this strategy and have seen it fail more than succeed but do see situations it could work fine. Also, I negotiated with the realtor that if I sold the property (via craigslist, at work, or otherwise) I would keep the buyer’s agent commission if they approached us without an agent. This is likely on craigslist and from work.

Realtor rant on the buy side (how to save $5000)
In my experience, realtors offer negative value in the buying process. You do your own searches on the web and by foot. They show up with the key to take a look at the house. While in the process, they are motivated to turnover the property, so they would like you to buy anything or sell anything for any amount, so every property is cast in a positive light (highest ROI of their time is rapid turnover). There are so many conflicts of interest in those of you and your realtor I can’t begin to rage against this. Pay them nothing if you can. Get the seller’s realtor to help you view the house. Keep the money for yourself and ignore their opinions on what a great neighborhood it is. If you don’t know that yourself you shouldn’t be in the market in the first place.

The one part of the buying process you MUST do to protect yourself is the home inspection. Home inspections are useful as negotiating tools and also to cover things you have no expertise in. For me, plumbing, electricity, etc. are areas out of my domain and I want somebody else to give me an independent, professional, bonded opinion. Inspections, in my experience, have always paid for themselves because for $200-$300 you can always find SOMETHING worth $750 to chop off the price.

A second important issue is the title search. Work with somebody you trust at a title company and go through it to make sure it is ‘usual’. No surprises, etc. The title agent will be able to go through each line item and help you here. Remember: they are insuring it and have a vested interest in it being a ‘typical’ situation here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Suicide of Sony begins...

what do DAT, Beta, MemoryStyx, and Bluray have in commmon? all Sony attempts to force media standards on the world that failed/will fail but in the most esoteric corners of media. its oddly obvious this time. calling it blu-ray. hd-dvd...hmmmm...can the consumer guess what hd-dvd has that dvd doesn't? what about blu-ray?

sony employees have a favorite river: de nile

NYTimes slams the PS3 here

RIP

i'll be enjoying my wii60 through the holidays.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Black friday ads for free stuff...

A link with the ads for black friday scanned as .pdfs: http://bfads.net/adscans/

Sunday, November 12, 2006

XBox Gears of War

Spent a good portion of the weekend playing the new xbox. bought gears of war and have made it to some nasty dude RAAM which i think is the final battle and am having some trouble with him. i am a huge fan of the game, it is just amazing. the graphics look outstanding, the gameplay mechanics are great, the different sceneraios are sufficiently challenging but not frustrating, and the stop and pop style used for the fighting feels more like a real firefight than the 'run and shoot your enemy straight on' style of other FPSs. i like the way the damage icon shows up in the middle of the screen, truly and symbolically impairing your sight as you would if you were injured. also discourages you from doing the run and gun style in other fps games even if you wanted to.

i also played the online version for a few minutes. unlike previous multiplayer style games, i didn't feel like i was getting utterly anhilated by the kids i was playing against, and i just love being able to have a microphone to talk to people while we are playing. this game is great, as is my new 360 :)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Gears of War video

Gears of War is to be released tomorrow. This is one of the coolest trailers for a game i've seen in awhile. High res is here. Low res is here. Check out the hi-res, takes awhile to download both worth it (On a PC, you can right click and 'save as' to download it and watch it over and over again!).

My new toy: XBox360!

Did a little shopping this weekend. Found this great deal at Circuit City: interest free financing until 2008 (yes, i financed my game console), a free wireless controller if i bought a game with it, some rechargeable batteries for the 2 wireless remotes, also picked up a copy of Saint's Row and got a 13 month gold membership for $39, good deal from what i have seen best is usually around $49.

I really like the xbox360, it seems to do lots of things right (fast, easy, etc.) and i just love the xbox live experience.

And, my xbox360 has its own blog here! I'll post a link to it on the right hand side later.

Stacey and I went through a bunch of game demos just checking them out, and I watched the gears of war trailer like 5 times, its awesome!

Video of flight simulation patterns...

Very cool visualization from UCLA of FAA flight patterns (link from UCLA). Link here .

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Humorous real estate proposal...

I rx'd a spam email yesterday which i thought was funny:

"Are you are interested in owning one of the most beautiful pieces of land in all of the Tampa Bay area, located only 3 miles from the Buccaneer Football stadium, nestled in the heart of "Restaurant Row" of Tampa, and only 1/2 mile from Walmart, Target, 3 Supermarkets, Sam's Club, Home Depot, and about 60 Upscale Strip Malls of
Dale Mabry Hwy in Tampa?
Please respond to this eMail, and I will forward you the details including survey maps and legal descriptions. I will entertain any offer that matches or exceeds the current offer by the developers of $875,000."

buy my property, surrounded by 60 strip malls. Ohhhh, that sounds truly like a beautiful piece of land.

Sweet! I'm back

Upgraded to IE 7.0 which fixed by blogger woes...stay tuned.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Michael Mann's activities...

One of my favorite shows growing up was Miami Vice, which was a creation of Michael Mann. On a rainy Sunday I rented the 3 hour epic Heat, turned out the lights, and watched this work of art. Out of curiousity, I wandered onto imdb, the internet movie database, and noticed he has a few more movies in the works:

The Few (2008) (announced) (producer)
Arms and the Man (2007) (announced) (producer)
Tonight, He Comes (2007) (pre-production) (producer)
The Kingdom (2007) (post-production) (producer)

Should be a sweet '07. Recently, he did Collateral which was also a great flick.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Beta Blogger Woes...

I volunteered to get migrated to the beta version of blogger and now I can't get to my blog :( Its some weird incompatibility with my PC because I am able to get to my page from another computer. Anyway, just explaining why I've been off the grid for a bit.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sister's wedding in Pittsburgh!

The wedding was in a really beautiful , peaceful location, Green Gables, in the Pennsylvania mountains. It’s a playhouse in the mountains that folks from Pittsburgh make a pilgrimage once a year or so for a night out on the town. There were over 160 friends and family and it was a great opportunity to catch up with everyone even if only briefly. I saw neighbors from the street I grew up on in North Huntingdon, family that I hadn’t seen in several years, and friends of family that lives back East. We drove by the mine where 7 miner’s were lost last year, and drove up to the area I first learned to ski. One thing that surprised me was just how small the hill was that I learned to ski. Its nothing like the mountains in the west.

Travels to Anaheim, Ca

Orange County, which I am sure has its merits, was not the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Anaheim was just a bunch of concrete buildings isolated from one another by large hedges and iron fences. We stayed at the Hyatt Hotel. The overwhelming emotion captured by the construction in the area was isolation and artificiality. I was impressed that there were sidewalks through most of the area, this was very nice. Its just all the parking lots, stoplights, and non human sized streets that cause a feeling of anxiety. I suppose its what most of America looks like, but going out for a run through the area I just can’t help but ask myself how we got into this situation, with all these vestiges of an agrarian past taking up space with lawns and isolating ourselves into our little pod homes. There’s so much space for parking and cars…just so much space. And the entity of Anaheim seems to have been paved. They left enough space for palm trees down the middle of the highway. what have we done?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Citigroup and restricted stock dividend payments to executives

The August 25, 2006 Wall Street Journal reported in the article "Citigroup Payouts to Chiefs Irk Holders" that the top executives received dividend payments on restricted stock from the moment they are awarded. This is DESPITE the fact that they do not actually gain control of the stock until years down the line.

Wow, how is this not illegal? The individual doesn't actually own the stock until years down the road yet they can receive dividends on it ahead of time. One measure of fairness in the system would be to determine if the opportunities given to one shareholder translate equally to another. See, someday, say in 10 years, I too plan to own citibank shares. So, shouldn't I too be able to receive dividends on those shares? Perhaps I'll send a note and ask for my dividends on this stock which I intend to own in the future.

Shame on you for accepting the payments, Mr. Prince. And shame on the Citibank board for permitting this shenanigan. If you want to pay him, cut him a check. Don't muddy the waters like this, calling it a 'dividend' on stock he doesn't even have control of.

From the article, "is slated to pay Mr. Prince $1.4 million this year on unvested restricted and deferred stock he held through February of this year, including his most recent restricted stock grant from the company." This is on top of $13 million in salary and bonuses plus $9.7 million in restricted stock awards.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Jiffy Lube caught again!

Back in North Carolina I was suspicious about my local Jiffy Lube not doing work they claimed, so I started to watch them and made a list of work they did vs. work they claimed they did and I identified significant discrepencies. I called and complained and corporate headquarters refunded my money. This time, a TV crew caught them in 5 out of 9 repairs not doing the work they stated. This is not a new problem with Jiffy Lube. At Oil Can Henry's I can watch them on a TV screen so that is where I now go for oil changes. I recommend using Oil Can Henry's, and Jiffy Lube needs to adopt this strategy as well. Its impossible for corporate to police everyone, so empower consumers to watch for themselves.

Grand Theft Auto Like Coke commercial...

Kim posted here a nifty ad that Coke has done that looks like a scene from the game Grand Theft Auto. I haven't watched a commercial in awhile, let alone watched it twice. Good work to the Coke advertising dept.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Microsoft Share Buyback stupidity....

Okay, so i get this letter the other day, its like 60 pages long and says the following:

"Microsoft would like to buy your Microsoft shares from you for a price between ~24 and 25 and some change". We can't tell you which of the numbers in between those two numbers we will buy it for, we can only say it will be somewhere in between these two values.

Would you like to sell your shares for that price?

Can I ask what the value is in this escapade? If I wanted to sell my shares why wouldn't I just log onto my account and click 'sell'. best of all, if i wanted to sell at less than market value, which is what the letter was asking, I would just sell at a lower value.

How much did it cost to send every shareholder of MS (or 'lots of shareholders') this letter? I just don't get it.

If the letter said:

Hey, we want your shares and we know you don't want to sell them, but what if we give you 10% more than they are trading for on such and such a date" maybe that i would have responded to.

Maybe I'm just missing something here, but the only thing it proved is that alot of us have no desire to get rid of our shares of the company, but that is already reflected in the stock price.

confused,

--adam

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Newport News and Matthews County, VA

After spending some the week in Boston I caught a flight down to Newport News to spend some time with Stacey, her family, and friends of the family. Met her grandmother for the first time and caught up with her parents. We spent the weekend in Matthew’s County and did some serious kayaking both evenings around sunset in the local rivers (no whitewater, sorry Stephen and Charles :). Good times, went by so fast though. Also got to explore some of the coffee shops in the Newport News and Williamsburg area. I learned that wireless access isn’t as prevelant in other parts of country as the Pacific Northwest. Hoping this all changes as WiMax rolls out. I hadn’t seen Stacey for about 4 weeks, so I was glad she remembered who I was when we me at the airport :)

The Great City of Boston and SIGGRAPH 2006

Headed up to Boston the first week of August for SIGGRAPH. My hotel was about 30 minutes from the convention center by bus so I got to see quite a bit of the city. I also got a chance to catch up with some good friends from graduate school who were spending time visiting in the north end of Boston called Little Italy. My reaction to Boston: I LOVED IT!! truly a great, beautiful city, people seemed very genuine and I can understand why people like it there so much. The biggest surprise to me was it didn’t have this ‘huge mega-city’ feel I expected. Instead, forgetting for a moment about a heatwave, it was a very walkable city with great food and great people.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Jamie Hill has a blog!

Jamie Hill emailed me the other day. Apparently he has a blog that I wasn't aware of. Jamie and I go way back to our college days at the ever inspiring University of Evansville. I've added him to 'the list' on the right hand side of the page.

Jamie knows boatloads about networking, routers, POTS, switches, Cisco stuff, guitars, and women. He lives in New England and telecommutes to work in Evansville, IN. He also has a free java call waiting app on his site but I guess you gotta have a phone line routed into your computer or something like that.

For more Jamie check out: http://www.stratusnine.com/

My first triathalon!

Finished my first triathalon yesterday, it was awesome! My chain fell off during my bike ride and I had some challenges not having done any real swimming. Ever. But it was a sweet time in Bend. The tri was called the deschutes dash.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Digg.com 3.0

Brent turned me onto digg.com awhile back when we were cruising around Australia. Since then, i've become an addict. You can see a video preview of the new Digg 3.0 visualization tools here. Its a bit long, but the visualization toolkit and API are just AWESOME. In real time you can track stories other people are digging and watch little icons fall from the top of the screen, mousing over them tells you who dug it, along with a few other features.

Also, if friends want to associate login id's each time anybody does a 'digg' we can see them on the right hand side when logged in. Please send me your digg login id so I can see what you are digging.

I am 'atlake' on digg.com.

Later!

Podcast Recommendations?

I'm looking for a few good podcasts to download. I find the choices overwhelming and would like to start with some recommendations from folks. Any suggestions on things I'd be interested in?

Thanks.

Travels to Hangzhou, 130 Year Record High Temperature, and the Plum Rains

Stacey and I took the train and traveled to Hangzhou for a few days. Day one was for work, but we couldn’t get out on a train the night before so we headed back home on Saturday. I traveled to meet with several game developers at the software parks here in Hangzhou. This meant we had time to check out the West Lake area and a few of the many temples as well as walk the local streets. Being away from Shanghai gave us a chance to see what life is like in other less hectic parts of China. Co-workers refer to this as a ‘little town’, so I’m picturing something like Seaside or Newburgh, 16,000 or so people. Actually, small town in China is around 6 million people. Out near the like there are lots of people but not many cars so its actually quite peaceful, including many pedestrian walkways.

Right now we are at the train station. we got here a bit early because we weren’t sure of traffic. It’s a madhouse. People bustling about, train schedules on LCD displays flashing in multiple colors, vendors of all sorts. Noise reflecting off of all the marble surfaces with nothing to dampen the sounds. There is air conditioning, but only enough to bring the 37 degree Celsius temperature down by a few degrees.

The two temples we saw today were very different. One, Leifing Pagoda was a renovated temple built on top of the ancient temple ruins. at the bottom one could see actual ruins of the 2,000 year old temple. We also visited Baouchu Pagoda. To get there, we walked to, up some MAJOR hills in some major heat. It was much smaller in diameter but taller and made of original materials. it was blocked from traffic so we couldn’t climb up inside of it.

Last Tuesday in Shanghai was a record 37 degrees. it was a 130 year high. this season is called the Plum Rains season for two reasons: plums…and rain! For some reason, we haven’t seen much rain, but we have seen a lot of plums.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Pictures from Shanghai






2 few of these images are from the streets around our hotel. One is a 'sunset through the smog' photo, and another is one of the funny sign translations we've seen around town.

An Economic Observation

at a very early age I learned that things have a price. their price is the cost. one of the very first equations one learns in a capitalistic society, sometime between sucking our thumbs and saying ‘mom’:

cost = money [1]

later, one enters college. there is no money, and for many, no time. the equation becomes more complex, one’s understanding of the universe more evolved. we began to understand that, despite the cost of the burrito in terms of money, it was more than made up in terms of the time it would have taken to go home and heat a .99 pizza. the pizza looked cheaper to equation [1], but to equation [2], was clearly more costly in this time pressured environment. thus, we evolve our understanding:

cost = money + time [2]

this equation persists as our understanding and serves us well for quite some time. However, it is not complete. We again, evolve our equation as our understandig becomes more clear:

true cost = money + time + risk [3]

Assessing each of these terms confounds many a person. many a dollar has been made and lost in the misevaluation of this equation (and a better evaluation by others), and the speculation of the value of each term is what makes a market, essentially different people coming to different conclusions about each of their values. if we can boil our lives down to 10 guiding principles, this captures one of mine, and a bit of an over-obsession with watching its misevaluation. spending an extra 20 minutes online to save an extra 5$ for an airline ticket. driving to the next state (30 minutes) to save .05 on a gallon of gas. clearly in some cases each of these can make sense, but this guiding observation can be used to understand if our thinking has gone awry. Observation [3] is an accurate way to analyze any situation for evaluating an optimal decision. The discussion should focus on each parties assessment of these factors.

If this is obvious, if it is known to everyone else, I wish somebody would have written it on the inside cover of my economics textbook.

Travels to a Caffeinated Shanghai

Odd things happen when you travel. While in Australia, the books I was reading kept bringing it up, whether it was because characters ended up there or the person writing the book wanted to use it as an example of an economy (for example, did you know that the Australian ecosystem can support about 9 million people, and that’s all. Despite a land mass larger than the size of the US it is mostly unusable for agriculture). The population is 18 million, so they got some things to work out.

I was reading a book ‘The Undercover Economist’ by Tim Harford and the author dedicates an entire chapter to China. Since most of what is happening in China is happening on the east coast, and Shanghai has replaced Hong Kong on the east coast as the #1 destination of investment capital, etc., it becomes the focal point of his thesis on China (and soon to likely be the focal point of the entirety of the Asia Pacific Region). I was struck when I read “Now that we have Starbucks in Shanghai…” .So, I was reading his book about all this change happening in the universe, essentially sitting right in the middle of his thesis, I thought he was going to come up and tap me on the shoulder and smile.

But that is not the point of this entry. Instead, it is the description by Douglas Coupland in his new book jPod when the main character ends up in Shanghai, page 260:

“Immigration Procedures were essentially non-existent. Kam had arranged for a driver to pick me up, and we wormed our way through the traffic on a dull grey Asian morning (ed. note: all megalopolis Asian mornings are dull grey, from Thailand to Tokyo), My first impression was that there wasn’t a square inch of land that wasn’t being used to grow defeated-looking crops of spinachy plants. The city was an endless Sim-like blend of shacks, bikes, more bikes, and still more bikes, tour buses, black windowed Mercedes Benzes and gaunt people smoking and standing around in front of concrete apartment buildings, most of which looked like they were built out of grey playing cards and seemed seismically unequipped, dreaming of the day gravity would take them back to Mama. And the air! Okay, imagine that you’ve built a bonfire of telephone poles—the ones dripping with creosote—and throw in a fax machine, a photocopier, some asbestos stacking chairs and a roasting chicken. That pretty much sums up the air quality, though it changes moment to moment depending on where you go. Turn a corner and—thwack!—different items are thrown into the flames: a load of running shoes, four thousand plastic bags, hog carcasses and a Dumpster of barbershop floor sweepings. And it’s thick—a few blocks down the street, buildings vanish like in a fog in a memory impaired videogame from the early 1990’s. And it’s humid, and I hate humidity”

Now, I haven’t decided whether I like the novel or not. I suspect, like most novels, I won’t like it. I won’t like it because I spend reading not to fill the empty space of my life but to actually learn something and I find most novelists intellectually unstimulating. I’d much rather read a book that actually took some thought into weaving the truths of life into, (if you’re name is Kurt Vonnegut you may take a bow). The first half of jPod left me unimpressed but amused at his little video game company escapades of jPod. It reminded me of something an adolescent boy would be slightly impressed with, but since real life is far more interesting than his characters lives its odd to think about why I would want to spend my time reading about them. But then, things started to pick up, observations become clearer and more astute, and I find myself looking forward to reading more.

From a Starbucks somewhere in Shanghai,

--adam

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Console Economics Point to Ponder

Has it occured to Sony that I will be able to buy a Nintendo and XBox 360 for the price of their one console? Hmmmm...two consoles, or one console....you decide!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Yawn, yet another trade surplus

Think about this for a minute: I started looking for an explanation for the trade deficit discussion for awhile, like basically why does anybody care about it, isn’t it just a recording of how much money stuff flows in/out of a region? turns out, for the past 400 years, we have run a trade deficit for 350 of them. Why do they report it as if its some kind of anomaly? its actually the common case.

Welcome to Shanghai!

After about 20 hours travel time I arrived at my destination: Shanghai, China. This has to be the most different place I have ever visited, much more extreme in the senses than the recent Australia/new Zealand time. right now I’m looking out the window in my 300 sq. ft. one bedroom apartment across the city. skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. going to work today…skyscrapers skyscrapers skyscrapers. I heard a statement once I attributed to urban legend that says 25% of all construction cranes in the world reside in shanghai. now, I’m sure its mistaken. the number must be higher. this place compares to nothing I’ve seen ever. not Tokyo, not Sydney, not Bangkok. below me are a set of 3 story residences. small places, probably about the same size as my apmt, and I am unsure how many people per household. I’m staying in an area called the French concession, an area of contradiction of massive construction projects resulting in 50 storey skyscrapers and the yet the tiny rowhouses as I look down on the streets below constructed in the 1920s.

So much contradiction. Roads with cars, but they have far more bikes and mopeds on the streets. At night, the lights come on, flashing everywhere. I just don’t know what to make of the chaos. The driving patterns…there are no apparent patterns, just cars and people and bikes and mopeds all coming together managing in most cases to avoid each other in the intersections.

As far as pollution, this is my 4th night here, I haven’t seen the sun or the sky yet, its as if somebody has put a fog dome up that runs 24 hours a day. Just can’t see anything up there. Not clouds, just white/gray color all the time.

Someone asked me how it was….i said I feel like I’m living in the set of Bladerunner. except in this future, somehow Buick has managed to thrive. Somehow, a brand that has nearly died in the US has managed to thrive here in China.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ethanol is not an answer for gas substitute...

Several people have been touting this idea of using corn as a gasoline substitute. Well, they're wrong. It is not likely to be cost effective.

http://healthandenergy.com/ethanol.htm

Monday, May 08, 2006

Condo featured in Portland Tribune...


There was an article this week in the portland tribune about the building I live in.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Organic::Farming:Linux::Microsoft

Today I went to see the The Real Dirt On Farmer John. This random thought occured to me as they were discussing the fact that all these people from Chicago were willing to pay to get back in touch with the origins of their food, the illusion that being closer to your food was something innate to the human experience and ultimate made you not feel better but actually be better. Or maybe they thought it made you feel better and that is better because everything is really just feelings anyway. I couldn't help but wonder that it might be something similar with Linux, and other open source projects. It's this physchological need to understand how things work, or the security to be able to figure it out 'just in case'.

Most of us have become completely detached to the origins of our food, and most people seem fine with that, but some people just aren't. Some people will always try to build their own cars or food or flying machines or operating systems from scratch. Its just how it is. In my own work, even if I rely in the end on another solution, I always must be satisfactorily convinced I can build it myself before I will accept the work of others. I wonder if this is a limitation, like those who are more quickly able to accept the output of others without question can go farther because ultimately they are more efficient. Fred Brooks, when faced with trying to understand the reason of others always said to assume reasonable competency.

Linux is like organic farming. It keeps us in touch with the landscape of transistors while layers of complexity are compiled on top of it in order to increase productivity, reliability, quality of life, etc. etc.


Back to my threaded memory manager...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Mac Attack

So, I'm at one my favorite local coffee shops, stumptown, getting caught up on a few work things I'm writing up, and I look down the row of tables...there are 7 tables including mine, 7 Mac laptops, and one aged IBM T40 Thinkpad. The Thinkpad is mine.

Back in Portland...bought a condo, selling mine

Spent the past few days getting back in the swing of things in Portland. Got a few evenings with friends and caught up on mail, etc. So many things so many things.....biggest news is that I decided to sell my condo and buy a slightly bigger one in the same neighborhood. Now I'll have a real office area and will stop putting burn marks on the kitchen table from laptop batteries. There is more light, and more space. The kitchen is remodeled and bigger, the bathroom is bigger. More details later, we still have to close and such. I really didn't want to leave my building, a great location and some good people, but just needed the space.

Re-entry at work was a real challenge. It felt like the first day of high school walking in again. I started back on a Thursday so the first week was a 2 day week, but I worked a full week last week. I'd be lying if I said it was good to be back at work. It is nice to have a routine and at least know what town I'll be sleeping in for awhile.

Now to get ready for China and the move.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lending direct consumer to consumer...

I love this business idea. Found the link on digg.com:

Buddy, can you spare 10,000 quid?

"You've heard of peer-to-peer file-sharing. How about peer-to-peer lending? British startup Zopa pioneered the business, where people with bulging bank accounts cut out the middleman and lend directly to other consumers, earning the interest that would otherwise have gone to a bank....The Online Banking Report has released a study covering the company and a similar U.S. startup, Prosper.com."

Whitsunday Island Sails and Airlie Beach...

We spend the last 2 days and nights aboard the Wings catamaran cruising around the Whitsunday Islands. Stacey did some snorkling and Brent and Adam did some diving around the Great Barrier Reef as well as just taking in the sights and sounds of the sea. Lots of sea life all around the Reef, fishes of all shapes and sizes! The Coral was great in some areas, in some areas its obvious there have been too many people getting their fingers on it. I still can't get over the number of fish! We saw lots of 'Nemos' as they are now called (disney culture permeates the universe, perhaps it is the dark matter the 'soon to be found out' mistaken astronomers speak of), stingrays, dogfish, napoleans, etc., etc. We also have lots of underwater pix from the trip we'll post when we're back in the US.

Today we're in Airlie Beach just cruising about town until our final flight within Australia to head back to Syndey for one last day then we begin our trip home. While Stacey and I have had a great time, we both agree that it'll be nice to be back in Portland with friends and be able to talk on the PHONE with folks. Its been a great lifestyle the past few weeks, but one that I'm glad to say was just temporary. I want to have wireless internet, great coffee, my RSX, and wander around town wreaking havok with friends on bicycles and otherwise.

See or talk to most everyone very soon!

Hoping I still have a job when I get back :)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Buy my Book: Game Programming Gems 6 :)


Last year I was the General Programming Section Editor for Game Programming Gems 6. Its finally out, in time for GDC 2006.

Take a looksie here!

Surfing Byron Bay, Brisbane, Airlie Beach, Surfer's Paradise

The cyclone appears to have headed back off into the ocean now. We're booked to head out of Airlie Beach in 2 days to go on a cruisy catamaran and things are shaping up well. We have spent about 3 days in Brisbane (ummm...Brisbane is not near as cool as Sydney). Visited the XXXX brewery and did some sightseeing around town. We also went to see Koalas, Kangaroos, Emus, and Wallabys at a park. Then we went out to a fancy dinner and ate kangaroos, emus, and wallabys. We also had crocodile which was rather chewy and wombat for dinner. Wombat tasted okay.

We also spent some time in Surfer's Paradise. That place is not so good, although it does have the worlds largest residential tower, it was just kinda a tourist town with a not good vibe. Byron Bay, however, is absolutely wonderful. We spent some time there and came back after we found out abuot the cyclone and got ourselves a killer room at the Aquarius backpackers. Yesterday Brent and I even took some surf lessons. Today we're going to head out into the water and not sure if we'll rent surfboards, boogie, or just mess around. Tomorrow is travel all day to get to Airlie Beach. We've gone to see a few movies at their wonderful local theater that has these loungy sofas with zebra faux fur upholstery.

While we're happy it looks like we'll be able to head out to see the Reef, etc. it looks like we'll miss Cairns which is a bit of a bummer because they had a really cool looking gondola ride through the rainforest. Its the right tradeoff though and the time in Byron has been really great. Good conversations and interesting weather patterns as the hurricane battled with a high pressure system inland (just kept switching between rain and sun, all the time for the past couple days).

Ta ta....

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cyclone Wati and The Curse

No, we are not on our sailing trip. For those taking a glance at the weather, the eastern coast of Australia is caught in the middle of a category 3/4 cyclone. No, wait a second, 2 cyclones. Right now, Wati is off the coast pounding us. Just before, Cyclone Larry at category 5, blew through and devastated Townsville and the sugar crops in the area. We had spent a few days in Byron Bay then went up to Airlie Beach to catch our sailing boat. After flying up there they told us it was cancelled, so we were kinda stuck (we had called and they assured us everthing was on track, $700 in travel later we get told they were wrong, ahem....). We did some brainstorming: the coast was just hit by cyclone #1, roads were out, towns were blown away (Townsville was impassable by rail or car). We couldn't go north except by plane, and that was iffy cause the profile of the hurricane had it headed straight for us, and Cairns was being pounded. After sleeping on it, we bought some tix back down to the great town of Byron Bay about 10 hours south.

So, during the night the cyclone has turned SOUTH and headed this way. Brent, who flew from sunny and warm Austin to join us for the next 2 weeks, has pointed out that he has been through 5 hurricanes in the past year or so and we're pretty convinced this is all his fault :) Right now its raining like mad outside, we're in Byron Bay, and its very unlikely the storm will actually get this far south, but it has that look, like it really wants to, from the maos, and the rain pounding the pavement behind my head right now convinces me its just outside. Its actually warm, and we got ourselves a 2 story suite with a deck to watch the storm. Last night a GIANT bat landed on a palm tree by our porch, these things are like 36 inches tall with a 4 foot wing span, its an incredible creature.

We booked another boat for next week. Not the Avatar, which was an awesome racing catamaran, but another with equal promise: a little cushier and a little slower but still a fast moving cat. We'll see how things go.

So we're safe from cyclone Wati for now but our northern travels to the Great Barrier Reef area are kinda on hold. We're debating on some time in Tasmania and some other options.

More later...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Book Review: The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friendman and Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins


These books should be read back to back. For me, it was just dumb luck. The Lexus and the Olive Tree is told by globalization cheerleader Thomas Friendman. He tells the story of the components of Globalization, the Global Herd, the IMF, and the World Bank, and how these organizations will force transparency and democracy throughout the world. He makes a very good case. He symbolizes this with a Lexus, to him a representation of the successful adoption of globalizations, the symbol of victory. The Olive Tree is the desire, while being pulled in the direction of globalization, to return to our roots, defend our traditions, be protective of our traditions. This tension is what motivates the title.

My favorite aspect is the way he puts a framework in place to discuss globalization using computer community terminology: hardware, software, operating systems, etc. Was actually a VERY useful analogy to be used in many future discussions :)

Tales of an Economic Hitman is the perspective of one man 'in the trenches' of globalization. Working for one of the firms involved in building up other countires (I'll avoid 3rd world, etc.) he talks about the process as an economist doing simulations and estimates for various projects like power plants and dams around the world. He paints his version of how the funding for these large projects takes place. And he should know, since he was the economist doing many of the forecasts. Essentially, he was told to AND WOULD, exaggerate demand of various economies and their energy requirements. For example, he would estimate at 12-18% a year growth for Indonesia when no economy anywhere had ever registered about 6% a year energy growth requirements, then defend these decisions fervently and with lots of 'evidence' when those numbers were questioned. Ultimately, he was convincing and thus, was promoted to very high levels in his company. Next, these governments would take out huge loans that they couldn't pay, then the 'pound of flesh' would be extracted from the country by the debt holders, making everyone rich except the country who was forced to spend huge amounts to finance their debts. Its funny, I try to talk to people about this stuff and they usually just have these weird looks of impossibility on their faces that this type of things happen. This is not Noam Chomsky talking, this is one of the economists involved with the inflation of these numbers. He has lots of examples. A great great book, one that balances the cheerleading of Friedman. I feel globalization is a phase, it will result in moving us in the next direction, which will likely be tribalism to cope with the globalization, but this tribalism will be less based on geographic topology than previous movements. Instead, social groups will form across the globe to push around the balance of power.

He builds an interesting model of how these processes work together and the mechanims imperialists lose when they don't, ultimately relying on 'jackals' to do attempted assasinations then finally all out war if the jackals can't assasinate. Rather than just claiming these to be true, he gives a great number of examples in very good detail: Panama, Indonesia, etc. I think it may be lost to history that the reason Germany and France opposed the war with Iraq was not that they had some noble cause, but was the loans that the current Iraqi government (Saddam Hussein) was servicing to their economies, and the damage defaults on those loans would do to their countries. Interestingly, both of these books are told with a US centric approach to globalization, not doing a good job of understanding what George Orwell taught so well in 1984, that many of these issues have less to do with being the United States and more to do with being a global superpower in the 21st century. The US isn't alone, and neither is the US financials. Some are german, some are swiss, some are british, etc.

Both great books, but Hit Man is the more important to read, Lexus is outdated and rather obvious nowadays, but I'd read the first 1/3rd of the Olive Tree if you're pressed for time. 4/5 for both.

Book Review: Lance Armstrong, Its Not About the Bike


An autobiography by a sports figure, ranks right up there as a classic, eh? I think the title grabbed me "It's not about the bike", so I picked up the book. I thought, "Wow, here's a guy, that in all likelihood, felt he was going to write one book in his lifetime (he since has a few other credits with other writers), and he's a hero cyclist, and the title he, the ultimate US rider chooses, "its not about the bike"...this should be good".

I love being on my bike. I don't find it particularly interesting to hear about others riding their bike, nor watching other people while I am sitting on my couch, when I should be out riding my bike. Mostly, this book made me want to be out on my bike, riding up Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, riding to Seattle, something long and hard, something to give me some sense, tiny tiny sense, that I am connected to that machine, the universe, that its like an an extension of my body, your legs churning and you are one, looking out across the horizon.

He's right, it really wasn't about riding. Its about relationships, quite a bit about his battle with cancer that makes the Tour seem easy, its about people and faith and determination, its about friends, family, children, and cancer, a personal story about IVF, etc. Its something we all hope we never have to deal with but all our lives are touched. Lance shows how perseveres. And he does it as a hero should, with dignity, here's my favorite story, makes me mad every time I think about it:

When the French company Cofidis decided to dump him while he was in his 3rd session of chemo (Nike, Oakley, and other sponsors stuck by him through his ordeal, doing the right thing), he doesn't rail on them in the book. As a classy sportsman, he just tells the story, the reader is allowed to draw the conclusion, and the most ironic statement of the book was a line where the representative of the French company says "People in France won't be able to understand paying somebody when they aren't working...". That is the final sentence of that chapter. I loved it.

None of us ever know what turns life will take. One day we're at the top of our game, it can all be taken away so quickly, by luck or chance. Ultimately, you find out who your friends are not when you are the top of your game, but at the bottom. Lance got to find that out.

I really enjoyed this book. its a quick one, 4-6 hours. 4.5 out of 5 stars if you're a Lance fan, or a current/former bike jock. Probably not recommended if you don't ride. But then again, its not about the bike. Really, its not....

Friday, March 10, 2006

Sydney, Australia

Sydney is a GREAT city!!! Auckland was a great city! Wellington was a great city!

We've been in Sydney for the past few days, mostly walking around exploring the town. We saw one of the best views in the world at the best mall cafeteria i've ever been to at Bondi Junction. We walked down to Bondi beach which was awesome. We had great Dim Sum on the 5th floor of a building in Chinatown (lonely planet secret treasure). Went down to see the Sydney Opera House, I never actually knew there were really 2 buildings not just one. Did a coastal hike from Bondi to Coogee yesterday and spent some time there then walked back to Bondi Junction. Went to a theater owned by the hare-krishna's to see a movie. The seating was more like lounge chairs and bedding instead of theater chairs. Great sound system, etc. Went to Darling Harbour to do some exploration. Visited the area of Paddington for some markets and some coffee shop people gazing and reading.

We're staying in the Kings Cross area of Sydney, about a 15 minute walk to downtown and the heart of lots of action in the evenings. Our hotel, O'Mally's has air conditioning and is quite cozy. To get to our room in the evenings we walk through the door to the lady's bathroom, then open this gigantic, huge vault like door to climb the stairs to our room, its quite bat-cave-ish. Its also quite disconcerting to people in the pub when they see us pop out of this door, no kidding its about 6 inches thick of steel.

Finished The Lexus and the Olive Tree, I'll post review later.

Tomorrow morning we head off to Brisbane area of the country on a very early 7am flight.

I've been reading the local papers when I get a chance. Its very illuminating to get the perspective on what is happening in their own culture and how they choose to write about it, but its also illuminating to read about how they interpret things going on in America or other parts of the world. I should provide some examples in future postings.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Portland Public Schools...

There's an article on the Portland Public Schools at OregonLive: Middle class losing faith in schools, city .

I am reminded of Ernest Rutherford, "We don't have money, so we must think".

I have lived in Portland for 8 years and had a few questions related to the article. For those that aren't aware, about 3 years ago there was a huge budget shortfall for the public school system (recall, this was a shortfall in being able to give them the increase they wanted). In order to fully fund the budget, they asked the shareholders of the city, its citizens, to approve a temporary 3 year 1% income tax (no, none of us believed it would be temporary). As a group we approved this 'temporary' measure and it was decided that the tax increase would go through. This would give them breathing room to determine what to do next, which is what they claimed they would do with this time.

And now, as a shareholder of this city, I'd like to ask a few questions, and propose a couple of ideas for any further budget increases:

[1] How have you, during this time, decreased the amount of administrative positions, relative to the student population? Relative to the number of faculty directly involved in teaching students?

[2] What have you done in terms of decreasing costs of infrastructure? For example, closing down inefficient buildings, outsourcing non-core functions like janitorial staff?

[3] How have you provided an increase of value for the amount of money you have been given?

[4] What is the cost per student and how has it gone down? How are we doing relative to other school systems? If we are doing poorly, why are we doing poorly, and how can we continue to bring these costs down (what paperwork is in the way)? Could technology be leveraged to help bring these costs down? What is your record compared to other school systems?

As shareholders in this community, we have a right to expect continuous improvement. As employees, if you are doing an excellent job at enhancing shareholder value I believe you deserve an increase in your standard of living. If you are not, you should either be replaced or reconsider your role in leadership.

As a member of this community I would appreciate that any further incentives be tied directly to improvements rather than just given away. We have failed, as citizens, to make you directly accountable for your compensation, and now we as citizens need to fix our mistake. I am not critical of any one person in particular, but we are all to blame for this mess. One thing we should all come to terms with is that any public school system is financially constrained, and everyone wants their budget increased, but you don't the budget you want, you get the budget you have, and must find a way to do a great job with it. I know the teachers care passionately about their students and quite frankly, 10 days of free work is enough and unacceptable to ask them for more than they already have given.

Stop gap solutions are not the way, we must plan for a future that does not require tin cupping to the taxpayers when things go awry. Another temporary tax increase will encourage irresponsible financial behavior (tell your children there are no consequences to putting their hand in the cookie jar, but tell them not to eat any cookies, see what happens). The best way to strengthen our schools is to encourage the middle class who enjoy the quality of life and values of the Portland community to migrate to our beautiful city. Another is to continue to encourage young single urbanites to continue their migration and let nature take its course, they too will soon become middle class urbanites interested in great quality educational infrastructure. I also believe we, as a state, should encourage tourism (jointly with Washington and Idaho) and use funds from this industry for enhancing our natural resource base as well as strengthening our citizens via educational and job opportunities throughout the northwest. These simple ideas can provide significant return on invested capital. Finally, we should leverage our technology industry infrastructure via low cost or free wireless broadband within the city. All city organizations can use the infrastructure for cost, citizens pay a reasonable fee, libraries have free terminals for everyone. This acts as a credible conduit for future growth and utlization of technology to liberate the creative genius of our community.

As a taxpayer, I would be delighted to reward positive results in the community with my tax dollars, but I am unclear, due to my ignorance of the answers to the questions above, that the money we have already invested has been used as I was told it would be. Can you please provide some insight?

I have lost faith not in Portland public schools, but in the school infrastructure as it has existed for decades in our country. This century needs an educational infrastructure appropriate to the times, rote memorization mechanisms and rigid communistic student/teacher roles need revisited to explore avenues for a more enlightened approach. The role of public school as babysitter needs to evolve. In the long term, compensation should be merit based, graded by employer feedback (parents and students). No system of employee evaluation is perfect, they are all approximations, and the rest of the community has their pay based on how well they do, why should there be an exception for educators?

Let Portland Public Schools be a beacon to the rest of the world as to how to educate for the 21st Century, and not a relic of the past. Let us show how a community of diverse and educated citizenry can create a socially lucrative community.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

New Zealand: The North Island!

Since we only had 7 days on the North Island we've been busy and haven't had much Internet time. Did find out a friend of ours will be joining us in Australia for 2 weeks due to his recently available free time. Sweet as!

So, after our boat ride across the channel we got to Wellington. We decided we liked it there so much we decided to spend a few nights. We went out and saw Biscuits and Coffee, a play at a tiny little theater called Bats, saw a movie or two, Syriana and Walk the Line, both good but dramatically different plots.

After Wellington we headed up to see the glowworms at Waitomo caves. We abseiled down a rope, did some caving and rolled around in some inner tubes in the cold cave water, and climbed back out of the cave. The whole trip was about 5 hours and the guide and people we went with were great, Rap, Raft and Rock. Highly recommended bargain. If you've never seen glowworms before they are absolutely AMAZING creatures.

After our caving adventure, we headed up to Auckland and did a very cool ropes course just west of the city. They had 8 courses and we are now totally sore, well I'm totally sore, I actually fell off of the 8th course but no worries cheers mate sweet as no problem cause I was caribinered into a safety rope. I just fell cause I got tired trying to cross these horseshoe things about 40meters off the ground. Ugh. Stacey cleared them all like a champ. If you've ever played Psychonauts there are a few levels, particularly the last one, that have some moves just like the ones we were doing, with the nets and everything. We did that today.

So tonight, we'll be heading up to the sky tower of skycity for a last night in Auckland buffet feast and a look about town before we head off to Australia tomorrow!

Good bye New Zealand! We're tired and sore, but we've enjoyed our stay, especially our deluxe $12 accommodations this evening in a tent at a backpackers site next to a big old smelly dumpster. $12 tent site, $50 dinner. We got a nice pad at o'malley's in Sydney, we can sleep later!

Chapter 2....

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham


This is one of two classics of value investing by the inventor of the field that has brought the likes of Warren Buffett and others great wealth in our financial markets. The other book he wrote is actually the textbook used for value investing courses at places like Columbia, UPenn, etc. titled Security Analysis written in the 1930's.

Turns out, things haven't really changed all that much. Sure, the actors have changed, from railroad tycoons to internet tycoons, but the story has remained the same. Benjamin Graham continued to update the earliest version of this book through the early 70's modifying it with information relevant for the stocks and bonds of the era. Jason Zweig, a value investing guru and Money magazine columnist, has added invaluable commentary to each chapter of the last version of Benjamin Graham's classic text as it relates to the markets in the late 90's through 2003. His writing reinforces the viewpoint of Benjamin Graham.

I started reading this thinking that I was going to learn how to be a value investor and how to do analysis myself. I ended thinking "Woah, if it takes this much work I'll stick to value investing funds and index funds and use the time I would have spent doing the recommended analysis on other things." I am fairly serious about that based on the current capital I have to commit to the markets. I love the field of finance and love exploring the mathematical aspects, algorithms, predictions, securities analysis for fun, but with a full time job I really don't have the time to invest the significant amount of time it would take to get it right and seems I'm better off letting somebody else with a track record and the resources assist.

Highly recommended reading, 4.5 out of 5, very illuminating, but mostly in a pessimistic way. Time spent reading this will save you lots of money and hassle in life. Attain financial enlightenment through Benjamin Graham! A long read, takes quite some time to get through, but you can skip around a bit and get the point. I'm a bit thick skulled sometimes so I had to read the entire thing and enjoyed every minute.

I'll add here a few of my favorite enlightenments from the book:

The Foolish Four from the Motley Fool
First, around page 45, Jason Zweig takes a swipe at the Foolish Four. While the Motley Fool is a great place to start one's investing career, its hardly a place to put too much faith. Basically, the Foolish Four algorithm is as follows:


  1. Take lowest price/highest divident yield stocks from the DJIA.
  2. Discard one with lowest price.
  3. Put 40% of your money in the one with second lowest price
  4. Put 20% in each of the remaining.
  5. One year later, do it again.
  6. Repeat until wealthy.

Guess what?!? Money magazine found that a portfolio made up of stocks whose names contained no repeating letters has performed nearly as well as The Foolish Four--and for the same reason: luck alone. (See the article, False Profits, Money Magazine, August, 1999, page 55-57.) The author's main point using this example is that it was not based on any kind of thorough analysis, putting 40% of your money is not minimal risk, and 4 stocks are not diversified enough to provide safety of principal capital.

What you can expect as a return in the stock market
Another interesting discussion is stock valuation and the fact that it is based on 3 factors (page 85): real growth (the rise in teh companies' earnings and dividends), inflationary growth (the general rise of prices throughout the economy), and speculative growth (any increase or decrease in investing public's appetite for stocks).

In the long run, yearly growth in corporate EPS is around 1.5 to 2%, inflation in 2003 was 2.4%, and the dividend yield was 1.9% for stocks. Therfore, 5.8% to 6.3% is what you can reasonably expect stocks to average. Not 20%, not even 10%, but 6%.

Bonds
Something that has been lost on my generation is bond investing. I need to learn more about bonds as this is critical to a well diversified portfolio.

Growth Stocks
Benjamin Graham discussed growth stocks. On page 158, he says: "The authoritative manual entitled Investment Companies, published annually ... , computes the annual performance of some 120 such "growth funds" over a period of years. Of these, 45 have recoreds covering 10 years or more. The average overall gain for these companies--unweighted for size of fund--works out at 108% for the decade 1961-1970, compared with 105% for the S and P composite and 83% for the DJIA. .... Similar results were found in our earlier studies. The implication here is that no outstanding rewards came from diversified invesetment in growth companies compared with that in common stocks in general."

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

QuickSilver by Neal Stephenson


Quiksilver is the first of 3 tomes in the Baroque Cycle. I was a fan of Cryptonomicon, his previous novel. I thought it was one of the best pieces of fiction I had read. In this book, Neal Stephenson weaves a great tail of adventure combining it with insight into early scienctific societies, friction between Newton and Leibniz, financial markets, and cryptography. He does a great job of making you feel alive during the era in which the book is based.

I oscillated from feelings of 'wow, what a crazy awesome story' to feelings of occasional boredom in a few slow moving parts (say, 15-20% of the book). Its a great adventure, but there seems to be lots of wandering around stumbling across interesting little adventures but nothing that is making them tightly bound, like a plot. There is the James Burke-ification of Quicksilver (mercury was called Quicksilver in those days, thus the title). Yes indeed, it ties many of these tales together but this is a self defining process (if I want to tie everything back to the discovery of rope its easy, or wine, or the pursuit of the perfect coffee bean, its easy to do and sound mystifyingly insightful, academics are very good at wooing undergraduates with these insights...see capitalism really is at the heart of all evil, and America too).

As a sidenote: think about 'the boston tea party' as the traditional start of the Revolutionary war. This wasn't the start. There was no start. There is instead a cascading set of issues that serve to anchor what we trendily call a 'tipping point'. Often things just aren't that simple, but the human mind can recall stories better when they are weaved into these simple minded cause/effect relationships so they are used by historians to tell of the past, usually neglecting the complications and manipulating it to advantage of one party or another. (Compare Howard Zinn's telling of the History of the United States to that of your history teacher for more insight).
I was at Fergburger in Queenstown and somebody asked me if I'd recommend the book. They had started it and didn't really know if they should continue past the 150 pages they had read, finding it too filled with a continuous stream of characters and chronological chaos. I said 'No', if you don't like that it doesn't get any better, and the first of the 3 novels in the first book is best. Its not until 2/3 of the way through the book I notice there is an appendix that acts as a decoder ring for all of the characters, several of which have multiple names depending on the context of the scene or timeperiod of the book. This would have been useful in the BEGINNING of the book where I would have possibly found it sooner.

I feel this novel is a work of art. However, as a criticism, I want and expect more from the authors I read. I want to learn more than I did on this journey. I want epiphanies. I want structures, artifacts, and the humanities captured in the work of fiction that are told as fiction because they are too hard to convey as non-fiction. Stephenson captures the human side of the struggles we have now and the nature of science and finance and their similarities and differences to today. He wrote this out by HAND before typing it, and for that I give pause. To feel those words were needed so much he was willing to put them down with a pen, wow.

3.5 out of 5.

Nelson, Picton, and the cruise to Wellington...

After our Abel Tasman adventures we rolled into Nelson for the night. Its about 2 hours away. Had dinner at a place called The Boat Shed. First seafood we've had on our travels. I really liked Nelson, it was not really on the waterfront but was quite a big city with lots to do and my favorite coffee shop i've yet to experience in New Zealand called Kafeine. Was just excellent atmosphere with a huge courtyard and big sails hanging over it to shade you from the sun.

Visiting all of these cafes has qualified us to form some pretty strong opinions. While i can't comment on the coffee as I can't really distriminate I can comment on the locations. Low ceilings, dark environment, pastries are generally bad and should be avoided. Big spaces, tall ceilings, outdoor areas sheltered so lighting conditions for people reading and shelter options from weather (wind, rain) should also be considered. It seems its very tough to get a place that has all variables right: service, coffee, pastries, lighting, seating, ceiling,music (not prioritized). You'll find most places in Portland and Seattle are missing at least some aspect despite their having most of them. Coffee People on 23rd had the best ceiling space in PDX but has since been replaced by YAUIR, yet another upscale italian restaurant, the current dining fad.

Back to Nelson and Kafeine: it has it all. Most places around NZ close between 4-5 pm. The owner closed up around 4 but let us stick around until we felt like leaving since he was there doing some construction anyway, we stayed until around 5:30 just reading the paper for the first time in about 5-6 days. He even brought us water after about an hour. Just a great place. Unfortunately, closed on Mondays which was the next day so we had to find another place in the morning.

Our travels to Picton took us through some of the wine country in Northern part of the Southern Island of NZ. Picton was relatively uneventful. It was much smaller than Nelson with much less interesting stuff to do. Did take a run out on the trail to Ben's Bay and look around at the maritime artifacts. Super low key place.

Our boat cruise to Wellington was a bit choppy. It started out fine but as we rolled out to sea this huge ship started rolling back and forth. There was a large contingent of seniors on board who started moving back to the back of the boat,all within about a 10 minutes period before it started to have an effect on me but shortly afterwards I recalled what I was told the last time it happened to me 'go to the back of the boat and look towards shore'. This was quite effective however to get their I had to move through an ocean of old people and the amount of vomit on the floor was amazing. They had all jumped on board, cruised the cafeteria and bought $12 meals complete with meat, vegetables, and pasta, all of which I had to walk around, through and between to get to the back of the boat. They just ended up closing the bathrooms it was so bad upstairs and one of the stairwells had vomit sloshing around at the bottom so they had to close the doors, it really was something else. While it can be laughed at or used as a 'check out how gross this is' story now...i felt like i was going to never make it through.

All is well now in wellies. We love wellington. Very windy today but beautiful. Took a 4 mile run this morning along the waterfront and think we're going to stay for a few days here and just enjoy it. A not too good place like Picton (wasn't bad...just wasn't as good as Nelson or Wellington) ends up forcing one to recover by spending some extra time in the good places.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Abel Tasman and Monueka

Headed North and East towards the town of Monueka where we spent the evening before heading off to the Abel Tasman area for a 2 day kayaking adventure in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Similar to the virgin islands in terms of terrain, blue sky, beautiful clear water, birds everywhere.

In the morning we headed out to our kayak rental agency. We were on an unguided 2 day trip but the bus driver was also a guide and they wanted to be sure we knew what we were doing before sending us out in the company kayaks for 2 days so he wanted us to stay with him for the morning. The guide took to us immediately when we mentioned we were from Portland, apparently he's spent some time in Eugene and the pdx area so we were all good to him. (he immediately assumed we would be totally fine, and while in the end he was correct, we were less prepapared relative to the work we had put into getting things together for the milford trek).

After getting the rest of the crew together he let us stay with the guided tour. He gave us the basics of how to paddle, put on the spray skirts, etc. We were off, headed out with the rest of the crew. We stopped for lunch and chatted with the others on the tour. The waves were calm. Before we left on our own for the next day and a half he gave us a crash course on weather in the abel tasman which translated to 'you never really know, so ignore all the noise coming out of my mouth'. we headed out towards an island he suggested that we take a look at before heading north and the winds immediately changed from about 5 knots to 15 knots (you can tell because occasional whitecaps are 10 knots, constant whitecaps are about 15). it took us way too long to get to the island and we were pretty exhausted. after that we headed back to shore. we were paddling our hearts out and not making much progress against the wind that we were fighting againts (remember, 15 knots velocity to stand still....) so we make it into shore where its easier to paddle. we know this because apparently stacey heard him say it...i was too busy trying to figure out what he was talking about when he mentioned 'if a black line appears on the horizon...and then some words i couldn't process'. i mean, what black line? what does it look like? is it like this '-', a short black line or like this '--------------', or did he mean a grey line, like we could already see? And the seas were rough, i mean, our boat was kinda sloshing up and down these swells and we were kinda freaked out. When we were with the guide everything was kopasetic, but now things were getting crazy with the weather, but it was still beautiful outside, just wind and waves. and man, i was doing a horrible job with the rudder, just horrible. stacey didn't get ticked off once and was paddling her heart out to get us back to shore. (i was still looking at the horizon, and the map, and the waves...). i figured so long as the wavelength of the waves is less than 1/2 the boat we were probably okay and right now they were about 1/3 the length of the boat, but all this caught us off guard relative to the peacefullness of the morning waves.

We finally make it back to the shore line, and we just kept paddling. turns out, we made it back to shore, but now we had to deal with these gigantic rocks in front of us...i mean, were we supposed to go around them, between them? around meant crazy waters, through them meant the risk of tipping in a not too nice place, and i still have a scar between my eyes from the last little rock i talked with from a kayak.

so we go between the rocks, and fast, being careful to make sure the depth was enough, and we end up being okay, and we see on our map all these little shark fin shapes, which really mean waves and not sharks (no legend on the map but it was pretty obvious by the conditions and the names like 'mad mile', and stuff like that).

so we make it through those rocks, and two or three more sections, and we decide to skip just one more beach, but then we see that this big boat come out of a bay, and i happen to have a map with a big boat in a bay called anchorage so i know that that is one bay AFTER our beach, so we turn around just to check out the beach. no kidding, the wind was so bad we just pointed the boat at the beach and it was pushed into shore, took less than 5 minutes to get across what took about 20 minutes the other way. turns out, this was our beach that we were camping that night and we had almost passed it. so we pulled the boat in, dried off a bit and tried to calm down from the obvious freaked out 'what the heck have we gotten into feeling we both had'. we weren't really saying much to each other which was kinda odd, just looking around. i wasn't feeling particuarly confident about things before landing, and had just been wondering 'if this is as bad as it gets, we'll be fine, but how much worse does it become?'.

on the beach we are approached by our guide and the rest of the crew that had followed the shoreline for their guided portion of the tour....everything was 'cool' to him which is pretty consistent with how all the guides are in new zealand, i kinda wonder if somebody drowns is it still 'sweet as...cheers mate'' in this culture. i mean, everything is 'sweet as' until what? what event? death? broken limb? sweet as? i know it sounds pessimistic, especially coming from a culture as ruled by fear as america, but man, this is the other extreme. so, he says 'i was really glad to see you guys turn around from that island, it was crazy out there, 15 knots wind and you were out there fighting against it.'

so we retire, quiet. wonder what the next day is going to hold. we also took a small walk to anchorage, about 30 minutes away, to steal some fresh water and see how they live on the other half of the island where there were showers and stoves and such. for those that have seen 'lost' you know how it is. its like we stumbled upon civilization before walking back to our tent for the night. we cooked up a backcountry meal along with some extra noodles and munched a couple toblerones i had stashed in my pack.

the next day was MUCH more normal. we got up, paddled around, saw some seals, schools of small fish, ducks, seagulls, and beautiful scenery. no currents, no extreme waves, even saw a blue penguin on our trip back in the aqua taxi which was just crazy cool. we finished about 4 hours earlier than expected and were able to catch a bus back to town to get our car and head off to Nelson, our next stop. the bus thing was weird, he just picked us up where the aqua taxi dropped us off and drove us 45 minutes back to monueka, and dropped us off. no charge. like 'hey, bums, just get in my bus and i'll drive you back, no worries mate, sweet as'.

oh, the aqua taxi: basically, in abel tasman, you can paddle as long as you want, then these boats come by and pick you up and take you back to the main launch point, or anywhere else, for a reasonable fee. they will come by and pick your boats up to, so you can avoid doing out and backs, just basically paddle as far as you want, pull off on a beach, and hail an aqua taxi back. they take care of rounding up the boats at the end of the day and getting them back to various companies, is that cool or what?

Nelson and Picton are next. Then we head to the North Island.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The West Coast of New Zealand

After Wanaka, we headed west. The west coast consists of a few towns. Most notably: Haast, Franz Joseph/Fox Glacier, and Greymouth. Haast was a drive by. We did stop at a nature center to look around and read about the Fiordland National park, etc. The west coast prides itself on the history of Maori culture, gold mining, coal, and resilency through tough times (not unlike the United States). This was emphasized time and time again in the historical literature.

Driving the West Coast took longer than expected due to the windy two lane road so that took some adjusting to time schedules. We anticipated getting into Franz Joseph a couple hours earlier than we did. No worries, but I was holding off on my latte and was getting a little razzled at the driving. Fox and Franz Joseph (FJ) are really two towns whose sole purpose is to helicopter people up to these beautiful glaciers to hike through them, etc.

Previously, Stacey and I had discussed the Fox/FJ helicopter trip. based on its significant cost i was pretty much like 'no way' but we went ahead and booked it anyway cause it cost nothing to just leave the booking and let it expire. i think stacey was hoping for me to change my mind cause she had heard good things from some other folks. when we got to FJ i was totally caught up in it and the images and was like 'well yeah, heck that looks awesome we should do it' and yeah it costs a bit but looked like a once in a lifetime experience so i was pretty set to drop the change.

However, after camping the night in FJ (top 10 holiday park #2!) it rained on us in the tent the whole night. we got up and caught a breakfast and did some reading in town to decide what to do that day. (again...hoping the weather would change). it looked pretty hopeless, and it also didn't look like it ever really got any better so we settled for a short day hike up to the glacier face, to which the benjamin's were doing much rejoicing in my pocketbook.

so, up to franz joseph we go. in the rain. and more rain. and more rain. so i say 'no, this is dumb, i am getting soaked and its cold, let's go up the hill a bit on this short hike to a rock called spectacle rock or something like that and we'll see what we can see. so stacey agreed (as far as she was concerned, the sooner we got the hell out of this nasty rainy place the better--the weather sucked and there was lots more to see in the north). anyway, we went up the 10 minute hike, i ran to stay warm. we looked at the muddy ice glacier (seen em before, been up mt. st helens about 3/4 times and mt. rainier once). yeah. let's go. so we head to greymouth.

now, greymouth ain't much to look at. really its an industrial town with a little tourist business due to its association with the west coast. but it did have a great backpackers lodge called neptunes we booked a room and got a nice hot shower, cleaned up, and explored town real quick. the folks that run this place are super friendly, super nice, etc. so much so and we liked our digs so much we just camped out for another day to get some sun and catch our breath in a quiet place. we also needed to do our bookings for the north part of the south island (abel tasman area) and spent a morning planning this and an afternoon gettings things done at the tourist bureau called iSite.

hokitika. if i were to go back i might recommend actually staying at the town just south of greymouth we stopped at called hokitika. it had some nice bakeries and cafes and didn't seem as industrial as greymouth. we had already jetted past so we really didn't want to go back and greymouth was a good enough place to hang our hat for 24 hours and get some sun.

overall: if you can get a heli-hike the west coast is worth it. stay in hokitika. we also heard from other travellers that fox actually has a less commercial flair to their guided glacier hikes so that might be a good way to see the glaciers.

the rain forest we drove through on the west coast was quite beautiful. while less impressive if you've already visited the northwest its definitely beautiful to see. while we have bigger trees and just as beautiful forests, probably less dense than here with much different wildlife. the birds here are really cool. and the vegetation is different, palm trees and very thick bush, so thick you cannot penetrate it, which i find totally crazy. the forests of the pacific NW are very open and easy to walk through.

pancake rocks: how could i forget the pancake rocks! this is a definite stop off for about an hour. we took a look and got some great pictures of these geyser like bursts of water when it comes in and hits these crazy looking rock formations that look like stacked pancakes. this was really our last interesting thing before heading inland towards our kayaking in abel tasman.