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.

Arrowtown and Wanaka

Been a few days since the last. Headed out of Queenstown and up the west coast of the southern island of New Zealand. We stopped off in Arrowhead, an old gold mining town just north of queenstown. was a quiant little downtown area with shops, pubs, etc. took a quick walking tour of an old village of chinese gold prospectors that were here when gold was first struck in the 1850's era and their village still had some pieces around. the town is trying to restore them. we had an overnight stay in the town of Wanaka. this was our first experience with a 'holiday park'. think KOA camground. has facilities, no real view or nature. but there is a shower and some flat spots to camp and a sneezy lady next to us in a tent that kept me up until stacey handed me some earplugs, at which point i was fast asleep. we got up the next morning and headed downtown to sit by the waterfront and have a coffee and do some reading. stacey walked around and checked out the shops. i cracked open a new book (seperate chapter on that later) and enjoyed the view. we also picked up a few supplies at a local camping shop like rope, etc. at some point i had several pieces of rope all nice and done up for the rainfly and tent...well...those managed to disappear from my tent bag at some point in the past 6 months and we had none during a rainy night. ended up okay but could have been a really wet experience.

we're driving Sunny, our 4 door Nissan with lawnmower like cornering and metro like acceleration. lookout all those new retro muscle cars, Sunny is in your rear-view!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Milford Trek

Overall, the trip was absolutely incredible. 4 days of beautiful weather, no rain, etc.

Got up early in the morning to catch a bus to Te Anau. Wanted to spend the day there and stayed in a hostel that night. Was a quant little town on Lake Te Anau. They had a great little theater to watch a movie that was filmed about the area that was 30 minutes long. Also watched the movie Murderball later in the afternoon at the same place....that movie was really good as well...put the whining I'm doing about my wrist playing dodgeball into perspective.

We have some great photos. If you need, send me a quick email to my yahoo account and I'll send you a link to the snapfish site.

Day 1

The first day we took a 20 minute bus ride to a boat that cruised us up Lake Te Anau to the beginning of the Trek. The hike was a short one for the first day, only about 1 hour 30 minutes. We finished this early and hung around the hut which was complete with a helicopter landing pad, propane stoves, and bathrooms. All of the huts had these accomadations. No showers but there was cold running water. Apparently they helicopter in and out any waste produced at the huts twice a year. First chance to try out our cooking gear as well as our dehydrated meals, which I have to say are suprisingly tasty!

Day 2

long day.

We stopped along the trek near the river for a lunch break (cheese and crackers) and 2 wea decided to join us. Wea are basically wild mountain parrots, but about 4 times the size of a typical pet parrot. Thing about the size of a medium sized cat or a typical hawk. And they have sharp, pointy beaks that are a bit threatening when they open their mouths. We hadn't really done any reading about these birds at this point and didn't really know what to think, so we were quite suprised when the birds walked right up to us about 2 feet away and opened their beaks. Later, we were advised to not leave anything out or these birds would take it, and indeed some folks had a whole bag of dried fruit carried off and one person was swooped down upon in order to steal a camera!

After a quick lunch at 'the bus stop' hut along the river, we continued our ascent to our hut for the evening. We also broke out the trekking poles to give us support in some more precarious predicaments along the way.

Day 3

Day 3 was by far the most physically intense day of the trek. We rose about 550 meters to climb to the peak of Mt. XXX then returned down the other side about 1000 meters to our final hut on the trek. The uphill we took out in about 1 hr. 40 minutes and was not bad, but the 100 meter downhill was much more intense as well as being a bit scary. About half way through my left knee was feeling a bit edgy so I relied on my trekking poles quite a bit. Downhill is generally pretty hard on the knees, but carrying a rather heavy pack combined with already having miles under your belt makes it that much more interesting. Additionally, the 'path' was really lots of boulders that you were walking down, most of which were moist and many covered in running water. The vibram soles were valuable here as well as using both trekking poles to keep balanced.

Day 3 also included a 90 minute detour to take a look at Sutherland Falls, a beautiful 500 meter waterfall. Well worth the hike but my brain doesn't do real well with the whole out and back trip after the uphill and downhill we just faced. Nevertheless, we were able to leave our packs at the bottom so that made it do-able.

Day 4

An early rise and breakfast on the run. We left camp at 7am and had to meet a boat picking us up in Milford Sound at 2pm at a place called Sandfly Point. The previous night I had written down various markers along the way and the times we needed to get to each of them to keep on time. The terrain was easier to handle than the previous day but the elevation map was misleading: it implied that it was up for a bit then lots of downhill. In reality, there were lots of little ups and downs along the way. Saw a rock in the shape of a bell and some beautiful waterfalls along the way. Made it with some time to change our clothes before the boat picked us up and took us to the bus on the other side of the beautiful Milford Sound. After that, it was a long 5 hours back to Queenstown! Ended the trip with about 15 sandfly bites. I don't know much about these creatures, but do know that their bites itch like mad. No blisters, no knees giving out, no crazy ankle twists!

We have tons of great photos and met some nice people along the way, its really impossible to describe what we could see without looking at the photos, and even then when we look at the photos its impossible to do the sights and sounds justice. The Milford Trek is considered one of those things you should do before you die, many writers have commented its one of the most significant journies of their lifetimes, and know I understand better.

Argh, always seem to be getting kicked out of these Internet Cafes....gotta post before they shut off my machine!

Return safely from the Milford Trek

Just wanted to do a quick post and say we have both returned safe and sound from the Milford Trek. I'll post more details soon. We're tired and sore. In the middle of the rain forest we managed to have 4 days of NO rain. The previous day in Te Anau was total downpour, so we were prepared for much worse. We're limping around town now, no injuries but muscles are plenty sore. Haven't hurt this much since a 3 hour dodgeball session!

For those that have written emails, I will try to get back to you soon. We're around Queenstown today and tomorrow just hanging out and recovering.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Day 5: Preparations for Milford

Today we spent the day nursing our bodies from the river surfing the day before. We have to be very well rested for our 3 night/4 day journey down the milford trek. We made a list of the things we needed and did some shopping at the local stores. Got enough food for 4 days in the woods for 2 people, which is quite a bit of food. Also broke in my new cooking stove with some fuel and some eggs we hard boiled. Works like a champ! The packs are full now and we're all checked out of our hotel. We worked most of the day on this project...getting the food, packing the packs...phew! Tomorrow we'll be in a micro-town called Te-Anau before heading out to the trek the next morning on a boat ride across a river where we start the trek.

Tonight we had a burger at the Fergburger in town. Stacey had one made of deer meat. Mine was just New Zealand beef. We paid for ketchup...or, as they call it, tomato sauce. The chips are great...or i mean the fries. But they think ketchup is a gourmet topping. Tip #1 if you are going to New Zealand, France, or anywhere else: check on the ketchup policies. if they don't agree with you, bring Heinz!



Day 4: River Surfing...

Today a DJ saved my life. Not really, but Stacey did have to be yanked out of a rapid called 'Man-eater'. It apparently was the gender neutral version of 'man'. Fortunately, the guides were rather gifted at moving in and out of whirlpools, eddies, and other river nasties so they scrambled in to yank her back onto course. They really do mean it when they say 'stay in the middle of the river. Also, the body boards most important purpose was really to keep others from kicking you.

It started with a beautiful drive through a local canyon in a bus up to the drop zone which was also the site of an old gold mine. We got all of our gear on: flippers, wet suit, life jacket, etc. Next, we got some training. They were actually very thorough and actually made everyone practice the moves with the body board before diving into the river full of class III rapids. Basically, its a high volume flow so your body next comes into contact with rocks...well most of the time. And the rapids flush you out the other side...most of the time. Stacey got stuck on one of the rapids and had a little bit of a calf get sore but other than that was good. At the end there were some fun activities including getting pulled behind a jet ski at high speed, a rope swing, a slide, and a jump that some women at our hotel loosened her front teeth on a few days ago and discouraged. She recommended the river surf but recommended to NOT do the jumping. The slide and jet ski rocked and we had a great time in the river.

After that we were very sore but felt great. Took the bus back to town and took it easy in the evening. I'm plowing through Neal Stephenson's Quiksilver, which has had its ups and downs. I'll probably chat more about it later.

Tomorrow, we prepare for the Milford Trek.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Day 3: Queenstown

Today was great! Started off with a coffee at a local shop, coco's, which i've become fond of after trying a few others. Did some reading there and headed off to brunch with Stacey at Vodo Cafe. After that, we headed to our rendevous with The Rung Way. This is a BVI course, which while i can't remember what the letters means: its a set of rungs drilled into a cliff, a very long, tall cliff . The guide claimed the Swiss used this to cross the Alps during WWII, but I didn't ever think the Swiss fought in any war and am an ignorant American thus I really have no knowledge of history and couldn't confirm/deny. Our guide was from Monroeville, PA, which is rather ironic since I'm here in NZ and he knew more about the house my mother grew up in than I did since he lived like 3 doors down from it. But back to the BVI course, its a set of rings setup that allow you to climb straight up a rock face with a climbing harness and some caribiners to attach you to a cable should you fall. It was rather scary in some places. There were 3 large sections to this course and by the end I felt very comfortable. Its hard to trust the gear in those situations though. I'm always afraid I'm going to space out and forget to attach something somewhere or some other krap and fall to my death hundreds of feet below. Yes, we climbed hundreds of feet on these rungs. I would have NEVER been able to do it top roping, just not skilled enough without the holds. I greatly underestimated Stacey who at the end said, 'yeah, i liked it but i wasn't really scared enough', which tells me she's ready for the 180 MPH jet attached to a rope we're going to do later.

Tonight we went to a little pizza joint the guide recommended called the Cow. Because there were only two of us they put us into a table with another couple (apparently in NZ this is FINE). They were very friendly and we chatted the whole time about NZ, Europe, the US, etc. Its always fun to have these conversations. The kiwi's are aggressive at recruiting people, particularly in technology, so they spend a good deal of time giving you a sales pitch. It was clear why they are having trouble recruiting. At any rate, twas a good conversation.

Cultural tidbits: trim is skim milk, flavored lattes are not common-they tend to come straight. i haven't figured out the short black, tall black, and 'white'. I believe these are like the starbucks short and tall but straight-up coffee and the white is with milk however it is steamed or something. french people think it is okay to take the menu off of YOUR table without asking. most people have asked before they take a chair, others have just taken the chair...i haven't figured out when each is more appropriate.

Restaurants are very different here. In general, you order at the counter and they watch where you sit, then they bring you your order. At some you pay at the counter, at others you pay in advance. Service in restaurants is close to non-existent because they are not compensated in the same way as the states. It has its advantages because there are always tables available, however when it is busy you are always sitting at a table that hasn't been bussed yet and won't likely be bussed anytime soon. This is quite different for americans who consider it kinda gross to sit at a table with dirty dishes and it is usually taken care of quickly. Also, tipping is basically built into the bill and this affects the service. Closer to the international hotels there is a tip line on the receipt but in the main part of town it is not. credit cards are in use everywhere however i feel a bit unhip because i get this grumble due to the singature requirement, apparently the kiwis have moved to PIN numbers sometime in the last century and I just show how backwards I am as they scrable under the counter to find a pen.

I'm curious: what your your favorite pubs, coffee shops, hangouts, here in Queenstown?

Its raining a bit outside now...probably head somewhere inside to read a book or play some games.

Days 2: Queenstown

Yesterday we hiked up a local mountain. At the top there was a luge, 2 tracks. A fast track and scenic route. We took a ride on each one of them and took the gondola back down the mountain. The hike, while very steep, was actually much shorter time wise than it looked. I would have estimated a several hour hike and we finished it in about an hour. Beautiful views at the top. Some treacherous hiking in the first half but it got easy after that.

After we returned I took some time to sit on the balcony...errr...fire escape, and overlook the lake and did some reading, then did a bit of shopping around town. Discovered a whole area I hadn't really seen much of that had a few pubs, trendy bars, and some more shops. We played some Set at the pub later in the evening. Ate salad and took in the view from a park bench by our hotel. Was cooler last night than the previous night. Saw a magician do some tricks and listened to some bagpipes.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Day 1 in Queenstown.

At 5am we woke up this morning to take a plane from Auckland to Queenstown (north island to south island) where we'll stay for a few weeks. No more flying for awhile. Queenstown is much much smaller than Auckland, apparently around 25% of the population of New Zealand (4.1 million-ish) lives in Auckland, close to 6500 live in Queenstown. We couldn't check into our hotel when we arrived so we dropped off the bags and wandered around town a bit. Its beautiful. Think the Gorge in Oregon, and a town like Hood River but bigger and more intense in the downtown area. That's not exactly right but it gets it about right. The moutains here are more intense. On one side, reminiscient of the Swiss Alps. On the other, like the mountains in the high deserts of central Oregon. Instead of a river, we have a beautiful lake. The hotel room at Thomas's hotel overlooks the lake which Stacey had the foresight to put in a request. It is JUST AWESOME!

We got a bite to eat at Vudu cafe, saw a choir in the park singing some hymns and a battle song of the Maori people. We both liked the Maori song the best, and tried to get our bearings on the city and where all the things are one needs when vacationing. Internet, coffee, microbrewery, grocery, etc. We had some Thai food tonight, Stacey got 2 giant lamb shanks in curry sauce. Sat down for awhile and read through about 200 brochures on what to do, prioritizing, discussing, etc. Its quite a challenge with so much to do! I think we settled on a hike up the mountain and a luge ride down tomorrow. From here, it looks like a hike straight up, but they are never as steep but always 10 times longer when you actually start up the hill.

Lots of thoughts running through my mind right now, about life, about communication, about societies and common traits among civilizations. Lots out there in the world affirms my belief that sentient beings are only of minor computational interest to the universe and memevolution. Hope to say more on this later.

Pictures will come soon.

Scientists discover new species...

Okay, I should be posting about New Zealand. But I logged in and noticed this and thought it was an incredible thing...that here on earth, we still have so much undiscovered and unknown to us...things that have been visible with our naked eye if we had only looked...


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Auckland urban adventure

Today we wandered around Auckland. Took in the sites. Had a lamb kabob at a lebanese place that was EXCELLENT. Visited the Auckland Museum and Auckland Domain, a giant park in the city, was beautiful. Did LOTS of walking around the town, just enjoying the sites and sounds of a new city. For dinner, we went to the Hogshead Brewery. Walked Queen St., down to Victoria street, into a suburb that then connected to Khatmandu St. and we took this to the park. The Museum was a war museum. Wondered about war and its potential inevitability for man. Went to a very cool bar called Minus 5 that is....well...kept at -5 degrees. You have to wear a coat and gloves its so cold, and its filled with cool ice sculptures. Took some pictures. Getting kicked out of Internet Cafe....

Arrival in Auckland...

Well...what a trip! We've been flying for over 26 hours. We hit LA and Chad picked us up late in the evening (11pm) at the airport. We had some time that night to catch up and did some sightseeing around LA the next day. Went to the Farmer's Market, which is an old LA market that's been around since the 30's at least. Went down to Santa Monica and walked around the peir. Stacey was sucked into a Zara on the 3rd Street Promenade and Chad, Vincent, and I watched the street performers. Jacklyn disappeared into the basement of the Gap looking at kids stuff. Had an excellent dish at Testavere's or whatever that place is on the Promenade.

We then jumped on a plane and headed West. Way west. To Melbourne, then to Sydney, finally Auckland. Qantas is a good airline. The food was great, flights were on time. Seating was a little tight but no moreso than any other flights.

Despite me having the wrong name on my Visa, leaving my phone in Chad's car, getting us to the wrong gate in Sydney, getting busted by customs for having honey roasted peanuts (they were a suprise for stacey!), getting my shaving cream taken from me at Melbourne security check-in and a corkscrew that has a tiny blade on it, we managed to make it here on time. After checking into the airport and getting a quick shower we walked the streets in Auckland a bit, its now about 1am New Zealand time. Not sure what tomorrow holds. Perfect :)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Sabbatical begins!

In less than 3 hours our trip commences. I've spent the past 2 days stocking up on cool new camping gear including stoves that can accept any form of fuel (alcohol, methane, kerosene, etc.), liners for sleeping bags, new ultra light and tiny Thermarests. Decided to stick with the classic tent (11 lbs…ugh!). Also got a pair of 12-mile Motorola two way radios in the event we misplace each other.

It was weird, looking back at the buildings on my way out of work. I just kinda stood by the car for awhile and looked out across JF. I remember when I started: there were 3 buildings, the 4th was under construction. Now there are 6 including the new IT building. I found it far more emotional than I expected. So much of who I am, and what I define myself as being, has been created within those buildings, meeting rooms, hallways. Work is not what I imagined it would be, something adults do drudgingly. Instead, the people I work with, they are my friends. My closest teammates, we have been together locked in a decade long dance in and out of each others groups, teams, and projects. We work together, we play together, (and sometimes, even create a kick butt dodgeball team, booyah!). You look so forward to going away for awhile you forget that you are actually going to MISS people. Fortunately, I’ve gotten to spend the past couple days with friends around town and say good-byes before the trip.

They say sabbatical changes you. Everyone comes back different, take radical turns in their careers. And some don’t come back at all.

Next update will be sometime after our 26 hour flight to Auckland. But first, an overnight stop off to see one of my closest lifelong friends and his family in LA. A perfect way to get this adventure started!