Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Treasures of the Forbidden City

In my extra day in the Dallas area, we went to see a traveling art exhibit at the Dallas Museum: Treasures of the Forbidden City. This was a collection of relics from the Emporer Qianlong of the Qing dynasty.

The collection showed various pieces of art, furniture, religious items, clothes, and sculptures. The most interesting sculpture was a large jade boulder carved to represent the countryside - complete with trees, bridges, flowers, and nine poets. As typical in this type of art, the people were small in relation to nature.

Also interesting were the clothes, the ceremonial robes the emporer and empress wore: golden robes (yellow was the royal color) inlaid with intricate dragons.

I didn't bring my camera on this trip or I'd definitely put pictures up.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Cancelled Flight

It appears my visit is unexpectedly extended, due to a connecting flight cancellation by America West - I fly through Phoenix on the way home, and the Phoenix-Seattle flight was cancelled due to weather in Seattle.

Naturally, I checked the weather once I got back to my parents, and saw it is "foggy". Well, that seems like a flimsy excuse but I can hardly make the airline fly.

They offered me the opportunity to hang around Phoenix all day tomorrow, on stand-by status. Potential hotel bills would be picked up my me. I declined this wonderful offer and instead booked the next guarenteed flight home, which leaves at 6 am on Thursday.

Well, I'll get a bit further into Life of Pi and may get to see my aunt again before leaving, so this is just inconvenient. After reading about others stuck for days in airports, and tales of lost luggage, perhaps I am lucky to have the connecting flight cancelled in time to stay with my parents. I'd be really furious if it were cancelled while enroute to Phoenix.

Monday, December 27, 2004


Yesterday we exchanged presents and then went to eat at a Chinese buffet, which is our holiday meal tradition.

I got some clothes and an ice cream maker. This one doesn't require ice or salt, as the unit includes refrigeration. It makes about one quart, which is better for single servings. My other ice cream maker produces about five or six quarts, which means I try to only make ice cream for other people or events - otherwise I'll have to eat all of it!

Texas is a lot like I remembered it - lots of space: seven lane roads through quiet residential areas, quarter-mile vacant lots, category-killer stores and long strip malls, huge parking lots, and flat to the horizon. My aunt treated us to lunch today, and we drove up to a restaurant in Frisco, which is in the northern part of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. From my parents house, it was 42 miles one-way. There aren't many places you would drive 85 miles round-trip to go to lunch!

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Flights to Dallas

I wasn't able to get a direct flight from Seattle to Dallas, or at least a cheap direct flight - instead my outbound flight passed through Las Vegas, and I'll stop at Phoenix on the way back.

I had an hour to spend in Las Vegas at the airport, so perhaps this is my little Vegas trip. I didn't gamble though - all the airport has is slot machines and after hearing the "Wheel of Fortune" machines ding for the umpteenth time I was ready to board the flight out of there!

During my flight flight and at the airport, I made good progress into It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong. I was all set to continue reading on the flight from Las Vegas to Dallas except I got to talking to the people in my row: Kevin, a running back for the University of Wyoming, returning from a bowl game versus UCLA; Kristin, who recently started her own business as a recruiter for health care executives. Both were pretty interesting and I think they were the most fun total strangers I've ever sat with on a flight.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Vegas Trip?

Some friends are planning a trip to Las Vegas in January. I'm currently signed up for the Houston half-marathon the same weekend, but I must admit the Vegas trip sounds more fun and exciting.

I like to see shows - in past visits I've attended the Blue Man Group, two Cirque Du Soleil shows (O and Mystère), and had a great time at all of these. A friend at work recently saw the latest Cirque show - KĀ - and told us all this is the best one of them all!

Plus, I just finished reading Bringing Down the House, about a team of card counters from M.I.T. and the fortune they made in Vegas in the 90's. I'm not good enough to count cards, but it is fun to play basic strategy at the low stakes table...

Also, Vegas has an IN-N-OUT Burger, which various friends heap an amazing amount of praise upon. Unfortunately for me at this point, the reality cannot possibly live up to the hype - after all, how good can a burger really be? - unless they are doping the meat with serotonin or some other neurotransmitter.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Gubernatorial Election

My home state of Washington is still trying to figure out who really was elected governor over a month ago. The first count had Rossi by 261 votes, a recount lowered that to 42 votes, and a third recount has Gregoire by 10.

But it isn't over yet - there are 700+ previously uncounted ballots, people yammering about other ballots, and the lawsuits will undoubtedly tie this up for quite a while.

This whole process gives me the creeps. The engineering/mathematical/analytical side of me thinks that any election where a recount doesn't produce identical results means there were errors, which in turn undermines confidence in the entire process.

At least my state is floundering along on its own, and not (for example) holding up a national result like Florida in 2000!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Online RPG

A friend of mine IM'ed me to come join him and another friend for pizza. I already ate, but I decided to hang out for a bit anyway. This was partially because I knew these two would talk about World of Warcraft, the most recent release in the genre of massively multiplayer online games. They are really into the game, playing it hours every day - which is fine since they are on vacation through the end of the year.

I played another one years ago, Asheron's Call, and while it was a lot of fun, it got a little boring after a while. The basic idea is you play in a fantasy world, kill monsters, collect treasure, and get more powerful. Games of this nature are also big time sinks, which makes me hesitant to start another one. Plus, these games usually charge a monthly fee to play.

It is somewhat annoying to pay a monthly fee to play. Yes, I can understand that ongoing infrastructure and content requires some fee. However, paying an ongoing fee always made me feel like I had to play in order to get my money's worth. An interesting entry into this genre is Guild Wars, which promises not to charge a fee to play - they plan to make their money by releasing expansion packs.

Anyway, I like buying a game and playing it as much or as little as I want: let it sit until I have time, play it a bunch, put it aside, come back to it later, etc. These kinds of games are time intensive in that you don't always have that control.

Listening to my two friends talk about the game reminded me of all the downsides. While it does sound fun, I have a bunch of computer and PS2 games I haven't even tried yet, so I certainly won't be bored. For a bunch of reasons, I don't think I'll play WoW - of course, I might change my mind. ;)

Sunday, December 19, 2004

More Christmas Lights

For fun I walked around my neighborhood and took a few pictures of Christmas Lights. I uploaded them to the Christmas Lights album on Flickr.

I need to break out my camera manual and learn how to manual focus, as some of these shots came out a little blurry. When I figure out how to do it, I'll retake the photos and replace the pics with clear ones.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

ESR Potluck Run

Some friends from my running club held a Christmas Light Potluck Run, an event where we ran through their neighborhood to look at Christmas decorations, and then ate afterwards.

Of course, they routed us by the pièce de résistance of local decorations, a home so overblown and gaudy it was fascinating to see.

Christmas Lights

I brought homemade ice cream, which went over really well.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Company Merger

The big news at work on Tuesday was the rumor on merging with another company.

A few of the people read the news and exclaimed "That makes so much sense! That's why the recent reorg moved X into position Y and also explains Z's departure!". We had been getting a steady stream of mails from various high level executives congratulating so-and-so for their new position, or stating various business units had been moved around, and so forth.

I'm not one of those people. Generally, when I get reorg mail, I just look to see if it affects me. That means - is my boss the same? Is yes, I just delete the mail and continue to have a minimal opinion on the whole matter.

Today, we found out the rumor was real - Symantec is buying us! My group gathered in a meeting room and called into a conference call to listen to a question and answer session. All of us are curious what real difference this will make for our everyday jobs, and we aren't quite sure - probably not very much.

Our holiday party is this afternoon, so this will undoubtedly be a topic of conversation!

The Da Vinci Code

I was going to wait until this came out in paperback, but it already had in New Zealand. I saw it at the airport in Auckland, bought it, and started reading it on the flight home.

I liked it, but I really think I liked Angels and Demons better. Both have similar plots, which involve following a trail of clues that reference works of art and architecture, uncovering information on secret societies... and Catholic Church conspiracies. The secret society in Angels and Demons were the Illuminati, while the The Da Vinci Code involved the Priory of Sion.

I don't know much about the Priory of Sion, but the secret they are supposedly guarding involves blood relatives of Jesus, and that the Holy Grail is actually a metaphor for the remains of Mary Magdelene. This is harder for me to believe than the Illuminati exist and want to destroy the Church. ;)

Actually, what made me like Angels and Demons more was the initial setup. In that novel, a Renaissance master sculptor left clues throught various churches in Rome, which led to the hidden Illuminati headquarters. (This was just part of the plot).

In The Da Vinci Code, a museum curator, who was also the grandmaster of the Priory of Sion, is shot and while dying, managed to leave clues which help unravel the mystery of the Holy Grail. This involved writing a message, leaving a key behind a painting, and posing his body, all while he is bleeding to death from a gunshot to his stomach. The police arrive on the scene first, and summon the novel's hero. I'm thinking, the police could also have followed the blood trail around the museum and been far more prepared. Maybe I'm nitpicking because I watch too much CSI!

It is all very interesting to think about. Both books are quite good. Dan Brown leaves a cliffhanger in nearly every chapter, which makes it hard to stop reading.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Blade Trinity

I saw Blade Trinity today with my friend/coworker Tom.

The basic plot is that vampires have brought back Dracula, because they need him to kill Blade. Meanwhile, Blade and friends have concocted a super-virus that will wipe out vampires, except it doesn't quite do that, leaving room for another sequel I suppose. I'm no molecular biologist, but the super-virus had some magic properties because it spread like a nerve gas after combining with Dracula's blood!

This movie featured the most blatant product placement I've ever seen - the iPod. In one scene, Blade's sidekick, Abigail, stops to select songs from iTunes. The other sidekick says she's creating a mix for the upcoming fight. In another scene, they are shown putting on their gear for another fight, and Abigail finishes by inserting her ear buds. Yeah! Now I have an iPod mini and like it, but come on.

While I enjoy the occasional mindless action flick, this one was sort of blah. The first two were much better.

Investment Club

Tonight's club meeting ran long, as we had to cover several topics. Besides, the food we ordered came late so there was a delay. While we were waiting, I described my trip to New Zealand, which everybody seemed interested in. One member, Fraser, is from the Christchurch area and he was excited to here me speak so highly of his native country!

We talked about what to do with absentee members - two people that joined have since moved away and while we don't want to kick them out, we'd like members to be able to attend most meetings and participate. A few people presented stock studies, and I did too, but found that I left out one number on my chart (estimated future earnings per share) and thus my numbers were off. So, I'll redo the chart for the next meeting.

We also held elections for next year's officers. The club is small and informal, and one goal is to give various members a chance to hold office. Actually, there was a great push to have members who hadn't served as any officer get a chance. The Secretary takes minutes and is thus quite a bit of work and requires perfect attendance, so that job went to a couple, Eric and Dawn, with the thought that at least one will be able to make every meeting. The Vice President is really optional - ours is currently one of the out-of-state members - so that went to Fraser, who's wife is due in July I believe. He should be able to miss a few meetings and it won't be a problem. Treasurer went to Jackie, who was eally interested in the position. It will require cashing checks monthly and possibly buying or selling stocks depending on what we vote on.

By the process of elimination and with some encouragement from the other club members, I accepted the nomination and became President. My main job is to run the meetings, so it is a simple job and I should be able to handle it. ;) My goal will be to keep the meetings on track so they don't run so late in the future!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Jingle Bell Run

This morning was the Jingle Bell run. This is a fun run to do, as many people dress in elaborate costumes, such as snowflakes, Santa, or reindeer. Some groups dress as reindeer and rope themselves together to make a sleigh. The extent of my costume was a bright red running shirt.

I drove over and planned to meet my friend Leslie near the coffee stand outside Westlake mall, where the run begins. While I was circling looking for parking, Francesca called and said Jen was also planning to run, and we should all try to meet.

That turned out to be impossible. The start was more crowded than I ever remember, I and couldn't find anybody. It was so loud, when I called to leave Francesca a message, I could barely hear. I realized my wave already started to I made my way over and began towards the back. I had quite a bit of fun weaving in and out of crowds looking for anyone I knew.

About half a mile from the end, I saw Jen looking backwards. I caught up to her, expecting Francesca would be there. Instead, another friend Eve was running so I joined them and we finished about the same time. It turns out they just randomly saw each other at registration.

I forgot my heart rate monitor and watch, so my rough estimate was 32 minutes. Basically, you just ignore time on this run because of the crowds. There are three waves, but I think half the people don't seed themselves properly, which again is fine since if you really want to try for your 5K PR, you should pick another event.

NCAA Volleyball

I had a ticket to tonight UW match versus UCLA, but my friend Alyssa visited me and I didn't think she'd be interested in attending. Late in the afternoon, Francesca called and told me the there were extra tickets, so I mentioned it to Alyssa... and she was very interested!

However, I found the reason why she was so interested in the game was that she went to UCLA. So I wound up bringing somebody who cheered for the opposition. :)

We showed up and were treated to a very good match. UCLA won the first game, UW won games two and three, and were leading in the fourth but just fell apart. So it all came down to game five - the winner would advance to the final four. UW was behind 6-8 in game five but regrouped and beat UCLA 15-9 to advance for the first time in their history. The team did a victory lap and we stayed and cheered a bit.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


I've decided to use Flickr to show my New Zealand photos. Over the next few days I'll upload them. I'll probably burn a CD for Eric and Krisanne and somehow I'll get a copy of their pics and might very well upload those here as well.

I took about 500 pics, and they take up around 560 MB. That's too much for my web site (hosted through Yahoo!) so I bought a year subscription to Flickr and now have some huge amount of space - 1 GB per month I think. I won't upload every pic - some are out of focus or poorly lit, but still, I need a lot more space than the 25 MB or whatever I have.

So check out my Flickr homepage for pics. I'll upload them over the next few days. (NOTE: I have Queenstown, Milford Sound, Greymouth, and Wellington left to upload).

So far I like Flickr, my one complaint is the organizer tool doesn't allow multi-select. Or, I can't figure out how to multi-select. What I'd like to do is upload a bunch of photos, say of the Fox Glacier, and then group those into an album called "Fox Glacier". I can tag the photos, create the album, but actually putting the photos into the album means a slooooow process of dragging each photo in. That may work great with a handful of photos, but I have 28 of the Fox Glacier alone. After dragging the photos over, I find the album only has 27 pictures. Which one did I leave out? I can't tell from looking at the thumbnail sized representation! Basically, I want to select all 28 photos and put them into the album. Maybe there is a better way to do it, but I haven't figured it out yet.

Football tickets

I thought, wouldn't it be fun to go watch the Seahawks play, and bring someone along. I haven't yet gone to see an NFL game here in Seattle - I've been to plenty of Mariners baseball games, one Sonics basketball game... heck, sometimes I even drive up to Vancouver to watch the Canucks play hockey. When I lived in Houston I was able to see the Oilers play twice.

So, I searched around for tickets to the January 2 game against the Atlanta Falcons. The cheapest tickets available were... $235 each. Plus, a $4.50 "convenience" charge. That makes two tickets a total of $479.

That blew my mind. Nearly $500 for a pair of tickets! Well, I don't want to go that bad - I'll be more than happy to catch the game on my TV. Geez, baseball is a huge bargain in comparison. Of course, baseball plays 10 times as many home games as football. There are cheaper tickets - all the way down to $28 - but all those are gone. I suppose if I want to attend an NFL game I'll need to get on the ball and buy tickets much earlier.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Christmas decorations

Over the weekend, my neighbor Amy said hello as we did some minor yardwork. We joked that we were both lazier that other people about yardwork, and especially holiday decorations. She said that she planned to hang some icicle lights above the garage, and that was all.

Today, I put out my one modest Christmas/Holiday decoration: a multi-colored light net that sort of drapes over a bushy tree I have in the front yard. It is easy to set up, take down, and I just leave it on all the time. After New Year's, I unplug it and stow it away for next year. It doesn't blink, and I think it looks festive.

Around the corner and up the street are several homes that go all out on decorations - lights all along the gutters, animated sleigh displays, and so forth. Amy and I are glad they've taken the initiative to decorate for the neighborhood!

I usually travel for the holidays, so I'm equally lazy about decorating inside my home. I don't think I've set up a Christmas tree in the last decade. Perhaps if I see a medium sized artificial tree I'd be willing to get that.


So far, this is the extent of my decorations.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


I last played volleyball nearly a month ago, and so I was looking forward to my league this evening. We ended up 2-3, letting one game slip away (tied 22-22, we made two mistakes to give our opponents a 24-22 lead, and they won the last point). We're an OK competitive team, which is good, because if we were more competitive, the team might get rid of me. ;)

We've shuffled personnel a few times - some members have moved away and others have joined different teams. Next year, another player may move away so we'll probably be trying to find someone who wants to play with us. There is one more week in the season, and then the playoffs.

ESR Holiday Party

This evening was the ESR (my running club) Holiday Party. I mentioned earlier I am Social Chair, so this is actually "my" event.

When I became chair, the catering, band, and venue were already booked. All I had to do was send invitations, and take care of final details, of which there were dozens. This boiled down to stocking up on the usual party stuff - forks, knives, plates, cups, napkins, sodas, tea, coffee, extra desserts, tablecloths, and so forth. I wound up shopping all afternoon at various stores to get everything, from ice to poinsettias to garbage bags. We had a lot of stuff leftover, now stored in my garage, so someday I'll do an inventory. For now, let's just say we won't need to buy napkins or utensils for a LONG time!

Everything went really well, except for two minor issues. One was running out of food - we had some people show up last minute, and thus were short by about 5 dinners. A quick call for pizza solved this. In the future, we'll adjust our fudge factor a bit higher and that should happen again. The catering company did do a great job and we'll all work better next time to get a more accurate estimate of how many people we expect, including a larger fudge factor.

The other hitch was the liquor license - we weren't serving any alcohol (it was a "bring your own" event), but we still needed a one-day permit. The laws surrounding alcohol are intricate, as I found out - I didn't realize the hall we were renting provided security, which was key, because I wasn't issued the permit without that little fact. Another member, Barbara, went to get the permit while I was busy getting more last minute items.

Anyway, the event did proceed and attendees did seem to enjoy themselves. I ate with some friends, danced a bit, and helped with the cleanup. I've gotten a few nice congrats emails from various members, so that was nice. My next event will be a spring meeting, probably in April, so I get to be a lazy board member for a few months!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Daylight Lag

I think the toughest thing about coming back from New Zealand has been the sudden change in daylight. It is late spring there, so the sun would rise early and set late. We were up most days before the alarm - when I say up I mean awake, not necessarily out of bed and ready to go! - and the sun was already shining. It was light until late in the evening.

Here, we are in late autumn and the sun is rising later and setting much earlier. I didn't gradually ease into it - I lost that time suddenly over the day I spent flying home. Had I been here the entire time, I wouldn't have noticed as much.

I was so curious about this, I just looked up the info on time and date. Currently, we are getting about 8:40 of daylight, from roughly 7:40 am to 4:20 pm. I'll pick Wellington, NZ since it is in the middle of the country, but New Zealand is getting nearly twice as much daylight - 15 hours, from 5:40 am to 8:40 pm.

No wonder I miss the daylight!

Thursday, December 02, 2004


I blogged previously that I am getting my teeth straightened via Invisalign. This morning, I moved into the final phase - no more Invisalign; instead, I finish with three months of braces.

Yep, I now have ceramic clear braces and my teeth are a bit tender. I'll basically prefer soft foods for a while...

It took about two hours for the orthodontist and his various assistants to do their stuff. Not too bad overall, it was just a bit strange watching an assistant with a wire-cutter/crochet tool (I couldn't see it very clearly) add the wire, and then weave and snap the ties in place. Most of the time I was in the chair with this plastic lip-stretcher device and suction tool, so they could keep each tooth dry while they were attaching the braces.

I'm due back in five weeks for another appointment, at which time I expect they will be tightened or whatever it is they'll do. The receptionist said I can choose different tie colors then - she said they even had glow-in-the-dark ones. Now that would be really weird!

New Zealand Trip

This is just a link to all the New Zealand entries. Then, I'll put a link to this entry on the left.

Auckland Sky Tower Jump
Another Wellington Afternoon
Picton and Car Games
Abel Tasman
Otira Valley Hike
Blackwater Rafting
Monteiths Brewery
Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier
Canyon Swing
Milford Sound
Safari of the Rings
White Water Sledging
Moeraki Boulders
Rangitata Rafting
New Zealand Travel Friends


I left New Zealand with a little bit of sadness - it was such a great trip. I think I would have only done one thing different tour wise - sign up for a guided day hike on either Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier. I think it would have been cool to hike around on a glacier and enter an ice cave. On the other hand, it would have meant skipping one of the glaciers to make time. Since we were able to do plenty of exploration at Franz Josef, including walking right up to touch the glacier, I don't think I missed that much. Seeing both glaciers made up for an extended tour on just one.

We met a lot of people who were traveling on year-long breaks. I chatted with a friendly Irish woman (I never did ask for her name...) I met on the Rangitata rapids trip, and found out she had been traveling all of 2004, and was headed to Singapore and Thailand after New Zealand. Two Israeli women, also on that trip, had just finished their two year military service and were traveling for a year. Ross, along on the blackwater rafting tour with Krisanne and I, was a few weeks into a nine month trip to various locations. Timo, a German I met on the Haggas Honking Holes trip in Waitomo, was traveling for a year. There are probably others I just can't think of right now, all taking advantage of the opportunity to travel the world.

It made me think back to when I was in college. I spent my summers working, which probably wasn't a bad choice, but perhaps I should have taken a few weeks at the start or end of the summer to travel. Heck, I could have taken one winter break to travel to the southern hemisphere! I am lucky and had a chance to live in Germany for three years (1981-1983) and did quite a bit of traveling then, so perhaps I felt I had seen a lot of the world and didn't have the travel bug as much. Now I kind of wish I had taken a few trips. Well, I can try to make up for it now, every other year.

New Zealand is nearly ideal for travel. The tourist infrastucture is top notch. Every city has an information center where you can book local tours, and find accomodations. Travel is easy, with airlines, buses, trains, ferries, car rentals, etc. New Zealand is setup for backpacker trips: several companies run buslines that just circulate around - you buy a multi-week ticket, and hop-on and hop-off wherever you want. It is a very popular destination for other travelers. There is so much to do, from adventurous tours and activities to scenic beauty. A huge bonus: they speak English. (And Maori). I think aspiring backpack travelers should try New Zealand first, because it won't be easier or better than anywhere else in the world.

This trip left me excited to travel more! There are many places I'd like to see, and I'll probably be lazy and sign up for a guided tour for my next trip. I just need to save up money and more vacation... :)

The trip also made me realize my own home state of Washington offers many of the activites in New Zealand: hiking, backpacking, white water rafting, sea kayaking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, whale watching, etc. So while it might not be as exotic, it is more convenient to take advantage of what my area offers. We have some beautiful scenery here also!

At least I did get to see the Southern Cross this trip - very clearly in the Queenstown night sky.

* Aotearoa - "Land of the Long White Cloud", the Maori name for New Zealand.