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No mas pura vida!

I'm back home! I was alive and kicking hard again at work yesterday already, keeping me away from my blog. :)

Picking up where we left off, Andrea and I made it back to Brittany's home in Barva without incident on Friday night and proceeded to head out for rafting on the Rio Pacuare at 5:30a the next morning. And a fun rafting trip it was! Reveling in the sunny weather, we put into the water by 10:30a and headed down the beautiful forest valley flanking both sides, completely unbroken except for the occassional cabin on the hillside.

After about half an hour, Brittany, looking up at the sky, made a comment hoping for a nice tropical rain as we cruised through the forest. Sure enough, our sunny weather soon turned to clouds and we found ourselves in a warm torrential downpour, with the rain coming at us sideways and with more water splashing me than I've had in showers at home. Without pictures, there's really no way to describe it other than to say the raindrops splashing off the surface of the river, the sounds of the rain against the leaves of the trees, and the sounds of the birds and Toucans as they flew through the rain was amazingly scerene.

We pulled over about an hour and a half down the river to hike up to a local waterfall...a broad cascade of water rolling down the front of a jagged rock face. Everyone waded through the water below the falls, but a few of us, including Andrea, Brittany, and I, started to climb up the face of the waterfall, getting a massage from the water falling on our shoulders.

After some lunch, we continued down the river and found ourselves in a 'dos montanas', where each sides of the forest become a wall two hundred feet tall on a side. All of us rolled out of the raft and started to lazily float down the river, taking small detours to get under small waterfalls dripping off the edges. I hate using this term, but have to admit that it was somewhat 'movie-like', doing the whole floating through a narrow jungle canyon in the middle of nowhere. It didn't take much imagination to think that I was quest for some hidden treasure or something. :)

And then, a little more than a day later, I find myself back in my room at home in Seattle, departed from the pura vida, or pure life that all Costa Ricans are so proud of. Andrea is continuing her travels through the end of the month and I can't wait to hear about all her awesome stories. Happy trails Andrea! :)

And now, photos.

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Touristy Arenal

Not much to update this time around. Andrea and I are hanging out in La Fortuna, which pretty much got it's name put on the tourist path when the volcano erupted here in 1968 and continues to have minor eruptions on a daily basis, with rocks spewing out of the top of the mountain. Since then there's been an entire economy built up around this, offering some good, but mostly questionable overpricecd tours to various spots in the area. Tours to go see the volcano occur nightly (as to be able to see the flows), but the weather here is such that the volcano is shrouded by clouds 9 times out of 10 (or more). However, volcano tours are redeemed by a trip to one of the local hot springs, which is actually pretty cool and quite relaxing.

We're headed out of here in just under an hour back to San Jose. We're meeting up with Brittany again tonight and staying with her host family, going river rafting tomorrow, and coming back to celebrate Agnes, Brittany's host mom's, birthday. I fly out on Sunday and will be back home by Sunday night.

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Tortillas

I've been racking up milage on my shoes in the last 24 hours, which has been a fine contrast to cooling (or melting my heels) on Costa Rican buses. Andrea and I have done a twilight tour through the Children's Eternal Rainforest, a five and a half hour guided tour through the Monteverde Cloud Forest, and walking up and down the potholed dirt roads that connect everything.

The guided tours we've done have been some of my most memorable parts of the trip--without a good guide it would have been nearly impossible to spot any wildlife or identify any flora. Frederico, our guide for Monteverde, was awesome, toting a pair of binoculars and a portable telescope that he would setup for us anytime we came across anything interesting, which tended to be every couple of minutes. Both guides that we've had pulled from a deep well of knowledge and experience and wrapped it in an amicable personality. Lots-o-fun.
Between the two tours we've done, Andrea and I have learned loads about the local flora and seen some amazing fauna, including spider monkeys, howler monkeys, five sloths, two tarantulas (and other spiders), a katydid, a toucan(!), and a bunch of other birds and insects I simply can't remember right now. There are pictures of everything (the current count is around 900), that I'm looking forward to working through when I get home next Sunday.

Monteverde is one of those special places for me which simply feels good to spend time and hang out in. We're staying at a great pension in a town filled with friendly faces, surrounded by beautiful rolling hills of green. Monteverde purposely has no paved roads to keep things raw (and block rampant tourism), which certainly adds to the atmosphere. I had the most memorable lunch experience today which just exemplifies everything I like about this town.

After finishing our tour through the Monteverde Cloud Forest, Andrea, myself, plus David and Dianna (two of our hostel friends), opted to walk the 5km muddy road back to town, stopping at an art commune to browse their shop. Beyond the shop, the commune also had a cafe that was incredibly similiar to something you'd find in Seattle; it had a special charm and feel from the super-friendly woman, beautiful artisian painted walls, and furniture made entirely from coffee trees. Most memorable of all, our afternoon was made when we walked into the local eatery for some lunch.

This eatery was really just a kitchen. Five small picnic style tables comprised the front of the room, backing up into a beautiful kitchen with a wood stove. I have a thing for wood stoves...the smell of the woody smoke and coziness that a wood stove brings the room fills me with a sense of euphoria. The kitchen itself was run by a super-friendly, happy, and spry Tica. Though she was somewhere between 45 and 50 years old, we all called her Señorita, a title usually reserved for women less then 30, but aptly earned by this Tica, whose energy and liveliness transcended her years. Señorita (I have no idea what her real name is) sat us down and described to us the very traditional Costa Rican menu, which involved corn tortillas with chicken, beef, beans, and/or cheese. Everything, including the torillas were made fresh, so when we expressed some interest in her preparations, Señorita immediately brought us over and taught David and I to press our own tortillas by hand, in the true spirit of the commune, while Andrea and Dianna were shown (and sampled) the broad variety ingredients used.

The food was incredible and delicious. These tortillas were eaten with knife and fork, topped with fresh cheese and chicken or beans. As we were eating, Señorita called me over and pointed to the tortilla that she was heating, which was rising and puffing up with heat. "Con mucho amor," she told me, indicating that the tortilla was the one I had pressed. I beamed.

We ended up staying there for a good two hours, waiting out the torrential downpour that started while we ate. Coffee, prepared Costa Rican style, was ordered, and Andrea produced a deck of cards to play a few lively rounds of spoons until it was time to leave. Reluctantly, we left the warmth of the wooden stove and dashed outside in the rain to catch the last bus back to town. I came back with something special...a small ball of freshly ground corn to make tortillas from for our breakfast tomorrow morning.

I can't wait. Tomorrow is a self-imposed relaxation day, up here in the rainforest.

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Beaches, forests, and 10 hours on the bus

A couple of days ago, Andrea, Brittnay, and her friends rolled into the beach/surfer town of Manuel Antonio, entering into the world of blue sea beaches, dreds, and wildlife. We showed up without reservations and due to the low season, scored beautiful, getting a room for six people con air conditionando, baños privados, aqua caliente, y un pool for just a hair over $10 per person per night. As such, despite hot and (worse) humid weather, we spent the our days in Manuel in relative luxury for a price that should have landed us in the local pension.

After a couple of days of being beach bums and checking out the local parque nacíonal, Andrea and I parted ways with Brittnay and started what turned out to be my biggest bus adventure yet. It's important to take a moment here to describe what I mean by busses--think twenty-year old bus frames with cramped seats, an air conditioning  system that only works when the bus is moving (e.g. windows), and people crammed in the asile hovering over you, trying to catch a wisp of a breeze or a glance out the window. It goes without saying that when the bus is stopped everything intantly turns into a sweaty and sticky sauna. The bus itself is held together by an amazing block of Mercedes-Benz Marcopolo iron that's probably been held together at least a million miles past its rated lifespan by Central American mechanics that are infinitely more skilled and handy than their first world counterparts.

Anyway, getting anywhere in Costa Rica takes a full day and leads you through neighborhoods and dirt roads that I'd be skeptical of finding even on local maps. On our journey from Manuel Antonio to Monteverde, we started with a short bus 40 minute bus to Quepos and made a six hour ride north to the port town of Puntarenas (which was suppose to be 3 hours), and thought we were going to be stranded for the night having missed our connection. Someone up above smiled down on us though and Andrea and I banded together with four other travelers in the same boat, one of whom had done this very trek before. So we ended up on a short (30 minute) bus to a busy intersection of the Inteamericana highway (essentially the middle of nowhere), and waited an anxious hour as we looked for a bus with "Monteverde" on it. The bus eventually showed up on Latin America time and wisked us away northward for the next 2.5 hours, eventually ending up on a dirt road winding up 34km into the stratosphere. In the guidebooks, this dirt road is described as being passable by 4x4s and the bus. Imagine my amazement when not a bus of the humvee derrivation but a bus of the aforementioned quality successfully arrived in Monteverde without stalling or bottoming out even once, especially as the driver was writing text messages on his RAZR and macking on the beautiful latina girl sitting shotgun. The latter part made me a tiny bit nervous as the driver was spending a good portion of his time driving with his eyes off the road and on the girl.

Nonetheless, we made it to the infamous cloud rainforest safely. It's absolutely beautiful, especially when bathed in the light of the full moon during our ride last night. Thus far, I've spent today doing the flying fox across 3km of zip lines strung up outside the national park and walking across suspended bridges soaking in the view as I myself got soaked down to the bone marrow by a torrential rain (after all, it is a rainforest). Tomorrow, Andrea and I are headed into the actual Monteverde park. Beautiful pictures are aplenty (current count is about 800), but I won't be able to triage and post these until I return next weekend.

Until my next...pura vida!

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Pura Vida en Costa Rica!

Wow! It'sbeen three months since I've written anything on here, though it's for lack of time and not for lack of content. I've been busy enough with my life that I decided I needed a vacation and lo and behold, ended up here in Costa Rica traveling here for eleven days with Andrea, who is here for the entire month of November.

There are certain things that I live for as a traveler. Getting off the plane, meeting a friend, and staying with someone's family is just about on the top of the list. That dream in Costa Rica was fulfilled yesterday when we walked out of the airport and was met by Brittnay Dammerand (I really hope I'm spelling that right!), a family friend of the Anderson's studying in Costa Rica. Brittnay is staying with an amazingly kind hearted family in Barva, a town outside San Jose, in a beautiful but humble home. As her guests, we had the pleasure of staying with her host family. Her home, with more family members living there than I can keep track of (my guess is nine) is filled with warmth and friendliness. They've hosted over twenty students over the years, so having a few more show up is pretty much a normal occurance in life. As a huge plus, they're very tolerant of bad Spanish, giving me a chance to unearth mine, which I haven't used since I was in Uruguay (and it certainly wasn't that great then either). Ice breaking (for me) was pretty much accomplished with a few rounds of Nertz, with Andrea and Nicole (an HS student of the host family) vs. Brittnay and myself. A few close rounds were had, though Brittnay and I eventually admitted defeat after two games.

After a delicious dinner of spahetti with tuna (which is made all the better by the fact that the ingrediants are as fresh as can be), we headed off to Villa Barva, a bar/club where they were celebrating the Barva basketball team, who won the national championship. We entered Villa Barva to a ass kickin' five piece salsa band, who were playing with such gusto and strength that I surely was going to leave with ringing ears. Here we met some of Brittnay's other gringo friends studying in her proram and everyone took their turn doing a little salsa, lack of skill and rustiness being no excuse. Andrea shook it up with her moves with Mojo (?), a host father of one of the gringos. Fun was being had until the band kicked it into some classic Latin fun-dance tunes, and suddenly the night was taken to a whole new level as the entire place emptied out onto the dance floor, dancers or not, jumping up and down, whooping and yelling, dancing with the music. Great fun.

Today we're off to Manuel Antonio, a national park and beach town to the south.

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Fighting the Long Tail

In the last couple weeks after coming back from Boston, I’ve been sliding into more of a project management role. Not the first time I’ve found myself in this position, these assignments have been huge learning experiences in how to properly organize a team around a central goal.

On my current project, we discovered that the Outlook Client we released for CRM 3.0 has some incompatibilities with Vista and Office 2007. Several issues are showstoppers and our customer commitment mandates that we needed to dedicate resources to updating the design of our client. (Not to mention a desire/need to ride the biggest release wave in Microsoft history.)

Splitting up a large team between two projects is always a risky and painful proposition. In this case, we have a big mainline project to build CRM 4.0 (Titan) and a significantly smaller project to build an updated CRM 3.0 Client. From a project management standpoint, this complicates things considerably because you now have competing focuses and goals on the team. By virtue, small, out-of-band projects standing in the shadow of a larger one don’t get the same level of attention and run the risk of derailing.

Two ways to mitigate the risk of derailment is buy-in from management and strong project leadership. I’ve got lots of the former and it’s up to me to deliver on the latter.

What I’ve learned from previous out-of-band projects is the danger of the long tail. This is the project that never ends because of minor issues that continually trickle in. It is important to note that no piece of software is ever bug free and that the goal is to ship the best thing reasonably possible. The long tail, which holds back projects and their members, spawns from an inability to define crisp criteria around what and when something is ready to be shipped. I’ve been bitten by this in the past on The Project That Refuses To Die.

I spent last weekend figuring out a strategy to ensure that the long tail doesn’t haunt me again. Taking a cue from my compatriots over on the Office team, I’ve adopted a simple timeline. It starts from today and goes until a target shipping date. In between, I bracket off periods of time and declare what the bug bar will be for that span. The bar starts at Severity 2+ and eventually ends up at “Ship Mode, Sev 1 Bugs Only.”

After working out the timeline, I went to my team and got them to commit to the schedule and to the release date. After all, I wanted to be sure that the schedule I set out was realistic for my team to act on and drive towards release. At this point, I’ve gotten everyone to agree on the schedule.

We’ll see if I’m pulling my hair out in five weeks.

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Chowda in the Haarba

Last week was my first Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston. It was the event that I've wanted to attend for more than a year. The product I work on, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, is built on a partner network that spans the globe. Partners serve as our force on the ground that work directly with customers at a scale Microsoft could never reach. It's been my goal to develop better connections with this group and WPC was the right place to go. Using a tool called RIO that facilitated "structured networking", I met with successful CRM VARs and ISVs in countries as far as Germany and South Africa. There was also a lot of "un-structured networking" in the evenings, if you know what I mean. ;)

In a stroke of coincidence, WPC is put on by CRG Events, the company that my friend Marcie works for. Marcie was on site for the event, so we made plans to spend an extra day hanging around the fantastic city of Boston. Despite the mugginess of the climate, we entertained ourselves taking strolls in and around Boston Common, taking detours to pop our heads into a small selection of tourist spots off a menu rich in American history. We ended our day by going for a sail on the tall ship Formiddable, a modern version of a Brigantine, which took us for a spin and tour around Boston Harbor, complete with a (slightly cheesy) mock naval battle on the seas. It was a fine way to cap off a fun and exciting visit.

I've posted pictures of my escapades in the Big Apple and Boston up on Google's new Picasa Web Albums. Despite two solid and very late nights of tango in New York, I'm sorry to say that I don't have any milonga photos. Next time! New Yorkers dance wonderfully and it'd be a pleasure to return.



New York



Boston

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Chowda in the Haarba

Last week was my first Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston. It was the event that I've wanted to attend for more than a year. The product I work on, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, is built on a partner network that spans the globe. Partners serve as our force on the ground that work directly with customers at a scale Microsoft could never reach. It's been my goal to develop better connections with this group and WPC was the right place to go. Using a tool called RIO that facilitated "structured networking", I met with successful CRM VARs and ISVs in countries as far as Germany and South Africa. There was also a lot of "un-structured networking" in the evenings, if you know what I mean. ;)

In a stroke of coincidence, WPC is put on by CRG Events, the company that my friend Marcie works for. Marcie was on site for the event, so we made plans to spend an extra day hanging around the fantastic city of Boston. Despite the mugginess of the climate, we entertained ourselves taking strolls in and around Boston Common, taking detours to pop our heads into a small selection of tourist spots off a menu rich in American history. We ended our day by going for a sail on the tall ship Formiddable, a modern version of a Brigantine, which took us for a spin and tour around Boston Harbor, complete with a (slightly cheesy) mock naval battle on the seas. It was a fine way to cap off a fun and exciting visit.

I've posted pictures of my escapades in the Big Apple and Boston up on Google's new Picasa Web Albums. Despite two solid and very late nights of tango in New York, I'm sorry to say that I don't have any milonga photos. Next time! New Yorkers dance wonderfully and it'd be a pleasure to return.



New York



Boston

 

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New York, New York

It seems like my life never eases up from its 100mph pace. Today, the road of life has led me to New York City, where I'm spending the weekend before heading to Boston on Monday to attend Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference. I've ducked into the new Apple Store in New York (yes, the one modeled after the Louvre with the glass elevator) for some free Internet off decent machines.

New York is a wonderful city. For some unknown reason, I've always had some apprehension (fear?) of coming here---maybe I've seen too many action movies where New York is the center of crime and ass kicking. Realistically though, New York is as safe or safer than any other city I've been in around the world.

I got in yesterday afternoon and checked into a hostel on the southwest corner of Central Park, walking distance to just about...everything. I had dinner with my cousin Derrick, his girlfriend, and her family. Derrick and Shirley planned to be in New York the same weekend I was so they could take me around the town a little bit (thanks!) and we're headed to a comedy club tonight.

New York also makes the fifth city I've tangoed in, adding it self to a list that includes Seattle, Portland, Budapest, and Vancouver. I went last night to Tango Lounge, a dance studio located on the fifth floor of an otherwise unremarkable office building. The monthly all-night milonga is tonight and I'm looking forward to dancing my feet off.

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Living the Dream

So, it's been a little while. :)

As it almost goes without saying, it's been a nutty month and a half. Work deadlines were keeping me heads down for a couple of weeks, but more recently, I'm happy to announce that the move has happened!

Learning from my previous moves, I cracked open my wallet and sprung for the U-Haul to move myself in one pass, instead of using family-borrowed pickup trucks that have typically had me moving all day. With the help of Bristow, DavPan, Kezia, Bram, and a couple others, Bram and I both got our stuff moved in by 3:30pm.

My room didn't take long to setup the furniture in my room. A little too quick--with the 10ft ceilings and hardwood floors of the house, my college-grade furniture didn't quite fit. A lot of time has been spent in the recent weeks to do some upgrading, starting with a queen size matress (I still feel like I'm swimming in bed). A chest of drawers and a nightstand are on order from Overstock.com and a small rug arrived last Saturday from Costco.com. Marcie has leapt at the chance to be my interior decorator and we'll be doing some painting to warm the place up a bit. I'm pretty excited about it, ableit impatient to get the room done.

Capital Hill living agrees with me. Prior, I was driving from the eastside into Seattle seven or eight times a week and having to fill up my car about every six days. Since I've moved into the city and started taking the bus (the new house is strategically located near the bus line which takes me to Microsoft), I've only filled up once, and that's only because it was convienent. Couldn't come at a better time, considering the price of gas around here.

Living with Bram is going to whip me into shape, which is something that I'm looking forward to. Endurance climbing workouts in the morning and biking to work and back, just to name a couple things we've done. Our third roommate, Dave, a friend of mine from high school, will be joining us tomorrow. We're planning on doing some snow camping over Memorial Day weekend for some roommate bonding time.

Housewarming BBQ on Memorial Day Monday! Stay tuned!

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