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Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Subject:No mas pura vida!
Time:8:39 am.
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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Friday, November 10th, 2006

Subject:Touristy Arenal
Time:9:47 am.
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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Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

Subject:Tortillas
Time:6:27 pm.
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.

Reposted from Adventures of a Vagabond

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Monday, November 6th, 2006

Subject:Beaches, forests, and 10 hours on the bus
Time:12:14 pm.
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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Friday, November 3rd, 2006

Subject:Pura Vida en Costa Rica!
Time:7:11 am.
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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Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

Subject:Fighting the Long Tail
Time:2:03 pm.
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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Sunday, July 16th, 2006

Subject:Chowda in the Haarba
Time:10:31 pm.
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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Subject:Chowda in the Haarba
Time:10:30 pm.
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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Saturday, July 8th, 2006

Subject:New York, New York
Time:8:56 am.
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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Sunday, May 21st, 2006

Subject:Living the Dream
Time:11:47 pm.
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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Monday, April 10th, 2006

Subject:It is time...
Time:11:31 pm.
...I'm moving back into Seattle!!!

309 10th Ave E

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Sunday, April 9th, 2006

Subject:Career Mode
Time:7:54 pm.
14 hours. That's how much more time I'd need to be in the waking week to accomplish everything I try to do. It's been a stressful couple of weeks...some issues at work have blown up unexpectedly and ended up on my plate (Office 12, Vista, IE7, and Exchange 12 are the bane of my existance) and my usual propensity to do 'stuff' hasn't let up at all. When I last tallied up the list (a list that only seems to get longer), those extra 14 hours would be used on: keeping up with the 40 or so great blogs I subscribe to, reading the news, spending more time on Chinese, writing specs at work, a little climbing and time outdoors, then sleeping. Not to mention I've also embarked on a course to broaden my perspective and horizons and have this desire to subscribe to the Economist and Business 2.0.

Wait, stop. I'm whining about problems most people would be fortunate to have. As Bram would say, "the tiniest violin is playing the saaaddest song."

This weekend, which I've spent in Seattle, has been a welcome reprieve from the challenges of yesterweek. It's funny to see--six months ago, I would have leapt at the challenges I'm facing at work and charged on forward with the invincible armor of naaivity. But it's six months later and my time on the job has humbled me, my knowledge, and my capabilities.

It isn't a bad thing...rather it follows the process of growing into the professional world and realizing that knowledge and experience doesn't come overnight. Lisa once shared with me the notion that people like us get really ansy around the six month point in a career job. It's the longest we've ever stayed in one particular place, doing a single job, with no end in sight. I had sort of tossed the idea in the back of my mind when I heard it...what I'm doing is a dream, how could I ever get tired of this rush?

I wasn't really struck until the week after my vacation to Europe. Partly it was due to the cold that I'd picked up and kept me down, but being back in the office felt different too. It wasn't until I'd settled back into my office routine that I realized the feeling was different...long gone was the super-excitement of a new job, gone was the anxiety to move up to working on something else. It had been replaced by a desire to do things methodically, properly, and absorb the learning experiences without rushing them.

It's an interesting feeling with a lot of downstream reprocussions. I've decided to put off my working-in-China plans for an additional year and I've started to look at my life in Seattle in long-term time. After all these years, I'm ready to make the place I live my home, not just the place I crash at. I'm surrounded by awesome friends, great hobbies, and a great job. It couldn't be better.

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Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Subject:Grey Lines of Munich
Time:3:47 pm.
Still trying to recover from my cold, I spent last night watching the movie Munich. I've heard some pretty mixed reviews of the movie, skewing slightly towards the bad side.

I loved it. It's a non-standard movie that takes on the very touchy subject of terrorism. There's no right or wrong in the movie...not even a protagonist or antagonist. Put simply, the movie falls into the gray area of reality, a space that most movie directors avoid and most audiences find uneasy. It's so difficult because there is no happy ending, no sad ending, or hardly an ending at all. It is what it is.

Spielberg did a fantastic job exploring the gray area. The never ending cycle of terrorism...what it does to the people involved, where hunters seek revenge and eventually become the hunted, and so on. Each rev of the cycle, filled with emotions and experiences, are so hard to let go and forgive...they keep crying out for more. I've been thinking about this a lot today and the strength of character it takes for an individual to rise up against the tide of the cycle. Even greater, the strength of character it takes to lead a populace against the tide. Just like we all did when we listened to the stories of tragedy in history classes, I wondered if I have the strength to be a person that stands up the tides of darkness.

I wonder.

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Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

Subject:And just like that, I was back
Time:11:18 pm.
It's all starting to blur together in my mind already. I woke up this morning in my own bed and found myself back in the office at my normal hour, dangerously close to my normal routine. That was a short jaunt...

I'm happy to pronounce the trip a complete success. We did what we set out to do and got where we wanted to go. We started in Vienna, went to Innsbruck, Munich, Budapest, and back to Vienna all according to the rough plan that we had left with. I came back with six bottles of wine, including three bottles of the prized Liszt Kekfrankos that I'd been craving since I left Budapest a year ago. Unfortunately, I came back with a bit of a cold and a voice that could sand down wooden planks (I blame the saunas in Budapest...going from a super-hot sauna stright into 16 degree celcius water is great for the skin, but horrible for the immune system).

It was really a mindtrip to be back in Budapest again, staying in my old hostel, wandering my favorite streets. As much as I wanted to, I never expected that I'd return to Budapest so soon. I didn't get to see much more than I did last time though--most of my time was returning to my favorite spots and wandering around areas of the city to see what had changed. I really wanted to go Margaret Island, an island on the Danube sandwiched between the northern areas of Buda and Pest. I'd also love to do some day trips to some of the surrounding areas, including the beautiful Lake Balaton to the southwest that I had trained past at sunset a year ago on my first trip.

In other words, my trip was too short, but then again, aren't they always? I could have spent another week in Budapest and after that, another two weeks exploring the countryside. Really, at the end of the day, the Earth is quite simply, big. :)

This was my first time traveling in a group and I was very pleased with how everything turned out. Lots of crazy and fun things happened that I never would have gotten traveling alone. Group dynamics and the effects of prolonged time exposure are always unknown quanities with any group and we all made it home alive without killing each other and on great terms. There's definitely a few knobs to tweak if we do this again in terms of preferences and duration--I think in the future I'll be sticking strictly with the smaller hostels (we did about a 50/50 split of big party vs. small cozy hostels) and trying to spend more time at any given place.

For now, it's back to the grinding stone. I've got deadlines coming up fast. The pictures are pretty good and I'll be triaging through them sometime this week to post them.

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Friday, March 17th, 2006

Subject:Budapest Transcending
Time:4:08 pm.
I'm baaack!

After a rather interesting night train experience where we were severely concerned about getting our stuff jacked (thankfully, no problems, though a lot of precautions), we arrived this morning into Budapest. Sadly, we were greeted by gray skies and 0 degree (celcius) weather.

Budapest still hasn't lost it's charm, though the city is definitely undergoing a makeover. It's actually very interesting to me...I often speak about prioritizing destinations that I feel are likely to change heavily in the near future, leading me to concentrate my travels in the developing world. Budapest is the first city I've returned to since I started my travels and I discovered myself walking around shocked at the change I was finding. Former landmarks and shops had been replaced. Buildings were being gutted and rebuilt. New restaurants and cafes. Scaffolding and tarp covering the facades of beautiful buildings for remodeling work. It almost feels as if the city is undergoing a makeover in preparation for the bright and sunnier summer season.

This is great to see in many ways...economic development remains strong, Hungary remains an up and coming rising star in the world. I'm happy to see all this progress, but between remodeling and the weather, I also feel that the spirit of the city that I'm so fond of has diminished slightly. Perhaps when I return in a few years it will be back in force...or maybe I won't recognize the city at all. It took me a fair bit of walking around to find my old hostel today.

I spent the day on my own, walking and wandering the streets of the city. It was a good moment of "solitude." Met up with the group for dinner and gorged ourselves on amazingly delicious Hungarian food that continues to live up to it's reputation. Ended the night by going to a local Milonga, something I've been looking forward to for the last two months. There's some good dancers here, with most of them having about one year of experience. DJ could have been better though, all the music he played was the exact same tempo, +/- 5 bpm. It got pretty boring after awhile and everyone assured me that the dance to go to was in fact the Sunday night dance, where the music is far better. Unfortunately, by Sunday night I'll be back in Vienna...*sigh* for short vacations...

Anyway, with that, I'm off to bed. It's 1am here.

Reposted from Adventures of a Vagabond

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Thursday, March 16th, 2006

Subject:Slide Stops and Olympic Tops
Time:8:26 am.
Today made the sixth Olympic site I've been to when we visisted the Olympic Stadium in Munich. As we wandered around the mostly empty (it's a weekday) park, we poked our we browsed through the BMW museum, spied through the windows of a swimming pool, and my personal favorite, rented ice skates at the local rink. Yippee, that was AWESOME. The five of us took out hockey skates and plopped ourselves onto the ring, where David suprised all of us by flying around the ice with surprising dexterity, owed mainly to childhood pursuits.

We eventually ended up practicing slide stops and racing each other doing shuttle runs down the ice. It was the first time I've been successfully able to slide stop, thanks to a few pointers from David. Bram took the most falls out of all of us, his craziness leading to more than a few spread-eagle falls across the ice. :) Pictures to come soon.

Gotta head out now, but we're headed tonight to BUDAPEST!!

Reposted from Adventures of a Vagabond

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Tuesday, March 14th, 2006

Subject:0wned in Austria
Time:1:37 pm.
T-Shirt Slogan of the Day: I went skiing in the Austrian Alps and I got 0wned.

The crew hit up the Axamer Lizum resort in the hills above Innsbruck, which officially made the fifth present and future Olymipic sites. Today's dose of skiing was likely the best skiing I've ever done, with a combination of groomed runs, fine fresh powder, and challenging terrain. It was also cheap! I've had this notion for years that skiing in Europe has prohibitively expensive, but we discovered it to be quite a bit cheaper than our US equivelents...lift plus good rental gear cost 50 EUR, which is a far cry from the $100/day amounts we're used to paying at Whistler.

I took an amazing spill today, the likes of which have not been since since I was learning how to ski as a wee lad. Two words: Yard Sale. Making tracks through some powdered streches, I started picking up some speed as I ran through a gully bewtween two sets of rocks. As I came around the corner, something happened, because the next thing I know, I'm faceplanted, snow down my back, skis five feet behind me, and a pole ten feet up the mountain. Hence the slogan, "I went skiing in the Austrian Alps and got 0wned."

We've successfully plowed through the bionic part of our tour and we've made it to Munich, where we'll be settling in for the next couple days before heading to Budapest. 

Reposted from Adventures of a Vagabond

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Monday, March 13th, 2006

Subject:Getting Vienna
Time:1:19 am.
So a few posts down, I wrote about "Giving Vienna" and planning a trip with four friends to Europe. We arrived yesterday after spending about 13 hours in flight and we're having an awesome time. This is my first real vacation since I've started working where I haven't been checking email and keeping up with affairs in the office. Eating dinner at a nice restaurant called Huth near the center of town, we all commented how nice it was to relax and not thing about work (or anything) for the first time in months.

I've certainly felt a sense of homecoming and peace by slinging a backpack on again and returning to the hostel life. I've missed this sort of traveling more than I could ever explain here...it's very refreshing to live life out of a bag again.

All of us got up pretty early...we walked out the hostel around 8:00a, rare and unheard of in the backpacking realm. Vienna has been a little colder than expected for us and Bo, Bede, and David spent time in the local REI-equivalent buying base layers.

Bram is kicking me off by countdown...more later!

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Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

Subject:Living Edge-to-Edge
Time:1:09 am.
Site's back! Sorry about the downtime folks---the server this blog is hosted on was hit by an XML RPC exploit that forced my admin to take some drastic measures. I'm back now and hope that I wasn't missed too much. :)

Living edge to edge. A term originally coined by Bo, it's a motto that's defined life for the past three weeks. 

Weekend 1 (three weekends ago):

Whistler! My second trip this season, I joined a group of David and Bo's friends as we headed up for a weekend of adventure. I skiied hard one day and had my eighth (?) day on a snowboard, where I discovered that going in a straight line on a snowboard is more challenging than I thought, especially on the permamently icy Blackcomb Glaicier Road, leading to more than a few painful spills. I've gotten pretty decent on a board, but I'm thinking that skiing is still my choice sport. High point of the trip was making a new friend, Eden, who actually works at the Microsoft offices in Beijing! My goal of working in China is more acheivable and reachable than I originally thought.

Weekend 2 (two weekends ago):

After much debate on weekend plans, I decided to take the pansy pills and bail out on a second straight weekend of skiing on a weekend trip to Mt. Baker. Instead, Lisa, Andrea, and I headed south to Portland. Lisa and I went and made tracks at Valentango, one of the largest and biggest tango workshops in the country. Amongst attending workshop sessions and watching our teachers burn holes in the floor during their performances, Lisa and I got dressed up with the rest of our friends and danced like we've never danced before, stumbling home to Andrea's parent's house at 5 am.

My dancing ascended to a whole new level that night after dancing with a girl from Orange County and another from Portland. In dancing, there is such a thing as the right follow/lead size and I've never danced with anyone that was such a perfect fit. Tangoing with these two girls was the way dancing was meant to be...an amazing connection from head to toe. Truely a pleasure. Going to a practica in Seattle after Valentango, I received comments like, "that was the best dance we've ever had."

Weekend 3 (last weekend):

The fun just doesn't let up! Bo offically took home Hardcore of the Year award last weekend for an insane edge-to-edge lifestyle. After the Whistler trip, Bo took the anti-pansy pills and dove into another weekend of snow at Mt. Baker. Returning late Sunday night, Bo stumbled into work in time for a series of conference calls before hopping on a plane to Washington D.C. at noon. Returning on Friday night, Bo hardly had a chance to breathe in the air when we swung through, picked him up as he walked out the door at arrivals, and headed off to Lisa's family cabin out by Mt. Rainier. Bo became the first person to show up at the rustic cabin tucked away in the woods wearing a dress shirt, slacks, and walking around the snow in dress shoes.

 The five of us--Bo, Bede, Bram, Lisa, and myself headed to Crystal on Saturday for yet another day playing in the most wonderful snow--it was snowing overnight and through most the day, resulting in some true Cloud 9 skiing. Sunday was a relax day, but we gunned out at 3:30...Bo had a flight to catch to Phoenix at 8! Talk about living la viva loca...

Weekend 4 (next weekend):

R&R time! For me at least...I'm taking the weekend off. But I can't help but mention that Bo is headed to Utah with some friends for yet another weekend in the snow. Time for me to catch up on life, bills, church, and sleep. :)

Besides. I leave for Europe in 2 weeks. Vienna, Innsbruck, Munich, and Budapest!

Reposted from Adventures of a Vagabond

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Monday, January 30th, 2006

Subject:Weekend Trips and Tango Slips
Time:12:42 am.
I just got home from a fantastic night of tango dancing. Sunday is always my tango day, starting with a lesson in the afternoon and followed by a dance in the evening. I always feel like I'm dancing better if I had a lesson the same day. It helps to have a couple of new moves to show off and legs still warm from the earlier lesson.

I've been doing weekend trips the last twp weeks, hitting up the Bay Area to see Bill, John, Neha, Benita, and Colleen, then Denver to visit my parents on my Mom's birthday. Both were wildly successful and fun.

The Bay Area was a long overdue trip that I'd been promising for about five months. I was in "trip debt", since Neha had come up to visit me in Seattle late last year. Since academic institutions and Googlites get MLK Jr. Day off, I took advantage of my friends' availability and hightailed it south.

Neha picked me up and took me straight to the Googleplex, where I consumed a delicious free lunch and proceeded to roam the halls for the afternoon. Love their offices. Although they have four people in an office and a bunch of big cubicals, the company goes for the open space concept, which means I can see across distances filled with natural light and colors. A radical change for me, since I never feel like I have room to fully strech out my arms in Microsoft office land. Google also has amazing mini-kitchens, each 200ft apart and containing a commercial grade espresso machine, drinks (good ones!), and a very broad assortment of snacks, all free. They even have an adult ball pit, which rocked, at least until Neha lost her badge in it and I had to dig through it and fish it out.

I saw Benita again, which was a little surreal. I had met Benita in a club called Pegasus back in Shanghai during my travels. She was teaching english there for a year and returned home to Palo Alto in June. Benita was a source of comic relief as I text messaged her while riding on buses throughout China. We've been trying to meet up since she got back in June and I'm happy to say that I've now put her in trip debt. :) Satiating a craving, she took Bill and I to a fantastic dim sum lunch.

Seeing the intern team from last summer was a blast. Bill, John, and I watched an episode of Alias, recanting a memory from the trip to Austin last October. We partied up in SF, where I had to smuggle out a pair of shoes for Bill, who was rejected by the bouncer for wearing sandals. We did a boardgame night and played Pictionary and Charades, where we drew things like "semi-permable cell membrane" and acted out "dingleberry." Colleen showed up on Monday in time to do some paved hiking with us and bum around in the great Californian sun. A trip well done!

As for Denver---Lisa and Andrea convinced me the week before that it'd be a Nice Thing to go home and surprise my mother on her birthday, especially since I hadn't been back since Sept '04. So I showed up at my mother's office holding a dozen roses right as she was finishing her day, much to her astonishment. A plan well executed. :) I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity while I was there, so my friend Dave and I hit the slopes and tore it up. Though rusty, Dave is a really good skiier, and I was able to get some pointers on how to improve my skiing techniques, which were beginning to feel a bit stagnated. Still so much to learn, like conquering the almightly mogul. But all in all, another trip well done. :)

I'm so fortunate to live this "young professional" life.

And now...off to face a new week.

Reposted from Adventures of a Vagabond

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