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Rants & Raves

On the death of my son

As part of my grieving i wanted to write about my son’s passing. This post will be a work in progress that i will iterate on, as I am inspired to write.

I read a book back in summer of 1992 called On the Death of My Son. It was an interesting book which tells the real life story of a father’s experience with his son’s death, and a series of insights and connections to the meaning he got from that experience (including a sense of connecting to his son and hearing about the afterlife). As much as anything, the title of the book has stuck with me and it is with a sad heart that as of Feb 29th of this year 2020, i have experienced the death of my youngest son Caetano. He was 16.

Caetano and me in Beijing in 2008, hiking the great wall together. Ultraman in hand, one of my favorite childhood toys passed from one generation to the next. He would grow up to love all things Japan and Japanese.

My wife and I and our son Carlos put together a memorial site for Caetano Key, which has been visited 10k+ times by over 3000 visitors in its first weeks. The many lovely text messages, emails, notes, flowers, food, and other expressions of love and caring for our family have been incredibly uplifting and we feel part of a larger community. And yet, we are devastated. We miss Caetano in so many ways we couldn’t possibly document or convey.

We are however, ok. I’ll let my wife and son tell their own stories on their own channels. I am ok because i’m feeling many intense feelings, but i’m making good progress feeling them, and understanding my grief. These include:

  • I’m angry. I’m angry at Caetano for trying drugs and not taking the risks of illicit drugs seriously. When he was 11 i had a long conversation with him about all drugs that I could name, and their effects, their joys, and their risks. We did this together in the car while driving to Whistler to ski. His brother was with us. I talked about tobacco, alcohol, psychedelics, stimulants, and depressants like opioids. I told him it was likely that he and his brother might at some point in their lives experiment with drugs. I tried to impart to him a strong boundary with addiction, and risky behavior when under the influence that could lead to physical or emotional harm. I shared with him some of the trauma in my own life that came from family members and my own personal experience with certain drugs. Caetano experimented with drugs: too many of them, and too often. His teenage brain didn’t appreciate the risks. He thought he had it under control. He didn’t. We sought help for him from specialists. He became a nicotine addict (thanks Juul, you bastards), he became a frequent pot and psychedelics tripper, and then the gift of the Sackler family to america, the nefarious opioid epidemic got a hold of him and he became a statistic, one of ~70k people dying a year in america. But this anger has been healing as well. Because being able to feel the anger, but then surrender to it and understand that i didn’t cause his addiction, i couldn’t control his addiction, and I couldn’t cure it… i’m ok with it. His addiction was his. I can only work on my feelings, and being angry is a waste of emotion and time–i want to direct those cycles to doing good in the world for myself and others.
  • I have tons of regrets. At work i often talk with my colleagues about “if you don’t have any regrets about how you did things in the past, then you didn’t learn anything”. There are 16 years of regrets in my relationship with my son. Prime among them, i wish i had been a lot more emotionally in tune with him and empathetic to some of the ways in which he experienced the world. Caetano was brilliant and funny and kind and a type A personality that wanted to try everything at least 1 time, no matter the consequences. He was also more anxious, and sensitive to how others perceived him, than i understood or could directly relate to. He and i shared real moments of connection where we were together and really emotionally bonded–i regret there weren’t many, many more of those moments. There are also tactical regrets–i wish i hadn’t given him access to an ipod touch and later an iphone, at the early age of 4th grade. I wish that we had gotten him better psychological support and more consistent support, earlier in his life. I regret not having learned CPR, so that i could have maybe saved his life when he went into cardiac arrest in our home at 3am, from a overdose of street purchased Fentanyl. These regrets make me feel sad and anxious… but they also make me feel ok, because they remind me of the many ways that i’ve grown and learned, thanks to my time with Caetano.
  • I have no regrets. I’ve read many Greek tragedies where fate dictated horrible outcomes, inescapably, for the protagonist. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by one of my favorite authors  Gabriel García Márquez, was a frustrating experience to read — i constantly wanted to step in and save the character from his fate, as the very title of the book tells you that the main character will die. But even in a tragic ending, the story is full of redeeming life moments that were worth living. Caetano died at the age of 16. I am glad he was a part of my life for those years I had him: through the joyous moments, the maddening/frustrating ones, and ultimately through to his tragic end. I never thought his challenges in life would lead to such a sudden end; but now that they have, i feel at peace with some cosmic purpose and destiny. It is and was, by definition, his journey in life.
  • I have a very strong sense of peace that comes from my material atheist faith. I believe Caetano is one with the universe. Literally, i believe his essence and spirit and physical self are all, now, inexorably intertwined with all matter and all beings, in a peaceful way. I’m not worried about him.

But mostly i’m just sad. I’m sad because of the lost opportunity to meet and befriend the adult Caetano that was yet to come. I imagined years of continued work on our communication and relationship, of good times and bad times. I wanted to see the 2nd act in his life, post teenager. To continue to learn from him. To watch from afar and follow his journey with curiosity and fondness and a father’s love. I had many plans for me and the adult Caetano, including:

  • We had such a good time visiting Japan together for spring break when he was 13, just the two of us. We traveled on trains, ate adventurously in restaurants, marveled at large and fanciful Buddhist temples, took a okonomiyaki cooking class, shopped for manga and other J-curios, and bathed in a onsen near mount Fuji. At the time i thought we would have a dozen such trips together, father and son, in our lives. That was our last 1:1 trip.
  • One summer i convinced him to train with me for a 10k race. At first he had a hard time committing to train, and complained. But then he found that runner’s rhythm and became a fast and long runner, completing a 14k training run on his own and letting me know via text message. He was proud of himself. I was proud of him. We had a great race day together, and i remember how happy he was at the finish line as we crossed together in a feverish sprint. I thought we would have many more races together… not now when he was a surly teenager, but perhaps in 5 or 10 years. We never ran together again.
  • Most of the quality time we had spent together in the last 18 months was in therapy. We had family therapy weekly, and it wasn’t always a joy or even productive. But some times it was… sometimes it was really great. He and I and his mom and brother all went to therapy individually as well, and we would convene as a quad-team to share what progress we were making individually, and as a family group. It was hard work. But it was rewarding. It has changed me profoundly, allowing me to grow emotionally in ways i haven’t ever before in my life. I was looking forward to more years of discussing our individual work, and more sessions together helping each other to grow.
The moment of joy for both Caetano and I as he took his first steps as a 1 year old. One of many, many happy moments together in his 16 years.

I’m sad. I’m happy. I’m angry. But mostly, i’m ok. Taking it a day at a time, and a week at a time, and know that Caetano will be with me the rest of my life.

I love you Caetano, always.

Categories
Rants & Raves

Shoreditch Street Art

I had a lovely art-walk experience this week in Shoreditch neighborhood of London led by David Stuart of http://www.shoreditchstreetarttours.co.uk and wanted to make note for others. I had of course seen Exit Through the Gift Shop, superb film on the street art scene and the artist Banksy in particular, so it was with wondrous glee that i set out with David to see some of the many rich art-installations dotted in the streets of this neighborhood.

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Rants & Raves

Beijing and Pingyao Visit 2019

We just had a wonderful trip to Beijing and for the first time had a chance to do some side trips to Pingyao.  Was fun to take the bullet-train in china for the first time, it’s about 3.5 hrs to Pingyao from Beijing West Train Station.  The little town is beyond charming and surrounded by a centuries old wall and towers.  We saw no western tourists at all (winter season likely had something to do with it) and stayed in a delightful boutique hotel called Jing’s Residence.  The hotel is right in the midst of the old town, with delightful set meals and comfy beds.  A bit on the pricey side for the town, but *well* worth it.  Highly recommend Pingyao as a Beijing side-trip, as others had recommended to me!

By the way, we hired a private car and driver in Beijing and absolutely loved this service. Eric runs a very good operation, our driver was super awesome, punctual, drove very safe, was in easy contact over WeChat to find and organize drops/pick-ups.  Will be recommending to all my friends that visit Beijing.

Here’s some shots from Pingyao:

Ok this is the discovery of the trip, a local specialty called Kau Lao Lao, a oat-based pasta arranged in a honeycomb pattern, with toppings of various kinds (pictured with lamb and a tomato broth of sorts, which tasted of lamb-raggu but didn’t look like it).  This was the best new food i’ve had in maybe a decade!  Where have you been all my life, Kau Lao Lao?

2019 02 Carlos China Trip-1172

Standing on the west-gate above the bustling streets below:

2019 02 Carlos China Trip-1159

Walking around the perimeter of the wall, probably a good 3+ mile circumference although some construction kept us from looping the entire city.

2019 02 Carlos China Trip-1154

Near the center of town amongst the bustle.

2019 02 Carlos China Trip-1113

Categories
Rants & Raves

Remove and Replace Ford Focus RS mk3 Billet Badges/Emblems

My 2017 Ford Focus RS (mk3) is a joy to drive and i like its styling.  I’m a first time Ford owner, and got in on the “made in USA” car thing just in time for Ford to discontinue all future sales of car vehicles (except for Mustang) which might work out just fine for me, as I think of this project car as a long-term toy to use for track and occasional car outings.  Now it will also be the last ford hot-hatch made for a long time?!  Bonus.

car

When i looked over the exterior stylings of the car one of the things that stood out for me as a eyesore is the blue on white stock “billet badges”, the thing on the hood and the trunk that say “Ford” in the classic font.  I found a custom fabricator and design shop called Billet Badges that had awesome designs, and when i contacted them they assured me that as long as I was patient and gave them time (turned out to be about 4 months) to design and spec the new billets, they’d be happy to do a custom design.  I went with “Fury” in the same Ford font, which feels playful and true to the original mark, but unique and a tribute to the awesome heroine Furiosa from the last Mad Max Fury Road film.

The badges came a few weeks ago and I got started on install over the last day and wanted to post my findings/process for others thinking of this kind of mod.

badges

Here’s the first headline:  Be warned, the Ford Focus RS mk3 (2016-2018) front billet badge (“ford emblem” on hood) does indeed have screws that need to be removed from inside the engine bay. Floss and a heat gun alone will get you nowhere!  I was unable to find any videos or posts that correctly showed this install challenge. Floss alone will rip and hurt your hands–this job requires unfastening two screw bolts from under the front bumber/face of the hood.

Let’s jump right to the problem piece.  Using a heat gun (to warm up the pieces and make the glue that binds them to the surface a little looser/easier to manipulate) is a great first step and I’ve used to remove several outer badges on this and other cars.  Then, using tooth-floss, you can shimmy the floss between the surface and the badge, with a back-and-forth motion gently bitting into the adhesive and releasing the bond, eventually leading to the piece/badge popping right off.

But not with the front badge, which looks like this:

You can see the removed emblem and the fasteners. Note the thick plastic screws that are fused to the emblem and are threaded.  Those little fasteners are threaded onto the end of the two outer plastic aligners.  DO NOT try to rip/pull this off, you’ll damage the body fender/bumper.  Instead, go in through the engine compartment, get behind the badge, and use some pliers to twist/turn the fasteners off.  Then the piece will come off with some gentle tugging and the floss/cutting of the glue-binding.  When off, you’ll see this:

There is lots of adhesive to break down.  A little elbow grease, some Goo Remover fluid, and some gentle scrubbing and fingernail work, and voila:

I then placed the new billet badge in the slot to see if the fit was right, and was amazed at *perfect* fit.  Flush to the hood, perfect depth, oval size, etc.

Now onto the back tailgate.  Turns out the badge in the back is NOT fastened, rather, is simply pushed in through some alignment holes.  here’s what the piece looks like removed, with some floss to loosen the grip, and some gentle tugging.

IMG_0853

And the tailgate hole after some cleanup:

IMG_0857

I did have a fit problem with the back, you can see here that i could fit a US 1 cent penny in the gaps that remained around the badge, to be flush with the body of the tailgate:

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Here’s the same view, from flush above, without the penny in place:

IMG_0862

I contacted the friendly folks at Billet Badges and they said to send back and they would grind down the width of a penny, i think we agreed on a few mms.  When it came back a week later, perfect:

IMG_0860

So in summary, here below are (left) the FRONT badge, which has screw fasteners and needs to be loosened from inside the engine bay, the (right) rear badge, which has alignment push-in plastic protrusions (can simply be pulled off after loosening the glue bond), and the back of my new badges which are smooth, with the Made in the USA sticker (thanks again BilletBadges.com!)

IMG_0856

And here is the front after it is fully installed:

IMG_0958

And a wider shot, with my now more recently added decal stripes:

IMG_1808
e, voila!
Categories
Rants & Raves

Masters of Visual Effects 1999 Style

Too fun.  So in 1999 some buddies and I put together a series of instructional video tapes (that we shipped out on VHS) called the Masters of Visual Effects series.  The series had originally intended to have some true masters of visual effects, eg: Scott Squires, John Knoll, Eric Chauvin… real veteran / gurus of the industry.

Unfortunately we only got chapters 1 and 2 produced and we ran into some production $$  overruns, and long story short we never got the real masters in front of the camera.  What we do have in this historical record, thanks to a remnant VHS copy that was found and digitize by my buddy Matt Silverman, is a time-capsule of vfx and post-production issues from 1999, immortalized by the presenters.  I may get take-down requests from some of them so i will leave their names out of the meta-text here, and submit, humbly for your viewing pleasure.

It is interesting to me now in 2016 how many of these issues from 1999 are becoming issues again in the age of VR video production.  Post-production has become relatively effortless in 2016, with basic laptops easily being able to handle UHD 4k video editing and effects.  However, doing full immersive VR content requires some of the same proxy-resolution workflows that we employed in 1999 to deal with the film-video-digital steps of that era.  Everything old is new again!

Masters of Visual Effects – 1.1 – Introduction

Masters of Visual Effects – 1.2 – Film as Digital Images

Masters of Visual Effects – 1.3 – Post Production Basics

Masters of Visual Effects – 1.4 – Pre-Viz and Editing

Masters of Visual Effects – 2.1 – Compositing Concepts Part 1

Masters of Visual Effects – 2.2 – Compositing Concepts Part 2

Masters of Visual Effects – 2.3 – Keying

Masters of Visual Effects – 2.4 – Tracking

Masters of Visual Effects – 2.5 – Paint

Masters of Visual Effects – 2.6 – Rotoscoping

 

 

 

 

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Rants & Raves

Carlos Key’s Film, in Geekwire!

My son Carlos Key’s film won an award at the local film festival, the Seattle International Film Festival, and he has a nice write up in the Seattle Times–Carlos Key won the Youth Award at SIFF for the 3 minute short film category.

But probably just as cool, for us tech geeks, is that Seattle’s own tech blog of record, Geekwire, wrote a nice piece highlighting the work of Carlos as a young film maker, and how changes in film tech and software have made film making for teenagers something entirely magical, with the advent of lower cost equipment in the last decade.

Carlos Key featured in Geekwire here, and here’s the film from his YouTube channel:

 

Here’s Carlos in Peru this month on a class trip, where he is shooting a documentary (camera in hand!)

 

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Rants & Raves

Grand Canyon River Expedition with Hatch as Outfiter

River Rafting the Grand Canyon

My Family and I just completed a marvelous 9 day expedition on the Colorado River from Lees Landing launch, down through the marvelous Grand Canyon National Park.  We used Hatch as our expedition outfitter/organizer and we were absolutely thrilled with them, our crew, their end-to-end service, and of course, the amazing experience and majesty of the canyon/river.  I wanted to post a few thoughts here for the benefit of others considering the trip, and, Hatch as an outfitter for your adventure on the Colorado/Grand Canyon. Hatch was FANTASTIC.

Here’s what we did:

  • From Las Vegas, we took a regional small plane flight from the city of Boulder to Marble Canyon (not really a town per se, more like a landing strip for the plane and next to a bridge that crosses the Grand Canyon in the “Marble Canyon” area of the park). The flight was arranged with the help of Hatch expedition folks but was a cost separate from the expedition itself.  Here at the upper North-East of the Grand Canyon National Park we met our group which totaled 16 family members, some of whom took their own cars to park at this location, or, who took shuttles from Las Vegas by land.  We all stayed the night before departure at the Cliff Dweller’s Lodge, a very nice little motel on the side of the road with clean updated rooms, with a nice little restaurant and supplies shop for food/water/snacks.
  • We awoke early and met the Hatch Expeditions team at our hotel, loaded up in a van, and 15 minutes later we were at Lee’s Ferry, the departure point for the trip (where we met our boat, boat captain, and “swamper” who would assist the boat captain–thus making our total boat party 18 folks).
  • We then boarded out boat and started our journey down-stream which comprised of 9 days 8 nights.  The trip can be configured to be 7 days or as long as 15–in our case we were in a motorized boat (small outboard engine powered the vessel through rapids and long stretches that would require some real paddling effort), we saw other groups that were in mixed use paddle/cayak configurations… i can imagine any and all configurations to be great fun, but the motorized option was definitely optimal for our group that included children ages 10, 12, and 14, as well as several 60-70 year olds in various states of good conditioning (but not strong enough to be paddling a boat for 4-6 hours a day every day).
  • Each day consisted of a routine of (a) rise with the sun, (b) breakfast and break camp usually before 7:30am and on the river (c) a mixture of river rapid ridding, short stops for short walks, and longer stops for side-canyon hikes that lasted upwards of 3 hrs round trip, (d) lunch break mid day usually in a shaded river-edge spot, (e) more rapids and or hikes in the afternoon, (f) make camp landing by 4pm, set up camp, relax a bit before (g) dinner and then lights out with sunset.
  • All camping is on rivers edge on sandy beaches that have mix of rocks/bushes–very very comfortable camps on cots/tents as needed, but we slept outdoors with no cover all nights and enjoyed the stars.  Warm temperatures in July averaged 80+ at night and 100 during the day.  No mosquitoes, very pleasant lack of nuisance bugs of all kinds, with exception of red-ants that re everywhere but only bit 1 in our party 1 time…
  • Fantastic meals and snacks entirely organized and prepared by our captain and swamper.  Our responsibilities as passengers included helping unload/load the boat, and setting up our own camp and sleeping equipment.  We participated as a group in helping with cleaning post-meals, but largely were taken care of by the crew (i don’t know how they did all that cooking–but they did).  Meals were *VERY* good and complete with mixed preparation, sauces, sides, etc…. we were NOT wanting of food comforts, ever!
  • End of trip involved being picked up in a helicopter and flown out in groups of 6 to Bar10 Ranch, from where we had our first showers in 10 days, before boarding a small plane and being returned to Las Vegas area (this flight is included in the expedition fees from Hatch).

In summary–absolutely great experience for all in our group, it truly is a once in a lifetime, one place in the world kind of experience.  Where else can you travel 180+ miles through a national park, take in the absolute majesty of millions of years of natural geology, and never see any cars/villages/cell-phones, etc.?  I now understand why this trip is on so many people’s lifetime “bucket lists”… surprisingly, it wasn’t on my list before taking the trip, but upon returning, i would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys nature.  Hatch was a wonderful outfitter and I will strongly recommend to my friends who consider the same trip–their attention to customers, professionalism, great equipment, and real meaningful multi-generational commitment to the park and river guiding (grandpa Hatch started the company in the 1950s) is evident in the excellent service they deliver.

Grand Canyon Rafting 2015-1324Grand Canyon Rafting 2015-1025 Grand Canyon Rafting 2015-1026 Grand Canyon Rafting 2015-1129 Grand Canyon Rafting 2015-1245

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Rants & Raves

F80 BMW m3 Kidney Grill Replacement Install

I changed the kidney grill “bib” from the factory chrome to a matching black; this is apparently pretty common cosmetic upgrade/change, and it was ultimately pretty easy to do–however, i found the online documentation/help to be a bit confusing so I thought I’d pass my learnings forward herein for others, feel free to post a question if I can help you out with more details.

before after f80 grill

First, I bought from IND who were very good with customer service, prompt on delivery, and super knowledgeable when i called a few times with questions before and after purchase.  Highly recommend.  Here’s the F80 Front Grill Surround part that i ordered.

Here’s what the part looks like:

Front Grill

IND provides a DIY video tutorial which is generally correct, but, it was not sufficient for me to succeed with the installation.  Here’s the video:

And here’s what was wrong / additional information needed to be successful:

  • In addition to a Torx 27 tool to remove 6 screws that hold the top of the bumper to the frame (which need to be removed in order to lift the bumper forward to gain access with your hands to the rear where 8 separate tabs snap the plastic of the cover to tabs on the bumper), there are 2 ADDITIONAL screws that require a Torx 25 screw driver.  It may be possible to complete the project without pulling these additional Torx 25 screws, but I would not recommend as it would put needless pressure on the plastic bumper element.  See photo for location:

torque screws

  • With all screws removed, the next step is correct in the IND video, but grossly oversimplified.  it is VERY tricky to find and remove the 8 individual snap/pressure points to get the original grill off the bumper.  After 20 minutes of fidgeting and trying to figure out what to do, i found this very helpful and more accurate video illustration that correctly captures the effort and steps needed:

  • Despite being much harder/trickier then the IND video made the project look, it is actually only a 10 minute project and very DIY… just a little tighter space to work with and some small hands come in handy given the tight spaces.

I love the result and i think it is a great cost/benefit upgrade, much better looking!

Here’s some additional photos in the process which i wish I had as reference, hope they help you out:

pulling off

In photo above: try to get one grill off first by starting with top 3 fasteners, then either the left/right one which allows to start to pull out of frame (as seen in picture, where top 3 and left 1 (so 4 of the 8) have been unfastened), with the right 1 and the bottom 3 still to go.  Once all 8 of them are unsnapped, the piece just pops out.  And THEN, the other grill is easy, as you can now stick your hand through the empty space you created, making for a much faster remove  of the 8 snaps.  It took me 10 minutes to do the left grill, and less than 1 minute to repeat for right side.

Photo below: shows both grills removed.  Inserting the new grills is a simple push/snap gesture, takes 2 seconds each.  So all the work is in getting the existing grills to pop-off!

grill offAnd here is the finished result:

IMG_1478

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Rants & Raves

My Apple Watch Review, vis a vis Fitbit Surge

I sold my Apple Watch after 1 week of use, here’s why!

After a sordid 1 week fling with the Apple Watch, i decided this AM that I had had enough and i posted it for sale on my internal company bulletin board.  I hope to unload it quickly to a lucky colleague so that she/he can have at least a week of fun, if not a lifetime!

Apple Watch

Here’s my experience with the Apple Watch, starting with the many cons/problems that led me to such a rapid falling out of interest for what otherwise should have been an exciting new product for a ultra geek early adopter like me! :

  • Another device that needs to be charged every night and that with any kind of active use during the day, runs out of battery before dinner time (and thus creates more battery anxiety that governs the use of the device during the day!)
  • Another USB cable to take on business trips or vacations, with a completely proprietary charging end which thus requires that this cable be taken anywhere if the watch is going to be used for more than 1 day!
  • I’m not a watch guy to begin with–haven’t worn a watch for 10+ years, and only started to have a time-piece on my wrist in the last year because of my interest in activity trackers (i’ve owned 3 to date, and found myself liking having the time on my wrist again and not needing to reach for my phone to get the time throughout the day).  But the Nike Fuel Band, FitBit v1, and FitBit Surge (the 3 trackers i’ve owned) are all much better casual time-checking tools as they are smaller/lighter and or can be charged 1x per 7 days.  This is a huge tradeoff for me–i can take a business trip and not need another cable, and, they use a standard cable that works with other things besides themselves.
  • The daily activity app is lame.  I like the visualization with the cool colors and wheels, but am totally disinterested in tracking “minutes of activity”, “number of hours in the day where you stood for at least 1 minute”, and “calories”.  I’m much more interested in tracking miles walked/traveled, stairs climbed, points against an index of activity (such as fitbit steps or nike fuel), etc. type metrics
  • The exercise tracking app is lame.  I’ve had a lot of experience with FitBit and Strava apps as well as MapMyRun.  All much better than the app on the watch which does not integrate with any gps/map functionality despite its dependency on the phone?  Or if it does, after 1 week of use I couldn’t figure out how to do that, which means it is an impossibly confusing and hard to use device which is just as bad!  The heartbeat tracking on the watch is very intermittent (not continuos throughout the day, like the FitbitSurge), which makes it just a “approximate” tracker of heartrate at best, and at worst a waste of battery since it read my heart rate at 180 beats per minute for a contiguous 30 minutes today on a run (which is at least 10% too high as that rate of beats would have killed me!)–i sense the heart rate reader is just crap bad (maybe they can fix with a future software update).
  • The UI for finding and loading apps is lame.  It has a dedicated button to get to “friends” screen, which in 1 week i didn’t use once.  When i want to IM or call a friend I reach for my phone.  However, when I want to use the various apps on the Watch (which I did often) such as the exercise, music play controller, Strava app, stock picker, settings menu, New York Times reader, etc. you enter into wacky land of hunting and pecking with tiny screen real-estate and the scrollable nob.  I found that by the time i found the app and got it to load (very slow to load apps, eg: 3-5 seconds per app) i could have much more quickly reached to my pocket and pulled out phone and gotten to the information/app i wanted.
  • The actual “killer apps” for me on the Apple Watch turned out to be…. none.  there is nothing that i found myself using the watch for that was actually useful, or fun, or exciting, or … anything other than “meh!”.  That coupled with the hassle of taking it off to shower (it is not water proof), taking it off to charge each night, and having to look at yet another cable to drag with me everywhere I go so it can be charged… wow, really underwhelmed.

Just to state some positives for fun, and to practice being a positive person:

  • Its cool how it lights up the screen when it senses i’ve raised my wrist or otherwise gestured with the intent of looking at the screen.  it works most of the time–only a few times did I find myself having to tell it to turn on by touching the face
  • several nifty/cool UI concepts at play that with iteration could really be fun/work.
  • lots of support from 3rd party apps–good for apple to being such a powerhouse monopoly with the attention of phone app developers… there were almost TOO many applications, i found myself almost wishing there were fewer so i could focus on a few great ones (most of them are not that interesting)
  • the band fits really nicely, doesn’t chafe, and snaps on/off easily but securely.
  • The dictation voice-to-text is good, you could use to send text messages to friends without pulling your phone out of your pocket (if you aren’t a total Dick Tracy want to be dweeb!)
  • The talking to the thing as a microphone/speaker to answer a call works if you are Dick Tracy and don’t mind being a dweeb!dich tracy

So i’m going to go back to my FitBit Surge–charges 1x a week, tells the time, is a better health tracker for both casual activity (walking around) and exercise (has GPS and more accurate distance and performance tracking, and a great community of friends that use fitbit, and integration with Strava which I use for more serious training for marathons and such).  Here’s a photo of the surge next to my apple watch on its last day of use (when i wore them both to compare the data they generated).

Apple Watch and Surge

I actually am not sure who the Apple Watch is for other than people that really like watches?  If the battery life approached 5-7 days on 1 charge, it was 50% thinner, and the physical buttons or other macro gestures could be linked to the 3-4 apps I actually care about (so it was faster to get it to load the info/app that I want when i want to use it), i would give it another try.  Otherwise, this is the first apple product in 15 years or so that I wish I hadn’t bought (last time that happened was… wait, that has never happened!?)

God forbid anyone would buy a product like this and pay $10k+ for the Gold Edition.  I can’t think of a less practical way to spend that kind of money–the shelf life on this thing, at very best, will be 1 year.  Apple desperately needs to make a v2 of this product that overcomes the many, many, many v1 deficiencies that I think make this a product strictly for super-fan-boys and or fetishist of watches.

Update: after a day on my company bulletin board i had no offers–i guess the demand amongst my peers is zero?  So i ran it over to the Apple store and was given a full refund, no questions asked–A+ customer service Apple, once again.

Categories
Rants & Raves

Strava and FitBit Surge Together / Review of Fitbit Surge

I’m training for the Copenhagen Marathon in May of this year (2015), and have been using Strava and a new Fitbit Surge device to track my runs.  Unfortunately the two systems are not compatible (update May 2015–they are now compatible, details towards end of this post), and I can’t use the heart-rate readings from the Fitbit Surge as health data inside the surge app.  I just completed a 15m training run and I thought I would post the side by side data that the two apps gathered in hopes this might be of use to other runners considering using either of these two systems.

Strava Report

Fitbit ReportSome immediate observations about the differences in the data that was gathered:

  1. The GPS tracking of the Strava, which is running on my iPhone 6, is much more accurate than the location readings on the Fitbit Surge.  The Strava/iPhone readings are really precise and show small variations in my 4 laps around the lake.  The Fitbit Surge GPS is almost comically “loose”, suggesting a meandering variation on each lap, sometimes straying into the lake itself or across non-existent streets.
  2. The splits/pace information is pretty consistent.  I tried to start both devices tracking at the same time, but the differences in the splits and the total distance and time of the run may be as a result of slight differences in start time, and, when I paused for a 40 second water break mid-way i manually paused the fitbit clock, but the Strava was on auto-pause and may have taken a different sense of that timeframe.  That would account for the 2:05:08 (fitbit) v 2:05:34 (strava).
  3. No idea how to rationalize the 15.01m Fitbit distance vrs. the 15.3m for Strava, which results in the pace discrepancy:  Ftibit says i had a 8:20 overall pace, Strava 8:13 pace.

My sincere desire is that Strava and Fitbit will get their systems connected, not sure who has the burden to do what work, but certainly can’t be very far from core to their missions to support as many devices/APIs as possible in this connected health tracking wearable category?  Strava is focussed on community, Fitbit on devices–let’s go guys!

Later update (March 10 2015): I’ve continued to run 4-5 times per week using both Fitbit Surge and Strava and can add some new data:

  1. The Fitbit Surge is VERY inaccurate in terms of distance travelled on a run, whether that be a 3 mile or a 21 mile course, on road/path or on a treadmill.  I’ve seen a consistent 15-20% under-report of distance run in both free-run (GPS tracking on) mode and “treadmill” run mode.  In Treadmill mode the distance travelled is under-reported almost comically–the device is just pretty much worthless in accuracy on a treadmill.  I would think that the device’s software could compare my GPS enabled and not-enabled runs and correct itself to a better estimate of my gait/pace based on the other data its sensors are gathering.  Alas, the software is clearly NOT doing that kind of comparison of the data and optimization to individual user performance.
  2. The Fitbit Surge is VERY inaccurate in terms of geo-location in GPS mode, and as a result, the pace readings during a run are absurd as well.  While running at a 8:15 minutes per mile pace the surge will report anything in a range of 7:45 to 9:30–ostensibly because it has no idea where i am physically on a map.  The readings that come back from my runs are hilarious–showing me running through buildings, into lakes, etc.–yes, it is approximately correct, but nowhere near accurate enough to track distance and therefore useless for pace and overall splits.
  3. While i have no second heart rate monitor tool to compare the readings to, i’m also confident that the hear rate readings are wildly inaccurate, as during a long run where i’m in a steady state zone of pace/energy/effort, the heart rate readings will ramp up and down by 10% range which is attributable to inaccuracy of the device’s readings, not variations in my heart rate load.

Here is a recent run that Strava reported as 21.1 miles, side by side with Fitbit.  Notice the accuracy of tracking on Fitbit Surge leaves much to be desired–which makes the device pretty useless as a serious fitness device:

Side by side Strava and Fitibit Surge

Give my first 2 months of experience with the Fitbit Surge, i would not recommend as a health tracker–way too inaccurate.  I’m actually now very curious about the Apple Watch which is shipping soon, given that it will rely on the phone for measurements which i’ve found to be much more accurate (via Strava).

Update May 2015.  So a few things happened next for me.  On a 15 mile run i tripped and fell face first into a ditch.  At the time i had enough natural endorphins pulsing through my body that I just got up and kept running–but within 24hrs i was in incredible pain along my left rib-cage.  For next 5 weeks I have been laid up and haven’t been able to run, alas, the travails of training for marathons (this seems to happen to me 50% of the time I train).  So i missed my marathons (i had rescheduled my target run to the San Luis Obispo race, since I was ready for a earlier race than the originally planned Coppenhagen).  At this point, i’ll be re-starting my training for a late summer date tbd.

But, in that timeframe a lot has happened:

  • Fitbit released a patch to firmware that some have asked/suggested might improve accuracy.  I have yet to try (will update once I do).
  • Fitbit got their act together and there is now compatibility with Strava, http://strava.fitbit.com, which seems to push performance data back and forth between the two systems.  Yay for fitbit.  I’m going to try soon, have linked my accounts but am not yet pushing real miles through the system so need to get my runs up to 5+ miles for the data to be interesting.
  • i got an Apple Watch, and have started using it as yet another ecosystem of data and sensors.

Apple Watch

So, here’s my first impressions of the Apple Watch as a fitness and performance sports tracker:

  • I miss my Fitbit.  Apple’s passive tracking focusses on 3 key performance indicators (KPIs)–how often you stand for 1 minute in an hour of each of 12 hours of a day, how many minutes of “activity” you have in a day, and how many calories you burn in a day.  I miss the Fitbit Surge’s focus on steps and distance and stairs/steps, which felt more accurate and meaningful to my daily “activity” goals.  The Apple Watch notion of standing for 1 minute of each hour leads to several little notifications throughout the day while i’m at work at the end of a 60 minute meeting that has run over a few minutes… when suddenly not only I, but the other geeks in the room with a new Apple Watch, all get this little buzz on their wrists.  I feel like a lemming!  The little concentric circles in the UI of the watch, each representing one of the 3 KPIs, is *very* cool visualization, but the KPIs that are being tracked are not for me!
  • As a distance/performance tracker, i’ve had limited experience but the Apple Watch application with the green circle and a figure running, which offers tracking for various walk, run, swim, row, pedal type sport workouts, is really pretty lame.  It allows distance, calorie, or time targets or Open setting to just track–but it doesn’t track GPS activity on the watch or give splits or any other serious feedback on performance.  I think apple will add more integration of this data in the future, or build a companion app for the iPhone… but for now, this is pretty much useless.
  • Strava does have a nice handy companion app so that you can start/stop and get other workout data from the watch, while the phone in your pocket running Strava does the real work.  This seems likely to be my continued preference, and also gives me a remote on the watch face to control the playback of my iPhone spotify account (which i couldn’t do before without taking the phone out of my fanny pack on long runs).  So i thin the Apple Watch is going to be a great REMOTE to control my iPhone, but not a self-contained tracker to replace a wrist worn GPS tracker or activity tracker of any kind.  Weird, yet another thing to put on my wrist/pocket while i run which also does NOT actually do all the things I want!

Apple Watch and Surge

Ok so here we go, 4m run using all three: fitbit surge and Apple Watch on my wrist, Strava running on iOS on my iPhone 6 in my fanny pack:

  • Apple Watch exercise app says I ran 3.83m, 32:54 time, 288 calories (active), 61 cal (resting–no idea what that is because I was running the entire time, must be part of run where my heart rate was in a lower range, nay, incorrectly reading as low as I was running fast first mile), 349 total calories, 8:34 pace, average heart rate 175bpm (yikes, i’d be dead if that was true–i’m 44 years old).  Pretty poor and inaccurate data.
  • Fitbit Surge says i ran 4.00 miles, 32:38 time, 8:09 pace, calories burned 474, and average heard rate 160 bpm and of the 33 minutes heard rate was in “peak” range 30 minutes, cardio range 2 minutes, fat burn 1 minute (seems like much much better heart rate readings than the apple watch.
  • Strava says i ran 4.00 miles, 32:40 time, 8:01 pace, burned 686 calories.  Not sure how I get the strava/fitbit data to sync, i don’t see the fitbit heartrate data in the strava app… nor did either app post to the other in any other way that I can see.  Hmm…

So, 3 pretty messy and different reports.  The time differences have to do with me not being able to exactly start and stop them all at once as I had to fiddle with each device.  I like the mileage reading from strava+fitbit now showing exactly same figure, which i know from measuring on google-maps to be accurate!  that’s an improvement on the fitbit surge with the new firmware (it has never previously reported this run as 4.00m).  Here’s the mapping data from fitbit and stava side by side, which looks much better than previous runs (i would still like to test on a longer run and with more varied route, but this does look like it has been fixed by the firmware update last month to fitbit surge!)

strava fitbit side by side

In figure above the Strava track is on the left, Fitbit on the right.  I can definitely see huge improvements in accuracy and much more frequent samples in the Fitbit Surge data, which actually caught a few subtle route details that were missed by the Strava plot.  This is a huge improvement.

Based on this run’s data, if Fitbit and Surge data integration is actually working (still tbd how to make that work) i think i might sell the apple watch to a colleague at work who wants it, and go back to using the combination of fitbit and strava.  The apple watch is a turkey–too little battery life (1 day), not enough useful functions, and crappy sports tracker.

I’ll add to this post if I learn more.

Categories
Rants & Raves

Recommendations for visit to Madrid, Spain

I  lived in Spain during a study abroad year in college back in early 1990s, and have returned several times since for business and pleasure.  I’ve found myself writing up some of my recommendations for “what should i do if I visit Madrid” for many friends, and after completing this recent email (below) i figured i’d throw it on my blog as I’ve noticed that my “Things to do if you visit Chile” blog post has gotten quite a few visitors in the last year and has been nominally useful to others.  So in that spirit, here are my recommendations for things not to miss in Madrid and immediate vicinity (eg: within 90 minute train ride).  Note that this was written for a friend of mine from China, so i was stressing cultural elements that she would find particularly interesting!

These are the “towns near madrid to get out of the city to see some smaller towns:

  • Toledo: small cute town with lots of nice walking things to see, museums, churches, and need small streets on a hill.  Town with lots of history.  it is 40 minute train ride SOUTH of Madrid.  Plan a day trip there and back with a nice lunch.  You may want to join a tour with a chinese speaking guide?  it is easy to just go on your own, but, you might enjoy a guide as there is a lot of history?
  • Salamanca and Segovia.  Salamanca is a bigger small city about 90 minutes North-West from Madrid which is really great and has a lot to see, it is also a nice drive to get there.  on the way there right on the freeway is Segovia, lovely small town.  Both are worth seeing, you can do them together in 1 long day eg: start early, drive in car or train, to Salamanca–walk salamanca and see the Plaza (central square), the Catedral (church), and the university campus (very old university, where Chrisopher Columbus did some planning to go to america).  Then, go back to madrid via Segovia, have a lunch in Segovia (lunch inSpain is between 2pm and 4pm, so you could have lunch at 3pm at a nice restaurant) then walk Segovia–Roman ruins from an Aqueduct that is 2000 years old, and great little small town with lovely streets).  This is a BIG day, but it can be done.  Other option is to break this up into 2 trips.  Both are worth seeing.  If you only have time to do 1 of these, Segovia is closer and thus easier so do that.  Salamanca is really neet, but maybe too far.  I did in car and really liked the drive, but you may find that stressful?  I don’t know?  Trains are very good in spain so that’s always a easier way!

In Madrid be sure to see:

  • Go to a Flamenco Show.  Usually they start at 12am or even 1am (very late).  There is a great place called Cafe Chinitas that i have always liked.  you buy tickets/reservation, then go and have drinks and watch dancing and singing.  MUST DO, super cool, very very unique/different style of music.  All of these are good places:  http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g187514-c84779/Madrid:Spain:Flamenco.Guide.Madrid.html
  • If there are any Bull Fights in season i would go, very interesting and old fashioned–sad to see bulls killed, but i recommend.  I don’t think they have them in January, however, here is the bull ring website just in case:  http://www.las-ventas.com/
  • If you can, go see a professional soccer match for Real Madrid or Atletico Madridspanish LOVE soccer, amazing experience.  You can find tickets always, might be expensive, but seeing Real Madrid play (one of best teams in the world) is a real experience!

Then there are the traditional tourist sights:

  • Plaza Mayor &  Puerta del Sol walking area (public squares)
  • Jardin del Buen Retiro (big park, go in daytime, at night not so safe, daytime no problem)
  • El Prado (huge museum full of amazing OLD art collections, get a guide of some sort or recording in chinese, without a guide it is pointless as there is too much to see!)
  • The Palace (king and queens) where there is a lot of stuff to see
  • dozens of other museums…
  • and dozens of fun neighborhoods to just walk around in and look at people and windows of stores etc.  your hotel can help you with that…

Food (lunch is 2-4pm, dinner is 10-12pm–they really really really do eat at that time, you won’t find the best restaurants open before then!  make reservations for the popular places!)

  • Must try = Botin.  A bit touristy, but really good and REALLY old, in continuous service since 1700s.  eat the suckling pig and the lamb, both are incredible!  http://www.botin.es/?q=en  It is near the Plaza Mayor so nice walking area.
  • Go to dinner one night on Calle Huertas (that means “Huertas Street”), it is a street filled with neat restaurants and bars that you can walk up and down in about 40 minutes round trip.  Lots of people out and about walking in this area at night, fun to people watch.  Plaza Santa Ana is a nice square surrounded by restaurants right by this street, so maybe walk the street, then eat at the restaurants on the Plaza.
  • Tapas” is a style of food where you stand at a bar (usually, although you can also have them at a table) and order small plates of different types that they will give you while you have a small beer.  you can go to a bar, have a small beer and a “tapas”, then go to another bar and do the same, and in this way walk between many bars/restaurants eating “tapas” along the way.  it is a style of “moving restaurant experience”.  very fun.  You can go to many neighborhoods where there are lots of “tapas” bars near each other.  There are also some new “markets” that have nice organic produce and lots of little stands for tapas”–one such market is this one: Mercado de San Miguel Pza. San Miguel, S/N 28013 Madrid, Spain Be sure to try: Tortilla Espanola (eggs and potato pie), Jamon Serrano (spanish cured ham), Queso Manchego (spanish cheese that is amazing), Gambas al Ajilo (shrimp in garlic), and anything else you see that looks tasty!
Categories
Rants & Raves

Small Talks event in Seattle re: Millennials in the Workplace

I spoke at a Small Talks event last week on the subject of Millennials in the Workplace (millennial are the generation born in the 80s and early 90s, that came after my generation “gen x”).  buuteeq has a lot of team members from this age group/generation.   A few multimedia and related pieces from the event:

Video of the event:

Thanks to Turnstone for putting together the event and providing snacky snacks!

A cool infographic that someone made that listened/watched the event over the web, love how they captured so much of the content in this graphical/summary form:

SmallTalk 10_30_13 2K rev1

And, when i got home that evening and was doing some googling on the subject, I came across this hillarious (if snarky/harsh) summary that makes for a great comedy piece and interesting adjunct (i do not endorse or subscribe, necessarily, to the position it takes–but it did make me laugh!).  Why Generation Why Yuppies are Unhappy

Categories
Rants & Raves

Recommendations for Travel in Chile

I get a lot of requests from friends about travel to Chile (for leisure/vacation, usually with family including kids), so i figured it was time to put my thoughts into a blog entry that I can repurpose, so here you go.

First some context: I lived in Chile from the age of 6-11 in the lovely Pinochet military dictatorship era (late 70s-early 80s, several years in Zapallar on the coast, and the others in Santiago the capital), the again after college for a year in 1994 (in Santiago, working as a film editor for commercial television), and most recently in 2010 for a year while i was planning my new business and my family and I divided time between the “small-north” region near La Serena, and yet more time in the smoggy confines of the capital.  In addition to these stints homesteading, i’ve also backpacked and otherwise visited the country another half-dozen times… so from a toursim and/or expat perspective, i feel like i have the place dialed in and can make some strong recommendations.

valparaiso
Some of my family enjoying a after lunch stroll in Valparaiso.

So, with a focus on tourism (not expat relocation, which will be another blog post if I have enough people asking me about living in chile, schools, immigration process, taxes, banking, etc.), here’s my top 3 guidelines:

  1. Skip Santiago.  My friends in Santiago will be upset with me for saying this, but i’m sorry–the truth is that Santiago has *absolutely* nothing going on from a tourism perspective.  You’ll be flying in and out of Santiago for your international flights, but otherwise SKIP IT.  The city is not distinct enough in any way that would warrant precious days that you could spend in the much more interesting other parts of the country.  Someone will tell you “oh, it is worth at least x days”, where x is exactly x days too many.  Seriously–SKIP IT.
  2. Plan 2-3 “segments” connected by flights.  The country is MASSIVELY long and the north/south orientation means that the areas to visit are hugely distinct from a natural flor and fauna perspective, so avoid your intention to “rent a car and drive” as the north-south drive would eat up 4 days of your trip!  There are 5 distinct areas of tourism attraction (see below)–pick 2-3 and spend quality time in these with regional driving in each, but don’t try to connect the dots by land.  If you buy your domestic segments along with your international ticket, on LAN (soon to be renamed LATAM) airlines (the Chilean carrier) the cost of the segments is very reasonable.

    rambla
    Typical Pacific meeting the central coast of Chile.
  3. Focus your goals around “natural wonders” as opposed to “culture and civic/city life”–Chile kicks ass as a low population density, magical geography that is accessible, safe, and fun.  It underperforms tragically vrs. its peer group of Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil in terms of local food, indigenous culture, indigenous architecture, food, music, and “exoticism” for a typical well traveled american or european visitor.  And Argentina is a much better exemplar of “europe in southern hemisphere”.  My friends from Asia will find it fascinating, as it is very “european” and that will seem fresh and interesting.  But it will absolutely disappoint any “westerner” looking for something exciting “south of the border”… for that, go to Peru (my favorite country in South America, with the best food, home to the Inca civilization and its myriad of incredible ruins/art/etc., magical music, and incredibly colonial area cities, not to mention glorious mountains, coastline, and the birthplace of the Amazon.  Not to mention Brazil, which is marvelous for entirely different reasons.

Ok.  So now let me characterize the “regions” to choose from, i’ll outline them from North to South:

  1. The Atacama desert and Altiplano (high altitude plain).  This area can refer to a massive 1k+ mile region north of La Serena reaching to Peru border, but from a tourism development perspective, it really means flying into the city of Calama and then planting yourself in the area around San Pedro de Atacama as a home base and exploring the high plain.  Volcanoes dot the landscape, you are at 8-14k feet above sea-level the entire time, the star-gazing in the evenings are best in the world (no precipitation, low light contamination from urban areas, no smog, etc.).  I visited this area on the Bolivian side of the border on a $10 a day budget in 1993, today San Pedro is bustling (i’m told, have never been) and hotels can run up to $1k per night for a room at a luxury resort that includes meals and tours, but a wide gamut of options are available.  buuteeq’s first customer in the town is considered among the best in the country, lovely luxury resort Tierra Atacama.   The city of Calama also has tours of the Chuquicamata mine, the largest open pit on the planet, worth checking out on day in/out of Calama, but otherwise spend the time up in San Pedro.  This is what any guidebook would tell you to do, so to qualify this and make it a bit more local–let me add that ANY of the cities in the northern part of Chile will give you a feel for this desert vibe–super low population density (there are hours upon hours of driving where you won’t see anyone!).  I lived in the Pisco Elqui region near La Serena, much less developed for international premium tourists, and plenty exciting and interesting including the added benefit of having some wineries and distilleries for Pisco (a brandy, national drink).  If you want to fly in/out of La Serena and do a few days in La Serena (beach town, lovely coast) there is a hub of neat activities including a marine sanctuary where you can see all kinds of awesome penguins, sea-lions, dolphins, etc. about 90 minutes north of La Serena, observatories for sky-gazing, and the cool-as-shit little down of Pisco Elqui as a home base with funky/hippy vibe.  We lived here for 4 months at this little hotel, El Elquimista.  La Serena can be reached in 5-6 hours by great 4 lane highway, so this is also a doable road trip from Santiago, if going all the way to the true North is too much, but I don’t think anyone would argue that La Serena is a full replacement for the San Pedro de Atacama gig.

    small north
    Pisco Elqui in the Valley del Elqui, about 90 minutes from La Serena.
  2. The Central Coast area around Santiago.  This is where you go in a rental car from the capital.  Roads are totally safe, well signaled in Spanish (easy to follow along with a GPS phone or ipad), and distances reasonable (eg: 2-3 hours max between points).  Just south of Santiago are various wineries that offer tours and some homesteading (eg: have cabins or other guest quarters).  The city of Valparaiso is a UNESCO world-heritage city for good reason, reminiscent of San Francisco but way dingier/run down yet totally captivating (in a raw way).  One night in town at this affordable and family friendly designer hotel (owner is a accomplished painter and mixed media artist) which is in the best neighborhood for exploring by foot, is all that is needed to get the vibe and traverse the hills on foot.  Lots of great restaurants.  Anthony Bourdain loved this place and wrote up several restaurants and bars on his TV show (google it!).  Vina del Mar is 15 minutes north of Valparaiso and is a altogether ritzier and cleaner/safer place, overrun with tourists in January and February but still fun, and a joy in December before the 25th when the locals from Santiago and the Argentines start showing up in droves.  Good beach hotel options and beaches.  Note that the water is FRICKING cold in chile, don’t expect Mexcian riviera type beach experience–the sand is lovely, but the waters are freeze-your-balls cold and thus it is much more about eating a fresh seafood meal on the beach and sun-bathing than “swimming”.  The town I grew up in is 60 minutes north of Vina, called Zapallar.  I highly recommend renting a house or staying at one of the (few) hotels in the area near Zapallar and doing 2-3 nights of walking the beaches and coastlines and visiting the neighboring town of Cachagua and Papudo, maybe even hit La Ligua for the local market (daily) to buy some fresh produce, and the fisherman’s market in Maitencillo.  I have a bunch of family and friends in Chile, so if you do make this particular trip, talk to me and I’ll see about helping find you a local friend to show you around, host you for a meal, and maybe provide a tip on a rental for your stay in town.  Zapallar has a lovely small boutique hotel which does NOT have ocean views but otherwise is a great base and good value.  My recommendation in general for this region is to get a house in Zapallar for 3-5 nights, and make Zapallar the base from which to travel to Valparaiso, Vina, La Ligua, etc. as day trips in your rental car.  Zapallar is 2hrs from the capital, you can arrive at airport and drive STRAIGHT to zapallar for your first day in the country.  You’ll thank me for it!  The walking paths along the coast, beaches, and understated tourism sector (few hotels, mostly locals) will give you a great “local” experience for this region of the country.  I also have relatives that rent their houses depending on the season…

    beach
    The beach in Zapallar Chile, about 1hr drive north from the must visit Valparaiso.
  3. The Pre-Patagonia area around Puerto Montt (the small south).  This is some combination of Pucon on lake Villarica and volcanoe region surrounding, the adorable city of Frutillar, the coastal city of Valdivia, Puerto Montt, and the island of Chiloe.  These are all reachable via car by using Pueto Montt or Valdivia as central arrival/departure ports.  Lots of great german influenced towns, lakes abound, cute fishing villages… great to walk and drive around.  If you aren’t into driving aimlessly around the region there are organized tours, but it is a very accessible region and well touristed in the December-Feb corridor (when the weather is great), not so much fun any other time of year (rains perpetually, like Seattle where I live now).  This is relatively populated part of “patagonia”, not to be confused with the insanely not-populated true “south” which starts after Puerto Montt and extends through fjords and icebergs and wild forests all the way down to Tierra del Fuego and the southern tip of the continent.
  4. Patagonia region(s).  There are two hubs here that are too far away to be linked.  One is the area from Puerto Montt to the town of Chile Chico, which has a road that connects the region (only passable in summer) called the Carretera Austral.  Renting a good 4×4 and driving parts of this itinerary is probably akin to northern British Colombia or parts of Alaska.  Lots of undeveloped forest, great lake fly-fishing and hiking, but not robust tourism infrastructure except for in pockets, mostly along the coast.  Likely best to look for a tour of this region than to wing it.  Town of Coyhaique is surprisingly bustling, flying in-0ut of hear and arranging tours might be good option (when I did it i was on $10 a day budget in 1994, so likely has changed quite a bit except for the remaining amazing natural wonders which can’t have been spoiled quite yet).  Much much farther south, only accessible by road if you drive into Argentina and then come back into Chile down at the tip, is the popular and “must see” area around the national park called Torres del Paine.  This is the classic photo of towering awesome mountains near a glacier emptying into a virgin lake, etc.  I’ve never been.  Everyone that goes raves about it.  Basically a “bucket list” kind of destination.  I think the itinerary is to fly in to the region for 4-5 days including time in the national park.  If money is no object, stay at this place in the park itself, luxury beyond compare.  And fly in and out of Natales, this  place is supposedly fantastico for accommodations.
  5. And then there is Easter Island, which might as well NOT be Chile because it is basically a Polynesian island WAY the frick out in the pacific.  Never been, can’t say one way or the other, but it is one of the top 3 draws to Chile for tourism so I would look like a fool for not at least mentioning it here.  Other than big stone statues staring out into the pacific, i’m not sure why anyone would go all the way out here.  If you want to visit islands in the pacific, there are better ones… i would skip as it is FAR to fly for small payoff, and you’ll get more for your “chile” vacation from the main north-south attractions i’ve covered above.

Ok, i’ve probably been too simplistic in this summary, but that’s my quick top 3 don’ts, and my top 4 (skip Easter Island) regions for “dos”.

Overall, as of June of 2013 when I’m first writing this, Chile is very accessible by rental car (by segment) so I recommend that strongly–don’t be beholden to public transport or a car and driver.  Roads are very safe.  Don’t leave valuables in-sight at tourist parking lots, just like anywhere in the world.  There is very little violent crime outside of the capital, expect pick-pockets to be the worst thing you’ll find in the country.  Not a lot of scams/hustling going on either, really a lovely place to visit and extremely friendly for kids.  Focus on the NATURAL wonders, food will be fine but nothing amazing, wine is good and cheap, and the people will be friendly and not speak english (so brush up on your basics in spanish).

I’ll add more comments to this post as I get a sense of the follow on questions from the folks that have asked me to write this up (you know who you are if you are reading this).

I’ll someday write up the equivalent for Peru and Brazil, which I would favor for more ambitious/exciting tourism… but Chile is a great, safe, lovely place to visit with family and I hope you enjoy your trip!

keys
Me and my clan, on recent visit in April 2017.  We visited Zapallar, Pisco Elqui, and Valparaiso.

Categories
Rants & Raves

TiynyPulse rocks!

I’m unabashedly in love with the HR employee feedback tool http://www.tinypulse.com, and sat down with our VP of Talent to discuss a bit re: how we use the tool and some of the company culture at buuteeq.

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Rants & Raves

Ping Pong madness with the kids

Caetano has been making a lot of videos for his youtube channel and wanted to create something with his brother that would stand-out from the relatively mediocre stuff that his comparative peers have been producing.  So we got out the big guns (a GoPro camera for slow-mo footage, and my Canon 5d Mark III for the main action) and did a full shoot, edit, post-production+viz-effects, in a 4hr intensive session at buuteeq’s office.  The kids wrote the script and storyboarded the action using post-it notes.  I shot and did the editing + effects, but i had them watch closely so that I could begin the transfer of knowledge to turn them into Adobe Creative Suite master-users.  This summer we are planning to do a digital film boot-camp with a few other parents helping out with the curriculum.  We’ll cover storyboarding, editing, 2d compositing, and some basic web development for posting.

Here’s the results, of what will surely become a series of videos:

Oh, and while i’m at it, here’s the first video we made way back in 2008, when mom was in the USA for thanksgiving and we boys did a little film shooting at Lane Bridge on our way to school one morning.  Kids were so cute… funny to see the two videos together and how some of their core acting/persona is the same 6 years later!

Categories
Rants & Raves

Spain, 20 years later

20 years ago I lived in Madrid for my junior year in college.  It was a lovely time of life.  I was very fortunate to make several new great friends while living in Spain, but i also brought with me several close friends from Palo Alto High School which coincidentally also ended up in Spain that same year (none attended UCLA with me, or had any coordination in planning their own year abroad to coincide with my choice of Spain/Madrid).  At one point a motley crew of us ended up attending a bull-fight (under the auspices of one of our parents who was visiting and hosted both the bull outing and a epic memorable meal at Casa del Botin (one of the oldest restaurants in Spain / the world).

Clark, Tobin, Steve, Dan, Adam, Adam, me, and a local Madrid friend who’s name I can’t remember any longer!

As my year in Madrid was winding down in the summer of 1992, Tobin and I went backpacking together in the southern Cordillera Nevada region which is in Andalusia near Granada.  A magical string of small “white villages” dot the steep slopes of the mountain and are connected by small wandering foot-paths and a precarious mountain road with infrequent bus service.  During a 3 day hike/camping excursion (and by “camping”, i mean we slept on the dirt ground by the side of the road) we had a bunch of laughs and celebrated Tobin’s 21st birthday.

Tobin and I trekking in the Alpujarras, Andalusia Spain 1992

At some point on the last day of our camping one of us proposed that we “should return 20 years from now and re-trace our trek” which stuck in both of our minds and was a looming 2012 date with destiny which I am happy to say we executed to great success last week.  We started by meeting in Madrid where we were joined by 3 friends who are married to europeans and have taken up home on the old-world.  Matt, Mike, and Clark joined us in Madrid for 48hrs of intensive and seemingly perpetual tapas hoping (with beverages of course).  While my liver suffered a bit it was my gut that really hurt (from so much laughing)–amazing how so many things can change yet be the same… the ridiculous antics and reminiscing were together an amazing time travel potion which I drank with great thirst (but let’s be honest, 48hrs was about the right amount of it!)

Matt, Mike, Forest, Clark, and Tobin
20 years later, in front of the classic Madrid bar, Beguim de Beguet

As the europeans made their ways back to their families, Tobin and I headed south to Andalusia and through bullet train and rental car transport (neither of which existed (train) or where available to us (as 20 year olds) last time we were here), found ourselves back in our old stomping ground in the Alpujarras.  We couldn’t quite find the same brick wall to sit on and take our “20 years later” photo, but we were definitely in the hunt and amongst the same villages and fields.  Everything seemed the same yet different–lots of internet cafes, more tourism, better roads… and of course, things just seemed smaller and less foreign in general (instead of quaint villagers, we were surrounded by german tourists).  But hey, we did it–we made good on our “let’s do this in 20 years” pledge, and the 3 hour late lunch capped with yet another cafe-con-leche sealed the deal.

Tobin and Forest back in the Alpujarras, Andalusia Spain 2012

As a bonus we hit Granada for some tapas and photo-taking, as well as Ronda which finally gave us some good weather and some ridiculously blue skies.  We also had a chance to visit two of buuteeq’s customers in the region, the Hacienda de San Rafael (farmhouse turned luxury retreat, about 45 minutes from Seville) and Corral del Rey (boutique luxury in the center of the Santa Cruz old city center of Seville, walking distance from everything).

So, what did I learn 20 years later (if anything)?  There were some really great and accessible insights that both Tobin and I rallied around in realtime, as well as some parting thoughts that came together on the long-haul flight back to Seattle:

  • 20 years old is a great age!  Before the trip i often spoke of Spain and my time in Spain 20 years ago as equal parts of a wonderful recipe.  Without taking anything away from Spain, i would now say with great clarity that being 20 is a great age and a great time of life and the fact that we were in Spain was a very big secondary dynamic.  The “right of passage” concept played out elegantly for us 20 years ago, in europe and having access to so many inspirations (the art, food, architecture, and distinct culture of spain)–but really, the magic was inside us directly, and it hadn’t have been Spain our muse may have come in many forms.  I am glad that I was “overseas” at that time, it was perfect for me and what I needed to really thrive and grow at that moment in my life… and I will recommend to my own kids when they reach the age.
  • Some things don’t change.  Early in the week amongst the larger group dynamic of the 5 of us in Madrid, I shared with the boys how excruciatingly embarrassing i often found their public behavior when we were in highschool.  Matt and Clark and Mike together often involved a public theater of improvisation and one-upmanship in which the three tried to perform in the most outrageous and obnoxious ways, the better to prove themselves the greatest fool of the group.  Upon hearing some of my anecdotal examples of this behavior (such as mock-chasing down and beating each other in public to the horror of casual bystanders) Clark pointed out, emphatically, that “we were in high school!” as if that behavior was (a) excusable and (b) far, far behind us.  Within 15 minutes the same dynamic kicked in, as if prophetically, and the boys did their best to up-the-ante throughout the weekend… fortunately nobody landed in prison, and my gentle reminder to them that (sarcastically) “we we’re in high school!” was great fodder for laughter to us all (albeit I genuinely was horrified by a few of the antics and kept my distance and made sure to not photograph some of the offending stuff so that there would be no public record!)
  • Looking -20/+20.  Over a round of monster caipirinhas at the Beguim de Beguet (a favorite bar from 20 years ago, still operating, in dilapidated but charming disrepair) we did the group show and tell exercise of “where did you think you would be in 20 years, 20 years ago… and where do you think you’ll be 20 years from now” and for myself i feel very accomplished and connected on behalf of my 20 year old self–i’ve traveled broadly, experienced great happiness in my marriage and family, and accomplished more than i could have hoped for professionally (in terms of satisfaction), albeit not in the field that at the time I wanted to pursue (film industry).  Looking forward 20 years, i had very little ambition in my answer–basically i just want to see the things that are already in motion play out (my kids, my marriage, healthy and happy, not as much travel, etc.)… and in this regard I really felt like i was looking into a mirror at my younger and older self, over a 40 year narrative arc, and giving a thumbs-up back at the mirror… i loved all three images I saw (20 year old, today, and 60 year old) versions of me.
  • Travel is like getting into a teleportation machine.  I’m so happy to be working in the travel industry (buuteeq, hotel marketing services company).  Getting on a plane from Seattle and getting off in Madrid a day later was like rising into the sky and having the planet rotate beneath our boeing jet… when I got off in madrid I was surrounded by life-long-friends, transported back in time to 20 years ago where we retraced steps and experiences.  Just a few days later to get back on the plane and just as quickly to find myself back in Seattle with my current day joys of family and work–it was a lovely trip.

Categories
Rants & Raves

Some new video with my 5d Mark ii

Yes, i know, the Canon 5d mark ii is not news (more than 3+ years old), and all you serious pros or enthusiasts with $3,500 USD to burn are now into the mark iii and its amazing low-light capabilities and improved whatever.  But for me, the 5d mark ii is the new thing, as the used market for these has brought the price down to the range of mere mortals like me (never mind that after I added the fine piece of 16-35mm 2.8 glass, the price was back up into the ridiculous range)… so, in celebration of my late arrival to the awesome party of full size sensor DSLR video, here’s a few recent videos including some low light interior stuff at the buuteeq office in ballard, where we pump out great hotel internet marketing SaaS love!

And by the way, when you hear the cow-bell ring in the last of these, that’s the sound of a buuteeq customer signing up… music to my ears even when I hear it on youtube (kind of the pavlov dog magic tone for all of us at the buuteeq office)

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Rants & Raves

New Blog URL

Yay, microsoft spaces has called it quits and made it really simple to migrate the content over here to wordpress.com, how lovely.  I really wanted to capture the google-bot goodness of my efforts blogging while i was at microsoft, so if you are a google-bot and you are reading this, please now associate this url with my online name/identity, and also add my new startup buuteeq inc, as well as my digital agency in China, redsafi, both new companies that i started when I left Microsoft after 5.5 very happy years.

buuteeq inc. is making a digital marketing solution (DMS) for independent hotels–a nice SaaS cloud offering that helps smaller/boutique type hotels to run much better digital marketing, including website, mobile, and social presence + analytics, commerce, and optimization.  you can read more about it on the buuteeq blog, and see some vimeo videos we’ve created: buuteeq-blog

I’m glad this blog content from my days at microsoft survived, will make good reading for me someday for memory lane.  In the meantime, google-bot, enjoy!

Categories
Rants & Raves

Going North

Since I left my hometown for college, I’ve moved about 16 times, each time farther away from my Southern California roots.

Now, for the first time, I’m moving back to a place that I once considered home. It feels good. Comforting and familiar in the best way.

Haven’t heard the news? We are packing it up in Chile to live in our Seattle home again, just in time for summer. We haven’t suffered an actual winter since early ’09!

Forest’s mother Jane has kept the hearth warm while we’ve been gone. I’m going to enroll the boys in our neighborhood school for the first time. We have a lot to look forward to.

Why are we moving? Well, there are many reasons. But the main one is that we would rather be home.

There are work issues: Forest wants to be closer to his Buuteeq partners in the US and China, which will help scale back his travel and enable him to ride the momentum they are building.

There are school issues: We have a handle on what our kids need, and have more familiarity with the resources available in the States. Caetano needed a new school, and rather than go through a lengthy process of exploration, admissions and guesswork, we want to take this important step to a place that makes more sense for everyone.

This Chile sojourn was only meant to last a couple of years. After almost one year here, we came to a crossroads that forced us to stop and evaluate our priorities as a family. Our feelings have changed. We’ve gotten the travel bug out of our system. The flow is taking us home. It’s all good!

We will miss the kids gaining total fluency in Spanish, which is just around the corner. They have learned a lot though. This country is beautiful, and we got to live for a few months in Pisco Elqui, a magical place that my heart never left after we moved to Santiago. I’m sad to leave this amazing house behind, with the park-like yard and view of the Andes mountains and sturdy construction that survived a huge earthquake. Our maid, Aurelia, has spoiled us with outstanding Peruvian cooking and helped me in so many ways. We found a lot of great new friends. Hopefully, our favorite Chileans will come to visit us in Seattle. Chileans with means to travel love to go abroad–because when you live in a small country locked in by sea and a huge mountain range, the world doesn’t exactly come to you. We came though.

See you in the Northern Hempisphere!

Categories
Rants & Raves

Kids, Autumn

The season has definitely shifted into autumn, and I’m enjoying the view from our backyard. A little sprinkling of snow on the Andes, crisp air and golden leaves. I’ve always loved fall and the vibe of structure and productivity, change and beginning.

It has been a long transition for us to finally arrive at a peaceful rhythm of school and work. The earthquake kicked us into the distinct mode of get-to-it-ness that has swept the nation. All over the country, Chileans work on reconstructing of roads, homes, churches and businesses.

Meanwhile, our kids are working really hard in school, learning Spanish, and projects at home.

Carlos is amazing. He is so happy, and has surprised me so much this year, really jumping into this reality with a great attitude. Sometimes he misses his old school in China, but as he gets used to the Montessori environment and learns more Spanish by the week, he finds more to like about it. He’s kind of advanced in math, and as it is nonverbal, he continues to make progress. But he also has to do lots of reading, writing and verbal expression to the class, rising to each occasion. It surprises him a bit that he can now understand the Spanish comic books we bought months ago. Now he is writing his own comic book in Spanish, a farce with an anti-Indiana Jones crime fighter who keeps losing his hat. Carlos claims to be motivated solely by money as he wants to sell these masterpieces, but Forest and I are just thrilled that he likes expressing himself this way.

Caetano just turned 7! We had a fun little birthday party with three friends–all bilingual boys. He had to learn the guys’ names to invite them, and realizing he does have buddies helped his attitude about school…a little. Forest and I have had many meetings with the teachers and after about a month we all decided that he can’t handle being at school for an 8 hour day. No surprise there. I didn’t really anticipate however that we would be going back to a pre-school schedule of 8:30-12:30. After lunch he is just a general nightmare to have in the classroom. So now I pick him up, we eat at home, do homework and some Spanish work from a Kumon tutor that meets him twice a week. We do craft projects, bake, read, play a game. Whatever we want! Last week we went to a park in the city and rode bikes for 2 hours. Sometimes he just plays on his own, building a fort out of cushions or curls up with a book. He started an art class that he loves. The school asked us to take him to a psychiatrist to asses whether he has ADHD or Oppositional Defiance Disorder or what. We’ve been down this road before. Same issues all came up in Beijing. I’m doing everything I can, and we are really having a lot of fun. In his own way at his pace, he’s learning a lot, and chattering a lot in Spanish. Funny thing is that he doesn’t have a problem with hyperactivity or defiance when he is in the smaller classes after school. Hmmmm.