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December 2009 Archives

December 8, 2009

think local. spend local(ly).

A few months back, Microsoft opened a huge new space on campus called The Commons, full of dining, shopping, and conference rooms. We all looked forward to having better dining options on campus and enjoying a pint or two after work at the bar (the bar option didn't work out quite so well). But it's been a few months, and I've only been there a handful of times. Why? The dining options aren't cheap, the lines are long by noon, and so far, quality has ranged from unmemorable to downright poor.

So when I scheduled a lunch at the Commons (out of convenience because people were coming from different buildings), I wasn't surprised when Mike asked why. But what he followed up with made me think a little more. He said he wasn't interested in going to the Commons anymore -- why patronize mediocre establishments that already get a ton of possibly undeserved business when there are great restaurants that are in danger of going out of business due to the economy? (His example was Suree Thai a hole-in-the-wall Thai place near downtown Redmond that started offering a lunch buffet to get people in)

I injest ridiculous quantities of data when I browse the Internet, so unsurprisingly my brain popped up with something related that I'd seen on the website of Perennial Tea Room. The jpg simply read "the 3/50 project. Saving the brick & mortars our nation is built on," and I was intrigued, so I clicked.

Basically, it suggests that you pick 3 independently owned businesses that you'd miss if they disappeared and try to spend $50 per month. Yeah, that sounds good and all, but here are the numbers that matter:

"For each $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national change, only $43 stays here. Spend it online and nothing comes home."

I don't do a ton of shopping at real shops, mostly due to lack of time when said shops are open, so when I think of things like this, it's mostly in terms of restaurants. Over the last year, we've seen quite a few Seattle establishments shut down. Mostly fancier restaurants, but they're still places I used to go to every once in awhile, such as Kirkland's Yarrow Bay Grill, Seattle's Fish Club, and now Kirkland's Third Floor Fish Cafe (which has been around for a long time =/). It really hit home when I stopped by Sushi in Joy, my local, friendly sushi place when I lived in Bellevue, and it looked closed. If each time I'd gone to Burger King in the last year, I'd eaten sushi instead, it probably would have helped.

So yesterday after my gym class, instead of driving to Chipotle to satisfy my chicken fajita burrito craving, I called in a to-go order at Tommy Thai, a really friendly little Thai place only a few blocks from where I live. No MSG in their food, great cashew chicken and green curry, and they have a dish on their menu called "Long old men." Teehee. Sure enough, there was only one table occupied when I showed up to pick up my order, and now I want to go more often to make sure they stick around.

What places would you miss if they disappeared?

December 9, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

Every year, November rolls around and my friends hear me talk about large numbers, writing, and not having time for anything. It's National Novel Writing Month, where crazy people around the world decide to attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.

How long have you done it?
I found out about Nanowrimo on November 1, 2003. I participated from 2003-2005 and 2008-2009. Significant travel plans during the month of November kept me from participating in 2006 and 2007.

Have you always finished?
No way. I didn't finish either of my college years, and I think my word counts were around 10-20k both times. My first win came as soon as I got a laptop with a battery that worked, and I've finished each attempt since then.

What happens when you win?
Nothing. It just means you wrote 50,000 words in 30 days. You get access to "winner goodies" on the website, which includes a printable certificate, a jpeg that essentially says "I won," etc. Lately sponsors have been more active, and CreateSpace has been offering a free printing of the book for winners.

Do you want to be a published writer?
Nope, at least not a published fiction writer. I don't think I'm a very good fiction writer, and I just do Nano for a challenge and because the community makes it fun. I'm sticking with my day job.

What do you do with your novels?
Burn them!!! I only have two semi-complete novels. It took me November of both 2008 and 2009 to finish the plot of the most recent one, which is now sitting around waiting for editing. I have no idea what I'll do with it afterwards. 2005's novel was put into an anthology called Afterhours that was a project that a few of us Microsoftie Wrimos decided to do to raise money for Room to Read during the company's annual Giving Campaign.

Do you write alone?
A lot of the time, yes. But Seattle's Nanowrimo community is really active, and there are group "write-ins" pretty much every day in November. So I go to a few of those, and Jenni and Sandy and I have met up for at the beginning of November to do a writing/eating binge weekend.

What did you write about this year?
I completed the second half of the plot that I started last year, which is technically against Nano "rules," but it was the only way I was ever going to finish that novel. It's a crappy fantasy novel about a courtier in a female-dominated society and the political turmoil that ensues when the ruler of that country falls in love with the leader of a "barbarian" nation.

How do I participate?
Sign up on the Nanowrimo site. Figure out what you're going to write before November approaches (or don't -- a lot of people plan on the fly), and write 50,000 words in November. If you're the social type, find out if your local community is active, and attend events!

December 12, 2009

101 Things in 1001 Days

Some of you may or may not know, since I keep track of this on a separate blog site, that I've been participating in something known as 101 Things in 1001 Days or Mission 101 or simply "101/1001." It's New Years Resolutions on crack, kind of. The idea is to come up with a list of 101 things that you want to accomplish in 1001 days.

Because I'm a complete dork, I kind of forced myself to apply the SMART criteria to the goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. I'm already pretty good about defining goals that have clear measures for success (in other words, NOT something like "get better at computers"). The main thing I had to force myself to stick to was not having any continuous goals. An example of a continuous goal would be "go to work by 9am every day." Way too many New Years Resolutions are continuous goals, and the reason why people give up on them is the same reason I don't want them in my list. As soon as you slip up once on a continuous goal, you have technically failed. And that's demoralizing and gives little incentive to continue. So my trick is to put a time limit on the continuity that's long enough to be challenging but short enough so I can try again if I fail. "Go to the gym 3x a week for a month" is an example of this. It's not trivial, and the one month is long enough to cause a lifestyle change if it's a habit I want to keep around.

Of course, I didn't finish all 101 things. But I did a lot of stuff, and I'm happy with the things I did. My main takeaways going into the next 101/1001 (starting January 1st) is 1) have a better way of tracking and 2) be more purposeful with the goals I choose, not just picking things to arbitrarily challenge myself or because they "sound cool." (So as tempting as Project 365 is, I don't think it will end up on the list.)

Some of you started 101/1001 with me and will probably go "oh crap" when you see this and remember that it still exists. I highly encourage you to join me come January 1st! Let's conquer the world. :)

My 101/1001 blog: gck.vox.com The following summary is cross-posted from there.

I came up with 91/101 items to do (90%)
I fully completed 37/91 items (38%)
I completed or partially completed 52/91 items (57%)
I completed 20/37 items in 2007 (54%)
I completed 9/37 items in 2008 (24%)
I completed 5/37 items in 2009 (14%)
Category where I was most successful: "Do more of the things I like"
Category where I was least successful: "Control bad habits"


  • I read a lot more than I was reading before.
  • I was not motivated to complete any of the computer-related tasks.
  • I achieved many of my exercise goals with a great amount of effort, and that has resulted in a noticable change in my lifestyle.
  • I started piano lessons and did Nanowrimo, but other than that, my creative goals were largely untouched.
  • I don't need motivation to do things that I like, but it's nice to record the fact that I actually do things.
  • The website was not an efficient or effective way of tracking goals that involved recurrence. As a result, I'm not sure how far I got on some goals because I lost the motivation to keep track.
  • The "try new things" goals probably should have been left open instead of deciding early on what new things I needed to try.
  • I still suck at keeping up with people. I also suck at volunteering or contributing to society other than monetarily.
  • I don't do well with the "do or don't do something for a week" goals.

  • I read about ~50 books in ~2.5 years.
  • I lost at least 10 pounds.
  • I participated in the Extreme Body Makeover class at the Pro Club (think boot camp) for two consecutive months, going to the gym at least 3 days per week for one of those months. Now I am not afraid of any gym class, except maybe the ones that make you dance.
  • I finally braved my fear of yoga class and went to hot yoga. Now I go somewhat regularly and can touch my toes. This is a big deal for the Person with Tight Hamstrings (tm).
  • I overcame my fear of elevation and did a number of hikes in the 6-8 mile, 1500-2500 ft gain range, a big step up from before.
  • I finished 50,000 words of a novel during National Novel Writing Month 2008. I actually completed the novel with another 50,000 words in 2009, which is a little past the end date for this 101/1001, but I don't care. :)
  • I started taking piano lessons again and am still taking them.
  • During this time period, I took a number of major trips, including: Thailand/Malaysia/Singapore (March 2007), Spain (November 2007), Glacier National Park (July 2008), Taiwan (December 2008), and India (May 2009).
  • I bought a condo (May 2007).

I consider this project a success, even if I didn't finish everything I originally set out to do. There were a lot of lasting positive effects that came out of some of the goals, and it's very satisfying to have kept track of what I've done. I have every intention of beginning a new list for January 2010 (what better way to start a new decade?), and hopefully this time I'll be able to develop a better system for keeping track of recurring items. My priorities will definitely be different from this set, and I'm looking forward to completing a new set of goals!

December 18, 2009

Pacific Northwest alpine hikes

Lake SereneLake Serene hike - Waterfalls
Having lived most of my life in Louisiana (highest elevation: Driskill "Mountain" - 535 ft, haha..) and Indiana (highest elevation: Hoosier Hill - 1257 ft), I found hikes to be rather daunting when I moved to Washington (highest elevation: Mt. Rainier - 14411 ft). After a very pathetic intern experience trying to hike up to Panorama Point at Mt. Rainier (1700 ft gain... if I'd made it all the way!) and an embarrassingly difficult hike up to Wallace Falls (1200 ft), I swore off difficult hiking for quite a few years, adamantly refusing to join friends and co-workers on hikes to Mount Si, Tiger Mountain, and Lake Serene.

But in more recent years, I've been making an attempt to incorporate more physical activity into my life, through torture classes at the gym, skiing, biking, and hot yoga. This things got me in reasonable enough shape so that after a family trip to Glacier National Park, where we did some long hikes with moderate elevation gain, I decided I was finally ready to see some alpine lakes. My co-worker Nitasha and her husband Praveen were totally onboard with the idea, and we've done a good percentage of the hikes since then as a group.

Lake Serene Hike - view from the trailLake Serene Hike - water color

Hike 1: Lake Serene - 7.2 miles, 2000 ft gain
Oh, what a way to start the hiking adventures! This year, the snow in the mountains melted really late, so we had to wait until the end of July for the trails to be reasonable without snow gear. This was a tough hike to begin with, since a good chunk of the elevation came at the end in the form of many switchbacks and stairs. But it was definitely a rewarding one, with two waterfalls at the beginning, nice valley views along the way, and a gorgeous lake at the end. The lake was still half-covered by snow, unfortunately, but we could still make out the pretty color. We did get to see some retarded people jump in the ice-cold water, swim to the snow cover, and sit on it. I believe they instantly regretted this decision. :)

Hike 2: Denny Creek - ~7 miles, ~1500 ft gain
The original plan was to do the Denny Creek/Melakwa Lake hike far enough to see the meadows for the wildflowers, eat lunch, and turn back. However, Hikers Bob (who came equipped with... an ice axe?!) and Praveen were feeling ambitious, so we pushed onwards until the rest of us, tired, weary, and with dinner plans that evening (well, that was me, anyway) insisted that we turn around. To this day, Praveen still is unhappy that we did not reach the lake. :)

"Hike" 3: Cougar Mountain - embarrassing
We were feeling lazy, so we decided to do something close to home. Cougar Mountain Park is cool about providing maps with hikes that look like they would be interesting, but they were really easy and the "viewpoints" often looked over someone's back yard. Ah well. That's where the 2008 hiking season ended for us.

Annette Lake hike
Hike 4: Annette Lake - 7.5 miles, 1700 ft gain
After coming back from India where we did two days of hiking in Himachal Pradesh, I was all excited to start hiking. We opted for something with a little less elevation than Serene, but still with a view payoff at the end. Flowers weren't as great as we would have liked, but there were nice mountain and boulder field views along the way. We got our turquoise-colored lake at the end, but it came with something else... mosquitoes. :(

Mason Lake hikeMason Lake hike
Hike 5: Mason Lake - 6 miles, 2500 ft gain
I think I'd thrown out the idea of hiking Bandera Mountain a few times before, so finally, with the promise of wildflowers and beargrass, we decided to do the Ira Spring Trail, taking the end fork to Mason Lake instead of Little Bandera, saving us about 1 mile and 300 ft. Hey, every bit counts. The flowers were as beautiful as promised, with lots of Indian paintbrush and clusters of pink flowers. Beargrass was probably a few weeks past its prime and was looking a lot less bushy, but it was still pretty. Mason Lake wasn't the best view lake, but it was a nice swimming lake and plenty of people were taking advantage of that. None of us had swimming clothes, but the boys started trying to be macho by balancing on a slimy log that dipped into the water, and you can guess the end result of that. :)

Mount Rainier - View from Sunrise viewpointMount Rainier - OhanapecoshMount Rainier - One of the Paradise hikes

Hike 6: Mount Rainier - varied
I wasn't satisfied with my intern experience being my only exposure to Mount Rainier, so I went back for a camping trip to get lots of hiking in. Didn't do anything terribly difficult, and I didn't even try to fully conquer the trail up to Panorama Point (did a good chunk of it up to the glacier vista, though) -- I just wanted great views. I unintentionally picked "Free Weekend," which saved $25 or so, but it also resulted in large crowds at Paradise on Saturday. But things were still gorgeous -- huge trees at Grove of the Patriarchs, turquoise colored lakes all over the place, mountain range views, wildflowers everywhere... This place was ridiculously gorgeous. My words don't do it justice. My pictures do a slightly better job.
Mount Rainier - wildflowersMount Rainier - wildflowersColchuck Lake

Hike 7: Colchuck Lake - 9 miles, 2200 ft gain
It was October, temperatures were dropping, and people were happy to settle into the intermediate lazy season -- when it gets too cold and rainy to do summer activities, and there isn't any snow to do winter activities. But not me! I found a weekend where it wasn't supposed to rain, and I decided that I was going to see some leaves of different colors. And in order to get this, we were heading east of the Cascades, the longest drive to a day hike we'd done to date. Jenny was the only one nuts enough to agree to be dragged along (this trip involved leaving quite early in the morning because it was a long drive, and it was starting to get dark pretty early).

The colors did not disappoint, and we started getting really excited once we crossed Stevens Pass and started seeing bright reds and oranges. We pulled over to take some pictures, and that's when we started noticing the temperatures. 30-something? Ooh, it was cold. When we got to the trailhead, I think the car was saying 31 degrees, and despite a forecast for 0% preciptation, there were bits of white dust falling from the sky. Once we started hiking, we warmed up, and there were lots of pretty colors along the way to keep us going. 9 miles definitely made for a long hike, though, especially on the way back. The lake was beautiful (though I hoped for more golden larch trees) - really big with that clear turquoise water. Colchuck Lake is the gateway to the Enchantments, probably the best backpacking trip in Washington, and we could see Aasgard Pass, the nutso climb you have to do in order to get into the Enchantments from this side. Maybe next time. :)

Colchuck Lake - fall colorsColchuck Lake

Hopefully next summer will be full of more beautiful hikes! For now, I am looking forward to hitting the ski slopes...

December 21, 2009

Calm Amidst the Torture Chamber

Depression is a thinking man's disease.

Without thought, there's nothing to overanalyze.
Without thought, there's no nagging voice in your head, telling you those negative things.
Without thought, there is no regret, anxiety, or anger.

I think every intellectual must at some time in his life come across the question: would it be better to be ignorant and happy? My answer has always been a resounding "no," for I would have to be a completely different person in order to make my mind an ignorant one. I do love to think, I love to analyze. But sometimes when my mind is off involuntarily rehashing something for the 100th time, I wish my mind came with an off switch.

Unhappy teenagers in small towns around the country have long perfected the unhealthy off switches... drugs, drinking to the point of memory loss, perhaps mind-numbing distractions like TV or video games. But I'm not interested in using any of those as the solution to sooth my mind.

On the healthy side, the first answer is always meditation. Just clear your mind. Let the thoughts pass through, observe them, and let them go. Anyone who has tried anything like this knows that the worst way to try to clear the mind is to force it to be cleared, for that leads to more thought. I'm also not all that awesome at observing without thought. So while this might be a good avenue for me to explore and get "good at," there's no instant gratification and more often than not, there's some added frustration at my inability to succeed.

So where do all the Type As go to clear their minds, since theirs are probably minds that particularly need to be cleared? Freaking hot yoga, that's what. Bikram describes his studio, heated to 110 degrees or so with a dose of humidity to seal the deal, as a torture chamber. And that's the idea, torture the crap out of you until your mind can't think about anything. As an added bonus, it's a good workout!

I initially wanted to try a yoga class because I knew I was extremely inflexible, to the point where it was probably going to cause me injury in the future. (And this is true: can't touch toes = tight hamstrings = lower back pain down the line) Not knowing exactly where to go, I searched my company discount site for "yoga" and came up with two hot yoga places, both in my very own city of Kirkland. Yelp reviews pretty much summarized one as excellent and one as a stinky, crowded meat market, so you can guess which one I went to.

I definitely got a surprise. This was no "relax and stretch" class like I expected. My first class was a Bikram style class, 26 postures repeated twice for a total of 90 minutes in the hot, smothering torture chamber. I wasn't in bad shape, so I could manage the quad-busting "Awkward" series at the beginning and most of the standing series, but by the 20th pose or so, I was down in corpse pose for the rest of the class, fighting waves of nausea due to dehydration. Another plus of hot yoga: forces me to drink water. But laying there, waiting for class to end, I realized that my mind really hadn't wandered much during that class, which isn't the case for other workouts I do.

As my work life got interesting over the next few months, I relied a lot on hot yoga to keep my mind steady. My studio offered two types, the Bikram style that I first tried, and a Baptiste style Power yoga, which was a "flow" class that I hated at first due to the amount of time spent in downward-facing-dog. But now, I like the way the class moves and the fact that it's a great core workout (they actually do a brutal abs sequence that has absolutely nothing to do with yoga). I'm nowhere near bring a yoga expert, and I'm usually still one of the lower level people in the classes, but I can now touch my toes. :)

My body likes the exercise. My mind enjoys the break.

December 22, 2009

50 Countries Before I Die

People who know me know that I love to travel. At some points in the last few years, it seemed like I was always going somewhere. But when I count, I've actually visited quite a small number of countries: 15.

Here is the list, starred if I really want to experience more of the country:
1. USA
2. Canada
3. Mexico
4. Austria * (Vienna)
5. Belgium
6. France
7. Germany * (Berlin, Romantic Road)
8. Spain * (Madrid + surrounds)
9. Switzerland
10. UK
11. India * (Rajasthan, Kerala)
12. Malaysia
13. Singapore
14. Taiwan
15. Thailand * (Chiang Mai)

So for the rest of the 50, here's a possible list:

Asia/OceaniaEuropeSouth/Central America and Africa
16. China
17. Japan
18. Korea
19. Russia
20. Indonesia
21. Vietnam
22. Cambodia
23. Laos
24. Myanmar
25. Nepal
26. Australia
27. New Zealand
28. Iceland
29. Denmark
30. Norway
31. Sweden
32. Finland
33. Netherlands
34. Ireland
35. Portugal
36. Italy
37. Hungary
38. Czech Republic
39. Romania
40. Greece
41. Croatia
42. Turkey
43. Morocco
44. Egypt
45. South Africa
46. Peru
47. Brazil
48. Argentina
49. Ecuador
50. Costa Rica

I won't even attempt to put priorities on them because that doesn't seem to be how I travel, but these are some trips that have crossed my mind:

  • SE Asia Take 2: Return to Thailand (Chiang Mai), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar (+4 countries)

  • Ja: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland (+4 countries)

  • Crossing into Eastern Europe: Return to Germany (Berlin), Hungary, Czech Republic (+2 countries)

  • Southern Hemisphere: Australia, New Zealand (+2 countries)

  • Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands: Peru, Ecuador (+2 countries)

  • African Explorer/Safari: South Africa, Zambia?, Botswana? (+2? countries)

  • Indian Adventure: Return to India (Rajasthan), Nepal (+1 country)

  • Motherland: China, return to HK (+1 country)

  • Tapas and Outlets: Return to Spain (Madrid), Morocco (+1 country)

Conclusion? There's a lot to see. I don't have a lot of vacation days. And with all of these countries to visit, I don't think I can have kids. :)

White buildings in RondaDelhi, India

Longtail boats, ThailandBruges, Belgium

December 30, 2009

Christmas in California

Instead of having me do the fun redeye-to-East-Coast-then-back-to-Indianapolis Christmas series of flights, the family decided this year to leave the snowy depths of the Midwest and fly out to California for some non-freezing weather. Despite winter storms forecast for both Indianapolis and Minneapolis, they managed to make it through both airports without delays. My flight, on the other hand, that went through San Francisco, was delayed by almost an hour. Go figure.

A long time ago, we took a road trip to San Antonio around Christmas time. Then along came dinner time, either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, I don't remember. We searched the city for food. McDonald's - closed. Even 24-hour Denny's - closed. Finally we found a pizza place or something that was open, but everyone else was there, too, so there was an additional two hour wait. I'm certain that Daniel and I did not react favorably to this experience, and my mom was so traumatized that to this day, despite the fact that things seem to be open more often now than 10 years ago, she always ensures that we have guaranteed meal plans when traveling on a holiday.

This year's guarantee was Universal Studios. There was a deal for getting two days for the price of one, so we made a quick visit of a few hours on the 24th after we arrived, then another half day on the 25th. I've been to that Universal Studios before, so most of the rides weren't new to me. The live shows were more interesting, and the best was probably the studio tour that took us to a bunch of movie sets, including Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives.

You can usually count on eating at a Chinese restaurant for Christmas (something that we were unable to find in San Antonio), and we had a great big dinner with my great aunt at a Chinese seafood restaurant. Lobster, clams, honey walnut shrimp, Peking duck, etc. Nom nom nom! Unfortunately, her children and their families were all spending this holiday season with their in-laws, so we didn't get to see them. But there's talk of organizing a big Tang reunion...

The next day, we went to the Getty Villa, which my mom thought would just be a quick stop to look at a house. But after doing a short orientation tour, we spent a lot more time browsing through all of the galleries of Greek and Roman antiquities. The Getty Villa was modeled after an ancient Roman villa, so the design of the building was very interesting to see, perhaps more interesting than a lot of the stuff inside. (After awhile, all of the vases begin to look very similar...) I was dropped off in the City of Industry to attend Ke's wedding, and the rest of the family ran off to the Griffith Observatory.

We spent our last few days in the San Diego area, taking advantage of their city card to pay one price for lots of attractions, including LegoLand, the San Diego Zoo, biking around La Jolla, and a whale watching tour. I had to leave a day before everyone else because I'm still hoarding vacation time, so they got an extra day in San Diego.

And that's it for this time! Next trip: Twins' graduation trip?

About December 2009

This page contains all entries posted to adventures of a tired coder in December 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2009 is the previous archive.

January 2010 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.