Sunday, March 15, 2009


I’ve been home for over a week and finally have a moment to start writing.  I spent a significant portion of the weekend sorting through over 500 photos, of which I’ve posted the highlights on Facebook and Windows Live.  Ted, Katy, Lisa, Rob – miss you guys already!
I met up in Bangkok with Ted, who (on the outside chance you don’t already know this) is working for Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures in Northern Thailand.  We spent a day touring Bangkok (summary: there is a lot of gold at the Grand Palace), and then flew on to Krabi, a province in southern Thailand and strong contender for the “Most beautiful place I’ve ever been” award (Annecy, France and Grand Teton National Park are the only competitors that come to mind immediately).
We stayed at and primarily climbed at a small beach named Tonsai on the Pranang Peninsula, which is only accessible by boat.  The peninsula is inaccessible to trains, planes, automobiles, helicopters, and any other non-floating motor vehicle that you can think of.
Tonsai consists of a bunch of bungalows rented out by various locals and cabanas that take care of all of your needs. Example: Wee’s Rock Climbing School, below, can rent you gear, take you deep water soloing, serve you breakfast, and much, much more…  Special thanks to Wee and Elke (authors of the ubiquitous Rock Climbing in Thailand) for their great hospitality.  It’s nice traveling with a friend who works in the local climbing industry!  It should also be noted that Ted knows every white expat in Thailand as well as everyone in the Thai climbing community regardless of origin, and none of them seem surprised in the slightest to run into each other on a remote beach.

Additionally, the Thai people all fall in love with Ted when they find out he can speak Thai, unlike 99% of white people (tourists like me).  This contrasted with Vietnam and Japan, less touristy places, where the people seemed more surprised by my ignorance of the local tongue than my expat friends’ fluency.  In particular, Ann, the hotel keeper at the Krabi Mountain View Resort (neither “resort” nor “hotel” describe anything at Tonsai, but no better words come to mind) and Ted became best friends after a mix-up over our key was resolved (they thought we lost it. We didn’t).  Every time we’d come back and ask for our key after that, Ann would tell Ted in Thai that they didn’t have the key, and Ted always believed her for some reason (sorry for calling you out in public, Ted!).
We had two full days of climbing in Krabi.  Our first day involved no particularly memorable climbing, but we explored the Pranang Peninsula over the course of the day.  We started out the day with a 40 minute hike through the jungle to Railay Beach, which is a 10 minute hike over beach at low tide (crazy tide effect at Tonsai).  From Railay Beach, we climbed from one side of the peninsula in the morning, then hiked through a cave and rappelled out the other side.
The second day of climbing involved consistently great climbing that was memorable both for the beautiful views and the quality of climbing.  In the morning, at high tide again, we hired a longboat to take us to Eagle Wall (hikable only at low tide), where we were the only climbers.  At the top of the first climb, “Where Eagles Don’t Dare”, (below, 30m, 6a+ in the French system), Ted shouted “Fuck!”  I was of course thinking that something had gone wrong; the anchor was rusty, Ted had hurt himself, the list went on until Ted clarified: “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.”  Once you got above the trees, the view was indeed spectacular, a birds eye view of the whole peninsula.  Since I didn’t climb with my new Pentax K200D DSLR, you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

Shameless plug: this post was written with Windows Live Writer, which is an infinitely better way to write to Blogspot than the Blogger web interface.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Off to Asia!

I’m off tomorrow morning for a 2 week adventure in Asia, mostly with Ted!  Itinerary is as follows:

  • 2/21-2/23 Bangkok
  • 2/23-2/27 Krabi (southern Thailand, beach, climbing)
  • 2/27-3/2 Visit Katy L in Hanoi
  • 3/2-3/4 Luang Prabang (Laos)
  • 3/5-3/8 Visit Rob in Tokyo

Monday, December 15, 2008

Life on the slopes

I’m struggling to cope with the fact that I live within day trip distance of 4 ski resorts.  La vie est dure, n’est-ce pas?  This weekend, I made it to the openings of Crystal Mountain and Mt. Baker.  Until this weekend, there hadn’t been much accumulation, but following a dumping of over 2 feet Friday and Saturday, these two were ready to open.  Sort of.  The powder was fantastic, especially at Baker, but at both places there was the constant surprise of bottoming out on rocks or stumps hidden under the powder.

Both places were phenomenally beautiful.  OK, at Crystal there was visibility of about 20 ft for most of the day, so I don’t actually know for certain that it’s beautiful, but it’s right next to Mt. Rainier so I’m really excited to go back on a clear day.  I also preferred the runs that were open at Crystal and the overall organization – high speed lifts and fewer traverses meant more time skiing.  Also 2 hours less of total driving (Crystal is 2 hours away and Baker is 3) make Crystal a more desirable destination to return to.  The main advantage Baker has is better snow – it’s a lot drier than Crystal which makes the snow lighter and fluffier.

I don’t think I’m going to have any trouble avoiding staying happy through Seattle’s dark and rainy winter.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Victory...for the most part

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

After 143 years, a person of color will finally have the privilege of exercising his 14th amendment privilege to hold the highest office in the land. Enough articles have been written by more eloquent journalists than myself about the significance of this election; I think the Onion describes it best in its article, "Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress":
"The election of our first African-American president truly shows how far we've come as a nation," said NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. "Just eight years ago, this moment would have been unthinkable. But finally we, as a country, have joined together, realized we've reached rock bottom, and for the first time voted for a candidate based on his policies rather than the color of his skin."
This is a huge step forward in electoral politics, that people are able to see the promise in a candidate beyond the color of his (or her) skin. It was also really fun celebrating with an estimated 4,000 of my closest friends in the streets of Seattle.

What this election has also made clear is that while a majority of our country is able to see beyond the color of an individual's skin, progress is still needed when it comes to groups of people. On the same day as Obama's election, a number of discriminatory referenda were passed around the country. We've all heard about the varying degrees of anti-gay legislation that passed, but you might not have heard that Floridian's manage to screw up in a big way, as usual. I don't mean to discriminate against Floridians, but it would be really nice if they could make it through a single election cycle without totally screwing up.

The New York Times, at the very bottom of their article on gay marriage, tells us of a fairly disturbing part of the Florida constitution that voters narrowly voted to uphold:

Among the more unusual measures on this year’s ballots was one in Florida that would repeal an old clause in the state constitution that allows legislators to bar Asian immigrants from owning land. The repeal would be symbolic, as equal protection laws would prevent lawmakers from applying the ban. With 78 percent of precincts reporting just before 11 p.m. Tuesday, the vote was close, with 52 percent voting to preserve the clause.
WTF??? 52 percent of Floridians think Asian immigrants shouldn't be allowed to own land? Turns out, on further investigation, Florida was probably just too stupid to understand what this clause meant; because it calls Asian immigrants "aliens ineligible for citizenship," (AP) most voters probably thought they were discriminating against illegal immigrants, who we all love to hate. This comes full circle to my original point in "Who's afraid of direct democracy"; voters are too stupid to make decisions on their own and should let the stupid and corrupt politicians they elected do their jobs. Representative democracy was specifically designed by our founding fathers to prevent an angry, bigoted majority from repressing the rights of minorities.

It's easy to discriminate against a faceless minority. It's harder to discriminate against a man that we've all gotten to know and scrutinize over a long two year campaign. I'm sure if Floridians were asked to vote to ban their Asian American friend specifically from owning land, they'd make the right choice. And if the decision was up to a legislature, which unlike an electorate is accountable to public scrutiny, the ballot measure would have passed unanimously. I'd like to think that no modern politician could survive voting against allowing Asian immigrants to own land.

Fortunately, I live in the most hippy liberal progressive state west of Vermont, so I'm pretty happy with the results of our moronic voter initiative process. Seattle/Washington voters affirmed every last spending initiative except for (thank God) I-985. We voted most overwhelmingly in favor of spending upwards of $5 million a year to increase the number of hours of training required for "the people who wipe old people's butts" (The Stranger). The stupidity of this is offset by the fact that we voted to officially make Seattle a real city some day by building light rail and keeping Pike Place Market from caving in.

In other less political news, it has finally started raining all the time. Not quite as bad as Hanoi though, so I can't complain. Can't wait until ski season...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Who's afraid of direct democracy?

I am.  It might add half an hour to my commute, while simultaneously increasing government spending and pollution.  Washington Initiative 985, the Reduce Traffic Congestion Initiative, is so mind-blowingly moronic that even an elected official couldn't have conceived it.

Unlike the Princeton, NJ ballots, which consisted of voting for about 5 elected officials, my congressional district's Voters' Pamphlet, printed by the State of Washington, is not so much a pamphlet as a 135 page book.  Seeing how poorly representative democracy worked out for the rest of the country, Washington has decided to be creative and give the power back to the people.  Any citizen who can get a certain number of signatures can put whatever they want on our state's ballot.  I have no idea how gullible the people of Washington are, but I know if I didn't bother reading through this enormous booklet last night, I might have read the title of the Reduce Traffic Congestion Initiative and been fatigued enough from voting for 87 other things that I might have not bothered reading the full text and pulled the wrong lever.

As far as I can tell, the proposition is a backlash to Sound Transit Proposition 1, a regional proposition to build commuter light rail like any sensible city should have.  As an alternative, I-985 offers a patchwork of expensive traffic congestion solutions, which at best would have an almost indistinguishable effect on traffic, but will in many cases worsen congestion and will make mass transit useless during the final hour of morning and evening rush hour, which is precisely when I currently commute by mass transit (an awesome bike shuttle from the west side of the 520 bridge to Microsoft campus).

As a well-educated citizen with enough free time on my hands to read a 135 page Voters' Pamphlet and still feel uninformed enough to make a decision on the vast majority of propositions and amendments, I have confirmed my belief that direct democracy is scary.  I'm perfectly happy to let corrupt politicians who are paid to do this for a living make these decisions for me.  I guess I'm not in Kansas any more.

My favorite quotes on I-985:
  • The Stranger, Seattle's alternative weekly newspaper, in a long but somewhat amusing endorsement summary for the entire Seattle ballot (worth reading as a supplement to this blog post provided you don't mind profanity): "There really isn't a single good thing you can say about the latest shit sandwich from Tim Eyman."'
  • The Seattle Times (more conservative): "Within a few weeks of this measure's effective date, fewer commuters will ride the bus because they lose the time advantage. The result will be more cars on the roads and more congestion by mid-December. Happy Holidays to you."
  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ("unabashedly liberal"): "Initiative 985 invites Washingtonians to encourage red-light running, make the streets more dangerous, demolish a good option on the financing of a new Highway 520 bridge and rob the state of the ability to provide for schools and other general fund responsibilities. [...] Voters should decline to join Eyman in blowing this multi-toxin poison dart at themselves."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fremont Oktoberfest

This weekend was Fremont Oktoberfest, a three-day beer festival two blocks from my apartment.  It's sort of like lawnparties for three days, but with Northwest craft beers instead of Beast and you have to pay for it, and it rains.  And it's not at Princeton.  OK, so it really has nothing in common with lawnparties except that you're drinking beer outside in the middle of the afternoon.  For some reason, about half of the beers were IPAs.  Now, don't get me wrong, I like hops as much as the next guy, but at a certain point enough is enough.  By the end of the weekend, I was desperately searching for the least hoppy beers available.  It is possible to make good beer where the dominant flavor is not hops, and I was able to find plenty.

I got my first taste of the infamous Seattle rainy season.  On Friday, when I biked to work, it was sort of raining - it was overcast, you could sort of make out droplets in the air, and the air felt wet.  I didn't get wet in the time I was out, but the ground seemed to be getting wet, so I think that counts.  Even if that doesn't count, Saturday we got hit with real rain.  Not New York rain; I was outside all day, and although I regretted wearing a light fleece instead of a waterproof jacket, I survived.  Nothing gets called off in Seattle due to rain; Oktoberfest was packed, and the BMX bikers jumping over kegs continued.

Before hitting the beer garden today, I ran my first 5K race in just over 5 years, the Fremont Brew-ha-ha.  Despite only training for two weeks and consuming a copious amount of beer yesterday, I was happy with my performance - I finished in 20:57, beating my unambitious goal of 22 minutes, and finishing 44th out of 815 runners.  Seeing my place shocked me, to say the least - I realized that the competitive pool at a weekend 5K road race is quite different than my high school cross country races.  I definitely miss the camaraderie of having a team to hang out with before and after the race; perhaps I'll have to start my own.

In other news, I got a new Windows Mobile Phone, the Samsung Blackjack II from AT&T.  So far my experience with Windows Mobile has been less than fantastic - it seems almost impossible to upgrade from 6.0 to 6.1, which is apparently much better, although the upgrade wipes out all of your data (it is theoretically possible to back it up and restore it) so I'm trying to do that before I put too much on it.  Unfortunately I don't get a company discount on an iPhone...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Clouds (finally) and Steve Ballmer, superstar

After two weeks in Seattle, the constant misery of 70 and sunny weather has finally given way to an overcast day.  Yes, the cynics have been proven right - it rains ALL THE TIME here and I hate it.  I'll be sure to post ASAP when as I feel the first drop.  In the mean time, my beautiful bike commute will continue.  When the rain does finally hit (my understanding is this will happen some time in November), I hope to continue biking through the light drizzle and skiing on the weekends while those of you in the Northeast and Midwest enjoy your beautiful winters, characterized by 20 degree days with ice, slush and dirty snow.  If you want some good skiing, please come visit me out here, I'll be more than happy to show you around.

I apologize for the bitterness, but along with the Vista and Google questions (see Mojave Experiment), the "did you know it rains a lot there" question has to rank up there with the most common and most irritating questions I have received about my new job/location.  We'll see if I change my mind once it starts raining, but so far I love Seattle and don't anticipate a little drizzle getting in my way.  From what I understand, our drizzle is much less irritating than the driving rain that periodically pelts New York and the Eastern seaboard, dropping more annual precipation than our rainy metropolis.

In other news, today was the Microsoft company meeting.  Unlike other companies, which can fit in a large conference hall, our company meeting has to happen at Safeco Field.  Attendance measured 22,500, allowing us to set the world record for most paper airplanes in the air at the same time (true story).  Rainn Wilson of The Office (American version) emceed.  Most of the day was spent watching demos of all of the new Microsoft products scheduled to be released in the next few years as well as some further off projects in development at Microsoft Research.  Very impressive stuff for the most part, although I think I'd be violating my NDA to go into too much detail.  Seeing all of the cool demos reminded me why I'm in software and why I'm working at Microsoft.  And nowhere else in the world does Steve Ballmer's entrance receive a standing ovation fit for a rock star.  Although I have to admit, that man is passionate about what he does and fairly entertaining to boot.