Travel Day (Sept 7, 2015). San Diego -> Dulles -> Brussels -> Prague

I love traveling, but hate travel day.

My flight out of San Diego was Sept 7 at 06:40.   I was up at 03:45 to be ready.  I had just over four hours of sleep.

I took Uber to the airport.   A friend was over on Saturday.   He swore he’d get me to the airport on Monday.  I explained what time he’d have to be up.  Still he insisted.   When my Uber driver pulled up, I told him “you look nothing like my friend who was going to give me a ride”.

I flew from San Diego to Dulles,  Dulles to Brussels, and Brussels to Prague.

I had been to Dulles before, but had never transferred from the domestic to international terminal.   The vehicles they used for transport wouldn’t look out-of-place on the battle field if they were painted in camouflage:

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I’m not able to sleep on planes much.   By the time the taxi had dropped me at my hotel, I had been awake for 24 hours.   Factor in the four hours of sleep the night before and I was exhausted.

I went straight to my room and slept for five hours.     I took a shower and went down to the hotel bar for a few of the local beers.   Pilsner Urquell was everywhere.   It was hard to walk two blocks without seeing a pub serving it.   I drank a fair amount of that and another Czech beer called Kozel.

The hotel bar was charging 97 Czech Koruna (about $4) for a 1/2 liter bottle.   I didn’t realize until later, I was paying too much.  40 Crowns ($1.65) was what I paid in non-tourist areas.

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From the hotel bar it was back to the room and in bed by 22:00.  I woke at 03:30 and just stayed awake.  I’m not normally one who sleeps a lot and the combined 10 hours felt like enough.

Finally made it to Europe

I had been wanting to go to Europe for years.  I finally decided that this was the year (2015).  Aside from a trip I took to Kauai, Hawaii back in 2008, I had never been off of the North American continent.   I had been all over the US, Canada, and Mexico but never off of the continent.

I started by looking at River Cruises.   They were a bit overpriced and a bit constrained for my tastes.   I’m just not the type who could ever have someone else dictate my itinerary.  I had the same problem with other organized tours.

I then looked at REI travel.   This was intriguing because they offered bicycle trips through the countryside.   It was a bit pricey and I would need extra gear.   I still think I want to pursue this at some point.  I think I’d meet some interesting people.

On a colleagues recommendation, I looked at Costco travel.  Problem I had there was that any package I put together didn’t have hotels available in all cities for the dates I wanted to travel.

I then turned to travelzoo.com.   This lead me to europeandestinations.com.   I found a 9 night package, with three nights in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest for $2300 (after upgrading a couple of hotels).   The package included airfare, hotels with breakfast and wifi, and train fare between cities.

I was a bit apprehensive about taking the trip.   I worried about being so far from home.  I was worried about language barrier.   It turned out I had nothing to worry about.   I had a really good time and am already ready to go back.

I really didn’t have anything specific planned.   My goal was just to get there.  I figured I would find plenty to do.

I am, by definition, a light traveler.   I’m more likely to leave the airport by bus, train, or subway than to get into a cab.   This means that I need to be able to carry everything I need with me.   I usually have to do sink laundry at the hotel, but it’s a small price to pay to be able to travel light.

I searched for months to find an adequate bag to take with me.   My requirements were that it had to be regulation size carry-on, had to accommodate a week of clothes, and had to be a backpack.  The bag I decided on was from Tortuga backpacks (http://www.tortugabackpacks.com/products/tortuga-travel-backpack).  It was a very functional bag and served my needs well.  The backpack straps were comfortable and the padded hip belt distributed weight well.

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Over the next week or so, I will be writing about my adventures.

The perils of asking for critical feedback from colleagues.

It’s review season at work.   This means getting feedback on your performance.  It’s easy to hear how great you are.   It’s much more difficult to face the things you are doing wrong.  Odds are you know your deficiencies well, it’s hard to take when others realize them as well.  If you only hear what you’re doing right, there really isn’t much to improve on.

I had my review and there was some feedback that was a bit hard to swallow.   I’m extremely self critical as it is.

Tonight, I was out with a colleague/friend for beers.   We got on the subject of reviews.   At some point, I asked him what he felt was the number one thing holding me back in my career.   This is a terrible question to ask a friend.   It puts them in a bad spot, and I realize that.

More or less, he told me that it’s easy to complain and that odds are your lead already knows the problems.   What your lead needs is solutions to the problems.   To continually hear about the problems only fatigues your lead more.

I think the take away is that if you’re not proposing a way to fix an issue, you should just keep quiet.   Otherwise you become another unneeded burden to your lead.

My much overdue pictures from my 2014 Xmas Vancouver trip.

Whistler Orange Chocolate Dopplebock with Vanilla Ice-cream

Whistler Orange Chocolate Dopplebock with Vanilla Ice-cream

City from the Harbor Lookout

City from the Harbor Lookout

No. 5 Orange "Slippery When Wet"

No. 5 Orange
“Slippery When Wet”

City from the Harbor Lookout

City from the Harbor Lookout

In Surrey

In Surrey

Beer and view from my hotel

Beer and view from my hotel

No. 5 Orange "Slippery When Wet"

No. 5 Orange
“Slippery When Wet”

Capilano

Capilano

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Cliff Walk at Capilano

Cliff Walk at Capilano

Poutine and Wrap at Suds in New Westminster

Poutine and Wrap at Suds in New Westminster

City from the Harbor Lookout

City from the Harbor Lookout

Cliff Walk Capilano, the harness to hold the walk.

Cliff Walk Capilano, the harness to hold the walk.

Christmas Dinner.   A cheese sausage and a beer.

Christmas Dinner. A cheese sausage and a beer.

View from Hotel

View from Hotel

Lions Gate bridge from Stanley Park.

Lions Gate bridge from Stanley Park.

Xmas Eve.  What I gave myself.

Xmas Eve. What I gave myself.

Steamworks brewery.

Steamworks brewery.

Xmas day walk around Stanley Park.

Xmas day walk around Stanley Park.

Xmas day walk around Stanley Park.

Xmas day walk around Stanley Park.

Sutton Place hotel left this on my door Xmas morning.

Sutton Place hotel left this on my door Xmas morning.

Lion's Gate bridge

Lion’s Gate bridge

City

City

City

City

Hockey Game.  Canucks vs. Coyotes.   Coyotes got slaughtered.

Hockey Game. Canucks vs. Coyotes. Coyotes got slaughtered.

Poutine at Steamworks.

Poutine at Steamworks.

Ick

Ick

Ick 2

Ick 2

At YVR.  What your bags can feel like.

At YVR. What your bags can feel like.

Why I finally cancelled my SiriusXM subscription

I first subscribed to XM Radio when it rolled out in November of 2002.    I absolutely loved the variety provided and the commercial-free music stations.   At the time, I was paying $10/month and that included online streaming.

There were a couple years I also had a Sirius subscription.   I used my XM tuner at home and my Sirius tuner in the car.   I liked when there was competition between the two.   Each had their strengths.

After they were allowed to merge and become a monopoly, I noticed that the price went up and the channel selection went down.   I still stayed on as a subscriber because I liked being able to tune into music without thinking about it.

The pricing kept going up with SiriusXM, even for a very loyal customer.   Last year, I paid $185 ($15.41/month) for the all-in package.   This included all channels and internet streaming.   I recently received a renewal notice for the upcoming year.   They wanted $227 ($18.91/month) for the year.   A 24% increase.   Now if they had upped their bitrate so the compression artifacts weren’t so noticeable, it would have been justified.

Pandora was always an option as a replacement.  In fact, I had paid for Pandora One for two years.    I had actually built some pretty good XM clone channels.  I never much liked the limited number of times I could skip tracks with Pandora.

I’m coming late to the Spotify party, but I have been using it for the past couple of weeks.   I signed up for their $10/month premium package.   What I have really liked is the ability to stream at 320 Kbps.   The fidelity is much, much better than SiriusXM.   What I wish it had was the ability to build stations like I had with Pandora.  I can kind of do that by seeding a channel with an Artist and then using the thumbs-up or thumbs-down buttons to dial it in.

Another thing I really like about Spotify is that if I hear a track I like, I can go and listen to the whole album it came from.   I’m actually starting to listen to whole albums again.

I suppose I can always go back to SiriusXM if the alternatives don’t work out.   I don’t think I ever will for one simple reason.   They make it an absolute nightmare to cancel your subscription.   You CANNOT do it online.   They will only let you add to your subscription online, not subtract.    So you have to call them.   Plan on it taking an hour.   You will constantly be put on hold.  They also try and barter with you.   You will find yourself begging them just to cancel it.

I can actually subscribe to both Pandora One and Spotify for $14.56 per month.   This is still $4.34 less than what SiriusXM would charge me.   Best part is that I can cancel either service at any time ONLINE.

Shopping for Real Estate in San Diego

I arrived in San Diego in February of 2012.   I had accepted a seven month temporary job.   As these things go, I just passed three years in San Diego.   The seven months turned to 18 months at which point I was converted to a full time employee.

Had I bought property when I arrived, I would have done well as the market was still recovering from the 2008 housepocalypse.   There were two problems.   One is that I would have been insane to buy anything when I was a temp.   The second is that I don’t think banks would have loaned me the money being a temp.

Right now I am just window-shopping housing here.   It grates me every month writing a $1700/month (1bed/1 bath) rent check, but is the alternative any better?

I’m seeing a lot of $600,000 – $700,000 single family fixer-uppers on the market right now.   Several I’ve seen will need $50,000 – $60,000 of kitchen and bathroom renovations.

Condominiums can cost less, but often have sky-high monthly association fees.   One place I liked downtown had $762 monthly dues.   This might be okay if I got two call girls per month as part of them.   The other thing is that most the condos I’ve looked at are astonishingly similar to the apartment I already rent.

A lot of condominium complexes I’ve looked at here have a very low owner-to-renter ratio.   This means that I would not be able to get a standard mortgage as Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac won’t underwrite it.   This has me in the world of specialty lenders, who don’t publish loan rates on their web sites.

I think part of my problem is that I just can’t get my head around the prices.    The last house I owned, I had built in 2002.   It cost me $210,000 and that seemed like a lot of money to me.   It’s almost impossible for me to swallow $600,000 as the norm.

I just found a condo near where I live.   It is a 2 bed/1 bath, 1428 square foot place, with a list price of $559,000.

Breaking down what the payment would be on a 30 year mortgage:

Price:                $559,000

20% down:       $111,800

Closing costs:   $10,000

Mortgage amt:  $447,200

Interest Rate:    3.92%

P&I Payment:   $2114.42

Insurance:        $75/month

2014 Taxes:      $5647 ($470.58/month)

HOA Dues:        $255/yr

Total Monthly Payment: $2114.42 + $470.58 + $75 + $255 = $2915

Total Monthly – Tax Write Off: $2915 – $405.71 = $2509

Compared to the $1700 I’m paying in rent, the $2509 doesn’t seem too bad.   Of course this all assumes I happen to have $121,800 just laying around for the down payment and closing costs.   The numbers work out much differently if I can only put 5% down and have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI).

I think I will be a renter for the foreseeable future.   I have a lot of coworkers who own homes that cost much more than $559,000.   I really don’t know how they do it.   If I didn’t value maxing out my 401(k) every year, I also might be able to pull it off.

Packing light. My upcoming trip to Vancouver.

I like to travel, but I never like travel day itself.

This is morning I will be flying to Vancouver, BC.   I dread the security line, especially if I get stuck behind inexperienced travelers.  I understand what is about to happen makes no sense; the inexperienced don’t.

I try to minimize the hassle by taking as little luggage as possible.  I put everything into packing cubes to make this easier.  I used to use a wheeled suitcase but started to find it cumbersome.  I’ve since switched to a backpack and a smaller bag to keep at my seat.

image

Here is what a week’s worth of luggage, carefully packed, looks like for me.

What I have packed:

6 shirts (I always end up with one or two tshirts on my trips, so I take one less than needed).

2 pair of jeans and 1 pair of nylon pants.

Socks and underwear for the week.

1 pair of nylon gym shorts.

1 rain shell (It rains in Vancouver in the winter).

1 thermal jacket (bungeed to the backpack).

1 Silipint silicone pint glass (a lot of airports now have filtered water).

1 compact umbrella.

1 wool beanie.

My combination charger/backup battery.

My passport.

My iPad.

The bags themselves are made by Tom Bihn bags in Seattle.   They are made of their nylon and Dynema fabric.  The bags have been great for most of my needs.  They’re more expensive than their imported counterparts, but will last for decades.

Work slows down for me at this time of year.  I have four paid holidays.   By using a bit of my vacation time, I can leverage a full two weeks off.   I decided that I would head to Vancouver.   It’s a city I have a lot of history with and I always enjoy going.  I fully understand it will rain (see packing list above), but I don’t care.

I’ll be posting whatever photos I take in a later post.