Sunday, December 31, 2006

My 2006 in review

So 2006 is over. Time to look back and reflect on the year that was.

For me it was an incredibly busy year.

A year with 57 days and 740,000 vertical ft of skiing, including some awesome powder days like this epic powder Monday on March 13 and the blizzard bonus on December 21.

A year where I took 75 flights travelling a total of 109,000 miles to Australia (four times), NZ (twice) as well as Malaysia, Hong Kong and China and spent 178 days away from Steamboat (most of it fortunately in the company of my wife). Those 75 flights included plenty of engine trouble as well as last week's three day weather delay.

A year with lots of business success, where I played a key part in helping my company win contracts in Australia, New Zealand and China (including one deal which just closed today) worth more than $50 million and potentially much more.

A year with lots of visits to family and friends. My good friends Michael and Peter in Canberra and John in Brisbane who've been my best mates since military college more than 20 years ago. Our German friends Bert and Claudia who live in Switzerland and we hadn't seen in more than ten years but we ran into on our way to Hong Kong. Our friends Dan and Joyce from Wisconsin who we saw in Australia. My father-in-law who lives in Beirut and who my wife hadn't seen for nearly three years, and all the rest of her family in Brisbane who must almost be sick of us visiting by now. My mum and dad, brother and (small) nephew in Tasmania and my sister and (big) nephew on the Gold Coast, and my wife's cousin Naji in LA who must also be tired of us 'passing through' on the way to Australia.

So what are my resolutions for 2007?

First is achieving my 2006-07 ski season goal of skiing one million vertical feet.

And second (two is enough if you're serious about them) is to reduce the amount of flying I do. I figured out that I spent something like 240 hours on planes this year, and in terms of total travel time at least 300 hours getting to and from wherever. If you think of it in terms of an eight hour shift that's an extra 30 or 40 days work which is crazy. So my aim is to make fewer but longer trips, and maybe even spend the entire (Steamboat) summer in Australia.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Every cloud has a silver lining

Including the cloud that brought last week's blizzard.

First there was the extra day of skiing I got last week.

And second travelling on Christmas Day made it easy to upgrade to business class using miles since there's not many paying business class passengers wanting to travel then. LA to Brisbane in the front of the plane (well upstairs actually) is a million percent more enjoyable than travelling down the back!

So we celebrated Christmas today with my wife's family and the kids especially got into the spirit of celebrating Christmas Day again. I was particularly impressed that our nephews had opened only one present each and had saved the rest until we were there. Well done Alex, Aiden and Ramzi.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bonus day

Today I was supposed to be in transit to Australia, but thanks to the delays caused by this week's storm, I got to ski instead.

It was a lovely sunny day with lots of packed powder and surprisingly few people. I suspect that a lot of the people who were planning to be here this weekend were delayed coming in by the storm, so that just meant more for me!

I found some small stashes of powder hidden in some of the trees, especially in 'Wally World'. All in all a wonderful day that I didn't expect to have.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 18,706 vertical ft and a season total of 215,858 vertical ft (or 21.6% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Friday, December 22, 2006

The future of Steamboat

The big news in Steamboat this week (apart from the effects of the blizzard) has been the sale of the ski area to Intrawest for $265 million.

It's hard to predict exactly what this will mean for the ski mountain or the town, but based on Intrawest's record it's not too hard to guess that they are going to spend a really big chunk of money on upgrading facilities. That's a positive contrast to the previous owners ASC who have been carrying a lot of debt and consequently investing very little capital.

The obvious place they'll start is the base area which is incredibly dated, doesn't work well and doesn't really generate the sort of return that slope side real estate should. Just look at what they did at Winter Park.

It's not so obvious that there'll be an expansion of the ski area given that Steamboat is already a large resort (3,000 skiable acres) and the environmental hurdles to expansion on public land are not insignificant. But I think we can realistically hope for further lift upgrades, especially a high speed lift from the base area to take the pressure off the gondola, and probably more snowmaking.

In the past 12 months Steamboat has been experiencing a real estate and development boom. I don't see that stopping any time soon because even with the 15-20% appreciation in values this year property in Steamboat is still a bargain compared to other resorts and Intrawest's investment can only add fuel to that fire.

Development can be a two-edged sword but I'm hopeful that the Steamboat community and Intrawest are sufficiently conscious of the unique qualities of this valley not to ruin it. And hopefully growth will bring direct air services to LA, which would certainly make life a lot easier for me!

Even when they do it right...

...they do it wrong.

United's handling of the massive disruption caused to their Denver hub by this week's blizzard has been in some ways quite good. In particular, their offer to allow those of us with cancelled flights to obtain a full refund no questions asked was quite welcome.

However they still managed to inject their standard dose of stupidity. I decided that I wanted to keep the reservation for my return trip and only receive a refund on my outbound trip originally scheduled for today. To which the response was: "After you complete your return journey, call this number and ask for the refund."

When informed that I could have my refund immediately if I cancelled the entire trip, guess what I did? Yep, cancelled the whole thing and re-booked on another airline. And these guys wonder why the can't make money. Their deeply ingrained bureaucratic culture gets in the way of doing the right thing by customers even when they're really trying to do the right thing.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bad blizzard, good blizzard

A blizzard has been pounding Colorado for the last two days.

The bad news is that Denver International Airport has been shut down and our flights out tomorrow have been cancelled. So instead of arriving back in Brisbane on Christmas Eve we won't arrive until December 27. Bad blizzard!

The good news is that the storm dumped a foot and a half of powder on the 'Boat. What a morning. First tracks on lower Rainbow - deep powder on a groomed base is awesome - and in the trees to the skier's left of Cyclone where it was extra deep (face shots, face shots and more face shots till my face was frozen), and fresh tracks all over the place. Good blizzard!

The map and vertical seems almost irrelevant on a day like this but here it is anyway for a total of 17,342 vertical ft and a season total of 197,152 vertical ft (or 19.7% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Update: My wife's birthday is December 26. If we leave Los Angeles on December 25 and arrive in Brisbane on December 27, does that mean that she doesn't get a year older? Do I still have to buy her a gift? Hint: she wants you to say 'yes' to both questions.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Two hours

Two hours was all the time I had spare today but the weather was so nice I had to go out and make a few turns. It's beginning to get busier as more tourists arrive, but nothing like as crazy as it will be next week.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 7,910 vertical ft and a season total of 179,810 vertical ft (or 18% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

There's a big storm hitting southern Colorado at the moment. Storms from the south don't usually bring much snow to Steamboat but we could be lucky. I live in hope!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Afternoon fun

I usually ski in the morning but today I didn't go out until after lunch. The storm we've been expecting since Friday finally moved in mid-morning and after a couple of hours the fresh snow just looked too good to resist. It wasn't a powder day but it certainly was fun. I like to ski when it's snowing. There's a stillness and quietness that makes you feel like it's just you and the mountain. And it keeps the people away!

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 16,326 vertical ft and a season total of 171,900 vertical ft (or 17.2% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sunshine and butter

Until now the most frustrating chair on the mountain was the Sunshine Chair - so unbelievably slow. But finally it's been replaced with a high speed quad which opened today. So I made a point of riding it. Twice. Nice. Very nice.

On top of that, the snow today was much better than I expected. Like butter. Warm (it's around 40 F right now, about 10 degrees above average for this time of year), smooth, creamy and soft. But I'm still sweating on the cold front that's due to come through tonight or tomorrow and hopefully bring some fresh powder!

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 16,374 vertical ft and a season total of 155,574 vertical ft (or 15.6% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft). At the same time last year my total was only 111,290 despite the fact we'd had a lot more snow then. So I'm feeling increasingly confident I can reach my goal.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not quite a powder day...

...but still pretty good. We had six or seven inches of new snow in the past 24 hours, enough to cover the hard pack (and the snow was heavy enough to stick - there are times you don't want our wonderful light, dry Champagne Powder).

Buddy's was a good as I've ever seen it - perfect packed powder, virgin corduroy. While it was a little wind blown in places, especially on the Storm Peak face, there was some nice soft stuff in the trees, especially Twilight, Shadows and Typhoon.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 19,460 vertical ft and a season total of 139,200 vertical ft (or 13.9% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Monday, December 11, 2006

Resort Broadband

My current internet service provider is Resort Broadband, a local Steamboat company.

I previously had a Comcast cable internet service, which was great when it worked. The trouble was when you had an outage you were just one of a million customers talking to someone in a call centre somewhere. The last straw was when I had an outage on a Monday and they told me they could send a technician out on Saturday!

Contrast that with the experience I had today when my internet service went out. I was able to talk directly to a technician (Kim, who just happens to be an Aussie) who diagnosed the problem and called me back within half an hour to let me know the plan for replacing the faulty equipment causing the problem and it was fixed within two hours.

Update: I spoke too soon. These guys have five customers in the off season and five hundred during the holidays when the tourists are in town. So my 1.5M service runs at about 100K when the visitors all come in from skiing in the afternoon and start checking their email. Right in the middle of my working day.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thin pickings

It's another beautiful day in Steamboat and yesterday they opened a whole lot more of the mountain, so I made the most of it and explored some of the runs that I haven't visited since last season. It was fun, but it will be a whole lot more fun with a decent covering of snow. Rolex in particular was interesting. I've never seen moguls with Christmas trees in them before!

I hope that the snow that's forecast for this tonight turns into a good old fashioned winter storm.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 18,052 vertical ft and a season total of 119, 740 vertical ft (or 12% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Lighting project

Today I replaced this very ugly original fitting...

...with this rather more attractive one

Builders use ^*%# like the original fitting to save money, even though the difference in cost at trade prices is probably four dollars, which is exceeded by at least ten times by the value of the labour involved in replacing the fitting after the fact.

Friday, December 08, 2006


Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 15,160 vertical ft, which takes me past 100,000 ft (101,688 to be precise) which seems, at least psychologically, like the first significant milestone on my way to my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft.

For my first nine days I'm averaging a little over 11,000 ft, at which rate I'd need to ski another 80 days, however based on my stats from last year I expect my daily average to increase as the season progresses, so I should hit the target around 75 days.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Boot test

It's a beautiful sunny day here in Steamboat. However my primary purpose of skiing today was to test out my new boots a little more so I could take them back to the shop for some adjustments. Unfortunately my feet a quite wide in relation to their length so it takes quite a bit of work to get ski boots to fit.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 7,470 vertical ft and a season total of 86,528 vertical ft (or 8.7% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New boots

It was a beautiful bluebird day today and the mountain is virtually deserted.

I bought new ski boots yesterday. For the first run and half I was worried that I'd wasted my money, but as the boots moulded to my feet and the pain subsided, I could feel the transfer of weight to my edges like never before.

There was no additional terrain open to ski today so it was mostly a matter of breaking in the new boots on familiar territory, although I did head over to the Sundown Liftline and skied the upper half. Hopefully they'll open the Elkhead Chair soon so that the rest of the Priest Creek basin is accessible.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 12,130 vertical ft and a season total of 79,058 vertical ft (or 7.9% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Day 6

The weather forecast for today was for it to be cold, so I waited until noon to head out and added a few extra layers. I didn't need to because it was a beautiful day and while the powder is gone, the snow is perfect.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 11,790 vertical ft and a season total of 66,928 vertical ft (or 6.7% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Friday, December 01, 2006

Unexpected bonus

There was nothing on last night's weather forecast about snow overnight, so I had planned a slow start this morning. Fortunately my wife Marie looked out the window about 7.15 am and uttered my favourite words - "it looks like a powder day."

It obviously took a lot of people by surprise because there were only 20 people in the gondola line when I arrived around 8.20 am.

A quick run down Rudi's and Blizzard and then up on the BC chair. I couldn't believe it when none of the dozen or so people in front of me on the chair took BC Liftline, leaving me with first tracks.

Then it was up the Storm Peak Express and across to Shadows which I've been dreaming about skiing again all summer long. Along with Closet it was a little wind blown but still soft and deep around those beautiful aspens and largely unskied.

Triangle 3, Cyclone and Bar-UE Liftline were also good, but the deepest untracked snow I found was on the skier's right of Sunset. I also found some deep soft snow in the trees to the skier's left of upper Twister, and Hurricane was pretty good too.

Despite all the snow this week, there's still a few hazards out there because the powder hasn't really had time to pack down, especially around Bar-UE Liftline where I spent some time digging for my ski which detached after I got a little too close to one shrub and Typhoon where I did a really cool (but totally unplanned) rail slide along a fallen tree trunk.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 17,060 vertical ft and a season total of 55,138 vertical ft (or 5.5% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

An offer I can't refuse?

I just received this very attractive email from United offering me unbelievable deals on a skiing holiday.

Lots of places I can choose from, including Steamboat.

Hmmmm, maybe it's an offer I can refuse. It seems a bit excessive to fly from my house to the lifts!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Powder chaser

Today was one of those days where there's a few inches of new powder on top of the previous day's big fall and you go chasing the leftover stashes. I found some good deep snow on the skiers' right of Tornado and likewise on Cyclone (including face shots), all over Triangle 3 (great because it was closed yesterday) and in the middle section of the Bar-UE Liftline.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 11,268 vertical ft and a season total of 38,078 vertical ft (or 3.8% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

Hopefully we'll soon have enough snow to open more of the mountain. As much as I like some of these runs, I'm itching to ski some of my other favourites, especially Shadows and Twilight!

Update: I forgot to mention that it was much colder today than yesterday. It was about 10F (-12C) when I went out at 8.30 am "warming" to 15F by the time I finished at 10.30 am. Also, check out this picture of yesterday's action from the front page of today's newspaper.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Powder day

Two days ago it was like spring, but today it's definitely like winter, the very best of winter. A major storm rolled in last night and brought with it 8-12 inches of Steamboat's famous champagne powder.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 11,530 vertical ft and a season total of 26,810 vertical ft (or 2.7% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

I followed a pair of instructors down BC Liftline for first tracks and was embarrassed to fall on my second turn, but I felt a lot better when one of the instructors fell a few turns further down. Most of the rest was tracked up by the time I got to it because the normal quota of powderhounds was squeezed into about 10% of the mountain, although I did find some very nice lines on Hurricane which only opened later in the morning.

It's still snowing and forecast to continue well into tonight, so it should be more of the same tomorrow, only better!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

November spring

The conditions on the mountain right now are like spring skiing which is fine, except that it's November! Today was much like Friday only a little bit more. Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 9,020 vertical ft and a season total of 15,280 vertical ft (or 1.5% of my season goal of skiing one million vertical ft).

And now, since it's already Monday in Asia, I need to get to work.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Back on skis

Steamboat's 2006-07 ski season opened yesterday and today was my first day out. Unfortunately all the snow we had in October and early November has melted because it's been so warm the last few days. They've done a great job with snowmaking but it really needs to snow in the next few days.

While there's not a lot of people here it was still a little crowded since everyone was packed into just a few runs. Upper Buddy's was nice and the bumps on Whiteout and BC Liftline were surprisingly good - perhaps because the warm weather had softened them.

My skiing was also much better than I expected given that once again I failed to stay fit during the summer and that I'd only got off the plane from New Zealand yesterday.

Objectively today was only one star, but it's so good to be back on skis that subjectively I'd have to rate it four stars!

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 6,260 vertical ft.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


If you want to understand the key to programmer productivity (and any other task that involves the manipulation of a large number of inter-dependent ideas) read Joel On Software.

What it comes down to is this - interruptions are really, really, really bad for productivity when you are doing this type of work (because every time you are interrupted you need to reassemble all the ideas you were holding in your head in exactly the relative positions they were at the point you were interrupted). The lack of interruptions is one of the main reasons I like working from home (the other reasons are being close to my espresso machine, my wife and the ski lifts, but not necessarily in that order).

However when I'm visiting one of my company's offices I usually end up working at a cube in what we call a 'business centre'. The idea is widespread in big consulting companies now and is usually referred to as 'hot desking'. It's driven by bean counters who believe that it saves money which on the face of it is true because you can squeeze a lot more people in the same amount of space. Of course it's only a saving if you completely ignore productivity, which in my experience is about 25% of what it is when you have a quiet private space (like my home office), at least if you measure productivity in terms of producing the stuff that we deliver to clients and actually get paid for as opposed to 'busy work'.

But someone in our office in Wellington, NZ has taken the concept to new levels of stupidity because the 'business centre' is also the coffee break room. Try preparing a presentation to a client to close a multi-million deal while a dozen people are taking their lunch break around you. I really wonder how the guy that came up with this can justify taking a salary.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I love snow but...

..this is ridiculous. I'm in Canberra, Australia where the summer solstice is a little over a month away. I lived here for most of the 1980's and it snowed twice. And yet right now it's snowing!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Storm warning

The snow we had earlier in the week was well on its way to melting when a major storm moved through Colorado last night.

That's about eight inches here in the valley which usually means at least a foot and a half on the mountain. If only the ski mountain was open, today would be a powder day!

We will be in Australia and New Zealand for the next few weeks, so at least I won't have to watch it snow while I wait for the ski season to start!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Snow and sun

It's been snowing the last few days in Steamboat. The great thing about the weather here is that you still get plenty of sun.

And if you can find yourself a spot in the sun and out of the wind, you can sit outside in a t-shirt quite comfortably. Really.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Talk is cheap

Very cheap. I've posted before about my VOIP phone service which gives me unlimited calls in North America and Western Europe for $21.95 a month and three cents a minute to Australia.

Well Lingo has just added New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and yes, Australia to the list of countries covered by the free unlimited calls! That's right, I can call my family on the other side of the world every single day and it doesn't cost a single cent extra (but Mum, that doesn't mean that I'm actually going to call you every day, OK?)

As well as my Lingo service which has an adapter which allows me to plug in a normal phone handset, I also use Skype on my laptop which has the advantage that I can take it with me on the road. For $4 a month Skype also provides me with a virtual phone number in Canberra, Australia which allows my client and colleagues there to call a local number to contact me wherever in the world I am.

To give you an idea how clueless the traditional telcos are, Qwest (the incumbent carrier in Colorado) is now offering a VOIP service in an attempt to compete with the likes of Lingo before they completely lose all their business. Not only is the monthly rate higher, but for that you pay five cents a minute for calls within the US and nine cents a minute to Australia. Doesn't really compete with free does it?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Shopping trip

We took a trip on the weekend to Glenwood Springs to buy some furniture and to the Home Depot at Avon (near Vail) to buy some new light fittings. It reminded me once again how beautiful Colorado is and how lucky we are to live here.

We started out taking CO 131 south to join Interstate 70.

Then we followed I-70 through Glenwood Canyon.

And then back to Avon where the aspens were at their peak.

Sure it was a 250 mile round trip, but are your shopping trips this scenic?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Winners are grinners

I mentioned back in June that I was travelling to New Zealand's capital city (Wellington) to present a proposal to the government there. I received word last night (that's Monday morning New Zealand time) that we won the project. I'm sure it was my presentation that made all the difference!

That means two trips across the Pacific this year for two wins. That makes the pain of the long haul travel a little easier to take, although it means at least one and probably two more trips before the year is over. Unfortunately I don't know if I can squeeze in both trips before the ski season begins in just 58 days.

Hopefully my recent travels to Hong Kong and Beijing, China will also result in wins. That would make for a very good year.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Pardon me but your outsourcing is showing

I decided recently to change my cell (mobile) phone carrier. I've previously mentioned my dissatisfaction with my current carrier Verizon, but that wasn't the reason because I figure the other guys will be just as bad.

I travel extensively in other countries where they use a different standard (GSM) from the common US standard, so I wanted a handset and number that I could use for international roaming. That meant changing to a carrier that uses GSM.

What I got at the end of the process was "the credit department says you'll need to pay a $250 deposit." I could understand that because even though I now have a solid credit rating unlike two years ago when I basically didn't exist as far as the credit bureaus were concerned, you can quickly rack up a very big bill with international roaming and it's real money that your carrier owes the other carrier whether you pay your bill or not.

What floored me was the rest of the statement:

"...and we don't have any way to take a deposit."

Who the hell designs a business process that requires a deposit from a potential customer and then doesn't have a mechanism to actually, you know, collect the deposit? My guess is that either or both of the credit department and the call centre are outsourced. So to save say a buck fifty on the cost of handling the call, t-Mobile has lost a potentially very lucrative customer. Yes, I'm still with Verizon.

This one is close to the dumbest, most baffling business process I've ever seen. Ah, but they have Catherine Zeta-Jones on their ads, so I suppose that's OK.

Friday, September 22, 2006

More snow

Today is supposedly the official end of summer (the autumnal equinox). But winter is keen to get started here in Steamboat.

The run you can see in the centre of the picture is Westside and you can just see a little of Rolex to the left of that.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

First snow for the season

Two days ago it was 80 F (26 C). This morning it was 35 F (2 C) in the valley and less on the mountain. This was the view from our window that greeted us around 8 am.

Unfortunately the annual rubby ducky race which raises funds for the hospital was cancelled due to the surge in the river from the run off. The local boy scouts who have to wade in to the river to retrieve the ducks as they cross the finish line would either have been washed away or snap frozen. I wonder what sort of badge you'd get for that?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A different sort of flying

Today I went out with my friend Michael flying radio controlled planes.

First we had to get the car loaded. It's quite tricky arranging all the pieces while leaving enough room for a couple of folding chairs, a thermos of coffee and all the other creature comforts.

Then we drove to the field out past Tharwa on the south side of Canberra. The yellow biplane (above) is an old one he kindly took along for me to practice on. Here's Michael with his plane. Note the plane behind him, you'll see it again soon.

Take off.

In flight.

As impressive as the models are (and they are, because they have an incredible power to weight ratio) , they're engineered to be cheap and fast. The little plastic guys in the cockpit aren't afraid of dying, so safety is not a consideration. So there's plenty of things that can go wrong, and when they do it can be quite spectacular. An aileron servo gave way in mid flight on one of the other planes (the one behind Michael in the photo above) and the result was a complete loss of control and finally a spinning dive into the ground at full throttle. The owner of the plane was suprisingly willing to have the results displayed here for all the world to see!

Thursday, August 17, 2006


After three days in Hong Kong we are now spending two days in Beijing. Unfortunately most men in China smoke. Not in the office, but definitely at lunch. So while I was locked away in a smokey dining room being slowly asphyxiated by my Chinese colleagues and customers, Marie was out visiting Tian'anmen Square (we've been here once before and already visited the two most popular sites, namely the Great Wall and the Forbidden City which are both fantastic).

Tonight we're going out with my colleagues to a local reasturant for - what else - Peking Duck!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More old friends

We live in Colorado and our German friends Bert and Claudia live in Switzerland. So what would be the chance of meeting them on our flight from Brisbane to Hong Kong? About 100% it seems. So here we are out to dinner together in Hong Kong along with their kids Julian and Laura.

We had some great Chinese food, despite the fact that nobody in the restaurant seemed to speak any English, something which seems be more common in Hong Kong each time I return.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hong Kong

We're back in Hong Kong this week, a year since we were last here. From Brisbane it's only a two hour time change and an 8.5 hour flight which is considerably easier than getting here from Steamboat.

We usually stay at the Excelsior Hotel in Causeway Bay and because we're regulars (including a ten week stay in 2001!) they often upgrade our room. This time we have a room with a wonderful harbour view of Kowloon. This was the view when we checked in last night (click the photo to enlarge).

And this is the view this morning.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Old friends

We have some friends who live in Madison, Wisconsin that we've been meaning to visit for the past five years without success. But we finally managed to catch up with them today - on the Gold Coast (for my US readers, that's in Queensland, Australia, a very long way from either Colorado or Winconsin)!

Dan Bromley is an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin. I haven't yet read his latest book. Trouble is, if I buy a copy from Amazon it might take another five years before I see him again and can get him to autograph it!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Surfers Paradise

On our previous visit to Brisbane in April this year, we went to Tasmania to visit my parents. Fortunately on this trip they were taking a winter break at their apartment in Surfers Paradise which is only a one hour drive from Brisbane, so we were able to see them again. As you can see from this photo of me and my Dad, their place is right on the beach.

My Mum reckons that they see us more since we moved overseas than they did when we lived in Australia. I think it's true. You are more conscious of being away and needing to make and effort and as I've gotten older I think I've come to appreciate them more.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I'm back in Brisbane this week and enjoying the glorious Brisbane winter (day time maximums around 20C or 70F).

I pulled out my old rollerblades on the weekend and went out with my 10 year old nephew Alex which was just the right pace. Even though I used to rollerblade every day and was quite good, it's been about four years so I was a little rusty.

This morning I went out by myself and went quite a bit harder (if my boss is wondering why I'm not at the office on a Tuesday morning the answer is that I spent Friday night/Saturday morning on the plane back from Kuala Lumpur). I started off on my old route at the Kangaroo Point ferry terminal and along by the cliffs but then diverted across the Goodwill Bridge which wasn't there at the time, through the Botanic Gardens and then along the new floating walkway in New Farm which is where this picture was taken. The building in the background with the red/orange roof is where my wife and I used to live.

Yes, I know I need to loose a little weight around the middle. Why do you think I'm out there? Well apart from the fact that I've remembered that I really enjoy rollerblading. It's not skiing, but it is great-off season training for skiing, and you can go fast. I'll definitely be buying a new pair when I get back to Steamboat.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I'm in Malaysia this week, specifically in Putrajaya which is the new capital on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. I flew in yesterday from Brisbane on my favourite airline (Singapore Airlines) via my favourite airport (Singapore's Changi). The US could really learn something from Asia on how to run airlines and airports so that the entire experience is not something akin to torture.

It was quite a strange feeling being back in Singapore for the first time since we moved from there to Steamboat in April 2004.

Given that one of my main complaints about Steamboat (of which I have very, very few you understand) is the lack of good Asian food, I'm in culinary heaven. Malay food is such a fantastic mix of influences with such complex flavours it's at the opposite end of the spectrum to traditional American food which is big on calories and fats but generally low on taste. I made a point of hitting the hotel gym this morning so I can indulge guilt free!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More engine trouble

Only two months ago I wrote about experiencing an aborted take-off due to engine failure on a Canberra to Brisbane flight, but it's happened again! We didn't get as far as beginning our take-off roll this time, but the net effect was the same - re-booked on a flight through Sydney which wasted several hours of my Saturday.

Once is bad luck, twice seems like a pattern. I think Qantas need to look at the maintenance schedule on their 737-400's which are getting on a bit now. I went through this with Qantas in 2000-01 when I was regularly flying between Brisbane and Manila and their 767's seemed to be constantly breaking down.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Free Rugby

I scored some free tickets to last night's Australia vs South Africa rugby test match at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane courtesy of my friend Kathy (thanks!) While Aussie Rules is my passion, I quite like rugby, especially when Australia win 49-0.

One thing that struck me about the game was how good the refereeing was, which is more than I can say for any game of Aussie Rules I've ever seen. In any sport there are line ball decisions that can go either way, so that's not what I'm talking about. It's when they miss completely obvious stuff that it's infuriating and Aussie Rules umpires seem to have an unequaled capacity to do just that despite the fact that there are three field umpires, two boundary umpires, two goal umpires and an emergency umpire just in case.

At the same time as the rugby was on the Lions were playing in Melbourne and there was an absolute howler in the dying minutes. Jason Akermanis almost had his head taken off by his opponent right in front of the ump but no free kick was awarded (for those not familiar with Aussie Rules you can't touch your opponent above the shoulders, so decapitation is definitely out of the question). Fortunately the Lions won (by a point) so I can let that umpire live for another week!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Interesting house?

On the way to Australia and NZ, we stopped last night in LA and today we visited my wife's cousin who lives in Redondo Beach (nice suburb, but makes Steamboat real estate look cheap). A few houses down the street we saw this place under construction. Yes, it is made from recycled shipping containers.

Apart from the environmental benefits it's also earthquake and fire proof. Here's what it's supposed to look like when it's finished.

Given that it still looks like a bunch of shipping containers piled on top of each other, I don't think the benefits outweigh the fact that it's really, really ugly.

Monday, July 03, 2006

It isn't any better at home

As a resident of the US mostly I write about US political stupidity. That's not because there is any shortage back home in Australia. Here's one from The Courier-Mail, daily paper of my former home town of Brisbane, full of stupidity from both the Feds and the state government in Queensland.

Firstly, I was staggered to discover that the Queensland Government is subsidising the production of the local version of Big Brother. State governments in Australia are always complaining that they can't raise enough revenue because the Constitution severely restricts the types of taxes they can levy (which is true). But it can't be too bad if they can waste money on this. Premier Peter Beattie's justification? "If you destroy television production in Australia . . . then all we do is import American crap." Of course. I'm sorry Peter. We must produce our own crap. with taxpayer's money. How silly of me.

Then there's the Federal government. I think the Prime Minister and his mates have been chanelling George W. Bush and his Republican friends in Congress, because they seem to be obsessed with stuff like saving us all from sexual antics that take place in the Big Brother house in the wee hours of the morning (and weren't even broadcast). Just like the Republicans this is all they're left with now that they've won the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, got the Israelis and Palestinians sharing group hugs, hunted down and killed bin Laden, secured future supplies of low cost oil, reversed global warming, fully funded the retirement of all their citizens, provided high quality low cost healthcare for all, and finally found a better way to decide soccer matches than the penalty shoot-out.

My holiday weekend project

This weekend I completed a handyman project that I've been saving for a long weekend - tiling the landing at the bottom of the stairs where you come in from the garage. In the winter when you tend to get a lot of snow and mud on your boots the carpet in this area was impossible to keep clean.

I also had to wait for the summer to do this, because tile cutters use water for lubrication and it's impossible to stay dry while cutting tiles. I know this from bitter experience because my Dad and I once made the mistake of cutting tiles while it was snowing!

As you can see from the fact that some of the grout (on the right hand side) is still wet, I've literally just finished, ahead of my expected schedule which means I can relax for the rest of today and tomorrow (except that I need to start packing for my upcoming trip to New Zealand and Australia).

It's a pretty good job, even if I say so myself. That's because I had good teachers - my Mum and Dad (who have done some really intricate mosaics on their floor) and my brother James.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Cattle roundup

The Independence Day weekend is a busy time in Steamboat with lots of visitors and loads of activities. This morning we had the annual cattle roundup where local ranchers drive a herd of cattle down the main street to the rodeo grounds. Don't ask me why, they just do. Tradition or something.

Last year this was the culmination of a reality television show, Filthy Rich:Cattle Drive. If you didn't see, it the basic concept was a bunch of spoilt rich kids put to work on a real ranch.

Tomorrow afternoon I hope to get along to the ski jumping competition. That's right, ski jumping in the middle of summer. Our jumping hill was recently upgraded with an artificial surface to allow the jumpers to train year round, something which is necessary these days to be competitive at the World Cup and Olympics.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Flag burning

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame has a brilliant post on the whole debate about banning the burning of American flags. Here are some choice extracts (but make sure you read the whole thing):
I was delighted to learn that American politicians are trying to make it illegal to burn the American flag. That can only mean that my dedicated public servants have finally solved the problems of crime, drugs, war, poverty, terrorism, healthcare, immigration... I was starting to worry that Congress was wasting my tax dollars doing stupid shit.

If flag burning becomes illegal, someone is going to start a company that sells flags that are slightly different from American flags just different enough to be legal to burn. The burnable flags might have 51 stars, or 14 stripes - something like that...
Then again, if you're a member of an Administration that has completely screwed up, getting us involved in a war we have no meaningful plan to win (or even a clear definition of victory), condemned our grandchildren to indentured servitude to pay off an ever increasing budget deficit, divided the country on pretty much every social issue you can think of, and taken us back to the darkest days of nativist xenophobia in the debate on immigration, I suppose you'd be looking to mobilise the base with something, anything...

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Back to the other side of the Pacific

I just got word today that the proposal I spent all of April and May working on in Australia was successful. I've never taken rejection well, so about this I am very happy (plus I have discovered that end of year bonuses have a positive correlation with actually selling stuff).

This means that I'll be back in Australia, specifically in the capital city of Canberra, from the middle of July for several weeks working on the project. It involves sensitive technology for the government, so if I tell you what it is I'll have to kill you, and I don't think "kill your readers" is on the list of things to do to increase the readership of your blog, so please don't make me talk.

Before that I need to go New Zealand's capital city of Wellington on July 11 to present a proposal to the government there (hopefully you've figured out the trend by now and won't ask). It will be nice to combine the two visits into a single trip across the Pacific.

While it's the middle of a very gorgeous summer here in Steamboat, it's the middle of the ski season in the Australian alps which are about three hours drive from Canberra. So Michael, if you're reading this, just because I got in 60 days this last season, doesn't mean I've had enough, so wax up your skis my friend!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

King Arthur meets Darth Vader

If you're a fan of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the first Star Wars movie (no, not Episode I!) you'll absolutely love this.

The march of progress reaches Hanoi

I was fortunate enough to visit Hanoi for work in 2003 (twice). When people ask me what it was like I typically tell them about:

The history (like the thousand year old Temple of Literature)

The interesting if slightly run down French colonial architecture

Government buildings with hammer and sickle symbols (they obviously didn't get the "Communism is dead" memo) and all painted the same colour (which I've dubbed "Socialist Republic of Vietnam Yellow")

Motorcycles everywhere (and my very cute wife)

Young couples "parking" by one of of Hanoi's many lakes, cuddled up on the seat of a 125cc Yamaha which is truly a sight to behold (wish I'd got a picture of that but I didn't want to invade their "privacy")


...the absence of McDonald's or KFC. Don't get me wrong - I'm not one of those misguided types who are opposed to McDonalds or KFC as symbols of American imperialism or some other politically correct nonsense. It was just my shorthand way of saying "I'm glad I went before it ended up like everywhere else."

Just in time it seems.