Friday, June 29, 2007

Do your parents know they're paying for this?

Okay, I must admit I'm excited by the idea of the iPhone. I'm not one of those early adopters who must have the latest gadget the minute it goes on the market. Frankly, I'm too cheap to pay the $600 it takes to get one (this is really interesting cost analysis). Maybe next year, if the price drops a little and any bugs have been worked out (wow, have you looked at the plans?), I'll consider buying one. I'm not a big Internet person (nor do I want to pay AT&T extra money for Internet access), so I just don't have the need.

People who are technophiles, who need the connectivity - that's great. I know this will be fun and cool. What gets me are the younger people who are trying to get these phones. I've seen interviews with people in line in different parts of the country and it just astounds me how people spend money they haven't earned (at least from my perspective).

A news reported talked with a high school kid in line in NYC. The reporter asked, "how are you paying for this?"

The kid pauses, forms an awkward smile, and slyly responds, "my parents."

"Do your parents know they're buying this for you?"

"Not yet."

Yeah, his parents must have been thrilled when they saw this on the local evening news. Does he have their credit card with him or something?

Then, in Texas, they talked to this man who had been in line at the AT&T store for a day. The reporter asked, "Are you buying this for yourself?"

In a calm, Texan drawl, "No, it's for my son. My wife wants one too, but I don't know if I can buy two of them."

What can I say? My reaction is that it's ridiculous that these young kids expect to have these expensive toys and have their parents pay for it. There have been many articles (I remember one from Newsweek several years ago) that discuss the excessive amount of entitlement kids have today. Teenagers spend parents money on gadgets and designer clothing without any appreciation for how it's earned. What are they going to do when they grow up? Not everyone is going to have a trust fund to live off of.

When (if) I have kids, they will hate me. They will think I'm ruining their lives because they can't be like their friends with the cool accessories. Well, I'm sorry, that's how it is. You'll appreciate it when you're older. If you want something, you can mow lawns for a year and then we'll talk about buying it. You want a new car you say? How about a used Corolla that you pay for by working at In-N-Out for $10/hour. I'll match each dollar you earn.

I refuse to spoil my kids. Sure, I want them to like me, I want to be their friends, I want them to feel like they can be open with me. However, when it comes down to it, I'm the parent, I need to set rules and teach them how to become responsible adults. That's not going to happen if I indulge their every request.

Besides, come one, those phones are going to get stolen. Think about when iPods first came out or when kids bought the latest Michael Jordan Nikes. I don't like the idea that my kid could get mugged, stabbed, or killed over something so trivial. Clothes and accessories don't make a person (okay, yes, it's human nature to want attention). Still, American have gone to extremes in bling and consumerism. You don't HAVE to have EVERYTHING.

Rant over... have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Check that one!

In between my business trips, I made a quick stop.

A group of us escaped civilization and headed out to Yosemite. This is a wonderful place to me. It was probably the first nation park I ever visited on my own after college (as opposed to a family trip). I only wish I had done more outdoor activities in my twenties.

The grand plan was to hike to Half Dome and climb the cables to the top. We woke up at 5:30am thinking we'd start early and beat the crowds. It turned into a beautiful day, blue skies, wisps of clouds, and clear views in every direction. I was disappointed to find myself struggling to keep up with everyone. After hiking every weekend and going to the gym each week, I didn't expect to feel so winded. Granted the hike starts at over 4000 ft., but it was still frustrating. Later, when we stopped for a break, it was pointed out to me how heavy my pack was compared to what other were packing. I was carrying the bulk of lunch plus my 3.5 liters of water. Maybe I should practice more often with extra weight.

As always, the trail had beautiful views of waterfalls and the landscape. We stopped several times for bathroom breaks and snacks. All the hiking and heat can really make people hungry. We expected to reach the base of Half Dome in under 5 hours. Somehow, we took much longer than expected. We arrived some six hours later to this view.

The line was rather long. Like many others, we debated whether it was worth waiting in the long line. Given the recent tragedy, we were kind of hoping that maybe there'd be fewer people. (The debate that followed was an interesting read, demonstrating that there's never a perfect solution to anything.)

For me personally, there was no question of whether to wait in line to climb the cables. I've been here twice before and not finished; once because it was getting late, once because I had a sharp headache. The lines back then weren't this bad. At least, being here before helped me know how to prepare. I took ibuprofen halfway through the hike to prevent headache and brought some tough leather gloves for the cables.

We ate our lunch as we waited in line. It took TWO hours to finally take our turn climbing the cables. From the bottom, it looks much steeper than it actually is, though it's definitely not something to climb freely. Our climbs both up and down were slowed by people not prepared for the challenge.

The view at the top was fabulous. It's almost a 360 degree view of Yosemite. It's scary how close to the edge of the dome one can stand. I got about five feet from the edge but that was as much risk as I could handle. I'm not afraid of heights, just afraid of a crumbling edge or unexpected gust of wind.

As we waited to go back down, one of my friends observed, "there are people who don't realize they're scared of heights until they try and come down." The guy in front of us overheard and raised his hand and said, "that would be me." The guy kept sitting down and his buddy tried to give him suggestion to make the descent easier. The buddy also had to push him a bit, telling him things like, "you can't go down on your butt, get up."

In contrast, there were people who climbed as if this were a walk in the park. One false step, and you can fall thousands of feet. It's amazing how different people's sense of risk is. Seeing a shiny silver object roll (turned out to be some one's camera), then bounce, then hit rock and break into three pieces as it disappeared over the edge is a good reminder that there's no safety net if something happens.

We all felt great after coming down. There's definitely a feeling of satisfaction in accomplishing a feet like Half Dome. We gave each other high-fives to celebrate.

Other minor observations:

1) Squirrels - Don't feed them and don't leave your packs unattended. They know how to get into your stuff to search for food. Someone left a bag tucked under a rock overhang while climbing the cables. I spotted a squirrel who had pulled out two drink bottles and a package of Advil. They are clever.

2) On the return trail, if you have a choice, avoid the route that involves going down steep stairs - it really hurts the knees.

3) Tradeoffs in campsite selection - interior campground sites can be noisy and feel crowded; outer campground sites are more likely to be visited by bears.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Now pouring Coke

I was on the website the other day an noticed this headline below their main page art - "Now pouring Coke on most United flights."

I recall some time in the past hearing people talk about the choices of beverages on flights and how one airline (who's name I cannot recall) had switched to only serving one brand's line of beverages.

I think it's funny how loyal (or picky) people are about what carbonated beverages they are willing to drink. In one of those e-mail chains where you share answers with friends, I remember my cousin answering "Coke or Pepsi? Pepsi, it took a long time to convert." It was interesting because she bothered to comment on it. I can't help wonder what caused the conversion (maybe the kids?) and how dramatic a change it has made in day to day life.

I myself don't drink much soda in the first place. As a kid, we used to have it around all the time. We had stock piles of 2-liter bottles and 12-packs of soda piled up in the garage. It's the result of buying when things are on sale and even cheaper with promotional coupons. We had so much that some of the rotten neighborhood kids took notice and would steal from our garage if we left it open.

Strangely, the minute I went to college, soda all but disappeared from my eating habits. In addition to prefering other drinks like juices, I think I got scared by the fact that they say Coke is a good solvent for cleaning car batteries. Yipes! And, if you leave an egg in a glass of Coke, it with gradually soften the shell. I just worries me what all the Coke must do to teeth enamel. Now, I tend to swish a little water around my mouth after I finish drinking soda.

On those occasion when I have a itch for a cola, I probably would choose Coke. I don't particularly like sweet drinks. I need to have ice so that it dilutes the sugar. I wonder if I'd like soda better if they had real sugar in them rather than all the high fructose corn syrup junk.

It's probably a good thing. I'd like to think I'm a bit healthier not consuming a thirsty-two ouncer every day. I think I have a can of root beer in the refrigerator at home that's been there for... months. Maybe.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Eyeing the cradle

My class has ended. It was a good group of people. Most of the class together has been together for multiple course, so there 's a great rapport among the majority. It gave the class a lighter attitude and provided a comfortable atmosphere. As one guy commented, he's not here for the grade, he's here because it's a place to meet interesting people who may be different.

One guy I noticed from last quarter is Shanghai. He always sat on the opposite side of the room from me, but he articulate voice and perfect pronunciation got my attention. There's a certain type of guy that I am attracted to very quickly, and he fits that mold. He's young, Asian, and I like his glasses. I get a sense he is passionate about his interested, and he seems very smart. Well, okay, sometimes he's asked odd questions which demonstrate either he's not paying close attention in class or there are things about life about which he's still somewhat clueless.

Alas, one day, he did his oral presentation and talked about how he still laments over the Transformers toy that his mother made him give to a younger cousin. The minute he expressed his interest in Transformers and boasted over the fact that his Optimus Prime was an original, I knew he had to be almost a decade younger than me. Eeck. I really felt old.

"Damn," I thought, "this is what it's like when my guy friends fawn over cute young girls?" We make fun of BurningMan because he prefers dating younger women. He's 33. His last girlfriend was 25. At first, he freaked out to learn she was that much younger. He even considered breaking it off. But he got over that, and they even lived together for six months before she headed out for her Peace Corps project. Lately, friends say interested in girls who are barley out of college. He's not a creepy guy necessarily, just unconventional. The point is, dating too far outside of my age range just seems weird. It's not me.

Still, I think about Shanghai. Nothing wrong with browsing right? In this current session, Shanghi hasn't been around much. I think he's been studying for a professional exam, so he's only been showing up for quizzes and presentations. He recognizes me, he says "hello," but we don't really chat much. Sigh, how I wish I were 26 again. Pickings aren't as good at my age. Only in hindsight do I feel like there were so many more choices back then.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Spontaneous Opera

For lunch sometimes, I like to get out of the building and walk down the block to a city park. The park is next door to a well-known high-tech company full of young and ambitious people. I often see groups playing soccer, practicing martial arts, or playing ultimate on the grassy field.

I like to go and enjoy a little sun and fresh air. I have lofty dreams of getting asked out as I sit on the park bench, but the odds are low. It's nice to get away from the computer and listen to the wind blow.

One time, I sat on a park bench reading a travel book. Behind me, I could detect the faint sound of music. It was a man singing what I gradually realized was opera. When I turned around, I realized it was actually a live person, not just some car blasting music.

The guy cut through the park, singing some operatic piece, walking along as if nothing were out of the ordinary. I couldn't help stare a bit wondering the occasion for this show. He headed for an Acura parked on the curb. Never did he pause in his singing. I'm no opera expert, but it sounded pretty good. He opened his trunk and one of the rear passenger doors. I think he glanced my way briefly as he went about his business.

I was intrigued that he would sing so loudly in public. A few cars passed by, but there were no other pedestrians in the area. Sure, people sing when they're in a happy mood, but how often do you hear someone belt out opera walking down the street?

By the time he closed the trunk and locked the doors, I realized that he had changed clothes. Nothing fancy but better than a t-shirt and he was also carrying a garment bag. Headed back towards the building, he continued his operatic tune. Sometime just after he passed me, he stopped. Either he finished or was near enough to the building that he decided to wrap it up.

I should have clapped. I hope I get to hear him again sometime.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Did you have to bring that up?

These days, more and more companies are developing security enhancement for their online customer accounts. Today, I logged into one of my accounts to find them wanting some new information from me. There's a certain set of questions from which I am accustomed to choosing:

- What's your pet's name?
- What's your mother's maiden name?
- What was your first telephone number?
- Where were you born?
- What's your driver's license number?
- What's your favorite color?
- Where did you go to school?

That was roughly the first set of questions I was given. I fully expected to see the same list for my second security question. To my surprise, I was given a totally different list. A list that, frankly, I didn't really like.

- What was the name of your first boyfriend/girlfriend? You know, some of us really don't want to remember the correct answer.
- In what city were you married? Yeah, can't answer that one.
- In what city were you born? Easy enough.
- in what city was your father born? Actually, I'm not sure.
- What is the first name of the best man at your wedding? Yeah, ahem, just keep rubbing it in.

Call me oversensitive but since when did companies start getting into your marital status? I know, they need to ask more unique questions other than "what's your favorite color?" to prevent hackers. How about other unique things like team mascots, favorite cities, coldest/hottest city visited, nickname your parents call you, first/current vehicle model, name of your best friend, when you were a kid what you wanted to grow up to be?

Of course, if people were really smart, they wouldn't provide the right answer and choose words that no one would ever enter as a response. And I'm not talking about putting down "none" or "1234." So maybe I should pick the last question and put down "Kermit" as my answer. ;)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Don't wear nice clothes, he spits

This weekend was unintentionally busy. It seems prior to every weekend I think it'll be a chance to relax and do nothing for half a day. The past two weekends, it's been nothing like that.

Saturday I did some hiking with friends. We're going camping in a couple weeks, and that trip included an all-day hike that will be fairly strenuous. We knew we all needed to get our feet and legs into shape. It was a decent hike, though we ended up taking an easier trail since people were getting tired.

The 9am hike basically turned into an all-day event. After the hike, we had brunch. Then, we walked around the quaint little town we were in, strolling through the nice furniture shops and touristy antique stores. We laughed about all the little things they had for sale and how you could probably buy much of the stuff at a garage sale for a quarter of the price!

I really wanted to nap by the time I got home, but I promised my friend that we'd meet to work on our oral presentation for our class. We're using photos from the vacation as the source of our little narrative. It'll be fun, though we ended up with a crazy number of pictures for a 5-minute presentation.

In the evening, I rejoined my friends for dinner. We ate at this new Korean BBQ place. It wasn't at all what anyone expected. The place was 3-months new, well-lit, clean, and not at all smokey. The wall was a modern design with a backlight that gradually changed colors all night. The grill were set into the table and had the fan on the sides of the grill so no smoke every rose up from the table. It was kind of odd thinking the smell of smoke wouldn't be in our hair and clothes after leaving the restaurant.

Sunday was a baby day. I chatted with my friend, Sister, who's been on maternity leave, enjoying her little boy. We're trying to meet up while I'm in town for a business trip. I will only be there one night, so it'll be a little tricky to meet littleJ before he falls asleep.

Then, I met up with an old high school friend, Bragh, who was visiting town with her three-month old. We catch up probably once a year though there were a number of years we didn't do much more than exchange Xmas cards (though I think only I was sending anything). She also invited another high school classmate, Epiphany, to join us. It's someone from the year above us, but we were all on the speech and debate team. He brought along his wife and 16-month son.

Getting ready, I debated what to wear. Do I show off a little and dress better, or just throw on whatever jeans and t-shirt was at the foot of my bed? In the end, I figured if I had the chance to hold the baby, he might drool. I opted for the decent but older knit shirt.

I arrived first. I wanted to put down my name for the waitlist, but honestly had no idea how many people were coming. Both families arrived at about the same time, only a couple minutes after the hour. Knowing they'd take awhile to get the kids out of the cars, I got a quick headcount and put my name down for a table.

When our table was ready, I stood back to let the seating arrangement take shape. Usually, I see the kid and parent straddle a corner of the table for easy reach. I figured I'd take which ever chair was vacant. That put me between Epiphany's son and Bragh's husband. Epiphany's wife jokingly apologized upfront fearing any wild swings of a food-covered spoon during the meal from Will. I assured her my choice of clothing was exactly for that reason. Other than some spoon drumming, Will was a good kid. I had to pick up his sippy cup several times, but he stayed content eating his fruit.

It was a bit surreal at times having breakfast. I didn't totally feel like a fish out of water. In fact, I can talk about kids and babies as if I have one. Sometimes my guy friends think it strange I know so much. It's just a fact of being around so many mothers at work. You learn from all their conversations and venting about pregnancy and child-rearing.

Bragh's son spits up A LOT. I about their experiments with all brands of baby formula. Costco brand turned into something oatmealish when it came back up, so they've sworn off that kind. It's funny how they've become pretty good at sensing when he'll spit up (like little burps). Epiphany's son learned to refuse formula just by the smell. They were both pretty healthy kids. They shared stories about potential bed rest and struggles with breastfeeding.

Women's bodily functions become public knowledge once you have a baby. The husbands didn't seen at all phased by the brunch discussion. It's refreshing to be able to share such things, but I supposed it has it's oddness.

The one thought that never occurred to me until the mothers laughed about it was that no moment is private. Even when you need to go to the bathroom, you take your child with you. I'm trying to imagine holding a child while peeing... ugh. As they get older, you also need to entertain them. Will was taught to help mom by pulling off a couple squares of toilet paper. That changed one day when she was getting dressed and saw a trail of toilet paper leading from the bathroom, across the room, and into the closet. ;)

They asked about my job and stuff, but politely avoided asking about my love life. I guess it was kind of a relief. A part of me wanted it to come up so that maybe I could see if Epiphany could introduce me to some successful Google friends, but guys rarely think about helping set up people.

All in all, it was a fun morning. It's wonderful to see old friends and enjoy how their lives have evolved and grown. Baby smiles are priceless.

The rest of the day, I ran some errands, bought some trekking poles off craigslist, and met up with my friend for more presentation preparation. The best part of the day was laying out on the couch for three hours watching the mini-series "Battlestar Galactica" (the modern version, not the 1970s tv show). I'm dying to get home to finish the last hour of the series.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Cat talk

How do you explain to a neighbor's feline that freshly killed, LARGE roaches are not a gift that human females enjoy finding on the driveway in the morning?

It's that, or these roaches somehow understand that resting in the direct path of a automobile tire is an effective way to commit suicide. Yuck!

I guess it's better than last summer when I kept finding dead ones left on my welcome mat. Good morning!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Traveling with a bachelor

It's been a week since my vacation. I went with a friend of mine, a guy friend who I've known for more than 10 years. He's a few years older than me and single. Long ago we explored the idea of dating and concluded that we were not compatible. You could say it was like going with a male cousin or something.

We traveled together about three years ago. For the most part we got along, but some minor tensions eventually built up, primarily due to his frustrations with the tour guide and my frustration with his unwillingness to plan ahead. He was tired of not being able to understand the tour guide who was speaking more in Chinese to make the other people in our tiny tour group happy, plus he got a one day stomach thing. I was mad because we tromped around a little town for a several hours, carrying all of our bags, looking for a hotel that was acceptable to him, shadowed by an annoying Chinese woman trying to get credit for whatever hotel we visited. I was annoyed, but I quietly went along with it because I had agreed to it before the trip. Still, I think it was pretty obvious to him that I was less than happy with the situation. We didn't come to blows or raise our voices, but suffice to say we spent a day doing our own things.

This time, I made sure to address any potential sources of conflict before leaving the country. I reminded him of our different travel styles and expressed my desire to have some kind of agreement in place before signing up for the trip with him. I made it clear that he was welcome to wait until we reached town to find a hotel, but that I would be making a reservation for myself. After a week, he came back to me with a story about how he's learned that his style of travel has made others uncomfortable in recent years. He decided to wholeheartedly go with whatever plan I put forth.

When it came to the tour group, I let him assume most responsibilities such as paying tips to the drivers and tour guides, getting keys to our hotel room, basic travel arrangements. I'm always on time, he's always late. There were times it was a little frustrating to be the last ones to board the bus in the morning. He disliked the fact that most of the group was always early or on time. Sometimes, it was also tough to know what to do when we had say 30 minutes to explore before needing to return to the bus. I felt like I had to stay with him (hence why I should have remembered my wristwatch).

The most striking thing for me was learning and thinking about the time we spent in the hotel room together. It made me think about what it must be like and what is required to live with someone else. As two people who have been single for some time, our individual habits and preferences were clear.

Little things:
- finding stubble in the sink (yuck)
- who chooses what television station to watch (I let him watch the basketball)
- finding stuff placed on top of your toothbrush (okay, I should have put it away better)
- staying up when the other person wants to go to sleep

Bigger things:
- a girl who tends to sleep cool, a guy who likes to sleep warm (in different beds), which is reverse of what you would normally guess, causing disagreement over how to set the thermostat
- eating late and fast versus wanting to eat early and leisurely
- 8am is when you need to be at the bus, not the time to leave your hotel room
- not paying a driver's tip because you didn't see anyone else pay him (buy they did)

The other weird thing that came up or probably came to both our minds was the notion of propriety regarding dress. As I said, since I know him, I tended to be less concerned about my choice of clothing in the hotel room. If I was traveling with an acquaintance or friend's husband, I probably would have worn leggings or knee-length shorts. In the company of close friends, I feel like I can wear my short exercise shorts. Sure, the thought briefly passes through my mind, "does he sneak a peek at my ass?" But then, I let it go because guys will be guys and it's not like he's the type of guy that would say something inappropriate about it.

All in all, the trip went well (ignoring the two days he got a stomach virus from the water). I did my best to voice any concerns I had in a polite way. The only time I was frustrated with him is when I would comment about something and received no acknowledgement. Then, an hour later, he would make the same comment or ask a question that I answered in my earlier comment. Why does this happen to me? Okay, in a couple cases, I think his illness made him kind of spacey, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. My friends was good too. He always tried to be a gentleman and made sure to give me access to his dental floss each night since I'd left mine at home.

My friend and I definitely have different styles, different attitudes towards life. It was interesting to spend so much time with one person because it made me think about the compromise and patience necessary to live with someone. Granted, two weeks in hotels is not quite the same, but being in such close quarters 24/7 requires some adjustment. It was a good learning experience for me, a reminder that I can't always have my way (even though I think it's often the best way ;)). Being single, it's easy to get comfortable with doing things a certain way and forgetting to be open-minded.

And yet, I sit here wondering how much compromise is reasonable. What makes for two people who will get along well? What is too much give and take? I hate confrontation, so I worry that I let things go too much in order to keep the peace. I'm probably more guilty of that with men I'm dating versus friends. At least I'm more aware now.