Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bad Blogger

After a few days of downtime from work I made the mistake of checking my blog. I say it's a mistake because I hadn't blogged in almost a full month.

I'm sorry (if anybody is still reading).

I will try to make a New Year resolution to blog every week again. Who knows, I may stick to it for a full month or two. That should be longer than my diet and workout resolutions.

Have very happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My favorite authors

While chatting with my uncle a few weeks ago we were trading book reccommendations, since he reads as much (or more) than I do.

He suggested I should write them down and send him my thoughts and he would do the same, so we could exchange favorites... I have already read many of his recommendations and have really enjoyed them.

Due to my style, I'm separating the list in two: the first part will be my favorite authors, whom I'll read anything they publish; the second part will be specific books I have really enjoyed or that have moved me.

Favorite Authors:

  • W.E.B. Griffin. This is probably one of my favorite authors of historical fiction (books that mix fictional characters with real historical events and people). My favorite series of his are Brotherhood of War and Honor Bound. In some of his latest novels I have really enjoyed his setting the story in Buenos Aires.
  • Michael Crichton. From Dinosaurs to airplane accidents, his books have been really wonderful fiction accounts. No wonder his books are airport kiosk favorites. He will be sorely missed.
  • Robert Ludlum. I first came upon him thanks to my uncle's recommendation of the Bourne Identity. Since then I have read the full Bourne series, and most of his other books (by now I have trouble remembering which titles I already went through and which ones are new to me). Ludlum has become such an important name, that even after his death books continue to be published in his style by other authors.
  • Dave Barry. For a good laugh, there's no better prescription than a Dave Barry book, even though his humor is a bit basic (boogers is one of the most common words used across his works), it still makes me laugh out loud when re-reading his articles.
  • Herman Wouk. Another master of historical fiction. I have actually read twice the Winds of War and War and Remembrance books, which are not small books, but I consider great epic novels. Also, his books on the creation of the State of Israel (The Hope and The Glory) are extremely inspiring.
  • Leon Uris. I started reading Uris' books in high school when I picked up Exodus and Mila 18. After that, if it had Uris' name on it I read through it and was really surprised to find other gems in books like The Haj and one of my other favorites, Trinity.
  • Joseph Finder. This is my favorite suspense author. I started reading Paranoia and loved it so much that I have continued to pick up any book he publishes. The latest one of his I 'read', Company Man, I actually got via audible.com, which proved to be another treat thanks to the great narrative behind it.

On that note I'll continue another post with my favorite titles at my next opportunity.

Updated: Fixed a typo and added a couple more authors I remembered.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Argentina - Here we go - Day 0

After scrambling around the house like crazy, we managed to finish packing everything and getting the house ready for our absence. We left enough food for Fletch to help himself to, and tried to even reduce our carbon footprint by unplugging stuff we might not need (DVR's)... Yeah, the Blueknot event taught me some new things.

Since we had a very tight DFW connection I was really happy to be able to get on an earlier flight to Dallas, which helped me relax and start enjoying my vacation. An interesting thing was that I kept bumping or seeing people I knew. Both from work and B-school. Since Austin is such a small city, it's not that unusual to see one person I know at weird places, but it felt like I kept seeing familiar faces.

I didn't make too much of it until the most random event happened. For the longest time there's a couple we keep bumping into that I used to know from work. Never got to hang out with them or work directly with, but I kept seeing them around. Usually we see them at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant (Sagiang), but lately we've seen them around town in even weirder settings, like the Farmer's market and other sites. Yet nothing surprised me more than when I sat at my seat on the Dallas-Bs.As. Leg of the trip and across from us was the same guy we keep bumping into. At that point I just found it so funny that I struck up a conversation with him to catch up, since he no longer worked at my same company. At least next time we bump into them, I'll know their names!

The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful other than AA alcohol prices are getting closer and closer to Manhattan nightclub drink prices... without the ambiance. At least after a couple of scotches I got a bit of rest until we were closer to landing. Ten hours in a plane can be a long time...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Round the World

As I'm taking care of the final details for my upcoming trip, I've been meaning to post my list of travel "wishes" for the next few years.

These are things that I want to do, and I want to remember as I get older that I wanted to do them.

Here they go:

  1. Eat Steak and drink wine in Argentina
  2. Eat chocolate in Switzerland
  3. Visit Victoria's Peak in Hong Kong (again!)
  4. Gamble in Macao
  5. Catch a broadway show in New York
  6. Drink wine in a French vineyard
  7. Visit Jerusalem and visit the wailing wall to give thanks for the great things in my life.
  8. Take an Alaskan Cruise
  9. Travel to Australia and look upon the Opera House in Sydney (not sure I really need to sit through an Opera, though)
  10. Spend a night walking around Tokyo (Like Lost in Translation)
  11. Swim off the shores of Santorini.
As I complete these I'll try to scratch them off and I'll also look forward to adding new places.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dining Out: Sagra stands for Italian

Last night my wife and I decided we wanted to check out a restaurant a friend of mine had mentioned that looked to have really good Italian food. Thus started our great dinner at Sagra

The building where Sagra is at used to hold another restaurant that we really like (Mars), thus I'm inclined to think that the argument behind location, location, location has more to do than just the location, but seems to be related to great flavor and service.

As a disclaimer, I will admit that I'm a huge fan of truffle oil and few restaurants in town know how to deliver it in ways that complement their great menus. Sagra has really mastered that art from what we tasted yesterday.

Sagra is located on a small street between Downtown Austin and the University of Texas. It's in an older and quaint house that has been in operation as a restaurant for several years now, but holds a unique charm of its own and is a great backdrop for great Italian food. When we arrived we were promptly seated in a nice table close by the door and the brick pizza oven.

After we got settled and we met our waiter, Ryan, we studied the menu and even with Austin Restaurant Week going on, I was more interested in their normal menu than the special fix price offering.

Since I share very similar food tastes to my wife we decided that we'd get to try more different things if we shared our plates and settled on getting an appetizer salad, a pizza and a pasta dish to split. To complement our dinner we picked a nice bottle of Montepulciano wine that went really well with our pizza and pasta choices.

For our starter salad she picked the Arugula salad that had a great combination of pear, gorgonzola, pancetta and probably my favorite part (as I mentioned above) was the truffle vinaigrette that really complemented the arugula in the salad and went great with the sweetness of the pears.

After the salad and our first glass of wine, my palate was tingling with anticipation. Fortunately we didn't have to wait too long before Ryan brought our Quattro Formagi pizza with added Truffle Oil (told you!) and a plate of Penne alla Arrabiatta.

The pizza was perfectly crisp, and the flavor combination of all 4 cheeses combined with fresh tomato sauce and the truffle oil made every bite a delight.

The Penne had enough spice that it tingled in my mouth and the italian sausage in the sauce had enough fennel flavor to complement the spice, without overpowering it.

Although we were almost full by the end of our meal, we still had room for the flourless chocolate cake, and that sealed the deal for us. The cake was so moist and tasty that we left the restaurant feeling like we had been graced by the gods.

We can't wait to go back for their Sunday brunch.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Get a CLUEtrain... Manifesto, that is!

Almost 9 years ago, when I was first going into the workforce full time I was lucky to participate in the first dot com. I had been playing with the Internet since 1994, so by 1999 I felt like I understood the evolution so far well enough to notice the opporutnities ahead.

In a way the Internet has flattened the world, and it has also changed everything we do, from buying things, to making friends and playing with other people to the way we work together.

Back in early 2000 I came upon a company that I fell in love with. Audible.com had the best internet product I had seen to date. Living outside of the U.S. the possibility to get the latest bestsellers delivered to my MP3 player (which they also bundled as part of their customer acquisition strategy) was a dream come true. For a year I got a new book every month, which ranged from the brilliant to the silly. Though the company struggled with a search for a business model that would allow them to continue profitably, I'm glad they made it.

One of the books I bought back in 2000 was The Cluetrain Manifesto. This book spoke how the Internet would change conversations with customers and employees and it opened my eyes to the great new world that was coming. After the crash I forgot about this audiobook in my collection, and having worked for a couple Fortune 100's since then, it's now very interesting to go back and listen to (or read if you prefer) the book.

The themes still apply so much it's uncanny. I think this is one of the great Internet business books that were written back in the late 90's that still hold true.

With the great evolution we have seen in 8/9 years, I'm amazed at how much of the basic premise of the book still holds true. Companies continue to attempt to control conversations in ways that prevent meaningful information to be exchanged. Some companies have developed blogs and systems to tear down some of the walls, but in most cases the transition is really slow.

During the past few months I have started to get back into the swing of blogging and listening to podcasts, and I get excited about all the new ideas that get shared that way. Makes the corporate memos tough to read, even those in blog form sound so polished that it's obvious that it lacks a voice.

As bloggers, employees and managers we should all practice the Manfiesto's points. After all, we all have a voice.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Craigslist: Think you've seen it all? Not quite!

People love Craigslist.org. I have had less than great results due to some weird responses I received when selling a table, but I love surfing their "free stuff" section and I know people swear by it when looking for a place to rent or even high tech workers.

But today I heard the weirdest story about someone's use of Craigslist. You can read all about it in the following link.

The short version is that a man in Washington state dressed up as a construction worker, wearing a dust mask and a helmet went up to a security person in a bank who was doing money transfers from an armored vehicle, and maced the guard, took the bags of money and ran into the street. When the police and guards chased the man they found the street had a dozen or two construction workers gathered around the bank.

Turns out these people were answering a Craigslist posting offering high paying construction jobs if they came to this particular bank at that time. Needless to say the thief was not found.

The idea is so simple, yet so hard to track down in today's connected world. I've seen pictures and postings from Flash Mobs (Groups that gather for a quick mob using Twitter and text messages) and wonder if we'll be seeing more and more of these crimes taking place.

In the meantime, I'm sure police will be scanning through future Craigslist postings just in case.

Personally, I thought it was funny and in a way glad no one got really hurt out of this.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Election 2008 - Fight!

This week had us watching a very civil debate between Obama and McCain on Tuesday that had no clear winner or loser (depending on which network you watch you may have received differing views).

I'm sure each reader has their own point of view too and I wouldn't want to contradict it. But today I found the best way to clear it up once and for all... For those of you who were arcarde junkies back in the 90's this might look familiar:


Probably one of the best sites on the internet related to the fight for democracy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I am a PC

I got to see Microsoft's I am a PC campaign a few days ago, and yesterday I also listened to some interesting commentary on it when catching up with my TWIT episodes.

Obviously I'm a bit biased on this, but at some point I even considered getting a Macintosh (shhh!). Apple's "switch" campaign was working on me... that is, until I looked at the prices on the basic computers. I'm sure that at one point there was some cool factor that came with owning a Mac, but call me thrifty... I can't justify spending 2x for half the power.

Ironically enough I was working from a coffee shop today and noticed how almost every computer around me was an Apple. I remember a point in time when Mac's where for people who were non-confirmists. Now it looks to me like without meaning to I became a non-conformist by using my Dell Laptop in public.

Go figure

Monday, October 6, 2008

Don't Panic!

Turn on the TV, or open your browser on a news feed and one thinks the world is coming to an end. Who knows, maybe it is and I'm just kidding myself.
I grew up with hyperinflation during the 80's at levels never imagined in the U.S. One of my strangest memories is going to the grocery store with my mom, and noticing that there were no prices on any of the articles because the prices were changed every hour at the cash registers.
I hope never to see anything like that again, but having lived through it I can assure you, the world didn't end.
In the meantime, these market crises can be seen as the opportunity to allow for some creative destruction. This happens in nature when forests burn on their own to allow for stronger and younger trees to grow. These economic times force us to cut unnecessary expenses and align our savings into growth opportunities.
Key things we can do while the markets adjust:
  1. Continue to work on your job, the same way you were doing before the talk about crisis began.
  2. Look at your expenses, figure out what you really shouldn't be spending a lot of money right now, and put it on a back burner. Dining out tends to be the easiest one to cut back on, but when looking at a credit card statement, there's many things that become visible.
  3. If there's something you want to buy that isn't a necessity, sleep on it. I've found two things happening usually, either the price of it goes down, or I realize I didn't care that much for it.
  4. Work out. Running is a great stress reliever, but there's many other options around to get some exercise. And from experience I can tell you that working out is one of the fastest ways to feel better about the day to day grind.
  5. Help out. Sooner or later someone you know may be impacted by the economic downturn, by being in a position to help them, you've done a great thing. Also, volunteering is a way to give back to the community and have something to feel good about with all the market news.
  6. Laugh. Since the bad news began I force myself to watch the Daily Show every night, if my sense of humor goes away, then I'm lost...

And Finally...

7. Whatever you do, DON'T PANIC!

Oh, yeah, and you may want to make sure you have a Towel around

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Keep on Running

Last birthday I was hit with the realization that I was getting older than I used to be (duh!).
And after a very bad hangover the following morning, I decided I was going to try to be healthier.
With that started my recent running infatuation. Luckily my wife not only was supportive of it, but has been my running buddy all along, and in those dates that I'm lacking the discipline to get up and run in the morning she has managed to kick me out of bed (and vice versa).
After running my first 10K a month ago and struggling through most of it (what Nike idiot decided to do a 6:30 pm race in the middle of a Texas summer??). We slacked off a bit, but this past week we signed up for my second 10K race, the IBM Uptown Classic (http://www.uptownclassic.com/cms/).
Today I ran my 4 mile segment, and I hope to run 5.5 next weekend. While the running part sucks most of the time, the feeling of achievement and satisfaction right after it is awesome.
I am loving running in fall weather too, since it's sunny and still cooler at 9 am it's perfect for training for an hour.
Will continue blogging about running as my training goes on, but in the meantime, it's time to enjoy the Austin Farmer's Market as a treat for my 4 mile run

Thursday, October 2, 2008


My neighbors have dogs. Most of them are the cutest dogs you can imagine, some even championship level dogs. One, though has a miniature Schanuzer who has singlehandedly managed to drive me crazy.
I believe it's not necessarily the dog's fault, since more likely his/her owner is to blame. This dog is probably so understimulated throughout the day, that every time he's let out into their backyard he simply barks and hollers to his heart content "Look, air. Look grass. Look, a door. Look, people. Look, something..." is what I imagine he's trying to tell us. But what I hear is incessant barking for long (eternal?) minutes at a time. Sometimes he will bark and howl for more than 30 minutes until his door is opened and he's allowed to go back inside.
Tonight, though I got tired enough of this that I put my request on paper from my neighbor (who won't open the door when her dog is barking after 9 pm outside and I am ringing her doorbell... though she will let her dog in immediately). And here it is in its full glory. My letter to "Cujo"s mom:
Dear Neighbor,
I am writing this, because I have tried to knock on
your door more than 3 times already when your dog has been barking incessantly
and insanely for long spells at a time without any response from you (until my
ring on your doorbell).
Obviously none of my visits have received an actual
response, so I am forced to write this as a last civilized attempt at
I am really trying to open a channel to find a way we can work
something out where your dog can have a healthy lifestyle without driving us
insane, since his barking at all hours whenever he’s allowed outside transfers
very easily into our dining room, living room and bedroom making it tough to
Please, I am asking you that you find a way to train him to be less
“vocal”, tire him out more, or just keep him locked inside as soon as he barks.
Dogs are amazingly smart animals when given the right feedback, so I am sure we
can work something out.
But as new neighbors who are looking at living here
for a long time, I am trying to avoid a point where this will become a full
neighborhood issue.

Thank you and best regards

Geek musings

Saw this today thanks to JG:


And realized that I'm still a geek at heart... hope my wife will still love me for it.

Biggest question I wonder, do people really pay 100 bucks for a hoodie that's just a novelty item? Maybe because it's close to halloween, but makes me wonder if anybody has seen someone wearing an outfit like this in the street.

UPDATE: Guess a lot of people DID love the hoodie that looked like a Star Wars Stormtrooper outfit, since it shows as temporarily unavailable now.