Tuesday, December 29, 2009

10 things I accomplished in the last 10 years...

1) Visited 9 countries; you can read about all of them somewhere on this blog
New Zealand

2) Learned to sail

3) Taught 200+ people to sail

4) Graduated pharmacy school

5) Became licensed as a pharmacist in two states (and two countries)

6) Worked for the same company for most of the decade (barely, but quite an accomplishement considering how I spent the first 4 years of the decade)

7) Ran 6 marathons

8) Lived in two of the most beautiful places on earth
Newport Beach
Napa Valley

9) Increased net worth from negative $80,000 to...I don't want to say how much, but it's pretty impressive considering where I started the decade (and let's not forget two recessions, one of them Great)

10) Stayed married for another 10 years

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day Sail

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Views from the balcony

I was going to write a treatise on the difference between Newport Beach (the OC) and Laguna Beach (the Real OC), except I was writing about the actual cities, and just threw the names of TV shows in there for fun...but that made it too confusing. Maybe some other time. For now: there are far, far more transients in Laguna Beach than Newport; it might be that there are not a lot in Laguna, and I am just not used to seeing any.


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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In my sort of haunted house...

I used to own some really cool tapes. Surprisingly, the hardest thing to throw away was the remnants of a drip irrigation system.

We used to have, like 5 plants on the back patio. I was never very good at watering them, so I decided to install said drip irrigation system; you know, save water, give everyone a drip of water an hour and never think about it again; this must have been spring 2008. I never did get the thing to work very well; I could never find the middle ground between gushing water and completely off. After tinkering with it for several months, I gave up around the time our complex was renovated, and removed it.

Finding the box and a bunch of poorly coiled tubing in the garage this morning made me kind of sad. Maybe I'm just longing for the time when I used to have free time on my hands (to waste on things like installing a drip irrigation system). Never thought I'd live here forever, but I never thought time could pass by so quickly.

PS: Cassette tapes: I'll miss you too.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Scene of the Crime

In case any law enforcement types are reading my blog, this post (like most of what you will read on is pure fiction.

When I found out it was going to cost over $5000 (NZ) to take our fish with us, I began to frantically search for a new home for Mr. Suckerfish, our 13 inch plecostomus (during my search, I found out that he is in fact, not a plecostomus, but a Pterygoplichthys). I tried donating him to aquariums, zoos, people who work at zoos who say things like: "I'd love a 13 inch fish". Eventually, I came across the Sepulveda Wildlife Basin. Evidently, people starting liberating their plecos in this lake 20 or 30 years ago, and there's now a reproducing colony of them.

I knew he'd be safe when I saw the "No Fishing" sign. Also, the 4 other giant plecos sunning themselves on that ramp was a good indicator.

Although getting him into the 1 gallon transporter involved more splashing than I ever hope to see a fish do again, he was not in a hurry to leave it when given the opportunity.

Eventually (with a little coaxing), he swam off into the deep. You were a good fish, Mr. Suckerfish. We hope to see you again sometime. Enjoy your new home.

PS: Anybody need 3 clown loaches?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Moving to New Zealand (In 5 easy steps)

1) Be under the age of 56. Sorry, if you don't have at least 10 years in you before retirement, New Zealand does not want you. [There are some exceptions if you are bringing more than 2.5 million kiwibucks into the country. If you have 2.5 million kiwibucks, you can probably find a better place to retire.]

2) Be in perfect health. If the New Zealand government thinks you will be costing them more than 20,000 kiwibucks over the next 4 years, they will not let you in. [If you have any chronic condition, the 20,000 dollar limit extends to the end of your life.]

3) Speak perfect English. Those of you who can read this blog would find that the Kiwi do not care where you are from, or what you look like, though political correctness has not caught on there yet; however, they have little patience for those who have not mastered their language.

4) Be of high upstanding moral character. If you are from the US, this means the FBI must provide evidence that you have no criminal record. [Getting the FBI to admit to this can be extremely difficult.]

5) Possess a skill that the New Zealand government desires. Pharmacists and teachers are both in short supply in New Zealand. I found out pretty late in the process that the pharmacist shortage is due to the minuscule salaries in New Zealand. So meager that most go to Australia to earn their fortunes. [You are unlikely to hear about the Laskos hopping the ditch because a) I could make a whole lot more in the US and b) I am afraid of deadly spiders, deadly jellyfish, deadly alligators, and kangaroos.]

Sunday, November 08, 2009

You can't go home again...

Somehow ended up at UCR last night for a Crab the A&I cafeteria of all places. I lived in Lothian (New Lothian, which now is apparently called East Lothian). A whole bunch of new dorms have been built sometime in the last 15 years, which made it most difficult to find Lothian when we decided to go looking for it. The rest of the campus was also filled with new buildings. Only the bell tower looked familiar.

Getting rid of the wine party #1

Turnout was a little lighter than expected (as expected it's hard to get a good turnout when you plan a part with only 3 days notice); only consumed 10 bottles.

It hurt to open the Ridge Jimsomare (9 barrels produced). It is likely that I will never have a better zinfandel. Also painful to part with that old (1997) bottle of Trentadue port. One of those things to pick you up in times of despair: "At least I have that bottle of Trentadue port at home..." Alas, no more.

Docked the class on the Island.

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Monday, October 19, 2009


That will be my defense if I get a ticket from the red light camera on Harbor Blvd. The light was clearly yellow...and a Mistsubishi Galant with the aforementioned plate came through the intersection after me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A picture is worth something, something (II)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Notes from coffee connoisseur:

Starbucks Via is not any worse than regular Starbucks.

In other news: I've finally broken down and signed up for United Giving. Surprisingly, there's a choice of over 9,000 charities to choose from. On that note, please join me in helping to build a new home for the Galapagos Tortoises at the San Diego Zoo. In the event that my donation is not large enough to help with this million dollar project, I have designated the funds to be spent on cucumbers for the graceful Lady #5.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Blast from the past: Joe's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria.

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Nico @ back of very long line 2 buy donuts--snow line apple farm.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Waiting 4 Nico @ top of hill in Laguna

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

The problem is all inside your head she said to me.

New watch says today is the 31st. New pet peeve: watches that think there are 31 days in September. Jammin’ playin’ on the radio during the drive. Not Marley; a smooth jazz cover. Smooth and jazzy enough to remind me that I am not jammin’ at all. Driver’s seat no longer reclines. Next time I’ll buy a car from Iran.

Fear and loathing in the parking lot. Impending doom as I walk through the doors. Staff of 12 creeping up to 55. No corresponding increase in pay. No chance of getting out before January. No benefit to getting out before January, executives have decided to make us busy in November, instead…or rather, in addition...January will still be busy.

Slave to inbox assistant for another day. Am I really not allowed to drink at work? Out here on the perimeter, there are no stars.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

ALYC NB has the world's biggest flag.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Immigants! I knew it was them! Even when it was the bears, I knew it
was them.

I have to ask the obvious: If the premise is that insuring all Americans will decrease health care costs, shouldn't we want illegal immigrants to be insured?

In other news: Will somebody please buy me a Chia Obama?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

They send you off to college, try to gain a little knowledge

Whenever people find out I'm a pharmacist (and that I work for an insurance company), they assume I have some grand plan for fixing health care. I usually tell them health care cannot be fixed...but that's not entirely true; more correctly, health care won't be fixed.

It won't be fixed, because nobody seems to know why it needs fixing. For the last month, I've heard the President talk about unsustainable cost increases. Okay, we want to fix health care to lower the prices of health care; that sounds reasonable to me. However, earlier in the summer, health care needed fixing because there are forty-something million uninsured people in this country. If we're still interested in helping out those forty-something million people, saving money just got a whole lot harder.

On that note, here are the 3 things I hope Obama says tonight:

1) "The Swiss do more than make good cheese."

Insurance coverage should be mandatory for everyone. I anticipate my health care costs to be under $500 next year. I would have to be pretty stupid to buy a health insurance policy that costs me $100/month--I'd be out $700 a year. Fortunately, I don't have to make that decision, because no insurance company would sell me a policy for $100/month. The insurance company has no way to know that I'm only going to cost them $500 next year; in fact, all their research indicates that I wouldn't buy that policy; only the guy who's going to cost them $6000 next year would pay for his own healthy people would rather risk it and go without insurance.

So, let's learn something from the Swiss. Make everyone buy insurance, subsidize those who cannot afford to pay. Insurance companies will be happy to issue these policies if they know that it won't be only sick people buying them.

2) "Your life is not worth fifty million dollars."

In addition to paying ungodly fees for malpractice insurance, your physician is forced to order less than necessary tests and perform less than necessary procedures all for the purpose of not having to stand in front of a jury to explain why he/she did not order said test or perform said procedure in the unlikely event that you end up dead. American juries are not fit to determine damages in malpractice lawsuits...or any type of personal injury lawsuit for that matter. Read about New Zealand, if you're bored. If you get injured in New Zealand, your disability payments are covered by the government. You cannot sue the offending party; the government will take care of punishing the offending party if anything illegal took place.

3) "Everything is rationed."

Full body scans were all the rage a few years ago when the economy was booming. The theory is good: have a radiologist look at your entire body, and get a head start on treating cancer, heart disease, or anything else that might be about to kill you. Insurance companies typically do not pay for these scans, mostly because there is no evidence to support that they are good for anything. The point is, if you had an unlimited supply of money, you could probably improve health care quite a bit. Sadly, money is not unlimited...if we spend it on health care, we can't spend it somewhere else. I happen to know of one particular class of middle schoolers that will be 10 times more likely to die in horrible toaster accidents this fall because their teacher has been fired.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Moving up in the world...

The view from my new (shared) office. If you look closely, my car is parked right above the computer monitor.

[My roomate starts work at the ungodly hour of 4:30 AM, so it is likely that we will never see each other.]

Monday, August 31, 2009

A walk along the beach might sound tempting on a hot day...

However, if you are not looking to get soaked, do not attempt your walk in the area between the water and the unusual 5 foot high sand wall.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I always thought I had wasted an extra year (and two summers) in Indiana...

New Zealand uses (what appears to be) a very streamlined system for determining who is allowed to immigrate. They don't care where you're from (as long as you speak English); they don't care what you look like. They do care how old you are (sorry to my readers over the age of 55), and they do care about your education/profession. If you're bored, give the NZ Immigration Points calculator a try. If you score over >100, you are eligible for entry (but if you don't have a job lined up, you really need more points, or they won't let you in). If you score >140, you are automatically allowed in...after they confirm you are not lying.

I claimed a conservative 145 points. I was feeling pretty good for four weeks, until someone at a desk in London decided my Doctor of Pharmacy degree did not allow me to 1) claim points for having a pharmacy degree (NZ issues only Bachelors of Pharmacy) and 2) claim any points for being a pharmacist (since a Bachelors of Pharmacy is required to be a pharmacist) and 3) claim any points for a profession on the Long Term Skills Shortage List (since as above, I am not a pharmacist). This brought me down to 60 points. It was recommended that I find a job as a pharmacist, then I can claim points for having a job as a pharmacist...

So I've sent this back to NZ Immigration (copied from their website). As my qualifications have been assessed by the NZ Pharmacy Council, and they have issued me a provisional license, I'm hoping another 4 week wait will take care of things.

If your qualification is not on the List of Qualifications Exempt from Assessment, or the List of Qualifications Recognised as an Exception you will need to get your qualification assessed by the NZQA (unless you have full or provisional registration and your qualification has been assessed by a New Zealand organisation as comparable with a New Zealand qualification on the List of Qualifications Exempt from Assessment).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I used to have a cool credit card that payed off my mortgage every time I bought something. I could spend $15,000 on a trip to New Zealand and think: "Hey, I'm being responsible. This trip will pay off my mortgage a month early." Unfortunately, thanks to new credit card regulations, this perk has disappeared. So I broke down and found a new card. It won't pay off my mortgage, but it does give me 1% cash back to do with as I please...and there are absolutely no transaction fees if I use it in New Zealand...and I got to upload a cool picture of Picton to put on the card.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Nico says we can't have flamingos...

I am probably too young to be worrying about the weather, but the thought of a real winter is starting to scare me a bit. With that in mind, we are scoping out warmer parts of the Long White Cloud.

One of these is Napier. That's right, the art deco capital of the southern hemisphere. Neither of our NZ trips this year brought us to Napier, so this would be a "sight unseen" relocation. Fortunately, Nico is used to those; and I've had a little practice, as well.

Here are some borrowed pictures:

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Saturday morning @ The Laguna Coffee Co. The bike, the beach, and a jazz quintet.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Interviewing, interviewing, and still more interviewing

Alternative Title #1: He who controls the drugs controls the country

Alternative Title #2: Take this job and shove it

If you are wondering why I have not posted anything in a month, it is because I have been tasked with hiring 10 pharmacists. "Ten pharmacists? Ten pharmacists doesn't sound so bad," thought I. I was mistaken; unless one is very good at picking which pharmacists to interview, one has to interview like, 30 pharmacists to find 10. I lost count, but I think I interviewed closer to 35...and it left me a little depressed about the state of the profession. I can understand that working at Walgreen's does not require a whole lot of brain activity (most pharmacy jobs do not), but at the very least, I expect all pharmacists to know what the drugs they are dispensing are being used for.

While I was not interviewing others, I spent my free time interviewing for my own next job. Two Skype interviews last week, though one became a phone interview after technical problems (which I'm pretty sure were not on my end) prevented us from having video. Interviewing 35 pharmacists prepared me well, and I was offered a job at PHARMAC. If you don't feel like clicking that link, Pharmac is the government agency that handles the drugs. Sort of a PBM with some functions of FDA thrown in. Without a doubt, the best offer I will be receiving, but I'm not exactly moving to New Zealand for career advancement. The two men in suits conducting the interview (you're not supposed to need a suit in NZ) who told me they had to wear said suits due to frequent meetings with Ministers and CEOs of drug companies, gave me a warning that I was in over my head. When I asked one of them to walk me through a normal day, he talked for twenty minutes. I am not sure how I convinced them I was qualified for this position, and it was quite difficult to turn down.

I am now thinking I want to work in a community pharmacy in a town of 1000. Maybe the townsfolk will call me Doc Mike.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

I may have been a little rough on Dunedin.

Here's a picture I took from the Castle we stayed at a few kilometres outside the city.

I've been thinking Wellington the last few days. Although their cable car is more of an elevator-type thing, it still may have been the best $10 (NZ) we spent...we did, of course opt to walk back down through the botanical gardens (and a cemetery that now looks a little misplaced). I need a wider lens to capture a picture like this (or possibly just a little more time to sit and wait for the cable car to come and go, but Nico was getting impatient), so I had to steal somebody else's.

Here are a couple of photos I snapped in Eastbourne...unfortunately a suburb we would not be able to afford, but there are plenty of coastal areas within a short train ride of downtown that appear to be in the budget.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Quiet day in the Enhanced Safety Zone.

Alternative title was: Yes, that was Wonder Woman.

Even the Mona-Vie people were out.

Finally to the quiet side of Newport.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dunedin looked perfect on paper...

Alternative title: If it's not Scottish, it's crap.

We knew it would be cold, but I had not counted on the complete lack of sun. Dark until after 8 AM, dark at 5 PM...even when the sun was up, it was so low in the sky, that it felt like it was 5PM all day. Every picture I took in Dunedin is filled with shadows. Here's Nico in front of the train station at midday.
Please stay tuned for more information on the: "Michael Passed the New Zealand Pharmacy Boards" party.

I must admit, I have never studied more for anything than I did for this exam. Not the California boards, and certainly not Hawaii. (At the time, one had to travel to NoCal to take the California test...Hawaii I took in Irvine). Something about the 12 hour flight to Auckland must have done something to motivate me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mount Maunganui and dinner in a castle with Aussies (not at Mount Maunganui)

Favorite thing we did on the last NZ trip: Climbing Mount Maunganui (in the rain). I'm using the term "climbing" loosely. It's really more of a walking thing. The top of the mountain was in a cloud, but the views from halfway up were incredible...even in the rain. The resident sheep were somewhere between disinterested and happy to pose for photos.

Nicole says I took too many pictures of sheep. Hopefully, the 8 Aussies we met while staying at Lanarch Castle (in Dunedin, not Mount Maunganui), will not be viewing my blog. Over dinner, one of them told us his favorite Kiwi joke:

An Australian farmer was visiting a New Zealand farm. In the back paddock, he comes across the New Zealand farmer screwing a sheep. The Aussie yells, "Hey Mate--in my country we sheer our sheep!" The NZ farmer yells back, "GET STUFFED!! I'm not sharing this sheep with anybody!!!"

PS: This joke is at least a little funnier if you are aware that Aussies and Kiwis claim they cannot understand each other (due to the different accents).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Te Reo Maori Lesson #1

Alternative title: If I bought the place, I would probably tell my mother it's pronounced as a "W".

Just back from New Zealand reconnaissance mission. If you don't hear from me for a while, it's because I have swine flu.

Although smaller in scope than the last trip , there is still too much to write about at once. And I'm sick, jet-lagged, and hungry. So let's start with Whakatane.

Yes indeed, "wh" is pronounced as "f" in Maori. Go ahead, say's fun. It was raining, so we didn't do much while we were there. The town reminded me of something you'd see in Hawaii...and they have an active (offshore volcano). That's all I know.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

For $199 I will help you beat any speeding ticket.

Some of you may remember that I was issued a traffic citation on the tandem a couple of months ago. On moral grounds, I felt obligated to fight this injustice. I had my day in court today.

While waiting for my name to be called, I prepared an elaborate (and likely losing) defense:

1) Your honor, I have not been issued a ticket in the last 19 years of driving.
2) When we are on tandem bicycle, I obey nearly all traffic laws:
a) I never speed (pause for laughter)
b) I stop at red lights
c) I stay to the right (I had actually written down "left" in my notes...still dreaming about New Zealand.)
d) We use hand signals (I was having trouble deciding between "we" and "I" for all of the above.)
3) Occasionally, I check for other cars/bikes and just slow down at stop signs.
4) At the intersection in question: On a (signed) bike route in San Clemente, there was minimal traffic, and no cars approaching the intersection. I slowed down to about 8 MPH, saw that the intersection was clear, and continued through.
5) Something about Bill McCready's proper method. (I was thinking I would blame the stoker for pedaling us through while I tried to stop...)
6) Your honor, I've learned my lesson...I have not run a stop sign since. (This last point has made it impossible to ride with other cyclists--it is impossible to convince people who have not yet been hit with a $202 ticket that running a stop sign on a bicycle is a ticketable offense.)

As luck would have it, the ticketing deputy did not show up. Eight of us (including two other cyclists) had our cases dismissed. (The two other cyclists had been with a group of twenty. They claimed that they were at the front, and would have stopped, but they were getting bumped from behind. All twenty of them were issued citations.)

So after watching two hours of traffic cases, I am confident that I can beat any speeding ticket. Either that, or the defendants were so poor at defending themselves that the cops did not bring their A game. Please note: I said speeding ticket. There seems to be very little defense for any other moving violation (red light, stop sign, littering, marijuana possession).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Highly skilled repair of Sony DSC-T5

Alternative title #1 was: I've heard you can restart a human heart by the same method
Alternative title #2 was: That's 45 more dollars I can go and drink tonight

Yesterday, instead of taking pictures, our little Sony digital camera would show only a very blurry display and the following message: "E:61:10".

I searched all over the internet, and the consensus seemed to be:
1) Send it back to Sony for repair ($100-$150).
2) Drop it (from a height of somewhere between 2 inches and 3 feet).

As with many small electronic devices, the cost of repair was more than the value of the camera, so I chose option 2. Dropping a camera from a height of 2 inches is much more difficult than you might think; you will find yourself attempting to drop the camera gently to avoid breakage.

After about 3 or 4 tries (and a height of 6 inches), the camera is now working again.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Favorite line spoken by attending physician whilst I was in pharmacy school:

Med Student: What did infectious disease doctors do before HIV?
Dr. Battiger: We grew cultured.

Spent last night at the symphony for Nico's birthday. In a couple of weeks, I get to go to the opera.

Too much culture for one month. I am glad these places have bars.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Most people do not have the will/desire to carry around a 4 pound camera on a bicycle trip.

The thirty+ tandem teams from our recent trip to New Zealand were invited to upload a dozen photos each (or was it two dozen?) to make a collective photo album. A local artist was then given the task of selecting the best photos (and cropping/finishing them) for inclusion in said album. I have not counted, but I believe 20 of my photos made the final cut.

In case that first link did not work, here's a link to the Santana Website.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Beware the Ides of April…

I am told I have picked up a few new readers, so I feel obligated to write something. I usually tell people that one can tell how busy I am at work by how frequent the posts appear. So, in case the reader had not noticed: I am still busy at work.

Also, there is not much going on that has been worthy of writing.

Some updates:

Yes, that last post was an April Fools joke.

No, the New Zealand thing was not a joke. Okay, the part about the sheep was a joke…I tried shearing a sheep in New Zealand, and did not have much affinity for it. The sheep kept flinching, which made me flinch, which resulted in a very poorly sheared sheep. I would require several years of training to make a living raising sheep.

But we really are considering a move to New Zealand. I will be writing the CAOP in June (they do not “take tests” in Kiwi), which requires a trip to Auckland (or London, or any city in Australia). To prepare for said exam, I have spent the last couple of weeks studying British therapeutics. Surprisingly, most of the book has been a review. (Surprising mostly because I do not remember ever opening a textbook whilst in pharmacy school.) I am waiting on a few more books which are being shipped from the far corners of the earth.

“Why New Zealand?” You ask...The copyrighted text below was borrowed from this book. Mr. Publisher: Please appreciate the free plug I have given your book…or at least send me a warning letter before suing me.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Dear friends,

It is with some sadness that I tender my resignation, effective immediately. After much inner probing, I have decided to accept a position with the American Panascope Corporation, and will soon begin overseeing development/production of a new generation of surgical tools.

I shall miss our building, and all of its inhabitants. I would miss the florescent lights, but I understand my new company has a pretty decent set.

With the time I have spent at Prescription Solutions, I leave here knowing that I can get the job...but can I do the job?

Monday, March 23, 2009

The worst day tandeming...

1) Planned weekend ride down to San Diego a few days too early (when the forecast called for 80 degrees of sunshine).
2) Issued traffic citation for running a stop sign in San Clemente. Yes, I was riding a bicycle, and I got a ticket. I hear it's a $205 fine. (I shouldn't complain that much, as I probably ran 30 stop signs before that one).
3) Had to stop at every stop sign for the remaining 60 miles to San Diego.
4) Developed excruciating pain in knees.
5) Too cold for giant tortoises to come out of their barn.
5) Next day: Horrible wind on the return ride; 10 miles in the rain. Ran over glass; big hole in tire. Had to change tube in the rain. [Having had enough of Amtrak (see numerous other posts), and because the Coaster does not run on Sundays, we decided to ride halfway home (to Oceanside), then catch Metrolink.]
6) Call from work during otherwise uneventful train ride to Santa Ana. In case you are wondering, a tandem fits fabulously on a Metrolink train. Your only potential obstacle might be navigating the bike through the station(s)...this is not a problem in either Oceanside or Santa Ana.
7) Sidewall blowout in Santa Ana; no more tubes. Stoker hopped on bus home; I got bored and kept walking...for 5 miles until stoker reappeared with the car.

On the bright side, we rode pretty close to 150 miles over 2 days, which might be a record for us. Ran into Grant (sans stoker) from New Zealand at the edge of Camp Pendleton...and then Grant bought us breakfast. Thanks Grant! [To clarify, Grant is from Carlsbad, not New Zealand. We just happened to meet him last month in New Zealand. The photo below is from the historical archive--I believe that's a blurry Bill McCready off to the right.]

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A brief review of what I can remember of New Zealand:

(I put together a little album that's supposed to go along with this, but the pictures got a little scrambled, I'll try to fix it tomorrow.)

1) We arrived a day early (for the pre-pre tour), spending an extra night in Wanaka.
2) We took a solo ride around a nearby lake (49k) to try things out. I stopped to take pictures of some sheep.
3) For the first full day of the pre-tour, the group rode from Wanaka over the Crown Range ("The highest paved road in New Zealand" turned out to not be entirely true--some of it is not paved). After the impossibly long descent, we stopped to watch some of the braver members of the group bunjee jump; then on to Queenstown for a couple of days. Summer luging atop some mountain above Queenstown preceded dinner atop the same mountain.
4) 29 mile ride to Glenorchy where we went jet boating, hiked, then road in a 4wd bus through Lord of the Rings territory. It started raining while I tried to shear a sheep. There was an optional ride back along the same route, but it was raining so we all opted for the bus (bikes in a Budget truck). This 29 mile ride seemed more difficult than the previous day's climb.
5) Ride from Queenstown to Arrowtown and back. Then we boarded a 737 to Christchurch for the official start of the tour. We were picked up at the airport by Antarctic exploration vehicles which drove us to dinner at the "South Pole"--the hopping off point for most Antarctic research. Weirdest meal I've ever eaten. We had two courses in a room with a penguin tank (the penguins were not out), then got up and moved to another room where the lights would cycle on and off every few minutes (the other half of the group did this in reverse).
6) Biked around the crater in Christchurch. Took a ferry across the harbor (rather than biking all the way around), and got rained on for the first time. (My wife's notes say we had our 3rd flat tire on this ride). Took guided walking tour of Christchurch in the rain. Christchurch is beautiful even in the rain: very green, and flowers all around. Had dinner at St. Germaine with ChiChi and stoker. 5 courses + 2 bottles of wine in an expensive French restaurant came out to around $50 US per person. I began enjoying the strength of the almighty dollar.
7) Left Christchurch by train. The optional 100 mile ride (leaving from Arthur's Pass) was canceled due to inclement weather. We weren't planning on doing it anyway, but it turned out to be all downhill. I would have regretted not riding had it not been pouring rain. We stayed on the train until the end (forgotten the name of the town), watched the rain come down in sheets all through lunch at Speight's Ale House, then rode 30 (mostly dry) miles to our beach front hotel at Punakaiki. Tired of walking, we checked in and walked the half km to the pancake rocks/blowhole (which was not blowing at low tide). Beautiful sunset over the water followed by dinner which included Bill's "wine buffet".
8) If memory serves today was a wet ride from Punakaiki to a small airport up the coast where we caught a chartered airplane (with propellers) to Picton (or thereabouts). Wine tasting via bus on the way from the airport to Picton.
9) Bicycling through wine country today. I sort of believed the locals when we were told we would have a tail wind for the whole day; when Bill said it I knew it could not be true. Ended up with a headwind most of the day. Took a 2 km detour into Havelock, the green lipped muscle capital of the world. Too early for muscles, we just had coffee (also, muscles are scary). Lunch at Allan Scott Vineyard; surprisingly, no wine served with lunch.
10) Planned non-riding day. We chose the kayaking option (hiking and/or ocean cruise were the other choices). Flew out of Picton on chartered plane to Rotorua (North Island) after dinner at hotel.
11) Opted for the long ride--around whatever lake Rotorua is on, then up to the Buried Village for lunch. The ride back to Rotorua included a near single track dirt path up and then down through redwoods.
12) Raining again. All but 7 bikes skipped the ride to Tauranga and took the bus. Stopped at Rainbow Springs National Park, which is about the only place you can see a Kiwi (bird). Next stopped for a nature walk (in the rain) with New Zealand's own Kiwi Dundee; saw some glow worms, which are less impressive than they sound. Bus ride ended at Puka Park Resort (on the Bay of Plenty). Staying in Puka Park is like living in a tree house.
13) Biking around the Bay of Plenty. I'm pretty sure I'll be buying a farm around here. We opted for the long ride yet again, which included only 2 ferry rides (as seen in the video at the beginning of the thread). This was perhaps 60 miles of the most fabulous cycling we have ever done...and the sun even came out for a while.
14) We opted to take the bike apart instead of going for an early morning ride. Long bus ride to Auckland; walked around Auckland for an hour and a half before dinner at the Sky Tower. Late flight out of Auckland got us home before we left.

All in all, a very different trip than what you would expect if you've done European trips with Santana. There was not much biking between hotels, few cute little towns along the way, and pretty much nothing flat. The roads are not the friendliest for tires (I lost track of how many flats we suffered), but the drivers are relatively pleasant (not Europe pleasant, but better than the US). The weather was less than ideal, though not horrible. I would call this trip a once in a lifetime experience, but my stoker says we can move there...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Things to do when you're bored

Make a slide show of Bill McCready removing eleven tightly packed tandems (+ 11 tandem teams and a dozen other amused ferry riders) off the less than sizable Whitianga Ferry. Keep watching, and you can see another six or seven more go on back across the Bay of Plenty. Keep watching even longer, and it repeats a few times until the song ends.

[In retrospect, I probably should have ended the song when I ran out of photos.]

So I'm not the only one calling them kiwi bucks.

``People are very worried about the global recession, about the meltdown we're seeing in emerging markets,'' said Danica Hampton, a currency strategist at Bank of New Zealand Ltd. in Wellington. ``People are bailing out of growth-sensitive currencies like the kiwi in favor of safe-haven currencies,'' she said, using the New Zealand's dollar's nickname.

Okay, maybe I'm the only one calling them kiwi bucks, but if you just call the New Zealand dollar "kiwi", someone might get confused.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

10 hectares and a sheep

PS: I am probably going to need more than one sheep.

PPS: I am now accepting donations, investments, and applications for shearers.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

775 New Zealand photos shot with the new Pentax. They can be viewed by clicking here. The pictures are pretty much in chronological order (NZ is the oldest, then NZ2 then NZ3). Nico shot a few more with the other camera which she might be posting somewhere.

Many of them did not come out well, and it is unlikely that I'll have much time to edit them in the near future. If you see a picture you like, and you are interested in a high resolution version (I have jpegs in the 10 MB range and RAW in the 12 to 14 MB range), shoot me an email with the image number (or post your request in the comments field). If you have already given me an email address, and I said I would send something to you, I am certain that I will do that eventually; but it might be faster if you requested again as above.

PS: I think I took 200 pictures of Picton. Can you blame me?
You'll dig it the most.

But you know what the funniest thing about New Zealand is? It's the little differences.


In New Zealand, everything has a light switch. (If you're in a hotel, the light switch is probably let you know what it does.) But here's the kicker: to turn something off, you push the switch down.

In New Zealand, environmentalists, such as this man, boast about having killed over 50,000 possums.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The view from here

January did not end at the end of January, leaving us with very little time to train for New Zealand. So we decided to cram all of our (pre-New Zealand) riding into one day on Saturday's Tour de Palm Springs.

After the first 12 miles (up hill and into the wind), I was getting pretty worried. Fortunately, as usual, I was able to find a tandem or two (and even a triplet) to draft behind. After the first rest stop, we met up with our Santana friends Mark and Maureen. Mark assured me that the next 50 miles would be down hill, and that the Tour de Palm Springs is the easiest century ever. You would not think it would be necessary to point out that Maureen told me last year they were going to ride one century a month for the entire year...but it is indeed necessary; there is no such thing as an easy century. As a matter of fact, this century was 102 miles long (my flight deck measured it at 104).

Things overheard during the tour (some may have been spoken by me):

"This stopped being fun at about mile 45."
"I've been surviving the last 10 miles on packets of mayonnaise." (I certainly did not say that one.)
"I like peanut M&M's."

Here's a couple of pictures Nico shot from the bike: Mark and Maureen, then a very flexy triplet...I did not really believe in frame flex until I rode behind them. Off in the distance of the triplet, you might be able to make out some windmills. The photo does not capture how fast they were all spinning.

Our times were not impressive; somewhere around 8 hours total and 6 & 1/2 hours pedaling. But we finished, it didn't rain, and we can go to New Zealand next week knowing that we are in 100 mile shape.

In other news, the takealotofdrugs photo equipment has just been upgraded. You'll still probably see some pictures from the point and shoot Sony, as I'm afraid to let Nico take pictures with my new Pentax K20D from the bike. We have not yet decided if the new camera will be joining us on the bike (it weighs over 2 pounds, and would not take kindly to a fall).

I stepped outside this evening to test it out. People are always asking if we can see the ocean from our house. I usually respond: "From the street out in front." Here's a picture of said view, shot with a 50 mm lens (which I'm told is equal to a 75 mm lens on a film camera, which if my memory from high school photography class is correct is about equal to what you would see if you were standing on my street [and looking through a viewfinder without magnification]).

And here's a shot of the harbor from the park across the street. (The size of this picture is 33% of the original.)