Ramblings and thoughts by a Mensch or two.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Blogging is contagious...

My wife has decided to join the ranks of bloggers by sharing her knitting and housecleaning adventures. She's been updating her blog every day, which is far more than I've been able to manage--though with my recent woodworking projects, I might be able to find something I'm interested in telling the world about. That or politics. Everyone loves to read about politics, right? :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Getting Settled in Boudler

Well, as anyone reading this has probably guessed, we arrived a while ago, and are well settled. Except for the boxes everywhere, which don't seem to unpack themselves.

I'm still working on getting my desk set up to be ideal, but that seems to be a journey rather than a destination, so I need to learn to stress about it less. My requirements for a desk are exacting enough that even if I did spend $500-$1000 on a "real" desk, I'd still end up modifying it--and if I'm going to be working on it, I may as well start with good materials. To that end, I'm meeting with someone on Friday who's going to show me some wood removed from bowling alley lanes as a possible desk surface, which sounds like it could be ideal.

Our old condo in the Bay Area sold last week, which is a weight off. I've been quite convinced for some time that the housing market was going to take a serious downturn. The Feds must agree with me, having lowered the rate by a half percent this week. I don't think that will stop the housing-crisis-in-progress, but we'll see. I thought it would crash a few years back, but serious rate reductions threw more fuel on the fire, and housing prices got even more phenomenally high, so we'll see what happens this time around.

Deborah has been canning things as a hobby, and luckily we have a garage for storing the fruits--and vegetables--of her labors. And I've started a new sport: Ultimate Frisbee. It's a lot of fun, but it's the kind of fun that leaves you sore for days...just long enough to last until the next time you play.

Otherwise we're still unpacking boxes, still flying out to San Francisco once a month for work, and still working on my community-building project. Life goes on.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

To Yosemite and Beyond!

After we visited the California Caverns we started our drive to Yosemite. The drive was uneventful, and we reached Yosemite close to dinner time, so we thought we'd enter the park, grab dinner, and go for a hike. Silly us.

We first took the free bus around to a restaurant in the park. Now on foot, we find that the first restaurant was closed--the quick sandwiches from a refrigerator we were hoping to grab were locked up and beyond reach. We thought we were lucky, though, because upstairs was a pizza restaurant; not ideal, but, well, we were hungry so we stood in line. For. A. Long. Time.

We weren't prepared for how slow it would be. It turns out that they were training new staff that night. Or I should say that one manager was training the entire staff. Each group in line took 5-6 minutes to place an order. About 9 orders and 50 minutes later, we finally reached the counter. Needless to say the food took a while as well.

By the time we finally managed to eat our food, the two hours we had alloted to spend at Yosemite were gone, it was getting dark, and it was time to move on--no hike for us, and $20 of park-entry-fee paid for a quick look at Half Dome, a couple glimpses of waterfalls, and access to a restaurant with terrible service. It would have been faster for us to have driven out of the park to a nearby town, eat there at a sit-down restaurant, and return. Live and learn.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Leaving Hotel California...slowly...

The first morning we woke up and started packing for our road trip to Colorado. The plan was to pack, finish what we needed to do, and then leave between 10am and 2pm, get a good start on the road, see the California Caverns, and then head on down toward Yosemite and stay somewhere down in that direction.

Well, we got up this morning and starting packing. And packing. And packing. There were a few errands we were going to run, but they have all been postponed to my next trip out west. To say that we underestimated how much work it would take to pack up a month's worth of camp-out-in-our-new-house supplies, ship most of it off in boxes, and then fit the rest in the car to drive with us...well, you get the idea.

By 5:30pm we were finally waving goodbye to our neighbors and friends in Pleasant Hill, and we hit the road...almost. First a quick stop for sandwiches, and then we really hit the road.

After a couple hours of driving, we were ready to find somewhere to stop. We did in fact make it close to the caverns, so we were ready to achieve our first goal...a day late.

The B&B we found to stay in was wonderful. The Robin's Nest is run by an ex-technology guru who is well skilled in the culinary arts--breakfast was truly exceptional. The decoration and quality were excellent throughout, and it was a short drive to the California Caverns--so if anyone feels like visiting a 53 degree hole in the ground in the middle of summer, I heartily recommend this B&B as a place to stay. The caverns were nice too.

Monday, June 11, 2007

PlayFirst has a Dream...

I don't normally post here to about my company's products, but this one is special--at least if you're one of those people who enjoyed playing Myst. It's called Dream Chronicles, and it seems to be universally addictive. Better yet, they gave me a coupon code for 1/2 off the price ($10 off for those of you not familiar with PlayFirst games) that I can give out to up to 200 of my closest friends. Our last big release, Chocolatier, is also doing well, and I recommend trying it if you like the idea of trading games, and you like chocolate.

If you read this before the code expires on June 18, then drop me an email (see the bottom of this page) and I can send you a code. I personally think this is the coolest Myst-style game to hit the streets since, well, Myst itself--but that's only my opinion. Let me know whether you want the Mac or PC code--they're different.

Here are the game details:

Game synopsis

You are getting very very sleepy…..

Imagine waking up from a deep sleep to find your husband missing and your daughter and the entire town under a sleeping spell. Unsure of what to do, you begin to notice that your surroundings seem strangely surreal and otherworldly…there are clues, scattered throughout town like breadcrumbs, apparently left by your missing husband. Put the clues together and overcome the obstacles in your path and you might discover what happened to your family and friends, as well as your husband’s mysterious past. If the clues are not all found, the sleeping spell may last forever and your husband may remain missing. Then again, what if it is all just a dream?

The opinions expressed above are mine, and even though I mentioned PlayFirst, I am still writing this as an individual and not as a representative of PlayFirst, Inc.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Why Colorado?

So why would a California native leave his home state and move to Colorado? Well, in my last post I explained why I felt the need to leave my home state, but I haven't explained why I chose Colorado.

What kinds of places am I looking for? Well, I have a bit of a liberal bias, so solidly red states aren't that interesting. I grew up in California, so places with good climates certainly need to be considered. High humidity is a show-stopper for me--I shut down if it's really hot and humid--but I'm willing to try living in a place with occasional snow. I do like the idea of being somewhat close to a metropolitan area--I'm not willing (yet, anyway) to live 2+ hours away from the nearest airport and/or large city, given the likely isolation that would impose. And, as I mentioned last time, I'm quite wary of the consequences of global warming with respect to weather patterns and sea level.

Colorado is borderline on politics in general--with the notable exception of Boulder. I've heard Boulder referred to as the Berkeley of Colorado, and there are strong similarities. Having been there a few times now, I'd say it's close to as liberal as Berkeley, though a tad less flaky and a lot cleaner. It took a while to eliminate the Pacific Coast entirely, despite the sea-level worries. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful, and property values are much lower than in California, but what it comes down to is that I have more (and closer) family in Colorado than up north.

What else recommends Colorado? Well, they look like they're getting a mass-transit line that may end up cooler than BART. They already have good transit around Boulder County in general, though I personally favor commuter trains. The food in Boulder seems quite good, and we've found some great places to eat in the surrounding areas as well. In addition, they have a chain of health-food stores that really puts Whole Foods to shame: Vitamin Cottage locations are convenient to the locations we're exploring, and they're a genuine health food store rather than a yuppie/trendy/luxury food store like Whole Foods. Don't get me wrong, I still shop at Whole Foods--but I see the SUVs in the parking lot and the overdone wasteful packaging of items and I feel like I'm in Organic Marketing Land rather than a store actually dedicated to helping me find healthy foods.

On the other hand, I'll miss Trader Joe's. It will probably make it to Colorado someday, but until then I'll have to import my Organic Strawberry Preserves from California when I come back to visit.

Let's not forget I'm thinking about developing a community. Cohousing is a well-known and respected word there, at least among the city planners. That makes creating a community based on that formula much easier. Land is available near Boulder (though Boulder itself is quite built up) that's quite reasonably priced.

Colorado is also a very athletic state. The number of local gyms is quite impressive; snow sports are a 2-hour drive and available much of the year because of the elevation; and people really do ride their bikes all over the place. I've been biking to BART for work for the past couple years, but not really much farther; I'm hoping that will change. Of course part of the year biking won't be possible--unless they have snow tires for bicycles? But I hear that snow-shoeing is quite fun, and I'd like to give that a try.

Here's another thought for the liberals out there: I'm moving from a solidly blue state to a swing state. Suddenly my vote (if it's counted...) will contribute to making a decision instead of just being one of many "me too" votes. Advocacy would potentially make a bigger difference as well--getting out the votes of liberal neighbors has more leverage in a state where decisions can hinge on a few hundred votes.

Finally, Colorado will provide a change of scenery that just moving north wouldn't do for me. I will get to live where there's snow for the first time. The pace of life is a bit slower, or so I hear. The actual scenery is quite stunning. And the people there are pretty laid back and nice--on my last trip I ended up talking with several random strangers, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world. Far more natural than most encounters with Bay Area natives, in my experience. And that's really what I'm hoping for out of this move: A shifting of gears that slows my life down a bit, opening up more opportunities to enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Who would leave California?

I was born here, in California, almost 40 years ago. I've lived here my entire life, mostly in the Bay Area, with a short hiatus down near San Diego to get my degree. The weather is nice year-round, BART provides a great means to get around without a car, and there are plenty of technology jobs available. The food can't be beat--sure, if you're rich and going to only the best restaurants, you might be able to find better food in NYC, but the food available around the Bay is some of the best in the country. We have the ocean and a zillion trails in easy driving distance, yet can make it up to the snow in only a few hours. I can bike to work year-round.

Yes, I love this state; turns out, though, a lot of other people do as well. Property values have become famously high; I've been a bear on the property market here for years, and it's gotten to be quite a familiar habit, but I'll go ahead and say it again: "These property values are WAY too high, and I expect them to crash any year now." But that by itself isn't a reason--if you want to stay somewhere, how much your house is worth doesn't matter.

On the other hand, if you're contemplating moving, having your housing value crash doesn't look so good. But why would I leave? What's the motivation? That will require a bit of back-story...

Where I live right now is in a condo complex, of sorts. It's not quite a normal condo development, though--there are several things that make it different. One, the layout of the community is designed to encourage interaction. Typically condos are designed to maximize the illusion of privacy and minimize the fact that you're living in relatively close quarters with a bunch of people. Two, the people in most condos only rarely interact with each other--and here I know the first name of every adult community member and almost all of the kids, and they all know who I am. That's nearly 70 names. There have been times of my life where I've known the names of no more than 20 people who I interacted with on a regular basis. Knowing this many people, and having this many friends right near home, is a profoundly new and positive experience for me. Three, there's a building known as the "common house" that has extra amenities that any resident can use for free (by signing up, first come first served), including guest rooms, a workshop, a pottery studio with kiln, a kids' play room, a television/sitting room, and a large meeting room with attached commercial-quality kitchen. There's even an optional meal rotation where, a couple times a week, someone will cook a meal in the kitchen and everyone interested signs up to eat, contributing their share of the costs. Four, there were a number of kids my daughter's age here, and because of the social aspect, the kids' room, and the high ratio of stay-at-home parents, it seemed like an ideal place for a kid to grow up. Five, the building was done as super-green and ultra-insulated, and that aspect was also in sync with my values.

So for the social aspects (knowing your neighbors, built-in playmates for your kids, easy and casual social events) and the shared-resources aspects (there's one shared lawnmower, some cool shared tools, extra rooms for guests to stay so you don't need a giant house with rooms you pay to heat that rarely get used) I really liked the idea of this community.

But all is not perfect. When we moved in here, we were trying an experiment on several axes. First, we'd read about communities like this--they're called "cohousing", which is a poor choice of a name in my opinion, since everyone who hears the word thinks it's some kind of co-op or communal living arrangement, which it really isn't--and what we read sounded interesting. Deborah and I had also been reading about voluntary simplicity, and I was starting to buy into the concept that having less junk would actually improve my life. We had been getting rid of junk we'd been accumulating for years at an impressive pace, and I had a false sense of optimism about how much we'd really purged. So when a unit HALF the size of our current place became available at a cohousing community, I thought, what the heck, let's try it out.

Here we are, two years later, and I can report that the social aspects are wonderful, but that not all is perfect. It turns out that a 4+ bedroom house with garage can hold a LOT of stuff in all of those extra closets, and it was really hard for a while to figure out what to do with most of it. Now that we've reached an equilibrium, though, I've discovered that I pretty much need a home office space--not just a corner of the bedroom, but a real office. This goes against the "smaller living" movement, but for whatever reason I need the space. So that's the first non-negotiable reason I want to move: I don't have enough space here.

Why not get another unit in this community? Well, one would need to become available. Wait, there IS one available, I could move there! OOPS, the owner only wants to rent it, and won't accept cats. Most everyone else in larger units here seems to be here for the long haul, so I'm not going to wait around for that option.

There's also another reason that I'm not eager to stay here: Philosophically I don't feel like I'm quite in sync with my current community. Some cohousing communities attempt to reduce everyone's costs by demanding everyone participate in the physical maintenance of the community; here they attempt to apply that particular strategy, and it's a nightmare of arguing about details and a drain on everyone's energy that I have absolutely no desire to be associated with. The frustrating thing is that, after you do the money analysis, you realize that all this extra work ends up saving people no more than about $10/month on their HOA dues (which are currently $300-$400/month, so we're talking a 3% savings).

I also have some other ideas about building these communities that I'd like to test out by founding a new one. If I did come across the absolutely perfect community, I wouldn't go to the trouble--but I'm an entrepreneur at heart, and I have ideas (for better or for worse) about how to do things, and I'd like to see if my ideas pan out.

So here I am, in a cohousing-style community, and wanting to move to another such community or found one. California has the most cohousing communities in any state in the nation, there must be another one I'd like, right? Or somewhere I'd be able to build one? Well, there are a few constraints that complicate matters.

If I'm living in the Bay Area, it needs to be near BART. I work in San Francisco, and I am not going to do a car commute, nor am I going to live in San Francisco. Period. End of negotiation. The Peninsula has CalTrain, but that requires a bus ride at the SF end of the line to get to my job, and I'm too impatient to wait for two successive public transit modes on a daily basis. I also want to be able to get to BART on my bike, for similar reasons--most BART stations these days end up with full parking lots, so I don't want to drive, and I don't want to bus-to-BART. And I want to be walkable or at least bikeable to interesting retail. I don't want to live in an area where I'll fear for my daughter's safety, and I do want to live in an area with good schools.

That narrows down the options a lot. So where does it leave? Berkeley would be great on several axes, except there's only one cohousing community in Berkeley, and it's a small one with high work requirements (according to their cohousing.org listing, and in any event they don't appear to have anything for sale). Building a new community in Berkeley, well...let's just say I'm not that much of a glutton for punishment. There's still a knee-jerk reaction in Berkeley that Development Is Bad, and it can easily take years to get even a small development through the planning process...and that's if you can find the land, which is already quite expensive in the interesting areas. So scratch Berkeley.

Points farther east like Lafayette, Walnut Creek, and Pleasant Hill are nice on a few other axes--but they're quite expensive, and most areas that are close enough to BART to be interesting are very built-up. And frankly, most people willing and interesting in living in communities like this are, well, liberal--and out in the "Far East Bay" things turn a bit more conservative. There are also no quaint downtown areas left--only upscale malls that try to pass themselves off as downtown streets--with the single exception of Lafayette, though it looks like 5-10 years of development will erase the few remaining quaint bits there as well.

This leaves me with no options that work for me in California. Other more remote locations in California could work for the short term, as I managed to arrange to keep my job as a telecommuting position for the Colorado move at least, but longer term there's no guarantee that I'll be with this company forever, and what do I do then? I also would like to be closer to an urban setting (no, Reno doesn't count) than most remote areas with reasonable housing prices allow. So goodbye California, Hello Colorado.

There are a few other reasons California and other coastal locations aren't my first choice for long-term habitation: If you follow the news on global warming, it doesn't look good. If you follow it closely, the theme seems to be that everything is happening faster than scientists expected. We've seen this movie before: Everyone ignores the warnings of the scientists, sometimes even ignoring the early proof, and then are surprised when calamity strikes. I'd like to be on higher ground when the calamities strike.

Why Colorado? That's the topic of another post...