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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sycamore Grove in Livermore

The wines of Livermore are some of our favorite. The fact that the wineries are only twenty minutes from our home surely helped shape that opinion. Today, we combined a trip to Page Mill winery with a hike along the Sycamore Grove in Livermore.


This place is a power keg. A small match or carelessly disposed cigarette has this entire place aflame in no time. This place was ablaze not too long ago, as many trees still are fully charred and lack any foliage.

There isn't a lot of foliage in general anyway. Watch out for rattle snakes as this is prime habitat for them. 






Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tunuyan

The last fifteen years have brought me to all the corners of Argentina. I visited the various neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, from La Recolleta to San Telmo, Puerto Madero, Palermo and of course La Boca in the inner city, to San Isidro, Martinez, and Tigre on the outskirts. Our honeymoon took us North, South, East, West to Iguazu, Patagonia, Salta and Tucuman. I've spent quite a bit of time in San Luis. Also the wines of Mendoza are not foreign to me. It is fun to learn a country, from the vistas, the culture, the food, sports, to its language and customs.

There are a few personal moments which stick out above all. Today was another such day, as we travelled along highway 40, in the shadow of the Aconcagua, from Mendoza to Tunuyan. The memory list, surely overly romanticized by now, is becoming longer and longer:
  • Galloping on horses without a saddle (only some sheepskins to protect your jewels), alongside a gaucho in Patagonia
  • Visiting Coronel Suarez, a town in the middle of the rich pampa raising cattle, and seemingly stuck in the previous century (not necessarily a bad thing). 
  • Driving three days without seeing more than a few people, along highway 40 in the North this time, from Salta to Tucuman through the Valles Calchaquies, while chewing coca leaves to deal with the elevation. 
  • Having a gaucho-like, outdoors, wine-filled, barbecue (asado) at night, in the fields of La Florida. 
Today we drove South from Mendoza to Tunuyan, through the Valle de Uco, filled with Malbec vineyards, and largely surrounded by deserts full of low scrubs and bushes, only to be broken up by rows of tall Alamo trees. In the background loom the snow covered mountains of the Andes. 

The towns with wine are nothing like Napa or Sonoma with their mansions and manicured wine tasting rooms. Here many wineries are merely a small house next to the cellars, where you need an appointment in the weekend, as the hard working owners are resting. We did visit bigger wineries, like Bodega Salentein which are much like the big wineries of Northern California. 

What made this uniquely memorable was not the wine, but the landscape. This land is vast and rough. 

As we drove through the Valle de Uco, it was a miserable day in winter with lots of rain and big gray clouds. My pictures were less than stellar and didn't show what a wonderful place this is.

Highway 40

Capilla San Judas Tadeo


Gauchos in the rain on their way to El Manzano

Cristo del Manzano

Bodega Salentein


Bodega Salentein - Panorama

I found a few pictures on the web to give a more sun filled idea of the area.



(source: Andres Casciani)

Check out also these great pictures of the area of Tunuyan and Tupungato.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tour of San Luis

La Florida, San Luis, Argentina

As we drove today from downtown San Luis, Argentina to La Florida over beautiful rolling roads, I couldn't help but think how things were much different only ten years ago. There were no nice highways, no illuminated roads, no bicycle lanes. How the Tour of San Luis must have been much different the first time around. How did the international riders feel about coming and riding here? How did they feel about the roads and accommodations as compared to the other opening tours of the season in Qatar or Oman. It is no small feat to make it to San Luis in the center of the country.

Tom Boonen, who won the tour of San Luis in 2012, said he loves coming to San Luis. (Not sure if he still feels that way after this years scorching weather.)

The province does offer a lot for cycling: nice roads, arduous terrain with steep short mountains and switch backs, wide roads for sprints, a beautiful scenery and warm weather in January. Hopefully I make it out here in January, rather than in the middle of winter as in recent years.





A trip to Retiro, executed with military precision

I have visited Argentina now many times over. I got it down: from landing at Ezeiza, the international airport of Buenos Aires to speaking Spanish, to ordering food in a restaurant, shopping or giving directions to the taxi driver. I learned quite a few things over the years: do not take a taxi at Ezeiza; get a ride with Manuel Tienda Leon, a bus and livery company. Do not jump into any taxi in the streets of Buenos Aires; call for known taxi companies. Always watch out of pick pockets. Don't change money in any of the "casas de cambio"; go to the bank or better even, exchange with family and friends as they like to get some US dollars. Overall, with a few simple tips like these, traveling to Argentina is not bad at all. There is however one trip within Argentina I loath: a trip to Retiro, terminal de omnibus.

When you want to visit any of the other cities in-land, you have the choice of taking a plane, from the domestic airport of Jorge Newbery in downtown Buenos Aires, or catch an omnibus at Retiro. While there are still a few commuter trains to and from the outskirts of Buenos Aires, traveling by train is no longer a good option to travel to the provincial cities (wikipedia).

Tickets were usually very expensive, and often come at a premium price for foreigners. On the day I wanted to travel, air travel to San Luis was even cancelled (not uncommon).

The next best option is to take an omnibus. This is in general not a bad option at all. These busses are double decker busses, with wide leather seats. There are several classes: ejecutivo (with a full bed), semi-cama (where the chair folds back), to other levels of luxury with or without food and wine. I ended up snatching a final seat on a lower class bus with semi-cama. After a 22 hours trip from the States, I was ready to hop onto a bus for another 10 hours.

This brings me to the trip I loath: from an apartment in the plush Recoleta district, I plan my trip to Retiro carefully and with military precision.

  1. I call for a taxi to take me to Retiro. When traveling as a family, we may need even a combi, to hold the various pieces of luggage as many taxis use liquified natural gas and have a special tank in the trunk. Going by city-bus is out of the question for fear of getting robbed of much of my belongings. When you take the city-bus, you must brave the masses at both Retiro, the train station and Retiro, the omnibus station. The security has gotten better in recent year with the military patrolling the bus platforms. Nevertheless, the recommended method is a taxi. 
  2. I know exactly where my bus will leave from. e.g., "plataformas 15-25" (link). I believe there about 75 platforms with omnibusses coming and going every few minutes. The taxi will drop you of near where your omnibus will leave from. 
  3. I carry a couple of Argentine pesos in my pocket both for the fellow opening the door of the taxi, as well as for the luggage handlers putting your bag in the omnibus. I calculate 2-3 pesos per bag. Always wait until the bag is actually loaded into the omnibus. 
  4. My backpack I carry in the front. Duh! 
  5. While waiting for the bus to arrive, I find a corner where I have full view of what goes on around me. Nobody is going to bump me there. 
Retiro takes me typically 30 minutes before I am on the bus, all seated and ready to go. I am relieved each time I make it without incident. 


Waiting at Retiro

Omnibus, "20 de Junio"

I made it on the bus.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The death of the bulleted presentation

As we were killing time waiting for our daughters to put on a great Taekwondo fight, a friend was reading a book he picked up at the airport: "The presentation secrets of Steve Jobs". Tonight I was scrolling through my Digg Reader blog list, there was a similar post: "This advice from IDEO's Nicole Kahn will transform the way you give presentations". I have been reading about (and practicing) excellent presentation skills at Presentationzen.com for over ten years now.

We finally caught up to the masters of the presentation universe. You can not read a self help website without the obligatory post about presenting like Steve Jobs or with a TED reference about telling a story from the heart and using big pictures. There you have it. That's all it takes to make a great presentation ... right?


Oh, I forgot the quote about Carnegy Hall: practice, practice, practice! Can we now stop using Powerpoint bulleted slides and skip all the books and blogposts on this?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Stevens Creek County Park

After a mothers' day crepe breakfast with mimosas, we needed to reclaim our waist line. We picked a new park to hike this Sunday morning: Stevens Creek County Park. It was listed as Easy and wraps in the shade, around the Stevens Creek reservoir, which this early in May was already very low. The California drought will be extreme this summer. Here are a few pictures from our outing.






Tuesday, April 29, 2014

8.8.8.8

We're hiring! We're hiring engineers in the US and in our development center in Granada, Spain. This means we are reviewing lots of resumes and doing initial phone screens. One of the simple phone screen questions I love to ask is related to debugging a DNS problem (except folks don't know yet there is a problem with DNS). There is really no single correct answer. There is one really poor answer: giving up. In the process of debugging the problem, candidates often come to "ping a public IP address somewhere". I ask them to give me specifically which IP address they know is up and running.  I've been amazed by how many folks in Spain know of Google's public DNS service and know it's IP address by heart: 8.8.8.8.


The most recent XKCD comic illustrated the point about the importance of the 8.8.8.8 DNS server. Phone screen question busted.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fresno, a city stuck in the early nineties

I fully expected to see a newspaper with Reagan or Gorbachev on the cover as I wandered around downtown Fresno. Fresno feels like it got stuck in the early nineties. This weekend was my second time in Fresno and the first time in down town.


My first time in Fresno was over 10 years ago when an electronic music dance festival was moved in extremis from San Francisco to Fresno as it ran amuck with some Kafkaesk San Franciscan laws. Thousands of ravers hopped in their cars and made the trip three hours into the central valley to listen to Oakenfold, Sasha and Digweed. I remember we arrived at night at some large halls used typically for
agricultural purposes. After dancing the night away we drove back in the early morning. We did not see anything of the city of Fresno.

This weekend was different. While Fresno is normally a city on our road to the Sierras, it was our destination this time as we headed to the California State Taekwondo Championships. The poomsae and scrimmage competition among over 1600 competitors from both Northern and Southern California was held at the Fresno convention center.


I was told that many sport competitions meet in Fresno as neutral ground between the hippies and the barbies. A quick look at the convention center calendar of events shows this complex must be a major source of income for the city as lots of different type of events meet up here.

A taekwondo competition requires lots of patience. You typically spend an entire day in an arena until your favorite taekwondo athlete performs a 1-minute poomsae and fights one up to three competitors in a 3-minute sparring match. It is a great opportunity to read a book, surf the internet (connection permitting), read snail mail or fill in summer camp registration forms.

At lunch time I headed into downtown for what I was hoping would be fantastic Mexican tacos. This is the central valley after all, I figured. Anything must be better than the hot dogs and quesadillas served in the Selland sport arena. Unfortunately after walking quite a few blocks I had to settle for Subway. Not because it was the only thing I liked, but because it was the only thing around.


I walked from the convention center on M street a few blocks East and headed then to the train station. There is a Basque bakery plant (with no store) and a bar for those waiting for the train. I was offered nearby a cheap deal on San Francisco Giants gear out of a large bag, as well as 14 karat golden neckless. I thanked them, and explained I was merely looking for tacos.

This city feels like its last refurbish was ordered by Ronald Reagan and then never touched again. The city center is dead. There are no shops, no restaurants, only one Starbucks and sadly no juicy tacos al
pastor.


Downtown on a Saturday noon also feels straight out of a Dirty Harry movie. It is hot and pavement looks washed out. There is nobody around. Nobody! All the laborers of the hard working Central Valley must be resting. This is after all as the Fresno brochure calls out, the agricultural capital of the world.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tour of Flanders Prediction

Here we are. Exactly one week before we know who is the new ruler of Flanders, the tour of Flanders.

 

Rather than writing how great or boring a race was, here's my prediction for "De Ronde Van Vlaanderen". In this year's classic races we've seen a little bit of everything. The big guns are ready: Sagan, Cancellara, Boonen, Vanmarcke, Van Avermaet. Their lieutenants are in form as well: Terpstra, Stybar, Devolder to name a few. However, one guy sticks out above them. He is the clear favorite: Fabian Cancellara.


"He's too strong. He's just too strong", Wilfried Peeters stated in 2011 when Fabian took off with more than 60 kilometers to go. Ultimately he did not win that year due to lack of food and fluids, a mistake he won't make twice. He was also very strong in 2012, but unfortunately had to abandon the race with a broken collarbone. And of course, he won in 2013.

How could he be beaten? Barring any crashes or mechanical defects, there are few scenarios in which other mice can steal the cheese.

  1. When the race is decided in a sprint with Sagan and Boonen. This is an unlikely scenario as I doubt either of them will be able to stay with Cancellara when he turns on his turbo on the climbs. 
  2. When Devolder is able to break away and stay in front, ahead of Cancellara. Devolder has won de ronde already twice and definitely can win it again. It will be a very difficult decision for the Trek team to allow Cancellara go after his team mate.

Update: While I believe Cancellara has the best chances, I am rooting for Boonen, and Van Marcke.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The majestic E3 Harelbeke classic

Today's E3 Harelbeke race was truly Belgian classic worthy. The new race layout makes this the little brother of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen (next week). Thus far the classic and semi classic season has been pleasant, but nothing like today's race. Omloop het Nieuwsblad lacked the big battle throughout. Brussel-Kuurne-Brussel at least had a big name winner, Tom Boonen. Strade Bianche provides for wonderful scenery, but lacked drama and mano-a-mano battle among the big guns, except at the very end in the streets of Siena.

The last 80 kilometers of the E3 Harelbeke classic provided a little bit of everything. The crashes on the small windy roads provided the initial drama. The race broke open right before the Paterberg. You had a bunch of big guns attacking in the front, while Cancellera was fighting his way back in the background, racing from group to group to rejoin the front. Boonen, Van Marcke and Van Avermaet only showed up from time to time in the second row. As the final four were racing to the finish line, Terpstra and Vanderbergh kept making it hard on Sagan with continuous attacks. Wonderful to watch. And at the end, Peter Sagan was the great winner.


If this is a precursor to next weekend, it will be fun.