Wednesday, August 20, 2014

AirBnB

Here I'll post some notes about my experience with Airbnb. My first foray into the "share" economy. Not sure about that really, as ebay, Craigslist and a number of other well established sites are all about putting individuals in touch with each other to do commerce. But there's a new round of discussion about these sites, thanks to the rise of Uber, Sidecar, Freelancer, and so on. Given that we've now used the Airbnb service in 4 locations, I'm getting a feel for it.
 
First off, let me dispel the notion that Airbnb is an inexpensive way to go. Not in my travels. These are apartments that have been purchased (or moved out of) for the exact purpose of hiring out as many nights as possible. Sure, it may have started as a way to make a dollar off that extra room in somebody's apartment, but that isn't what it's becoming. It's a business, and not one you have to become a hotelier to enter.
 
As in everything, you get what you pay for. I need to sleep 4. A kitchen. A decent standard of cleanliness - though not perfect, more on this below. And the better the location, the higher the price tag. People aren't giving away their apartments for you to sleep in, and the owner knows well what that apartment is worth. Probably better than you do, if you're a traveler in an unfamiliar city.
 
That said I like what you get by staying in a private apartment. A kitchen, first of all, so you can avoid the crappy breakfast buffets that have become the bane of American hotel existence. Kids may like the idea of pouring their own waffles, eating them on a Styrofoam plate with goopy syrup squeezed out of a packet, but not me.
 
 

 
Other amenities such as TV, wifi, cable - you can pick out all that from the listing - and I have experienced good wifi and bad, just like at the hotels I've stayed in. Local knowledge is a plus, and I found if I had specific questions - best public transportation to take from the airport, for example - I could get informed, accurate help via email or a phone call in advance of arrival. Sometimes when you call a hotel, you wind up at a call center in Omaha and the person wouldn't know Bart transit from Bart Simpson.
 

How do you get in? Does the "host" wait for your arrival on the doorstep? Not hardly. Almost exclusively we found the properties made use of a lockbox to which you receive the code some time in advance of your stay.  
 
Upon a gate, under a stair, in a fork of wrought iron, beside a potted tulip, you will find something like this. Which works great, except when you're about to arrive, and you still haven't gotten the code.




This occasioned one urgent email saying "Call me! Won't be on the internet again before arrival." Really, people can take the whole smartphone, always on, instant communication thing a little too far. So we got the call shortly thereafter and it all worked out.
 
 
What's all that stuff in the fridge?
 
That's right, some owners tend to clean out between guests, and some don't. I personally am not looking for a perfectly spotless fridge or pantry when I arrive. I think it's great not to have to buy everything new for only a few days stay. Will I use somebody else's catsup? You bet. Or there Sri Racha sauce? Even better.
Especially welcome is coffee in the cupboard, spices, sugar, all those sorts of things. I guess I draw the line at half a deli container of potato salad. That probably oughta go in the trash. But to each his own. If you want to buy it all new, you can.
 
Along those lines a further comment about cleanliness. All the places we stayed were to a clean enough standard for this traveler. Airbnb includes a cleaning fee on each rental, and I'm sure many of the places had a service come in like clockwork on the day of departure. OTOH reading the reviews of places we stayed there were clearly dissenters, people who were disappointed, dismayed, ranting and raving and proving yet again that you can't please all the people all the time. Did they not know that San Francisco is an _old_ city? That those same endearing bay windows may not open? Or may not have double glazing, and on and on.
 
If you want to sleep like this:
 
 
 
you're probably better off in a hotel. Yeah, there may be a brand new or completely redone apartment on Airbnb, but I'd say be prepared for a little funky and you'll be a lot more satisfied.
 
And those four bottles of local craft beer in the fridge? I left 'em for ya.
 

 
 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Travels in the USA

What a country of great extremes, from the politics - Tea Partiers to liberal Democrats to the locales and people you meet along the way. The US has such opulence. Still. But there is also a decay around the edges that is unmistakable. Maybe it hits me in the face a bit more having been away. A lot of it is the kind of gradual thing that occurs over time - the weeds creep upward, the trash collects under the freeway overpass, the concrete crumbles.

The two gateway points to the Pacific are Los Angeles and San Francisco. I spent some time walking, and driving, around these two cities, on my last two visits. Instead of giving you a pic of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transamerica building, let's talk about what it really looks like. We flew into Oakland and caught transport to SF. The view out from the freeway, pretty much all the way to the bay bridge, was an eye-popping display of urban blight. The odd burned out building looms beside the freeway, windows are barred, fences high and barb wired.


I can't speak for the full extent of it, but this part of California is no yellow brick road through a field of daisies. To someone coming from a smaller, greener world, it's an assault upon the senses. One wonders if the locals notice it, see that nature, though not an attractive version of it, is taking the city back. In San Fran, I stayed mostly around Golden Gate Park, in the Richmond and Sunset districts. It's hard to believe that some of these shabby dwellings, without a patch of grass and in semi-disrepair, command prices in the neighborhood of $1.5M. Now that's real estate gone mad.

I picked that photo to make a point, but now I'll go for a random drop down into Google maps




This one pretty much sums up the balance. Nice pine trees. Interspersed with ever present tagging, chain fencing and a mix of scrub weed and brown, dying fauna. I know, it's a drought. Just walk through SF to Japantown. You'll know when you get there because suddenly the public spaces are well tended, even if it's zeroscape and rock garden.

And this mix of beauty and the beast pretty much follows on our drive up the coast. The fabulous redwood forests, so grand and ancient, give way to a small town where we spend the night, Garberville, CA. The local paper describes the current happening: citizens are gathering for a town meeting to discuss no access to law enforcement, and deteriorating sense of public safety. Folks don't feel secure, and they want the sheriff! One imagines reading similar headlines a hundred or more years ago. I believe this link is discussing the matter: Garberville petition

At dusk I walk to the local grocery to pick up dinner, glad that I've come alone. Clusters of people along the way, hanging out on the sidewalk or park areas. I am mostly not threatened by this scene, but I'm a 200 lb guy, and I can see where you could be.  One has the sense that a giant sequoia, a thousand years old already, has been around long before the area's current travails, and it may well be around long after. I promise in my next post to give a more upbeat account, as there was much to like on the trip, as well as to discuss AirBnB which we used to handle lodging during some of this trip.


Mariposa Grove, Yosemite



Saturday, May 03, 2014

Let's talk electricity pricing

No pictures of fluffy sheep and green hillsides today. I was reading a blog post by David Stockman on a topic that I have long been mulling over. And that is the good, the bad and the ugly of reported rates of inflation.

The good would be the amount of inflation that is considered desirable, widely assumed to be in the vicinity of 2%, the bad would be the numbers as reported by one of several official government organs, and bad because those numbers are open to all manner of manipulation and thus second-guessing, and the ugly, the actual rate of inflation as experienced by we the people.


The power grid

So Stockman begins with kwh of electricity and proceeds into a number of different areas if you'd like to see the full piece click here: Stockman on Low-flation.

It so happens that I have my very own database of this sort of information - because I keep such things around on the off chance I might one day need it :-)



  I have had the same electric company for 6 years now, and I dug back through the pile to the first bill in February of 2008: $17.70 per kwh. Then I compared that to the bill from Febrary of 2014: $25.615

The rest is just plugging in to an online calculator. In a CAGR calculator that's 6.35% (the UGLY) well higher than Stockman's calculated 4.5% for the decade from 2004-5.

As it turns out, it has been a steady march,
Feb 2008: 17.70
Jan 2009: 19.558
Jan 2010: 19.558
Jan 2011: 21.306
Jan 2013: 23.299
Jan 2014: 25.615

which shows how the frog boils in the water, because I hadn't pulled out and studied the numbers behind the amount owing, and who really has time to?

To take it a step further, the BLS has a nice inflation (official inflation, see BAD above).
http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

According to this cumulative inflation calculator, from Feb 2008 to Jan 2014 the official cumulative rate would be 10.50%. Indeed the BAD over at the BLS give you their official CPI inflation calculator which says $17.70 in 2008 would be $19.43 in 2014.

That's 19.43, at the official rate.
Not 25.615.

10.5% at the official cumulative rate over these 6 years.
Not 44.7%

Just one person's experience from out there in the real world that Stockman describes.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Three plums and an alien

Okay, there they are. The first and basically only plums we'll be getting from the four trees we planted 2 years ago. The plumcot tree grew one also, which blew off in a windstorm, and the italian prune plum (plum cake anyone?) has grown two, and we will fight the birds for them.
 
But these three, they are NICE.
 
 
 
Here they are again.

 
We won't be sharing with our resident alien.
 
 
 
 This purple puffnick from the street market is turning out to be one of the most useful and utilized Christmas prezzies of all. It just goes to show ...
So far he/she has 1. carried catsup and mustard to the dinner table 2. performed a variety of low gravity gymnastic tricks 3. administered discipline via karate chop to the head 4. stood at attention looking out the window at all hours.
What more could you ask for?
 
Maybe he/she DOES deserve a plum.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

All Whites trip

Last month me, Andrew, and dad decided that we wanted to go to Wellington to watch the New Zealand soccer team take on Mexico in a world cup qualifying match. We went with a couple of friends, Gavin and Jackson, for the day. I had to fly over in the afternoon because I had a school exam in the morning while dad and Andrew took the ferry in the morning. Luckily I knew a couple of people on the plane so I was able to get a ride with them in to town. At around 4 that day we all met up for some late lunch and then proceeded on to the game.


The All Whites were at a huge disadvantage having lost 5-1 in the opening fixture, but that didn't stop the NZ fans support. Thousands of people lined the streets in the procession to the stadium.


We got to the stadium pretty early to see the players warm up and the stadium was only a bit full when we got there, but by the kick off time it was packed.


New Zealand came out on attack but in the opening 30 minutes conceded 3 goals. The support was getting pretty silent, but the All Whites staged a little comeback at the end and scored two goals to the delight of the supporters. The final score was NZ 2 Mexico 4, but even though we lost it was a great trip and fun was had by all.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Raroa comes into Port Nelson, Labor Day 2013

It's Labor Day in NZ, and folks at the port were working hard. The rest of us got to wander down to the water's edge and spectate.

According to news reports this was the biggest ship ever to come in for a refit. I knew things were unusual when I woke up, checked out the window and saw one of the tugs shooting spectacular sprays from its firehoses - no pic sorry. This was all a bit of show, but it was enough to make us hop on our bikes and head down for a better look. This first one is the lead tug entering what is known locally as "the cut":

 

I am told that tug is here from Singapore, and you can see that our own tug, the little black and white fellow, looks like a toy beside it.


There is an equally large tug at the back, facing the other way, which perhaps gave the Boatshed and other restaurants at water's edge a bit more piece of mind should the wind kick up. You can see some tight navigation as the Raroa passes just above one of the principal channel markers.



She's in.



That red tug tucked in at the back came across from Wellington to help out. We like the sign on the back by helipad that says, No Smoking.



Yes the event brought out lots of folks. 


So this is what we got up to this morning. We've had high wind for a few days - glad it came right on the holiday.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Heat Sensors
Force Field
Underground Tunnels
Micro chipping
Red Line
Robot Guards
Software
Pop up fences


OK. What do all these have in common? Well... they are all possible solutions that Andrew's Future Problem Solving group has come up with in order to increase the safety of the current future scene they are working on, in which cars are driven by ADS (Automated Driving System) and all cars are made and governed by an international consortium managed by the U.N. Here this team worked on the problem of the system's difficulty in detecting small objects.

Underground tunnels, while perhaps excellent at keeping pedestrians out of the roadway, rated poorly in terms of cost/efficiency, environment and health effects. Lots of pent up exhaust fumes.

Red lines, Software, and heat sensors were the top rated solutions according to criteria chosen by the students. Red lines being the most cost effective but least aesthetically pleasing.  Software is a game-based solution designed to educate young children in road safety.

We have been having fun with this, and as Dean has been participating in FPS for several years now, he has been mentoring this younger team. More on the class blog here: http://gatebroadgreen.blogspot.co.nz/2013/06/future-problem-solving.html