Monday, March 27, 2006

Southeast Portland Real Estate

Today I went with my brother and his realtor to look at houses in Southeast Portland. We looked all over at places that were in the mid-200's. You get a lot more for your money out here than what you could get in Southern California of course, but I didn't see anything I would have been willing to live in for $250K. The Eastmoreland and Sellwood areas were the nicest as they were a little more immersed in the forrest and were not too far from streets with antique shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants. Sellwood in particular seemed to have a close knit neighborhood feel and also active residents that have banded together to prevent Walmart from opening a store in the area.

I think that if I was going to move here, I would be happier in the Hawthorne District. The homes there are mostly craftsman style and are within walking distance from Hawthorne Blvd and Belmont Street which have many shops, cafes, bars, etc. From Hawthorne, you can easily get to downtown Portland via a bike or the TriMet 14 bus. Tomorrow we're going to meet with the realtor again to visit homes in this area costing between $350 and $45oK.

Other things we did today: Walked across the Willamette River on the Burnside Bridge to the Saturday Market. Happy Hour at the Portland City Grill which had cheap food and great views.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

UCLA vs Memphis at the City

We watched the UCLA game at a bar called The City in downtown Portland. They had big TV screens all over the place, so it was a great place to watch it. I thought that the crowd would be cheering for Memphis since Portland people are known for not thinking too highly of California, especially southern California. Instead, there were a few rooting for UCLA, with most people not rooting at all. That's probably because the game was downright ugly. Both teams sucked on offense. I could not believe how many baskets each team missed. You can find the game stats here. The final score of 50 to 45 was the lowest scoring NCAA regional final game since they introduced the shot clock in 1986!

After the game we hung out at Powell's Books, one of my all-time favorite book stores. Then we came home, relaxed and went out for some late night Ethiopian food at Jarra's in the Hawthorne District.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bus Stops on Santa Monica and Bundy

Everyday, I take the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus #14 north on Centinela Ave and Bundy Dr. and transfer to a bus going west on Santa Monica Blvd. The #14 bus lets off its passangers on the northeast corner and until this last Sunday, I could pick up Big Blue Bus #1 on the northeast corner or, since I have an EZ Transit Pass, I could also take either the MTA 4 or 304 which picks up on the northwest corner. Since Bundy Dr. is pretty wide, it was a pain to look out for which bus was coming first and then run to the appropriate corner in time to catch it. I complained about this at one of the recent Big Blue Bus community meetings. I asked if they could arrange it so that both bus lines pick up on the same corner so that riders don't have to bother trying to stand at the right one to catch the next bus. This might not sound like such a hassle, but believe me, if you tried it you would understand.

I don't know if they listened to me or not, but on Monday I learned that they made the change! Now the Big Blue Bus #1, MTA #3, and MTA #304 all stop on the northeast corner. It is so much easier to catch the next bus down Santa Monica Blvd. Life is good - bus life that is. Thank you Big Blue Bus!

Monday, March 20, 2006

First Hit on Where's George

Over a year ago I got interested in the web site Where's George which tracks the travel of US paper money. Basically, you enter the serial number of one of your $1, $5, $10 or $20 bills and then optionally write the URL of Where's George on the bill. Hopefully someone that gets the bill will see the note on Where's George, go to the web site, and log that they found the bill. I must have entered about 20 bills into the site, hoping to see where my bills wind up.

I didn't receive any notifications until 3 days ago. It turns out that one of my $20 bills has been found and logged. Guess where it wound up after over a year? Santa Monica, CA - about 4 miles away! Not very far, huh. Here is the log for that $20.

The Where's George idea kind of reminds me of a children's show I saw in grade school in which a child receives a $1 bill from his dad and spends it on candy or something. Then the show follows the path of the bill to various people. It changes hands throughout the day until the evening when it happens to land right back in the hands of the child. I think there was a mark of some kind on the bill, so the child realized that he received his same bill again. Anyway, I'm not sure what the point of the show was. It probably was trying to expose children to the different jobs and activities that people engage in every day in a typical American town.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Los Angeles Bike Tour #4

This morning, we got up at 4 AM to ride our 4th consecutive annual Los Angeles Bike Tour. The tour is supposedly the most popular bike event in the world. It starts on the USC campus at 6 AM and follows the same path as the LA Marathon which starts at 8 AM. It is a chance for thousands of cyclists in LA to ride together on the street for over 20 miles with absolutely no cars.

I went with my wife and two friends from work. We were all able to last the whole ride despite not having trained at all. The route which reaches as far west as La Cienega is mostly flat, so almost anyone can do it. In fact, people of all ages ride it.

Usually at the starting line, they blast the song I Love LA from the loudspeakers while a woman addresses the bikers saying things like Good morning LA! Isn't it a beautiful day today? What a great morning to be in Los Angeles! It always chokes me up a little because there are few events where thousands of people in our city come together. This year, though, they played different music - I don't know what it was - and the same woman was there, but she wasn't speaking to the cyclists. Bummer. A change that I did like this year was that as we passed Leimert Park and turned onto Crenshaw Blvd, they were blasting some upbeat big band jazz.

After the ride, we went to a another co-worker's house for a special treat. He and his wife cooked us a delicious lunch of authentic South Indian food. Very spicy. Good stuff.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

UCLA vs Alabama in a Westwood Bar

We went to Westwood this evening to watch UCLA (2) vs. Alabama (10) in the 2nd round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. We thought it would be fun to watch in a bar with other UCLA students, so we went to the Westwood Brewing Company.

It wasn't nearly as crowded at I thought it would be and they had a lot of TV's, but none of them as big as I would have wanted. There were a few tables of students and a few of alumni. Despite the small number of people, it was still fun to cheer along with the other Bruin fans.

The game was a nail-biter as UCLA maintained a small 2-6 point lead almost the entire game. This page from depicts this well. The game was tied at the half and Alabama got within 2 many times in the 2nd half. The game came down to the last minute when Alabama missed a 3 that would have won them the game. The final score was 62-59. I was happy to see the Bruins make the Sweet 16 where they'll face Gonzaga next week in Oakland, CA.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Hotcakes Bakes Opens

On my way to the bus stop each weekday morning last year, I was able to grab coffee and a muffin at the Westside Village Bakery on the west side of Centinela Ave just south of Washington Blvd. I was really bummed when I found out that it closed in late December of last year. It stayed empty for a while and finally, about a week ago, another bakery opened up in its place.

The new bakery is called Hotcakes Bakes and serves French and American food. It is owned and operated by two young women: one named Katrina that lives nearby, and the other a chef from Paris whose name escapes me. Both of them are very nice and seem excited about their new business. I am excited too because I have a place to get coffee and a small breakfast again on the way to work. So far, I've been ordering croissants or brioches.

Hotcakes Bakes is a little pricier than Westside Village Bakery when it comes to getting coffee and a light breakfast. Westside Village Bakery had what they called a commuter special where you get a large coffee and a muffin for $2.00. To get coffee and a brioche at Hotcakes Bakes, I have to fork out up to $5.00. It is a little cheaper for a croissant. Having to pay 150% more compared to Westside's commuter special, will probably make me go there less often than I used to. I hope that they come up with some kind of special like Westside Village Bakery had and that they add something a little healthier to eat than croissants and brioches.

I wish Hotcakes Bakes the best of luck. I'm going to try to promote them within my neighborhood in hopes of helping them stay in business.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Track Shared Expenses With BillMonk

I was simultaneously thrilled and emotionally crushed to find out about the web site this morning. For years, I have wanted to build a web site that lets friends or roommates track expenses that they share. I have been thinking about it ever since I went on a trip to Hawaii with a group of people in 1994. Each of us would take turns paying for things on the trip. We wrote down each transaction and at the end of the trip, I had to figure out how we could pay each other back with the least number of payments.

Since then, I have worked on some software algorithms that determine just that. In the past few months, I designed a database schema and wrote a middle tier in Java to support a web site that would let anyone keep track of such shared explenses. I was just about to start working on the user interface when a co-worker of mine told me about BillMonk, which just launched in Jan 2006.

BillMonk turns out to be an awesome implementation of the same web site I was trying to build. They even made it possible to interact with their application via cell phones - something I was planning to do eventually. Their user interface is clean and simple and they do a good job of communicating the purpose of the site to new users. Reading about their company, which is only 2 people, I saw that they built the site using open source technologies like Ruby on Rails, PostgreSQL, and Linux. I was planning on using many open source frameworks as well, except that I was going to use Java rather than Ruby.

Seeing that some other people built almost the same exact web site that I was going to build and did a great job at it really took the wind out of my sails. I was kind of sad today, as I thought that I was going to build something new and cool that hasn't been done before. Oh well. I'm going to start looking for some other project to work on and sign up for BillMonk.

Monday, March 13, 2006

New Adventures of Old Christine

We watched the series premier of The New Adventures of Old Chistine tonight. CBS describes the new show:
Emmy Award winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Seinfeld") stars in THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE, a comedy about a single mother and owner of a "30-minute workout gym" who is the portrait of the new American mom, albeit with some unflinchingly candid points of view. For her, every day is an adventure, but life is made easier due to the fantastic relationship she shares with her ex-husband. However, everything changes when her ex's new, younger girlfriend enters the picture, instantly complicating her life.
The setting of the show is Los Angeles, and it is particularly funny to me when they mention specific places like the Ralph's on Pico or the Whole Foods on Fairfax. And best of all, Louis-Dryfus's character lives in Mar Vista! That's adjacent to my neighborhood, Del Rey. I don't think I've ever heard the area Mar Vista mentioned in a TV show until now. I hope there are some scenes that highlight real places in Mar Vista, Del Rey, or Culver City like B&B Hardware or The Outdoor Grill. I thought it was pretty funny show. I'll probably watch it again.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

United Kingdom Confusion

This morning, my mother-in-law told us how she just recently learned that Scotland is not a country, but is part of the country Great Britain. I told her that I was surprised too when I learned this a few years ago.

In my previous job, I had the opportunity to spend time in Nottingham and London in England and Edinburgh in Scotland. While I was there, I told people that I didn't understand the difference between the United Kingdom and Great Britain and how they were related to England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. I always thought that England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland were their own countries. They were probably thinking: typical American :)

Now I know that the United Kingdom is its own country composed of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and Ireland is its own separate country. Great Britain is an island consisting of everything in the United Kingdom except for Northern Ireland. The U.K. is actually short for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Wikipedia, as usual, explains each of these areas:

United Kingdom
Great Britain
Northern Ireland

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

IQ Test Calls Me a Facts Curator

My mother sent me a link to take a 40-question online IQ test and I went ahead and took it. The questions were pretty fun. Most of them were easy, but a few made me think pretty hard.

My score was 136 and the web site described me as follows:
Your Intellectual Type is Facts Curator. This means you are highly intelligent and have picked up an impressive and unique collection of facts and figures over the years. You've got a remarkable vocabulary and exceptional math skills - which puts you in the same class as brainiacs like Bill Gates. And that's just some of what we know about you from your test results.
If you want to take the same test I took, click here. Leave me a comment with your score if you're not shy.

Warning: At the end of the test, the web site asks you to give some personal information like name, zip code, gender, etc. You can make it all up of course if you're worried about privacy. If you want a more detailed report, you have to pay. I guess this is how this web site makes its money. Fair enough.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Natalie Portman Gangsta Rap

On the most recent Saturday Night Live, Natalie Portman hosted and appeared in one of those SNL Digital Shorts that was similar to the Chronic of Narnia rap that I loved so much and wrote about last December.

I don't think it was quite as good as the Chronic of Narnia short, but still very enjoyable. The humor results from seeing Natalie, who is usually polite and demure, behave and swear like a gangsta rapper.

If you haven't seen it yet, you can watch it online here. Hurry, though, because it has already been taken off for copyright infringement.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Zillow Zestimating

Have you seen the relatively new web site It is a pretty neat marriage of Google Maps-style satellite imagery with real estate home valuations. You can enter anyone's address and instantly see an aerial view of their neighborhood with estimated home values above each house. For any property, you can drill down and see specific information such as the previously assessed value and past sale prices.

You can also see graphs of a home's value compared with the values of other homes in the same zip code. It is a good way to get a feel for the market fluctuations. An article in today's LA Times said, however, that you can't always trust the data on this web site. Nevertheless, it is fun to browse through neighborhoods and see how the prices vary from block to block.

It would be cool if Zillow added a view that was kind of like a topographic elevation map, but for home values - the kind where lines that are closer together indicate areas of higher value.

Try it for you, your friends, co-workers, relatives, etc. It is interesting to see what people paid and what their homes are worth now.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

XWiki Up And Running

I have been wanting to setup my own personal Wiki for a long time now. This weekend, I finally did it. I have had my own server leased from I got the server just so I'd have a playground on which I could experiment with different software and programming projects. For only $30/month, I get a dedicated machine, my choice of operating system (they have just about every major Linux distro), and root access. I chose Gentoo Linux.

I have been reading about open source Wikis, trying to find one that is full-featured, easy to setup, and preferably written in Java. I decided to try out XWiki. I love the Enterprise Wiki Confluence, but it isn't open source, so I decided not to use it even though they have a Personal Edition which lets you run it for free with a maximum of 2 users. I want to be able to find and fix bugs, and even contribute patches and new features, so an open source Wiki was important to me.

Anyway, last week I installed my favorite database, PostgreSQL. This weekend, I installed Tomcat, got the XWiki sample database loaded into PostgreSQL, and got the XWiki webapp up and running. I am excited to start learning how to use it. I expect to use it to keep track of things like gifts I want from people, gifts I want to give to people, notes on how I have installed things around the house, notes on software, etc. I don't plan to let the public view it. It is just for me and my wife.

A few things left to do: Setup a connector from Apache to Tomcat so I don't have to run XWiki on port 8080. Customize the XWiki skin so I have my own look and feel. Learn how to export the data so I can make backups. Learn how to setup the XWiki project from Subversion so I can study the code, keep track of changes, and eventually contribute something.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Red Jazz is a Breath of Fresh Air

If you like jazz music and you don't live in a city like New York where you can hear creative jazz people every night, you will probably really like Red Jazz.

This podcast and streaming radio program plays current music from many of today's younger jazz musicians, like Mark and Alan Ferber, who are friends of mine from college. The D.J., Corey James, tends to play recordings of artists that magazines like Downbeat would refer to as TDWR (Talent Deserving Wider Recognition).

The web site says that the program focuses on Los Angeles musicians, but I've found that not to be the case. A lot of the musicians are based in New York and in Europe. Give it a listen. I think you'll like it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cow and Whitespace

Here are some funny and interesting programming languages to explore:

"Given that cows have somewhat limited vocabulary skills, it seemed natural to incorporate only the words they know into the language. As a result, all instructions are some variation on "moo" which just so happens to be the only word they really understand."

Sample COW program:
" Most modern programming languages do not consider white space characters (spaces, tabs and newlines) syntax, ignoring them, as if they weren't there. We consider this to be a gross injustice to these perfectly friendly members of the character set. Should they be ignored, just because they are invisible? Whitespace is a language that seeks to redress the balance. Any non whitespace characters are ignored; only spaces, tabs and newlines are considered syntax."

Sample Whitespace program: