Thursday, February 28, 2008


For a few years now, off and on, Amy and I have been looking to invest in real estate. We actually signed a contract for a 4-plex a few years ago, and the very next day I got laid off from my job when StorePerform decided to ship all of their software development to India, and then we all moved to China for a while, so that deal fell through. (By the way, StorePerform is now bringing development back to the US. Ha ha!) Recently we made 2 offers on a duplex in Lakewood and the seller finally accepted our offer. With a little luck, we'll be able to lock in a decent mortgage rate and we'll be landlords in about a month.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Geek in training

I mean that in the nicest possible way. After all, I'm a geek myself! Andrew seems to have a gift for - or perhaps an obsession with - arithmetic. Almost every day, while in the midst of other activities like playing or eating, he'll start quoting arithmetic equations. "3 plus 3 plus 3 is nine", he'll say, followed by "1 plus 2 plus 3 plus for is .... 10!". At his preschool, he's writing a "math book", which consists of handwritten pages of math facts - mostly addition, I think. At home last night, our next door neighbor came over to play with him, and instead of playing with her he spent his time writing his own home version of the math book. At one point, he said, in a most serious tone of voice, "I love writing math books".

Let's hope this lands him a really good scholarship one day!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mr. Mom's potty training

Amy and I decided to potty train Elizabeth. She's only 21 months old, but when she joined our family at 11 months old, she was already trained pretty well. In China, starting at just a few months old, they put children on the toilet at regular intervals and leave them there until they pee. When they start going, the adults whistle, and the Pavlovian effect takes hold. Pretty soon, they can set the kids on the pot, whistle, and viola - potty time!

We made Andrew go cold turkey (no more diapers - period) when he was 2 and a half years old. Over a 3-day weekend, he learned quickly that he didn't like being soaked in urine. We started the same technique on Elizabeth 2 days ago (except for overnight - she still needs a diaper then), with mixed results. To top it all off, Amy took off with some girlfriends for the weekend and left me in charge of potty patrol. Liz makes it to the toilet about half the time, but in a single 1-hour period this afternoon, I had to clean up 3 accidents - meaning 3 changes of clothes for Elizabeth, and me too.

C'est la vie!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Andrew the author

Andrew is quickly learning to write letters and words. The other day, entirely of his own initiative, he wrote the following on a piece of paper:

Ole Andrew can rit on the papr
Translation: Only Andrew can write on the paper

He's written several short letters recently - one to Santa, a few others to friends - but in those cases, mom or dad wrote the words first for him, and then he copied them down. In this case, he did it entirely on his own.

Thailand and Cambodia (May 19, 2002)

This is another installment in the series: 'Round the World Revisited. I sent this email from Thailand on May 19, 2002 during our 6 month journey around the world.

Hello, everyone. Here's our latest installment from

Bangkok - our first experience in Asia. We call it
"organized chaos". Lots of people say they don't like
it because it's too crazy, but that's exactly why we
DO like it! You never know what you're going to see
when you turn the corner. It might be a beautiful old
temple, a modern skyscraper, a shabby market selling
mystery foods, a horrible pile of rubbish, or dozens
of shops selling huge Buddha statues. Whatever it is,
though, there's sure to be tons of dogs roaming the
street and through the shops (remember to watch your

Some observations on Thailand:

Food: Excellent! It's rare to find bad food here. Much
of it is nice and spicy, just how I like it. And
cheap, too. Coconut curry, Thai salad (Yam), and Pad
Thai are some of our favorites. It seems to be safe to
eat from dubious looking street vendors. At least, we
haven't had any problems yet. And there's food
everywhere. The most common Thai "restaurant" is a few
folding tables and chairs on a sidewalk, with a single
wok and surprisingly varied menu. At some places, we
saw carts selling roasted beetles, worms, crickets,
and even scorpions. It does a body good!

Transportation: roads are good, and Bangkok has modern
trains, good buses, and tons of taxis. They still
manually control the lights at many big intersections,
though. Public buses are cheap and reliable but
private ones (run by dubious tour companies) are often
delayed or broken down, and they stop way too often --
so the driver can collect a commision for bringing
tourists to a restaurant.

Plumbing: One thing they definitely have not mastered
is plumbing. They can't seem to connect two pipes
together, and often times our sink drains onto the
bathroom floor, sharing a floor drain with the shower.
In the (cheap) places we stay, we typically get a
sit-down toilet with a bucket to use for flushing. The
locals, though, normally have squat toilets.

Religion: Buddhism is prevalent. It's not quite what I
expected, though. Too superstitious. Every cab and bus
has a mini shrine hanging from the mirror or sitting
on the dash, and boats have ribbons made by monks
wrapped around their bows; this is to bring good luck.
(With the crazy way people drive here, they need it. )
Every shop and home has a spirit house (a small
shrine, usually on a pedestal) in which the spirits
live. Monks in their orange robes are omnipresent,
although talking on mobile phones and smoking call
into question their austerity. Apparently, one can be
ordained as a monk for as little as a week, then go
back to a normal life and add the honor to one's res

Language: Thai is a tough language for westerners.
Every syllable is spoken with one of 5 different tones
(low, medium, high, rising, or falling) and the
meaning of a word depends on its tone. Thus "Mai mai
mai mai mai" (with the correct tones) means "New wood
doesn't burn, does it?" Be careful how you say "thank
you" (khap kuhn khrap) or it may turn out to mean
something like "your mother was a hamster."

Massage: for about $4 per hour, you can get a great
massage here. The style they use is a mix between
"normal" massage, chiropractic, and accupressure.

Leeches: that's right -- worms that sink their teeth
into you and suck your blood. Really nasty buggers,
but apparently not really a danger. They seem to
prefer the taste of "farang" (westerners) over the
locals. Really creepy to find one squirming on your
body and chowing down when you didn't even feel it.

Here's how we've been spending our time. After a few
days in Bangkok, we travelled south to the islands.
First on the west coast, we stopped in Krabi and
visited Wat Tam Seur, an amazing monastery and temple.
We climbed 1200 steps to a shrine perched on top of a
sheer vertical cliff.

Next stop Ko Lanta (Ko means island), where we went
diving at an absolutely beautiful site, Ko Ha. 80 feet
of visibility, great corals, and 4 octupus changing
colors before our eyes. Then we took a small boat to
the small island of Ko Hai, which is relatively
undiscovered with only 3 small resorts on a beautiful
beach with a great view of 3 huge limestone pinnacles
facing the island. From here we took a day trip to
Emerald cave, where we swam through a cave and emerged
on the other end inside a hidden lagoon surrounded on
all sides by vertical cliffs several hundred feet

We did an overnight tour of Phang Nga bay, which is
amazingly beautiful. It's filled with hundreds of tall
pinnacles rising up to a thousand feet straight out of
the bay. We spent the night at a muslim fishing
village built on "stilts" rising out of the bay next
to a small island. Out of 250 buildings, only 2 are on

Before crossing the peninsula, we stopped for a few
days in Khao Sok national park, which is a thickly
forested area dominated by a large reservoir. This is
where we had our encounter with leeches. Other than
that, it was a really nice example of Asian jungle,
complete with bamboo, monkeys, and hornbills.

Now in the Gulf of Thailand, we spent several days on
Ko Tau, a nice little island with lots of good (and
cheap) diving.

After a short stopover in Bangkok, we travelled to
Angkor in Cambodia. This is the famous site of 8th to
14th century Khmer ruins. Getting there was a fiasco
in which we spent 14 hours travelling about 250 miles.
We spent 5 hours with 7 other people in the back of a
pickup truck on a terrible pot-holed, dusty road from
the Cambodia border to Siem Reap (the town near the
ruins). This is the Cambodian version of a bus. We
were supposed to be in a real bus, but our bus
supposedly was broken down (it was a scam all along --
there was no bus).

Despite all that, the pickup afforded a great view of
the Cambodian countryside and villages, which are
definitely third world. We saw men plowing their
fields with buffalo power, huge carts the size of a
U-haul being pushed by a dozen men, begging children
galore, whole families on a single moped, etc. So how
do you transport live pigs in Cambodia? Answer: tie it
upside down on a plank and strap it to the back of
your moped (legs kicking in the air). If you have
multiple pigs? Stuff 2 or 3 of them into a little
wicker cage and strap that to your moped.

Angkor is truly amazing -- words can't do it justice.
I would highly recommend it to anyone. It is the ruins
of an advanced civilization which build huge Hindu and
Buddhist stone temples with the finest artwork
imaginable. The largest and most famous temple, Angkor
Wat, is surrounded by a 600 foot wide moat. It's outer
wall is over 3 miles in perimeter, and it stands about
300 feet tall. Almost every square inch of stone is
covered in the highest quality carvings depicting
battles, Hindu epics, and everyday life. It's terrible
to think how wars have reduced this civilization to
such a primitive state.

That's all for now. Next up is northern Thailand and a
week or two in Laos. Hope everyone is doing well back

Brad and Amy

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Amy and I just attended the Democratic caucus for our precinct. Four years ago, 12 people showed up for our precinct. This year, we had 74, and we had to park a half mile from the caucus site (Alameda High School) where about 30 different precincts caucused. Our precinct supported Obama over Clinton by more than a 2 to 1 margin. We don't know yet what the state-wide results are.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Van Halen

I spent Friday night at the Van Halen concert at Pepsi Center with some friends from high school & college - Dominic, Bryan and Steve.

The review
It was a damn good rock 'n' roll show. Depite the various shortcomings which I mention below, it was a great nostalgic blast for the fans of the original VH. There were only 2 hints of the Hagar era: a few guitar solo riffs lifted from 316 and the "5150" tattoo on Eddie's shirtless back. These guys still know how to entertain a crowd even if their stage show doesn't exhibit the manic excess it did back in the day.

The crowd
Ten seconds into the opening song, You Really Got Me, a drunk guy directly behind us took a dive into my buddy Bryan, causing a domino-like chain reaction of people falling and beer spilling. In the process he got his foot stuck in my seat (the kind with the seat bottom that flips up) and spent the next two minutes struggling to yank it out. After that he kept his drunk ass snugly in his own seat until he disappeared about half way through the show. The average age in the arena was about 35-40 years old, but there were a surprising number of teenagers, many of them with their parents. I'd say 75% of the fans were male; it was a definite sausage party.

The set list
The song list was the same as every other show on the tour, which is fine. The played all the hits and dug deep for some surprises like "Little Dreamer" and "Romeo Delight". Every album from the Roth era was represented, with the first album dominating. The true fans were not disappointed. The capped it off with an encore of 1984 and Jump. I was disappointed, just like the last 2 times I saw the band with Hagar, that nobody played keyboards (unless you count the sound stage guy). For "I'll Wait", "Jump" and "And the Cradle Will Rock", keyboard music appeared from the ether while Eddie stood there pretending to play guitar until it was time for the guitar solo.

The sound quality
In a word: disappointing. I don't think acoustics are a strong point at the Pepsi center. "The Can" is a more appropriate name for this place as a concert venue. The sounds were muffled and it was tough to hear the guitar through the din. It was loud, like you'd expect a VH concert to be, but it wasn't ear-splitting, AC/DC-circa-1990 volume I feared it might be. They didn't turn up the amps to 11 this time around, thankfully.

Diamond Dave still puts on a decent show for an over-the-hill rocker, but he certainly can't hold a tune - or a scream - like he used to. He also went into a silly rambling reminiscence of teenage party times for what seemed like 10 minutes, while strumming an acoustic guitar and eventually breaking into "Ice Cream Man".

Ed is skinny and was shirtless all night. He actually looked like he was having fun. His guitar solo was nothing new. It's the same incoherent mix of recycled riffs from Eruption, Little Guitars, Cathedral, Mean Street, and 316 that he's been doing for decades. As a guy behind us said during the solo, "write something new, Ed". Those are some damn impressive riffs, though. And amazing to see how effortless he makes it look.

Grandpa Alex is looking old these days, but he can still keep the beat. He still wears his signature karate-style headband. His drum solo was a furious few mintues of arms and legs pounding the skins and cymbals as fast as humanly possible, but with very little apparent rhythm. The huge gong behind the drum set was just begging to see some action, but sadly went untouched throughout not only the solo, but the entire show.

It's disappointing that Eddie tossed Michael Anthony aside like one his millions of cigarette butts. But I can't hold that against Eddie's son and competent new sidekick. The kid can play bass and sing backup with the best of 'em. Probably sings a lot better than Lee Roth these days. He could use some coaching on his stage presence, though. Not much going on there.