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|Saturday, July 17th, 2010|
A couple of weeks back, I visited Jollibee for the first time; they've been popping up a little more around the bay area, but they've actually been here for some years. Last night, I went again, yum! I had no idea who they were before I went inside, but when I did, my first guess was actually correct -- they are a Filipino fast food chain, selling what Filipinos think Americans eat, who have now set up some stores in America (I had to read the menu items to get the Filipino bit, but it was obvious that they were American inspired South East Asian fast food from the pictures of the food and the decor of the store). It turns out they've been in existence in the Philippines since the 1970s, and have had a store in Daly City since 1998, and in San Jose for at least a few years, but they have been expanding recently, which is why I noticed them. And, one of their deserts contains my favorite fruit, jackfruit, unfortunately only a little of it though (I still prefer it fresh).
I think we need more restaurants with what Asians think Americans eat, it's often pretty tasty. Or even just the Asian menu items -- like the Samurai Pork Burger from Thai McDonalds. And the South East Asian version of Swensen's -- maybe if the US menu had been as good as theirs, it wouldn't have collapsed!
While I'm at it, I'd really like to see Chester's Grill open up over here. I'd even settle for a Nando's. Unfortunately I don't think either is particularly likely -- for now, El Pollo Loco seems like the best in the area of those two, but I think there's room for more spicy grilled chicken in the fast food market here which hopefully will be filled at some point in the future.
|Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009|
When you buy a house in the US, one of the required steps to get a mortgage is the "appraisal".
The "appraiser" is meant to locate a small number of comparable recent sales, apply adjustments for differences in property features and quality (such as more/less bathrooms, kitchen quality, condition, location and square footage), average the results and come up with a value for the property.
This is the value used in computing the loan-to-value ratio; if it comes in below sale price, the sale is likely to fall through (or the sale price may be renegotiated; appraisal is a contingency on the property transfer contract).
When I purchased my house, I was dealing with two potential lenders, so I asked each of them which appraisers would be acceptable to them, and then directly contacted the appraiser and once the appraisal was done, provided the report to both lenders. The report contained all the relevant calculations, and then gave a value which exactly matched the listing price of the property.
When I refinanced my loan, approximately a year after purchase (the interest rates had dropped quite a long way), the appraisal again included very precise calculations and pages of pictures and justification, and came to the conclusion that the value was exactly what I had paid for the property.
Now, I'm in the late stages of purchasing some vacant land. The appraisal was ordered by the bank, and the bank informed the appraiser of the pending purchase price. The value? Exactly the proposed purchase price.
This is not a science of exactly calculating property values. It is an art of manipulating numbers to match a desired outcome.
In the wake of the WaMu failure, there was talk about appraisers who had been giving artificially high values to properties, resulting in borrowers trapped in loans with properties they could not sell, or on better loan terms than they should be (since the loan to value ratio was artificially high; since US banks sell loans to underwriters, it is in their interest to manipulate the situation to make loans look more attractive than they really are). I was under the mistaken impression that the fall-out from this was that appraisers were to produce more accurate property appraisals. However, it seems that they continue to produce manipulated reports. In the case of the property I am in the process of purchasing, the realtor claims that the appraiser mentioned to him several times that the property was "great value" and had "amazing views" given the price.
|Sunday, August 23rd, 2009|
|Back on Facebook
Now that my dad is on Facebook, I've decided that it's time for me to rejoin it.
So, I'm back :) No app requests, please.
Nicole and I are now married. The wedding was amazing, Nicole did a fantastic job with all the planning. We are both so happy that so many of our friends and family could make it. Now we're sitting in the airport lounge waiting for our flight to Cancun.
|Wednesday, July 29th, 2009|
|Phil's Caddy; Helpful people in downtown San José
For those of you who don't know, my brother and family are visiting very soon for the wedding. My brother has bought a black 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood 75 Sedan (basically the same as the limousine model, but without the glass divider) to drive while he's over here and then decide what to do with (and to take back to Australia at some point in the future). It seats nine, or six with a *lot* of legroom.
It's actually quite impressive for its age - a 1970 car with climate control (set the temperature and forget), power seats, power windows and passenger controls for air conditioning and lighting, for example. And it's an extremely smooth car to drive, with comfortable seating - it's easy to see it was a "top of the line" car in its day.
If you're not interested in cars, you should probably skip the next section :)( An old car always comes with a few problems...Collapse )
Anyway, now onto the real topic of this post. The helpful and not so helpful people in downtown San Jose.
When the car first cut out, the first "not so helpful" people were the other drivers, who were completely unhappy to go around, even though the street was mostly empty and I had the hazard lights flashing.
The first helpful person was an african american, who saw that I was having car trouble, asked me if there was anything he could do to help, put down what he was carrying, and started asking other passers-by if they would help. All the passers-by in the next few minutes were either white or hispanic. The response of the passers-by was very consistently split across racial lines. The hispanics were all happy to help, and with their help the car ended up in a sensible resting place. All the whites had an excuse. "I have a bad back". "I'm disabled" (what?!). "I wouldn't be any help". You get the idea.
Once we had the car in a semi-reasonable position, the people who had originally helped me all went off to wherever they had been going to, and an older white couple came past - older people often admire this car, and these were no exception; they saw I was pushing it to get it into a proper marked parking spot (with steering difficulty, the best we'd been able to do was put it in a parking spot outside my place, facing the wrong way on a one-way street, rather than in the driveway). They asked if they could help, and I pushed the car into position and then got him to hold it while I went and applied the break, so it was neatly taking up one parking spot.
The next kind person was the parking inspector. I vaguely remember him as most likely the same parking inspector who insisted on writing me a ticket when I had gone into my house for five minutes to give something to Nicole, many months ago, and had left my SLK in the street without putting coins in the meter. But this time he was very understanding; he asked why I had a car the wrong way on the street in a spot with an expired meter, listened to my story, then told me to not bother paying the meter and put a note on the windshield for other parking inspectors to not ticket it, asking only that I get it into my driveway somehow by the end of the day.
Finally, some of my neighbors came past and asked if I wanted help pushing it into the driveway (since this post is partly commenting on how most of the kind and helpful people today were non-white, for completeness, these neighbors are hispanic). By this point I'd talked to Nicole's dad and was reasonably sure I'd be able to fix it quickly, so I declined, but they of course said that if I needed anything I should drop by. And not too much later, just after I'd got it running again, I was off to get something to help clean up, checked I had keys in my pocket, shut the door, and of course they were the wrong keys -- my house keys and the keys to the car were both still in the car. Neighbors to the rescue :-) ... they found a wire coat hanger and, with quite a bit more effort than would be required on most cars, we managed to get a door unlocked (one of those things you want to be a difficult exercise, and it was).
The bottom line: my experience today was quite disheartening if you look at it along racial lines, in that those of my own race were fairly consistently unwilling to help (with the exception of one older couple) with an issue of another, but those of the other races were all very willing to help. Unfortunately, I'm not at all surprised.
|Thursday, July 9th, 2009|
Now I have my I-94, we have considered our options, and we will be going on our originally planned honeymoon, with a one-day detour to Mérida to visit the US Consulate there (which will require hiring a car and driving along a single freeway for around 190 miles each way).
We have re-booked the same room at the same resort, for around $1000 less than the original price.
|Monday, July 6th, 2009|
Received in the mail today (delayed due to Independence Day long weekend, as I receive mail at the office): one form I-797A containing a replacement I-94 bottom half.
Receipt date: June 8, 2009
Notice date: June 29, 2009
That's pretty good for a form where the service center in question's website stated had a 2.5 month processing time.
It looks like USCIS are doing well with the expectation management here -- they tell me to expect 2.5 months, and it takes less than a month, so I'm more likely to be happy than to be thinking "but this piece of paper took [more than] three times as long to replace as my entire passport" (and cost more to replace than the entire passport).
|Saturday, June 20th, 2009|
I was 153lb this morning.
We went to La Fondue
I'm 160lb right now.
So worth it.
|Thursday, June 11th, 2009|
Thanks to our neighbors, we have a new fence
It is tall, solid, level and straight. Such a big change from the old one on that side of the property.
(For those who know my house: this is the fence on the south side of the house, against the empty 2-story Victorian, and by 'neighbors' I mean the people who own all property from my place to St John St, as well as the tower at 152 N 3rd St. They also plan to re-ashpalt all the ashpalt areas of their lots within the next week, which should make them look somewhat nicer.)
|Saturday, June 6th, 2009|
When I returned from Sydney, or shortly after, I somehow lost my passport.
Being a foreign worker in the US, this means I actually lost three things - my passport, my I-94 and my US Visa. I fortunately have a I-797A which establishes my employment status, but is not useful for re-entry into the US.
I went to the Australian Consulate in San Francisco to apply for a new passport. I applied on the 28th of May, they deposited my check the next day, and I received my new passport on the 4th of June. Waiting time -- less than a week. Replacement cost -- US$209 (including lost passport penalty fee).
The US documents -- the I-94 and visa -- will be much more difficult to replace.
The I-94 is the little piece of card from the bottom of the form you fill in when you enter the US, which gets torn off and stapled into your passport. It is nothing more than a piece of paper with a number stamped on it. Nowhere near as complex as an e-Passport. To replace it, you file a form I-102, provide as much documentation as you can, and pray. I've sent in the form and a check for the US$320 filing fee -- the check is yet to be cashed, and I haven't had any response. Apparently I shouldn't be surprised; the USCIS have released some information on their form processing time which suggests it should take around 3 months to process the form, and external parties claim a time closer to 6 months.
Of course, the situation for me is nowhere near as bad as it is for many. If this was my first entry into the US for employment purposes, I would be unable to get a social security number, be paid or get a drivers license, for several months (which is also possible through just filing for the social security number too soon after first arrival). However, I cannot leave the US until my I-94 is replaced, and that in turn will hold up replacing my visa. Which brings me to the honeymoon. We had planned to spend our honeymoon at a resort in Cancun, Mexico. Without an I-94 or visa, that is not an option, and I am trying to determine if we can safely visit Puerto Rico (the CBP site repeatedly says that US Citizens do not need a passport to travel to or return directly from Puerto Rico by air, but is completely unclear as to what non-citizens need). If not, we might end up delaying our honeymoon.
|Sunday, April 26th, 2009|
|Mixed luck continues at LAX
On the negative, my flight was delayed to 1am (from ~11pm).
On the positive, I was bumped to business class, and that gives me business class lounge access. (Normally I get regular AA Admirals Club lounge access due to the card I book on; the LAX Qantas Business Class lounge is definitely a step up from those lounges.)
I've never actually booked business class on an international flight, but I've flown it a number of times. This time I finally booked Premium Economy, so in terms of tiers it's not as much of an upgrade as the Economy to Business upgrades I used to get relatively often when boarding planes in Asia (which I attribute at least in part to height), but on such a long flight it is definitely appreciated - Skybed seat will mean there's a chance of me being awake in the office, even if having AC power for the laptop keeps me using it longer :-) It's the best I've had on a trans-pacific flight - my only previous upgrade on this route was on United, from Economy to Premium Economy.
|LAX airport - bus to bus
I had a nice flight down from SJC to LAX, on an ERJ140, partly due to the good luck I seem to have with airline seating. This time around, I was booked in an aisle seat near the back, which wouldn't have been great, but I was next to someone whose friend was in the exit row window. So, I ended up in the exit row window, with lots of legroom.
It was a very nice flight - I've had a lot of good experience with small jets (as opposed to turboprops, which have never been so great). On the way back, I'll be going from one extreme to another of jet sizes - connecting from an A380 to an ERJ140.
According to the staff at SJC, my flight was arriving at Terminal 4 and I would be departing Terminal 4.
In reality, my flight arrived at the American Eagle satellite terminal, where I took a shuttle bus to terminal 4, to wait for a shuttle bus (every half an hour) to TBIT, which is what I'm currently doing.
Somewhere around 5am on April 4th, 2009, our housemate woke us up and told us that there was a fire out the back of the house. Nicole called 911, found Midnite and we all got out of the house and got the car out of the driveway, and Nicole went and banged on the neighbor's door until they woke up.( Read more... (pictures, too)...Collapse )
I'm heading off to Sydney today (arriving Tuesday), and returning to the US on May 8th. Nothing currently planned except for work, so if you want to catch up, let me know (my email address is the same as always!).
|Monday, April 20th, 2009|
|Electric Chainsaws - The Green Way to Clearcut
I finally gave in and bought a chainsaw, as it was far too difficult to cut some major branches around 12 feet up by hand (previously, I'd always cut down trees by hand). However, I did choose an electric chainsaw. I have to wonder why they exist - much less convenient than a petrol chainsaw, they still need oil for the chain, and the total initial cost (including, say, a 100ft 12/3 extension cord, as they draw quite a bit of power) comes out somewhat higher than the traditional approach. Is it just for those who want to feel that there is something not quite so eco-terrorist about their tree removal or pruning?
|Tuesday, March 24th, 2009|
|Vacation - conclusion
The vacation is over. We didn't catch up with as many people as we'd hoped to, or as much as we'd hoped to, but otherwise, it was great.
The last half a week involved getting some things done online, introducing Nicole to more local restaurant options (including local variants of junk food), and building a computer for my parents, so we didn't go out so much.
Mar 17th: Dinner at Hog's Breath Cafe. Good steak. Dessert at the Northbridge Geláre. Good waffles.
Mar 18th: I'll update the post if I remember what we did Wednesday... I'm sure we did something :-)
Mar 19th: Went to MSY and bought the computer parts. Lunch at Hungry Jacks. Went down to Cottesloe Beach to take some pictures of Sculpture by the Sea, ran into Shay and Fe (third time running into Shay on the trip).
Mar 20th: Built the computer. Family dinner (Phil and Kate came over for a BBQ, but it rained, so we ate inside - I think this was the only rain on the trip).
Mar 21st: The last real day in Perth. Notified by Qantas that our SYD-SFO flight would be delayed by a couple of hours, but the later PER-SYD option would still be too late, so we still needed to be on a 5:45am flight out of Perth. Visited the old asylum in Fremantle and did some last minute shopping at the E-shed Markets.
Mar 22nd: The flight back. In Sydney, due to the flight delay, we grabbed a cab to Circular Quay and I gave Nicole a very brief tour: 'look, a bridge' (Sydney Harbor Bridge). 'look, a silly white building' (Opera House). 'look, some old stuff' (The Rocks). Lunch at McDonalds, our only visit to McDonalds in the entire trip. We tried to grab a train back to the airport, and I was confused when the machine insisted on a very low fare (the city loop fare), but then when I got on the platform and saw there were no trains to the airport, it made sense: the fare was to get us to Central, then it was a free bus to the airport.
|Monday, March 16th, 2009|
Very fast turn-around from the US Consulate - I dropped my passport off on the 12th, and it was returned by registered post which arrived on the 13th (however as I wasn't home, I had to take the registered post slip down to the post office and pick it up today). So I now have my H1B visa stamp.
Ongoing holiday summary:
Mar 13th: Cottesloe to Albany. A few stops on the way, such as Kojonup, the Mongolian Yurt in Mt Barker (Nicole found a couple of kangaroos to say hello to here) and visiting my great aunt near Mt Barker. Albany Fish and Chips for dinner, which we ate on Middleton Beach. Stayed at the Pelicans Holiday Village in Albany, which I recommend to anyone.
Mar 14th: Albany to Walpole. Visited The Gap and Natural Bridge and the Blowholes in Torndirrup NP, the Albany Wind Farm, the Denmark Water Barometer, the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk, and the Giant Tingle Tree. We had to change a tyre near Walpole.
Mar 15th: Return from Walpole to Cottesloe. Rode the Pemberton Tramway, climbed a short distance up the Gloucester Tree (up to roughly the first major branch near the ladder, I'd estimate a quarter of the way up), checked out a couple of beaches near the Margaret River coastline, briefly visited the Busselton Jetty and the Bunbury Lighthouse. Introduced Nicole to Chicken Treat for dinner.
Mar 16th: Apart from walking down to the post office, having lunch at a cafe in Napoleon St and browsing some shops at the Grove Plaza (now renamed "Cottesloe Central"), mostly a day spent relaxing and working on things online.
The trip to the south-west was great, however we're not going to follow it up by heading up to Monkey Mia - it's just too much of a trip for the time we had left, and we haven't had the chance to do some of the things we were intending to do with our downtime while we were here (although I made a start on some of them today).
|Thursday, March 12th, 2009|
|Vacation update, part 3
Mar 8th: Visited Peter, Shay and their families who were doing something Sungroper-related, and took a look at their solar car at the same time. Drove along the river a bit, stopping a few times; dropped in at UWA and saw the peacocks and the sunken gardens. Dinner at Woodpeckers in Subiaco, walked around Subiaco a bit. Nicole looked at the menu at Santa Fe, but we didn't try the food there - we have much better Mexican all around in San Jose, so I'm trying to convince Nicole to not bother trying it here.
Mar 9th: Cohuna Koala Park - Nicole finally got up close and personal with a koala. And some kangaroos, deer and wallabies, too. There were also kookaburras, emus, ostriches, cockatoos, black swans, pelicans, dingoes, bobtails, owls, peacocks and more. Then we visited Serpentine Falls and Bickley Brook - it's very disappointing that Bickley Brook is now mostly closed to the public. Nicole had her third vanilla slice, I think she's over them now.
Mar 10th: Prepared visa documentation (DS156, DS157), got photos done and paid the second of three visa fees at the post office. Had a quick swim in the pool. Dinner at Nandos. I like Nandos. Nicole likes Nandos now, too.
Mar 11th: Rottnest, and dinner in Fremantle (at an Italian restaurant, which was quite nice). We did the gun and tunnel tour, underwater explorer wreck and reef tour, and went and found some quokkas.
Mar 12th: Visa interview at US consulate, very quick and painless. They didn't even want to see any of the massive stack of papers Google had prepared, just the DS156, DS157 and I797A.
Tomorrow, we're off towards Albany, we'll be spending a few days in the south-west (probably Mt Barker, Albany, Pemberton, possibly Bunbury - I'll update what we actually end up doing once we've actually been).
|Saturday, March 7th, 2009|
|Vacation update, part 2
Mar 4th: My birthday. Went to Freo - visited the Roundhouse precinct and did a couple of tours of the old Fremantle Prison. Nicole had her first vanilla slice. Went to the Coolgardie Safe for dinner, had damper, crocodile, emu, kangaroo and marron, and a mini pavlova.
Mar 5th: Back to the beach, more swimming. Calmer waves today. We both ended up a little red this time, perhaps time to stop visiting the beach so much.
Mar 6th: Visited UWA (UCS, UCC, and some others). Nicole wasn't feeling too well from all the beach visits and sun exposure, so she didn't make it to UWA.
Mar 7th: Back to Freo. Visited the maritime museum, HMAS Ovens, shipwreck galleries and the markets.
At this stage it looks like we will probably drop Adventure World from our plans, and we're considering dropping Monkey Mia (it is a little far away, and our schedule isn't too flexible due to my visa appointment, so we'll have to see how Albany goes as the Albany and Monkey Mia trips would both have to go almost perfectly to fit in the schedule now).
|Wednesday, March 4th, 2009|