Archive for April, 2008

Our Guide to Kauai

After we got back from our vacation last week, K. wrote about the stuff we did for some friends who are planning on visiting Kauai later in the year. I got her to let me post them here. I’ve added a few selections from our Hawaii Flickr set for spice.

Guidebook:

THE ULTIMATE KAUAI GUIDEBOOK

The author is one hokey dude, but this is the book to use. Our friends Joseph and Jen sent it to us, and seriously everyone we saw on our trip had the same one! Every time I mention “the book” here I am referring to this one. It’s incredibly detailed.

Beaches:

KE’E

The last one before the Na Pali coast starts. The trailhead for the Kalalau Trail is here – that’s the trail that goes along the Na Pali coast. The beach is gorgeous and cozy feeling because the left side ends in the cliffs and volcanic rocks, making kind of a cove thing. You can snorkel here, but we found there was more marine life and stuff at Tunnels Beach, which is farther east on the north shore, pretty close. People said they saw sea turtles here on the day we went, but sadly, we didn’t. Oh and there’s shade here, which is awesome. Parking can be tight at the lot right next to the beach entry, so either go early or late, or park at the public lot before the beach and walk (not too far).

TUNNELS

Another gorgeous beach with a larger and more expansive feeling. Great and easy snorkeling – just wade in and go! Awesome reef with beautiful underwater vistas. Go early (10 or 11?) if you can, because there are just a few parking spots by the beach access point. I think you can also park some other places, though – check the book. We rented prescription snorkel masks (not expensive at all) from this place Pedals and Paddles in Hanalei, so we could actually see.

HIDEAWAYS

Super beautiful and also cozy feeling because there are rocks on both ends. You have to hike down a pretty steep path but it’s not too long, and it’s worth it because it keeps most people away and isn’t crowded! They say you can snorkel here but it was super high surf when we went so we didn’t even go all the way into the water. Shade here too. Also, we apparently settled too close to the shore because a wave came up and OVER all of our stuff (mats, towels, magazines, etc.) with no warning! It was nuts.

SHERATON RESORT BEACH

A nice resort beach environment on the south shore complete with lovely tropical landscaping, pool, outside bar, bathrooms, and beachfront. Park on the road and walk in through the lobby or an outside path. I think all HI beaches are public access, so you don’t really have to sneak. A definite, but nice, change of pace from the wilder, authentic, non-commercial beach option. We went on a day that they have local music and a hula dancing show at 5p for people staying there, and we weren’t asked to show a room card as long as we didn’t try to get a free mai tai. Their bar has an amazing view by the way; it’s called The Point. (I think this is also called — or part of — Po’ipu Beach.)

QUEEN’S BATH

Not a beach but a swimming hole. A crazy awesome large pool formed by volcanic rocks on the edge of the ocean. !! A gorgeous spot – ridiculous really. The hike in (part jungle, part rocks once you get to the ocean) can be really slippery if it has just rained etc. so if possible, get those reef shoes the book talks about. Sneaks or Keens will work too, but if it has rained, be careful. There is a beautiful waterfall on the path in – very Hawaii feeling. Also, bring your mask because it’s fun to snorkel here. Can be scary if the surf is high – check before going with someone who would know (we asked our hostess, maybe this info would be online also?)

LYDGATE BEACH PARK

On the east shore on the way back down to Lihue etc. We stopped there for a few hours on our last day on the way to our night flight. It was fun in a state park kind of way. It’s kind of retro – there are bathrooms, an outdoor shower, and a big protected pool part surrounded with rocks to swim in because the surf is high. People were snorkeling. We walked down to the part of the beach that has a hotel on it — the Aloha Beach Resort — and went to the hotel bar; it felt like we were in South Padre (TX) kind of, but with a way nicer beach. The drinks were awesome though – mai tais, mudslides, etc. Yeah! Perfect before our horrid red-eye back to SF.

Sights/Activities:

KOKE’E STATE PARK/WAIMEA CANYON

Super beautiful, although we were lazy and didn’t do any hikes. We just stopped at the lookout the book recommends, as well as the regular lookout the book says isn’t as good. The Koke’e Lodge for lunch was odd but good (see below).

KILAUEA POINT LIGHTHOUSE

Crazy beautiful spot with a lookout all around. Nice birds and wildlife (it’s a refuge also). This is a pretty quick stop – could do it on the way to or from the airport if you have time to kill. Worth going regardless.

WAIMEA FALLS

Impressive … just a lookout at the side of the road, actually. I think the book says how to get down there maybe if you want to, but it looks scary.

NA PALI CATAMARAN

I was really excited to see the Na Pali coast by boat, and this is the company the book recommends. We were originally booked on a whale-watching tour (April is the change of season, so snorkeling isn’t guaranteed). But they called us before we arrived and upgraded it to a snorkeling trip ($20 more). While we would have LOVED to snorkel, it was unfortunately pretty rough the day we went, and I tend toward seasickness on the best of days. I should have remembered to take Dramamine or something. That being said, I was irritated with Na Pali Catamaran because they obviously know you really can’t snorkel when it’s that rough – and 5 out of 15 people on the boat got sick, so it was kind of a bust all around. We saw no whales and went back to shore early. I don’t think they put our safety at risk, but one of their staffers admitted they don’t usually go when the waves are 8 feet or higher, and that’s what the Coast Guard has estimated the wave height at that day (we later found out). I realize they can’t control the ocean, but they also didn’t offer any sort of apology or to, say, refund the 20 extra snorkeling bucks as a small gesture (we had to ask for that). Kind of tacky, in our opinion (especially since they charge $150 per person).

Restaurants:

HANALEI DOLPHIN RESTAURANT

A nice spot that’s open-air with tiki torches at night, next to a little stream or something. A cute, fun, good going out to dinner place — not super fancy or anything – but the one nicer place we went to on the north shore. We read reviews of all the really fancy places around Hanalei and nothing really sounded worth it, given that we now live in a foodie city. This place was perfect though for a fun dinner out — super-yummy family-style salad that comes with entrees, a fine pina colada, and geat grilled fish. Oh, they also have an attached fish market at which we bought fish for grilling at home. That was delicious (they recommended something local).

HANALEI GOURMET

A chill lunch spot that is in the old Hanalei School and has a few tables on the porch that are nice to sit at. Yummy salads with grilled fish, chicken salad in a papaya, delish fish and chips, etc. Good people watching if you sit outside – you’ll see a lot of unfortunate tropical fashions! A solid lunch spot, pretty reasonably priced even though the guidebook hates on it a bit.

WAKE UP HANALEI

A surfer-y, open-air breakfast spot. Decent. Nice to sit on the porch and good if you want fried spam and eggs, or something more than, like, a coffee and muffin breakfast. Cash only.

JAVA KAI

The coffee place. Yummy brownies. The one in Kapa’a (should you be there) has amazing cinnamon rolls and a weirdly good breakfast burrito. It also seems more like a local spot and has really good mango iced tea. The cinnamon rolls at the Hanalei one weren’t the same and the iced tea was just regular. But it’s still a fine coffee place.

WISHING WELL SHAVE ICE

This is the shave ice spot if you’re into that. It’s super cute and has picnic tables on grass. According to the crazy guidebook, it’s superior to the one in the middle of town (the one by Hanalei Gourmet and all that stuff). It also has some rules and regulations for ordering, so beware. I got yelled at when I asked to taste of the Kona coffee ice cream.

KOKE’E LODGE RESTAURANT

The only thing for lunch on the way to Waimea Canyon lookout, etc. Sandwiches, salads, soups, etc. I enjoyed my Greek salad and Ellen had the Portuguese bean soup and cornbread. The cornbread was OK, but has nothing on Jiffy – I’m actually not sure why they think it’s so special. This joint has crazy souvenirs.

VILLAGE SNACK SHOP AND BAKERY

Weird but good local spot for breakfast. Open early. Counter service. Good people watching. In Ching Young Village in the heart of Hanalei.

BEACH HOUSE RESTAURANT

We opted to do our one true fine-dining meal at this place on the south shore the day we did Waimea Canyon etc. It’s kind of famous — right on the water with great sunsets and food. (The south shore is the spot for sunsets because there are no mountains blocking the views.) It’s big and busy, but the food WAS as high-quality as it was supposed to be, and the service was good as well. We watched surfers as we ate. It was a gorgeous spot – ask for a window table and go at like 6 if you want to experience the sunset hour.

TRUCK AT HA’ENA BEACH

This is where Ellen got her fresh chilled coconut. It was the kind with soft meat you can scrape out with a spoon after you’re done with the milk (water, really), as opposed to the crunchy kind. They also had smoothies, water, etc., and it’s a great stop on the way to or from Ke’e Beach (it’s west of the turn-off for Tunnels). This is the only beach we saw on the north shore that had something commercial really near it.

Lodging:

JUNGLE COTTAGE

We loved our lodging. There are several pics of it in the Flickr set, inside and out. We actually forgot to take a pic of the outside shower, which was lovely, but it’s on their website (junglecottage.com). It wasn’t the cheapest option, but it wasn’t the most expensive, either – there are seriously expensive hotels there that I doubt offer the amenities that Jungle Cottage did. Also nice was that it was 100% as nice as it looked online, and worth throwing down for, in our opinion. (I hate when you decide to pay extra and then you get there and feel it’s not worth it.) It was great to have a kitchenette, a deck, a grill, a living room, and a closet, and they thought of everything you might need – even providing beach towels, snorkel gear, a beach bag, and random stuff like a drying rack for your bathing suits!

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Fresh Chilled Vacation Pics

fresh chilled coconut milk

If you’re one of the many folks who can’t wait to dive in to the pictures of our Hawaiian vacation last week, you’ll be happy to know that we’ve sorted and titled them and they’re now available for your viewing pleasure. K. has also written up a recommendation list for some friends of ours who are planning to hit Kauai later this year, so I’ll post that here soon too.

Back from Hawaii

Our feet, on the beach at the Sheraton

Aloha! We just returned yesterday from Kauai. It was our first visit to Hawaii, and quite sensational. We have a lot of pictures, which we need to edit and filter a little, but we’ll be posting them to Flickr soon. This first one is just a start.

Moblog, 4/20/08

04-20-08_1615.jpg

My current view: under a palm tree on the beach.

Goodbye, Archos Jukebox

Archos Jukebox Recorder 20, R.I.P.

First off, a warning to you all: This is the geekiest thing you’ve seen yet on this blog. It’s certainly geekier than my scooter mileage entries; I actually think it’s more on the level of the entry I wrote about socks nearly a year ago. But maybe it’s worse than that. In fact, I fully expect most of you to quit reading immediately. It’s also terribly long. If you make it to the end of this crazy thing, you should make a comment or something to prove it.

Last Sunday, I said goodbye to my Archos Jukebox Recorder 20. That’s the last picture taken of it, at the top of this blog entry. It finally quit functioning entirely, and it didn’t seem like I was ever going to be able to get it working again, at least not without ordering parts from weird electronics stores on the web and learning how to solder. And maybe not even then. All signs were pointing to complete hard-drive failure. So I had to let it go.

I swear I have good reason to be emotional about this. I’ve owned my Archos Jukebox since late 2002; I bought it at Costco after much shopping and deliberation. It was not the first “portable” MP3 player I owned. I had a Pine D’Music CD MP3 player I bought from a friend, for which I burned genre-specific CDs full of hundreds of songs, but I had to plug it into the wall for it to play more than, say, 15 of them, because it ate through batteries at lightening speed. So, it was small, but not exactly portable.

The Jukebox Recorder was a perfect upgrade; it was an awesome early competitor to the iPod. I loved mine. It might not have had the slick case and great navigation, but it had more storage, a cheaper price, great sound, good battery life and user-replaceable batteries, recording capabilities, and, best of all, it required no software install on your PC to listen to music. I’d just drag my MP3s over to the player’s drive, and they played. I could put them in folders to organize them, or not. It just worked.

And, uh, it was huge and heavy. If I decided to drop it in my pocket and take a walk, I generally had to wear a belt. Of course, if I had been attacked on the trail, the Archos Jukebox Recorder 20 would have made a formidable weapon. Did the “20” in its name refer to its gigs of storage, or its weight in pounds? Still, it was nearly a constant companion, adding its weight to nearly every bag I carried.

But I’d been having trouble with it for awhile. In about 2004, the battery life began to falter, so I upgraded the firmware to RockBox open source firmware, which really breathed new life into it. When the battery life started to slip again, I switched out the factory batteries for new, higher-capacity batteries, which once again helped. But, little by little, the battery life started to go again, and it became clear that this was no longer a portable machine. That didn’t mean I didn’t use it; I packed 20GB of music on it and took it to work and plugged it it, where it became my main source of office tunes.

But, finally, right after we moved here, I plugged it in expecting to use it as a backup drive for my also-rather-ancient Sony Vaio notebook. When I started it up, and the hard-drive error you get when the battery is low popped up, even though it was plugged in. I got it past the error, but the drive kept making sad, squeaky noises, and I couldn’t write to it. I finally unplugged it and put it in a box, and tried to forget what had happened.

Which brings us to last weekend. An elementary school in my neighborhood was having an e-waste collection day, so I decided it was time to make some hard decisions. I had already pulled the batteries out to see if they were still good — they weren’t, couldn’t be recharged at all — and so I tried once again to bring the Jukebox to life via the wall wart. It was even less responsive than the last time — all I got was the backlight, and that didn’t work consistently. The end had come.

Of course, it’s not like I don’t have a digital media player to replace the Archos. In fact, I’ve had many DAPs since the days that the Archos’ battery started to fail. First, I bought a 4th generation iPod from HP, which was a nightmare from start to finish, and which I finally sold. I replaced that with 2 GB Sansa C150, which I actually wrote a review of once. It had an option to use drag-and-drop for loading music files, but it’s a little awkward to use in general; however, if you’re in a situation where replacing batteries would be easier than recharging via USB, this is still a handy player to have, with nice sound. I eventually got over my iPod trauma when I got a really good deal on a 30 GB 5th gen iPod, which became my new big hard drive player. Since then, I’ve also acquired a 2 GB iPod Nano, which is my running player now (with Nike +!), and a Zune 8GB player, which I think is a player with awesome potential. The Zune is really my current favorite; and, of course, my newest.

Here’s all of the players I still own, hanging out with the Archos Jukebox one last time.

So, you’d think this would be the end of this entry. But it’s not; it goes on.

In order to distract myself from the loss of the Archos, I decided to buy myself something new. It was related purchase: a pair of Koss PortaPro headphones. I’ve been jonesing for these retro-looking headphones for a while, mostly because they remind me of the old Koss Sound Partner headphones.

You see, sometime in the 1970s, my father had gone on a business trip and brought back a crazy huge yellow plastic headphone/radio combo for me. I loved this thing. It’s one of those objects that I can remember everything about — how it felt to expand the headphones, which slid apart so you could fit them on your head; where the dials and the knobs were; the sound it made when it clicked on and off; the way it felt pressed up against my ears. And, of course, it gave me my own private soundtrack. I think that perhaps it was this piece of equipment that began my electronics obsession. Boy, I wish I still had that headphone radio. It was a hoot.

Then, maybe when I was 11 or so, I acquired another piece of electronic equipment I dearly loved — a Koss Music Box portable AM/FM radio receiver that came with Sound Partner “stereophones.”

My parents let me buy this setup using “Big Bonus” stamps from the grocery store.

It was awesome, except that the Sound Partner headphones had an Achilles’ heel — the connection between the earpieces and the cable. My first pair quit working pretty quickly, and I was very disappointed. Koss ended up replacing them — Koss products have a lifetime warranty! — with a fresh pair of Sound Partners in the box, which came with a cloth carrying case. I’m sure my mother must have done the talking on this, I certainly can’t imagine myself at 11 calling up a 1-800 number and bitching about my broken headphones.

I don’t remember what happened to these in the end, but one thing stood out to me about the Sound Partners — they sounded good. Their sound quality was head and shoulders above the headphones that were stuck in the boxes with subsequent Walkmans and the like that I owned. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that, although Koss discontinued both the Music Box and the Sound Partner well before Reagan was out of office, one 80s varient of these stereophones is still in production – the PortaPros.

And now I own a newly minted pair. They join a collection of headphones that includes a pair of Sennheiser 212 HD Pros, a sealed pair I wear in bed so as not to wake up K; Shure E3Cs, and great Christmas present from C, that are tiny and block out all the street/bus sounds when I commute to work; a pair of Grado SR80s, which right now I wear mostly at work. The Grados are great sounding open cans, so my Zune sounds fabulous through them, and I can still hear my co-workers’ cries for help. Here they all are, gathered together in one spot:

Ironically, there’s a user review of the PortaPros on Amazon that says this: “Mated with my ancient Archos 20 gig player/recorder … these things rock.”

Okay, I think I’m done now.

Scooter averages and milestones

A couple of Flys

A few weekends ago the odometer on my scooter rolled over to 1,000 miles. I’ve owned the bike since the end of May 2007, so I’m obviously going to be well below the 1800 miles per year that I’ve read folks put on their scooters on average.

However, I feel like 1000 miles of riding means I’m no longer a complete newbie, since the form I filled out when I took California Motorcycle Safety Class told me that a beginning rider was someone who had ridden less than 500 miles. With the passage of this 1K milestone, I’ve pledged to learn how to ride around with someone on the back of my scooter now. This would be a very handy skill to have … but I plan to approach it carefully and expect a learning curve. K and I just need to go out and practice.

It’s been a long time since I’ve given you a MPG update, and it’s stayed pretty much the same – I’m still getting 50 miles per gallon. I’ve actually now read that 50 mpg is almost exactly average for a motorcycle-type engine, and considering that I’m riding in city traffic 100 percent of the time, it’s pretty darn good.

And, with only two more months to go in my first year of ownership, I’m on track to spend less than $100 a year on gas for my scooter. Not too shabby – especially since I recently spent more than $100 on gas in just a week driving around in Houston in an SUV.

Rockin’ the Suburbs

Target’s cart escalator

This weekend we went to Target; it’s been about six months since our last visit, which was in Texas. It was kind of a big deal, since we don’t have a car and there’s no Target in San Francisco, and renting a car to go to Target sort of screws with that big discount feeling you want to get when you shop there. So, we took a lovely walk to Glen Park, boarded the BART to the San Bruno station, and visited the Shops at Tanforan.

Tanforan was once a famous racetrack where Seabiscuit was stabled for a while — I read there was a statue of Seabiscuit somewhere, but I didn’t see it — and was later a WWII Japanese internment camp (no statue for that). Now it’s a down-market mall with a Target as the anchor, just inches away from a BART station. It’s also the home of a BJ’s Brewhouse restaurant, which is like a chain microbrewery restaurant, if such a thing can exist. I had a very nice beer and a bowl of chili there, and I think our experience was significantly better than if we had dined at the food court.

Since we’d gone to all the trouble to go south for Target, we decided we’d also check out the Daly City Century Theaters, so we boarded BART again and headed north. The Daly City stop has an underground pedestrian tunnel that leads to small BART parking lot near the theater garage, so it’s a pretty straight shot to the theater on foot. We saw The Other Boleyn Girl. All in all, it was a trouble-free car-free day of suburban exploration.

On Sunday night, went to the Meatpaper #3 launch party. I ate the marrow out of a roasted buffalo bone, along with other meaty treats. Funny, we got a car and drove to that event.