Sunday, May 27, 2012

Top 5 Traveling Annoyances

In the past week, I've done a fair amount of traveling, having been through five airports, and with another four coming up next week, it seemed like a good time to write a general travel blog.  With that in mind, I've put together a list of the top 5 things I find annoying about travel.

5.  Airport pricing.  I think there needs to be some government oversight on the price fixing that goes on behind the security checkpoint.  At the San Francisco airport this week, they wanted $3.95 for a 20-oz bottle of soda, and it was the same at every shop and restaurant.  I can understand doing something like that at an amusement park or conference center, where you're paying for convenience, but since they recommend you're there two hours before your flight and make you dump any drinks you brought with you, it just seems unfair.

4.  The window seat.  To be fair, I sometimes do like to have the window seat on early morning/late night flights, so that I can lean over and sleep against the wall.  However, since the airlines have reduced the leg room available on most flights, the windows don't really line up with the seats any more, and you often end up losing some shoulder room to where the seats were obviously meant to be divided.  Then, there is the window itself -- cleverly positioned no higher than shoulder-height for anyone older than seven.  It's easier to look out the window on the other side of the plane!  And, of course, you're still stuck with the limited leg room (in coach, anyway), which is often compromised to give the middle seat a little extra under-seat storage to make up for their other disadvantages.  Under most circumstances, I'd actually prefer a middle seat to the window.

3.  Lack of access to power outlets.  I've got workarounds for the few outlets in the hotel rooms (carry my own power strip and USB hub for all my gadgets), but still find it annoying to have to carry all that with me.  My biggest gripe, though, is at the airports.  Again, they expect you to be there a couple hours early for your flight, but don't give you enough in the way of outlets (with a few exceptions, like at San Jose, CA, where they have a large number of powered seats, and in Santa Ana, CA, where they have a few dedicated gates with power strips between rows of seats).  At Burbank airport, at least in the terminal I always end up in, there is only one outlet every three gates -- even though they advertise their free WiFi all throughout the airport!  Even then, some of the outlets are tough to use -- one was 6 feet off the ground, so I couldn't use it because the power brick for my laptop was too heavy.  You'd think that airports would add new electrical options in our current age of connectivity.

2.  The TSA.  I find myself questioning the value every time I step into an airport.  When leaving from Santa Ana the other day, there wasn't a line at the security checkpoint -- there was just one traveler working with the TSA agent, but she was having some difficulty getting her electronic boarding pass to scan.  There were four other TSA agents standing around at the chokepoint, but they didn't seem interested in helping or in opening another line for the check...just standing around.  Once through that point, there was another agent whose job it was to remind everyone all the ridiculous rules for going through the scanner, and another agent to tell everyone they must keep out their boarding pass.  Another agent crowded the conveyor belts to check your boarding pass and let you enter the machine.  Another two agents let you know when you could leave the machine (one of whom checked the boarding pass AGAIN), and then another agent watched as you got your things.  Three more were sitting on or around the one bench they had available for recombobulation.  With the one guy who was actually reviewing the bags as slowly as he possibly could, that made 14 TSA agents at a very lightly used checkpoint.  A little ridiculous for people whose job is to take that potentially dangerous 4-oz tube of toothpaste and toss it in a drawer full of other potentially dangerous substances.

1.  Other travelers.  This could be a list of it's own, and must be really annoying if it beats out the TSA.  It just seems like people lose their common sense when they're traveling.  My biggest people pet peeve is on those occasions where I have to check my bags -- and everyone crowds the conveyor belt.  If everyone would take two steps back, there would be plenty of room for all travelers to see their bags coming and make arrangements to get them.  But no...most people feel the need to stand close enough that their legs are touching the carousel.  Some even have their whole party stand together there, even the kids.  When their luggage comes, it becomes just another obstacle for others to maneuver around when their bags come.  In Santa Ana, again, they try to remind people (each of the baggage claim carousels has a tiled area right next to the carousel, with a carpeted standing area about 3 feet away), but it doesn't change the behavior.

Then, there are the seat savers who get really annoyed if you are looking for a place to sit down, like these guys.  There were four of them, and they somehow felt it was their right to take up 13 seats in a crowded airport.  This was at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, where the sun beats down on half the rows of seats...but, of course, these were shaded seats, perfect for sleeping!

Others that annoy me are the people who bring their oversized luggage on and expect that it is going to fit, the people who board early to put their purse and jacket in the overhead and close it to make it look full, the people who don't close the door to the airplane bathroom when they leave, the ones who don't give their kids headphones for watching kid programming on their iPad, the ones who stand on the walk side of the moving platforms, and the ones who just move slowly and stop suddenly between gates...  It's enough to drive me mad!

These annoyances are based on my recent travels.  If you agree/disagree, or know of some more annoying things that I might have just forgotten -- please let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Portland Timbers vs. Chicago Fire

One of the downsides of moving to the Portland area is the general lack of professional sports teams.  They don't even have a minor league baseball team any more!  In fact, they moved the baseball team out a couple years ago in order to convert the multipurpose stadium to a dedicated soccer stadium to attract a new MLS team, pushing the minor league baseball Beavers out of the state last year.

Rather than be discouraged about the loss of the baseball team, I've decided to give MLS soccer a chance. This was a difficult decision for me, since the tickets were fairly expensive, and I've already got a bit of a negative opinion about soccer (I've just never been able to get interested in it as a spectator sport -- although there aren't many stoppages of play, it just doesn't seem like anything is happening).  Then again, I've never been to a professional-level event.  Perhaps going in person will be more exciting than trying to follow a game that I don't understand on television.

I got to the stadium a little more than 2 hours early, thinking that was when most sporting events start letting people in.  That meant that I had about 45 minutes to walk around the stadium and get my bearings a little.  There was already a sizeable crowd gathered in the square around, lined up to get into the stadium.  There was even a line across the street for people to buy supporters gear.  The atmosphere was definitely electric, so I started to get excited as I wandered around the area.

One of the things that caught my attention was that they had partitioned off half of a street for bike parking.  That's something I hadn't thought of before -- but something that is uniquely Portland.

Like most stadiums, there were multiple entrances -- this one is from the back side, which looks like it is for special pass holders -- there really weren't many people in the line here this early before gametime.

But, lo and behold...what restaurant do I see inside the stadium?  Qdoba?  Maybe this soccer thing isn't going to be so bad after all!  They're smart enough to have a Qdoba, maybe everything on the inside is quality!

It got into my hand, and it went bad.
So I lopped it off at the wrist.

I got into the stadium and looked at the official gear.  The biggest item that I saw other people with was the scarves.  There were several different varieties, with sayings printed on either side.  But I only picked up one thing on this trip -- how could I resist a chainsaw foam finger?!?

I went to find my seat, and thought it was odd that there was no one in my section yet.   That was when I learned why there was such a throng of people waiting so patiently long before the game -- the supporters section (aka Timbers Army) is made up of several General Admission sections, so you have to get there early to make sure that you get a good seat.  That section was quite full, and very colorful!

The fun then started almost immediately...the players came out on the field, and the Timbers Army started chanting and singing (in the video below, they're chanting "When I root, I root for the Timbers!").

They kept it up for the entire game (with the exception of a quick breather for halftime).  They even were involved in the Star Spangled Banner, waving their scarves and making a "whoosh" sound after every line of the song.  It was really incredible -- I've never seen anything like it before.  Even better was that, as much as I thought soccer was a kid-friendly sport, some of their chants weren't child-appropriate, containing F-bombs.  That added to my enjoyment, though the parents next to me weren't too happy about it.

Admittedly, the product on the field wasn't overly interesting to me.  I understand enough to know what the goal is (pun intended), but not when some of the penalties were occurring.  There were a few moments of excitement -- when the ball changed possession, when a player would flop, or when the teams were in close to the goal -- but the overwhelming amount of time was just as expected, with just trying to position yourself to get into one of those situations.

Still, when there was a goal, it was very entertaining.  The Timber Army lit smoke green smoke bombs and sang "Goals" to the tune of the Beastie Boys' "Girls"

Among the flags waved by the Timber Army were the
Doug Flag, flag of Cascadia!  Free Cascadia!

The Timbers won, 2-1, and I had a lot more fun than I thought I would.  Thank you to the Timber Army -- your antics were exciting and unique in my sporting experience, and made the experience one that I want to share with others who haven't experienced it yet.  If you're in the area, leave me a comment -- if I get enough comments, I may have a contest to watch a future game with me!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Whole Foods Market

While we had a Whole Foods Market in Milwaukee, it wasn't the most convenient grocery store, so I didn't go.  Here in Vancouver, though, a Whole Foods Market is the closest store to me, so I thought I would give it a try.  I was actually intrigued by the idea of the Whole Foods Market, anyway -- they were used as a case study in a class that I was taking, andI learned a lot about their special programs and business practices in that class.  It seemed like a business vision I could support, even understanding that they may be a little more expensive than other grocery stores.

I guess I didn't know what to expect.  I just didn't feel comfortable there.  I thought it would be pretty much the same as any other grocery store, but as I wandered down the aisle, I started to feel uncomfortable.  It was an odd feeling that I didn't recognize any of the brands on the shelves.  I was expecting to see the store brands and healthier choice brands alongside brands that I recognized, but in general, it was all store- and off-brands (with a few exceptions, like beer and chips).  It actually made me uncomfortable enough that I put back the few things I had picked up in the produce section and wander down the road a little further to a Fred Meyer.

The odd thing is, most of what I picked up at Fred Meyer were the store brands.  It just made me comfortable to see that there was a Post and Kellogg's Raisin Bran next to the Fred Meyer brand.

It is interesting what you learn about yourself when you go grocery shopping.  I'm brand-loyal in a very odd way.

Torchlight 2 Beta Weekend

I've been excited about a new action RPG called Torchlight II for some time now.  The first Torchlight was released in 2009 as a single-player, low-cost experience that gave gamers a quality action RPG at a time when there weren't many available.

Torchlight 2 brings it to multiplayer, but is still expected to be a low-cost alternative to the Diablo games.  There is a direct comparison to Diablo, though, because the development team on Torchlight is primarily comprised of programmers from Blizzard North who worked on the first two Diablo games (including the composer, Matt Uelmen).  While the atmosphere is lighter and more cartoonish than Diablo (even Diablo 3, which was colorful enough that they made these shirts for them), the gameplay remains intact.

When I opened my email this morning, I had received an invite to participate in the open beta stress test for Torchlight 2, running this weekend only.  The timing seemed incredibly odd, because of the relationship between Diablo 3 and Torchlight 2 -- why would you hold a stress test beta on the first weekend of the official release of your biggest competitor?  As suspected, when I logged in to try it out, there weren't many games being played.  I don't think they're going to stress the systems very much this weekend.

Still, I got logged in and started to play.  A few things that stood out for me after playing Diablo 3 exclusively for the past three days are that they kept the skill and character customizations from the old Diablo games (but at least let you re-spec your skill trees).  That sort of customization is really missing in the new Diablo game.

Other things are smaller, but noticeable...I like that I can pick up items even when I'm holding the shift key down to stay in one place (even if that sends my pet to pick it up).  It's mildly annoying in D3 to have to move to pick everything up.  Likewise, from an aesthetic perspective, I like that you can still attack with your weapon when you're a mage.  Again, a little thing, but a nice difference.

Oddly enough, Torchlight can also be harder.  You can start in Hardcore mode and on a higher difficulty level, and I found myself using health potions much more frequently than in D3, where they were just a collection item to sell.  That's mostly because the health globes in Diablo keep you moving without the need for potions, and possibly because I started Torchlight on Veteran difficulty, but again, a noticeable difference.  Same with the waypoints and identify scrolls -- you use them in Torchlight, but in Diablo, you don't need waypoints after you learn the town portal scroll, and you can identify everything with a right-click (which tells me they should have just auto-identified...but I'm sure they had a reason for not doing it that way).

At any rate, it is a fun distraction, and I am still looking forward to the final release.  There is definitely room in my gaming library for both titles, and both will get some play.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Diablo Day 1 Disappointment

Well, it has to be said that day one was a disappointment for Diablo 3, even with the low expectations I had after the beta.  I thought that I was set with the installation last night and ready to play as soon as I finished work today...but alas, that was just the beginning.  From about 6pm until 10pm, I struggled through a cumbersome installation and re-installation troubleshooting trap, with the support forums getting me through one issue and onto the next.  The forums themselves even experienced issues, though, making even digging through the forums a frustrating affair.

I finally was able to get all the way through a re-installation and through the help of my forum buddies identify the original culprit -- a folder in the install directory that contained bad patch information.  Upon resolution, I was actually excited to be able to watch the introductory cinematic -- but, of course, the servers were down, and were expected to remain unavailable until 11:45 PM PDT, so I wasn't able to play.  That is just a little too late to start with a character (for someone who has to work tomorrow), so I'll need to wait until day two.

To everyone else more committed than I to getting in to play the game, best of luck!  I hope that you find the experience worth it when you finally get in!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Portland Exploration Day


On Sunday, I finally got motivated to get out of the house and make it down to Portland proper to try to get a feel for the city.  It was a beautiful day, and I ended up spending from about 11:00am until about 8:30pm, counting the train trip in (which I picked up at the Mt. Hood Avenue station).  This trip was just about finding things to do on subsequent trips, though -- so although I found a few places of interest, I didn't actually pay admission to get into anything.

Now, I've taken the train downtown a few times before, so that wasn't a new experience, but this was the first time that it was clear enough that you could see Mt. Hood from the train.  Heck, it's the first time that it has been clear enough that I noticed the "No Light Rail Parking" signs in the Target parking lot.  It is definitely frustrating that there isn't anywhere to park for the rail system.  More frustrating is that there is plenty of room for it (and the businesses in the area around the Mt. Hood Avenue station have much more parking than they need.  A quick check online showed a few other opportunities, though they may not really be viable (the Trimet website indicated they normally fill up by 7am on weekdays).  That could end up derailing (pardon the pun) my use of the light rail.  Fortunately, they didn't call my car in this time, so I will just need to adjust for any future trips downtown.

Seeing Mt. Hood on the way downtown was a really nice way to start the day.  I am going to need to get a better camera than my phone to carry with me when there is a chance to see the mountain.  My phone camera just doesn't do a very good job even seeing the mountain, since it kinda blends in with the clouds and sky, and the camera focuses on other things that are closer.  Still, it wouldn't have been a good picture from the train, anyway, since you saw it through a fence.

First stop was Powell Books.  A lot of people I met had talked it up as a landmark of the city.  For those not in the know, it's the largest new and used book store in the US, and covers several floors over an entire city block.  I was actually a little disappointed with the building from the outside.  It didn't look much like a landmark building, since the signs were a bit run down.  Still, once inside, it was very nice, and although I'm not really interested in books, I found it entertaining to browse the aisles.  They had a few displays for board games (though no more than an average Barnes & Noble), and a bunch of books that brought back memories (like a wall full of the blue Hardy Boys novels that I read when I was a little kid).  All in all, it was a decent experience, and one that I will definitely share with people that I think would be interested.  My older sister is possibly going to visit me early this summer, and I think she would love it.  She's got a collection that is probably over 1,000 books -- I'm sure she'd like to go to a store that has over 1,000,000.

Powell City of Books
Powell City of Books

Living Room Theaters
Living Room Theaters
On the way to Powell's City of Books, though, I ran into a couple interesting spots that I'd like to check out later.  The first was called Living Room Theaters.  They play independent movies in more of a lounge setting.  It seemed like a little film festival type place -- and although I never really attended film festivals in the other cities I've lived in, it struck me as different and interesting in Portland.

The Radish Underground
The Radish Underground -- it is shut!

The other place was just a unique shop called the Radish Underground.  It was an artsy shop with an interesting name.  Unfortunately, it was shut.  I get the feeling that's nomenclature specific to the store, though -- most of the other places that I saw used the more familiar "closed" wording.

Working/Playing Sign
Open or closed?  That's so old-fashioned. 
Except for this sign, which I don't even remember what the place was.  I just thought it was a unique sign, hanging off the building to indicate whether they were open or closed.  I don't recall there really being much in the building, so I figure that most of the time, they're in the playing mode.  If I were to ever open a game store, I'd get a similar sign.

The most bizarre sign, though, had to be the adult toys store sign advertising its wares.  I also thought it was kind of weird that this was in the Pearl District, which many had recommended as the upscale part of town.  Then again, there was odd placement of shops throughout Portland -- in another area of town, I saw a gentlemen's club next to a grocery store. Perhaps that is just par for the course here.

Make it Sizzle with Bacon Lube
Taking advantage of a dying meme.

You read it as guilt, too, didn't you?I was starting to get hungry, so I checked out some eateries.  The first that I ran into was the Gilt Club.  However, gold-plated food must be considered too expensive for lunch, since they didn't open until dinner hours.  I feel kind of bad that I didn't go in -- sort of gilty, if you'll pardon the pun.

Protector of the Chinese Rose Garden
Protector of the Chinese Rose Garden
Before I found something to eat, I found the Chinese Rose Garden.  I had heard someone mention it on a previous trip, so I stopped to take a few pictures.  I would have probably gone ahead and paid the admission if I weren't so hungry already (and if I had timed it better to get there in time for one of the musical performances).
Entrance to the Chinese Rose Garden
Entrance to the Chinese Rose Garden

From there, I wandered up to the Thirsty Lion Pub and had their spicy mac & cheese (which was good).  I could definitely see the Thirsty Lion becoming a hotspot for me when I'm downtown with friends.  The atmosphere was fun and sporting, and the hostess and servers were all very attractive and attentive.  It just seemed like a fun place to be after a game (or while you're wasting time before one).

Across the street from the Thirsty Lion, there were a bunch of tents set up like a festival was going on.  Apparently, Portland has what they call the Saturday Market, which lets a bunch of vendors crowd into spaces downtown near the river for the weekend and let people wander around.  Since it was such a beautiful day, it was fairly packed with people.  

I wandered around a bit, checked out some of the vendor's wares (there was even a boardgame vendor there trying to sell his Game of Real Life).  All in all, it was enjoyable because it was a nice day out, but that type of thing isn't normally my cup of tea.

I did eventually get past all the tents, booths, vendors, and people, and ended up walking along the Willamette River for a while.  It was quite peaceful to walk by the parks, where the people were a bit more spread out, sunbathing, tossing a ball around, practicing their hula hooping, and other park activities.  

I was impressed with the number of bridges.  I knew that Portland was known for their many bridges, but I didn't realize just how many they had (9 crossing the Willamette).  My favorite part, though, was when I got to the end of the trail, and could see Mt. Hood off in the distance, under a bridge.   I just sat there for a while to relax and contemplate life.  There was no one else around (though an
occasional biker would pass by, and there was one guy who took his dog to play down by the river).

Pictures just don't do it justice...the cloudy haze takes away much of the Mt. Hood beauty.

Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat
The other thing along the river that I enjoyed was seeing the tug boat.  It was apparently the last operating steam tugboat in the US, and had been converted to the Oregon Maritime Museum.  I will want to go visit it sometime to learn more about the maritime history of the area.

After relaxing for a little while, I headed back to the other side of town and continued my random journey.  I found myself stopping in a little arcade for a quick cooldown, and ended up playing a few dollars worth of arcade classics.  Most exciting to me was their collection of 20 or so pinball machines upstairs.  They had a good mix of old favorites (like Theater of Magic, FunHouse, The Addams Family, and T2) and less old ones, like the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars Episode 1 (I'm not really sure how old those ones are, but I'm guessing they're both going on 10 years now...I've just been out of the pinball loop for too long, I guess).  The name of this arcade was Ground Kontrol.  It was small, very blue, and good for a quick stop.  I was a little disappointed that the bathroom required a key, but I guess they didn't want to open themselves up to the vagrants (of which there were many in the city).

On the way back, I noticed a small shop that had quite a line to get in.  By now, it was about 4pm, so I assumed it was a place for dinner.  I was a bit surprised to see that it was actually a doughnut shop -- why was there such a long line at 4pm for doughnuts?  I guess they are really good donuts -- the story on the Voodoo Doughnut site doesn't sound like there is a lot of history, just a cool name and good doughnuts.  Perhaps it is just odd enough that we'll end up having our wedding's cheap and can include doughnuts for 6 people, which is about the right size, I think.  Regardless, if there is anyone from the area that can explain what the big deal is with Voodoo doughnuts before I go stand in line, I'd appreciate the comments below.

By this time, I was starting to get a little tired, so to rejuvinate myself, I worked my way back to the center of town and sat in the Pioneer Courthouse Square to catch my breath.  Several others must have had the same thought, as it was full of people just sitting and relaxing.  Some were reading the names on the bricks of the courtyard, possibly looking for their own.  If this blog goes anywhere, I'll definitely need to get a brick of my own.

When I was refreshed, I decided to take a train a little further out of town and see what was around.  I took the blue line to Washington Park, not knowing that it was the stop for the Oregon Zoo, World Forestry Museum, and Portland Children's Museum.  Since everything was closed (and it didn't look like there was anything else nearby), I didn't want to miss the next train back, so I didn't spend much time walking around.  Apparently, this stop also houses the Portland Japanese Garden and International Rose Test Garden.  There is a lot to do at this stop -- I'll have to be sure to make a day of it at some point.

Back in the city, relaxed from catching an air-conditioned train back to town, I figured I'd check out the Rose Garden Arena.  There wasn't much else going on around there, though, so I just took a quick picture and hopped back on a train further downtown to find something to eat.
I wandered around the city, but didn't find anything that was open that really struck my fancy.  A lot of the cuter diners and bakeries were closed (or about to close, since it was close to 7pm), so I just ended up hitting BW3s.  It was quick and convenient and gave me an opportunity to watch the Kings - Coyotes game before heading home.

Overall, a very interesting day with a lot of sun and exercise, two things that I don't get enough of.  I've got some great ideas for things that I want to do now.  Still, I'm sure I missed some things (like the soccer stadium, which I plan to rectify next weekend), so if you have any recommendations for other things that I need to see or places that I need to eat, please let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Xbox Live Rant

I'm staying up a little too late tonight over something that I think should be fairly straightforward.  I bought myself a new Xbox 360 when I moved so that my girlfriend and I could talk over the Xbox Kinect Video Chat.  Today, I set her up with an Xbox Live account for my old machine, and started the process of the license transfer and downloading my old content to the new box.  Unfortunately, there isn't an easy way to do that.

The process is that you can request the license transfer to a new console once every 4 months.  That makes any new downloads to that console available for you when you're offline.  Unfortunately, for anything that you've already downloaded, you have to download it again.  In my case, I've downloaded about 100 arcade games and about 200 other DLC updates (for things like songs in Rock Band and Guitar Hero).  The download queue is only set up to handle 30 items at a time. So there is a lot of manual queue management if you want to download more than that.  I just wish that there were a way that you could say "Download All" to the new console and be done with it.

The worst part is that I saw it was going to be a hassle, so I started breaking it down by download type, and did the first downloads by Xbox Live Arcade titles (which included add-on content for those Arcade titles).  When I went to the Add-On content, it still included the Arcade title add-on content.  So now, I have 5 years worth of content that I need to correlate between what I've already downloaded to create my queue.  And if I exceed the limit of 30, I need to reload the web page (which resets the check boxes for what has already been downloaded) in order to re-request the downloads that exceeded the queue, making the management more difficult than it has to be.

Really, Microsoft?  This is the best you can do?

The hassles with DLC are greater than the benefits from them.  I don't forsee myself upgrading to the latest and greatest console in the next generation if they are DLC-only formats, just because of the ownership concerns.  I really like the way that Steam handles things, so I am more likely to migrate back to the PC for gaming (which I already have in most instances).

Anyway, I am going to give up for the night (have also been running into DLC that is no longer available, for whatever reason), but have posted on the Xbox forums about my frustrations, as well.  Please leave a comment below if you think that I'm being ridiculous (or if you agree)!

Welcoming Myself to Vancouver

Why in the world am I writing a blog, you may ask?  If you're reading this soon after it posted, you must know me -- and if you know me, you must know that I'm normally a very private, reserved person.  I don't even read other people's blogs because I'm afraid of knowing people!  But, at my age (37), I feel like I may have some knowledge that other people would like, and I'm fascinated with the new media.  I've actually had several false starts with blogging, but always pulled the plug right as it published or shortly thereafter.  I can't promise that this will be any different, though I have a different strategy this time.  Whereas my previous attempts always focused on a specific topic, I'm going to run this as a general blog, to include articles pertaining to all my interests, and see where that goes -- it's quite possible that this will either change to be a focused blog or will be broken apart into a few different topical blogs as I start to generate more content.

Why now?  Well, I've just moved to Vancouver, Washington for my job.  I work in technical sales for a security company, traveling primarily within the Pacific Time Zone.  That wasn't really a feasible scenario when I was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Between the strange work hours cutting into my evenings and the extra time required for every flight I took, it was really wearing me out.  Of course, my employer was also concerned about the extra costs associated with that extra time, as well.  I took the time to compare West Coast cities on a variety of requirements, and arrived at the conclusion that the Portland, Oregon area would work best for me.  

At the end of last year, my significant other and I were looking for places, but due to a variety of concerns that were brought forth in January, we decided that I would come out by myself and rent an apartment for a year.  We really felt that we didn't want to complicate her job, although she had received a tentative approval to work from home if we did move, and I really needed to focus on getting better at mine (first job I've had in sales, and I'm still learning the trade).  We're hoping that those issues will be resolved in the next year, at which point we'll go back to the original plan.

A positive side-effect of living separately for a year is that we can focus on trying out a few activities that we've wanted to do that just get postponed when you are living with someone.  Things like exercise, research on personal interests, and yes, even a blog.  

As they say in the business -- to make a short story long, that's why I'm writing a blog!

Anyway, my first week was pretty uneventful, apart from the unpacking and such.  I didn't even do much exploring, apart from a quick drive around my immediate surroundings and a couple trips to places that I already knew about (like Ikea and a boardgame Meetup group).  This week is more meant for exploring, now that I'm on my own.  Today, the temperature was nice enough (if not a little too hot) to take a walking tour of my immediate surroundings.  I had no idea that from around the corner, I would be able to see Mt. Hood!  I really like this mountain/volcano.  Every time I get a glimpse, I'm just mesmerized.  I think that I'm going to add the view of Mt. Hood to my requirements for my next home.  Anyway, I got a picture, but please pardon the quality, it's from my mobile phone.

I also got a chance to stop in a local game store, where I got some ideas for other places that I need to visit. While most places that they were recommending were a couple hours away, it seems that is a fairly common recommendation around here -- they push their outdoors activities from the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helen's, the Pacific Ocean, and the desert to the south.  I look forward to checking all those destinations out over the course of the summer, but in the meantime, please leave me some comments on more local recommendations that you would give to new residents!