Thursday, December 07, 2006

Daddy, Husband, Son, Co-Worker and Friend = James Kim

James Kim with Family

Many of us here in Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay area have been following the stories about the Kim family. James Kim, an editor and video personality at CNet, is one of our own local technology geeks.

They lost their way on the way home from a Thanksgiving holiday trip from Seattle Washington to Tu Tu' Tun Lodge at Gold Beach on the Oregon coast. Apparently they missed their original turn off of highway 5 and thought NF-23 road looked like a viable option. Unfortunately the area has a bunch of side roads and logging trails, so they understandably got off the main road and go lost.

The good news is that
Carson Helicopter Services Inc., hired by Mr. Kim's father found Jame's wife Kati and daughters Sabine and Penelope OK. Kati literally kept her kids alive with mother's love.

Kati Kim with daughter

She breastfed her young daughters during the nine day ordeal when their car was stuck in the snow. I'm so proud of her resourcefulness and strength to get them through the nightmare.

I initially heard about James Kim situation through one of my CNet newsletter subscriptions on Monday, December 4th. I followed every twist and turn through the sad conclusion yesterday afternoon. It was heart breaking to read that Mr. Kim was
found within a mile of the family car, but there's no way he could have reached them directly from where he was found.

Area Body Found

Uploading James Body

Given the terrain, it's a wonder they found him and got his body out at all.

There were several good sites where people shared messages of hope, gave the local, search and rescue point of view plus offered advice about what people should do if in the same situation.

Since the Kim girls are so young, I have high hopes that they'll be able to recover from what happened to their family this holiday season. Perhaps Kati's stores, Doe SF and Church Street Apothecary (very cute stores, by the way) can carry them through without James' income. Happily, James job required him to be video taped a lot over the years. That legacy of images and sound of his voice should help Penelope and Sabine get to know their father over the years.

Excellent post from Seattle Times blog. I agree whole heartedly. I always thought that if Kati was as skinny as her husband, James, no way she could have kept breastfeeding so many days.

It was painful to watch the sky turn dark and read the news that the rescue teams had to pull back for the night. To think of James Kim out there alone in the dark, with the freezing cold setting in, starving (and he looked like a skinny guy to begin with), in wet clothes, and -- not knowing that his family was safe -- plunging ahead through poison oak, icy water, heavy brush, treacherous ravines, because he was carrying the weight of his family's survival. His will to save his family propelled him forward until his body was completely overcome by the harsh conditions it had been subjected to, the temperature inside of him dropping steadily, down, down to a pilot light, down to a flicker, and then was gone. To lose that kind of a person is a loss to our society. And that just two days, a rescue two days earlier would have made such a difference. It's so sad.Who knows how many lives his story will save? Because this could have happened to almost any city slicker, a scary fact that is resonating with many readers. Those of us without emergency supplies in our car are now much more likely to be prepared.I will never be able to hear another story of people lost in the snow without thinking of this man's ordeal.
Posted by Anna K. at 03:54 PM, Dec 07, 2006

Stranded Father's Heroic Last Hours
by Peter Fimrite

Grants Pass, Ore. -- James Kim put himself through a desperate ordeal, climbing down a ravine over boulders and logs, through nearly impenetrable brush, and in and out of an icy creek, in what one rescue leader called a "superhuman" effort to save his family.

In the end, Kim's circuitous hike took him to within a mile as the crow flies from the spot where he had left his stranded family in their car. Rescuers said that if he had continued down the road in the direction he was driving when the car became stuck on Nov. 25, he would have reached a lodge and almost certain safety.

Kim died after picking his way nearly to the end of the steep, 5-mile canyon in the Siskiyou National Forest west of Grants Pass. Wearing tennis shoes, a jacket and sweater, he had left his family on Saturday, following a logging road back the way the family had come, winding around a ridge, first south, then west.

"I can only describe him as an extremely motivated individual," said Joe Hyatt of the local Swift Water Rescue Team, which tracked him along the creekbed. "There were areas where the only option for us to pass through was to enter the water and physically swim."

Kim was almost certainly dripping wet. It's not known whether he realized he was approaching the Rogue River, but authorities said he wouldn't have found civilization even had he made it to where the creek empties out.

"Based on what the searchers were describing, the terrain they were working in, it seems superhuman to me,'' Anderson said of Kim's effort.

A helicopter crew spotted Kim's body in the creek at a place where the terrain becomes impassable on both sides because two sheer cliffs line the water.

"He was probably too weak to get back up out of there," Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said.
"I admire his effort, I truly do," Winters said. "He has a lot of intestinal fortitude. He comes from the city without a lot of outdoors experience, and he was thinking on his feet, he was very meticulous. ... He had a strong will to survive."

From: ""
Sent: Tuesday, December 5, 2006 9:01:42 PM
Subject: Photographs Taken During Tuesday's Aerial Search for Missing James Kim

News Release from: Oregon State Police
Posted: December 5th, 2006 8:56 PM
Photo/sound file:
Photo/sound file:
Photo/sound file:
Photo/sound file:
Photo/sound file:

The attached photographs were taken by Oregon State Police while accompanying a helicopter crew during Tuesday's search for missing James Kim who was last seen leaving his car on Saturday, December 2, 2006 at 7:45 a.m.

The photographs are not the best quality but do depict the terrain and include a couple photographs of searchers being lowered down into the Big Windy Creek area to assist with the search.

These photographs may be used by media for reporting on this story.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pilgrims Sicc'd on Turkey

Pilgrims chase turkey
AFP/Timothy A. Clary, November 22, 2006

This about sums up how turkeys must feel about Thanksgiving.

Actors Christine DeLos Angeles and Joseph Buchanan dressed as Pilgrims chase Sixto Cuevas dressed as turkey down the street in New York during the fifth annual Thanksgiving Turkey Chase sponsored by the Abracadabra Superstore. Americans on Thursday celebrate Thanksgiving, one of the country's most important holidays and also a rare occasion for harried families to reunite and share an elaborate home-cooked meal.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Free Blues Turkey Day Eve

Last night, the joint was jumpin' at The Redwood City Blues Jam at the Little Fox Theater
The Redwood City Blues Jam
Several Wednesdays a month, Blues fans can go for free to sit in on the jam. The skill level is a mixture of people who play music as a hobby to musicians headlining local shows. It's a two level nightclub/theatre that could be described as cozy. I sat on the top level, with a clear view of the stage, even though there were a lot of dancers. Here's a blurb to describe what goes on:
Every 2nd, 3rd and 4th Wednesdays of the month from 7 PM to 11 PM, the beautiful historic Little Fox opens its doors to the jam hosted by the elite of Bay Area Blues. If the music were not enough, appearances at the jam provide an unparalleled promotional opportunity for artists with upcoming area gigs. The buzz following the jam in the highly active local blues community often results in sold-out shows for participating artists. If you are a touring blues performer, drop in and you'll not only get a chance to "cut heads" with the best but also get the word out about your upcoming gig.

I found out about the event by an e-mail newsletter from Tia Carroll, a local artist and entertainer.

Tia Carroll

Her style reminds me of the R&B Divas like Etta James, Ruth Brown, Irma Thomas. The generation who ruled the day before Aretha Franklin and her generation did there thing. Very charismatic and engaging with the audience and expressive interpreter of the music. Over the years since I've been watching her perform around the Bay Area, I've seen her work with a wide variety of musicians and other vocalists. She pretty much represents Bay Area Blues women for me.

One of the stand-out jam musicians was Ron Thompson, a self described Rhythm and Blues Legend. Within 15 seconds of playing, you knew he was the truth.
Ron Thompson, Blues Legend

The bad thing about RT coming on so early was that almost every other guitarist that came on stage later was pedestrian by comparison. His style was like a combination of rockabilly, boogie woogie and the speed guitar of surf music like Dick Dale. I could tell he was special, but with a resume like the one on his website, I feel even more lucky
Not many living blues musicians can say they have performed with and recorded for legends like Big Mama Thornton, Sonny Rhodes, Luther Tucker, Jimmy McCracklin, Pee Wee Crayton, Carla Thomas, School Boy Cleve, Percy Mayfield, Etta James, B.B. King, and Jimmy Reed.
You can tell a lot of regulars go there. A lot of people knew each other and I recognize at least 2/3 of the people on the Redwood City Blues Jam photo page. Patricia Wilder (not the 1920s movie star) was one of the guitarists with a sweet sound.
Patricia Wilder

On her website, I see she has a jazz, rock, R&B, blues and gospel background and has been playing since she was a teenager. So it makes sense she can find her way around an axe.
Patricia Wilder

One of the Blues vocalists had blonde big bouffant hair, tight jeans, cowboy boots and red lace top, looking like she accidentally wandered in from some kind of hillbilly hoedown. But when she opened her mouth, no doubt she knew how to sing the Blues. With her two stepping and jig dancing self.

Even though four hours sounds like a long time, it goes fast when your watching good, live music. Other than the house band, Artie "Stix" Chavez and his All Stars who was consistently great, the different musicians that took they turns brought something different to the table. Including the keyboardist that looked like a physics teacher, the drummer who looked like one of the retired ladies in my Pacific Scribes calligraphy guild and the cool ass Pinoy guy, Carlos, was so good on mouth harp, everyone wanted to play with him so much, they wore the poor guy out.

I love the Bay Area.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

I was there - PMI Global Congress 2006

This is my first year attending the PMI Global Congress - North America, October 21-24 2006 at the Seattle Washington State Convention & Trade Center. Needless to say, I learned a lot and met some interesting people. It was my chance to meet project managers outside of the software development/ IT fields. There were project managers from many fields
including: aerospace, defense, architecture, automotive, aviation, bio-technology,
civil engineering, construction, criminal justice, education & training,
financial services, government, healthcare, human resources, information technology,
telecommunications, life sciences, manufacturing, marketing & sales, metrics,
new product development, oil, gas & petrochemical, pharmaceutical, retail,
sports, utilities.

On Friday I arrived at the Roosevelt Hotel in the afternoon. I was hoping there was time for me to make it over to the Science Fiction Museum, at the Experience Music Project
before it closed at 6 pm. Unfortunately, the Seattle Monorail was broken, so I had to figure out a different way to get over to the Seattle Center. I tried a taxi, but we went approximately 1.5 blocks in about half an hour. (The conversation with the driver on nanotechnology
and biotechnology was interesting, though.)

No way was I going to make it before the museum was going to close. So I had to bail on that idea and go shopping at Nordstrom instead. Later I ducked out on the "Simply the Best" PMI Awards Ceremony to go check out the Science Fiction Museum. Pretty good trade-off. I really enjoyed the museum which had a lot of interactive and video features.

Saturday, my first official PMI Congress related event was put on by Microsoft (surprise!). The Puget Sound chapter of MPA, Microsoft Project Association, mentioned a new Microsoft Project certification program and gave us a chance to meet some big wigs within the organization. I haven't seen the announcement myself, but apparently they had a press release party during the conference. The main "behind the scenes" news we heard was that MS Project is included in the long term MS Office strategy, which is about half of Microsoft's income.. Neither of my SIGs, Diversity or New Product Development, met on Saturday, so I sat in the Consulting SIG. I used to belong to that one, but nothing ever happened other than the LinkedIn group.

Sunday was a very long PMI Research Program Working Session. The first part of the day was when the PMI Research Program got together with academia, represented by

Start here to finish

  • Countdown To Leadership - Mike Mullane
  • Cross Culture Project Management
  • Build Your Team with People-Savvy: Overcome the Five Team Dysfunctions
  • New Directions and Innovations in Metrics-Based Project Management
  • The Lens and the Mirror: Viewing Project Management as an Outcome or as
    a Set of Processes?
  • Motivations and Blockades in International Project Management Work
  • No-Nonsense Leadership Tips for Promoting Project Success - Neal Whitten,
    Strategic Portfolio Management at Hydromax: Converting Strategy into Action
    and the Strategic Importance of Project Execution
  • You Too Can Do Earned Value Management, Understanding the Basics of CPM
    (Critical Path Method) Calculations: What is Scheduling Software Really Telling
  • Successfully Manage Your Projects and Your Client's Expectations - Consultants'

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bark in the Park - September 2006

This year's Bark In the Park was fun as usual.

Seemed like attendance was up over last year. More dogs and people. Some highlights.

Big Dogs

Small Dogs

Giant Puppy
Younger than 1 year old, nephew of Gibson the giant dog

Heroic Dogs
Roy's trading card front

Heroic Dogs
Roy's trading card back


Dressed up as a Baby

Human dressed as a dog, for a change

Matching Mom and Fur Babies

Taking a break while listening to brass band

Big dog flyball run

Brown sheep herding dog

Shepard, crook and black herd dog

Bark in the Park 2006 - Dogs Just Want to Have Fun! is a fundraising event hosted by the Naglee Park neighborhood's Campus Community Association. All proceeds benefit the CCA and Humane Society Silicon Valley [Culo is an Alumni, class of 1997].

Bark in the Park Entrance

Friday, September 15, 2006

Smart Companies Do Dumb Things

Interestingly enough, just a month after attending the Why Leaders Fail seminar, I run across a set of blog postings about why companies fail. Funnily enough, the two situatios share a lot of the same negative qualities: poor interpersonal skills, self centeredness, failure to acknowledge problems, untrustworthiness, arrogance and weak management skills.

Guy Kawasaki, a famous local marketing guy/evangelist, blogged about this topic on his Signum sine tinnitu website in a September 12th posting, Why Smart Companies do Dumb Things. Although I don't agree with every syllable, he does make some good points I hadn't considered before:
  • Consensus: once consensus starts to build, it’s harder to alter a decision. It’s one thing to argue against a few people; it’s much more difficult to argue against the wisdom of a crowd. Individuals who hold out, question, or disagree are labeled as clueless, uncooperative, and not team players.
  • Conviction: A decision takes on a sacred life of its own, and a company cannot see flaws. Conviction is not inherently bad, and truthfully, it’s an important component of success. The trick is to combine conviction with open eyes and open minds to reduce the likelihood of having a conviction in the wrong thing.
  • CEO (or any top executive) who provides cues about what she likes. Then, disagreeing takes on the gravity of career risk... It could be that people, no matter how smart, rearrange reality. They do not simply follow the dumb cues of the CEO. Instead, there’s an intermediate step: they see the cues, rearrange the facts in their mind, and then conclude that the CEO is right. The result is the same, though.
  • Good news. A company, any company, is constantly assaulted by its competition, customers, governments, and schmexperts (schmucks + experts). Faced with this onslaught, good news is an addictive, illegal, and dangerous drug. It makes you crave more good news, and you refuse to communicate bad news up the chain of command. Ultimately, it may even make you refuse to hear bad news at all.
  • Say, believe, and act in a way that convinces employees that differences of opinion and diversity of thoughts are good things.
  • Don’t be in a rush to meet consensus. In particular CEOs should not rush into a decision even though the image of decisiveness is so too seductive.
  • Spell things out. It’s not enough to say, "Plug this leak in our company" and assume that it will be done legally. You should say, "Plug this leak in our company by using only legal, ethical, and reasonable methods." That’s when you’re done.
  • Move the crowns. When employees go around saying, "We need to do it this way because Bill/Steve/Carly/Larry wants it this way,” you’re in trouble. It means that employees are making decisions based on what they think will make kings and queens happy—as opposed to what’s right for the customer, employees, or shareholders. Good CEOs put the crown on the heads of customers, not themselves.
  • Ask for bad news. Don’t assume it will find you—you have to find it. You should allocate a time that’s specifically for communicating bad news.
  • Don’t reward the messenger who brings good news unless he caused it.
A lot of the comments above are idealistic. I've seen too many managers who are very lazy and depend too much on "special people" to tell them what's going on. Instead of doing the leg work themselves. I can't tell you what a joy it was to work in such an environment.

One quote I don't agree with but I do get Mr. Kawasaki's intentions.
  • Don’t shoot the messenger who brings the bad news unless he caused it.
This seems to directly contradict some points he makes above. Specifically about arrogance and the crowns. How employees should not be motivated by the individual likes and dislikes of management. Plus, one of the best ways to shut down open communication is to shoot people when they are trying to tell you something.

I copied a lot of the article, but you may want to check it out in full and in context, Why Smart Companies do Dumb Things by Guy Kawasaki.

One of the commentors to the blog posting, Doug Karr, made and excellent point and encouraged me to check out HIS blog, On Influence and Automation.
Glad to see arrogance on your list. I believe it should lead all other items, though. Arrogance used to be only a retention issue because great sales, marketing and PR could overcome churn by replacing old customers with new. With the advent of the Internet as a research vehicle for consumers and corporations, arrogance does much more harm to companies because it outweighs sales, marketing and PR.
Yep, I can think of a few companies this applies to. Mr. Karr points out that Corporate Arrogance tends to apply as soon as the organization begins to think that it knows better than its customers.

It’s interesting to me that many companies only decide that this is truly a problem when better competition comes along. At that point, they blame the mass exodus on the competition, not on their own incompetence. Some companies have huge customer churn… and rather than trying to fix the issue and show appreciation for the customer, they merely pump more dollars into acquiring customers to replace the ones who have left. They continue trying to fill the leaky bucket until nothing works - and they die.
He finishes up the posting by listing recent examples of how Corporate Arrogance has sunk some companies and how other companies eventually straightened up and flew right.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Syllabub - Pre-Refrigeration Dessert

Early Tin Syllabub Churns
Unusual Early Tin Syllabub Churn

I love my All Recipes subscription. Even though I hardly ever cook-cook, I love getting the recipes of the day and cooking tips. They have a pretty decent pictures of almost every recipe or term in their newsletter along with comments from people who have tried the recipes.

Today, I got introduced to a new kind of food, Syllabub. I like that you can make it with a wide variety of fruits like lemon, cherry, orange, strawberry, raspberry, apple, peach and so on. Or you can do chocolate or ginger. For a picky eater like me, it sounds great.

Lemon Syllabub - All Recipes
Lemon Syllabub from All Recipes

At first, I thought it was typo and they meant syllabus, like a college course outline. Nope, it's an actual fluffy food item that's been around since the 1600s.

Syllabub was a popular dessert in seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. It was popular for celebrations, special occasions and holidays due to its festive appearance. Many original recipes survive with various modes of preparation. Generally Syllabub was made with a mixture of whipped cream, whipped egg whites, white wine, sugar, lemon juice and zest of lemon. The quantity of white wine added would determine the consistency qualifying whether the mixture would be a creamy dessert or a popular punch. White wine could be substituted with apple cider or other alcoholic beverages. One could always detect the drinker of the beverage by the thick white mustache left behind.
The syllabub even shows up in one of Jane Austen's comedic books "Lesley Castle", written when she was 16 years old.
His heart, which (to use your favourite comparison) was as delicate as sweet and as tender as a Whipt-syllabub, could not resist her attractions...

Lesley Castle
, Jane Austen, 1792

Sometimes Syllabub was eaten with Ratafia Cakes, a type of macaroon that derives its name from the flavoring used in making them. Many original recipes survive with various modes of preparation. This page on a Jane Austin website, gives you the option of making the dessert with a tool like the one at the top of the page, or using the modern method, a blender or food processor. There's even a recipe to make Syllabub with raw milk, like they did in the days before refrigeration.

Syllabub Punch Bowl Set
Syllabub Punch Bowl Set made of mint green Victorian satin glass with gilt ribbon designs

Even though gooey, fluffy desserts with gobs of whipped cream or custard make me gag and want to retch, I wouldn't mind trying some Syllabub. Now the trick is to come up with an excuse to make some at the next party I go to. That way, if I don't like it, other people can finish off the batch.

Syllabub Punch Bowl Set
Syllabub Punch Bowl made of mint green Victorian satin glass with gilt ribbon designs

Friday, August 25, 2006

Idlewild, Art Deco Musical

Short discussion of the movie Idlewild starring Outkast. Fanciful musical set in Prohibition era, American South.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Why Leaders Fail

Earlier today, I sat in on an EXCELLENT seminar, given by the PMI Diversity special interest group (SIG). I try to make a living by project management, usually in a software technology company or on a software development project, so I'll take any advice that will help me do by job better or easier.

Tom Mattus, President and Co-Founder of Successful Strategies International, Inc. (SSI) gave the dynamic presentation “Why Leaders Fail”. Dynamic as in speaker style and topic. Tom was a great role model in how to give an engaging presentation. I definitely recommend looking into any of the seminars his company gives. You won't be bored unless you work hard at it.

The presentation hit the button with the 5 main reasons leaders fail. Three of the five are things that can be improved by experience. Self centeredness and untrustworthiness seem to be personality flaws, I don't see how they can be fixed as easily as some of the others. Interestingly enough, the presentation proposes that the failures of managers under a leader is demoralizing to all staff. Not just the personal failure of the individual who did not succeed. In reality, the person who failed is scapegoated as the bad seed. The goal is for them to take away the bad vibes when they leave.

There were a few slides on the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI), which was new to me. I got a phone call right as I was going to dial into the webinar, then my computer decided to act up, so I missed the part of EI part of the preso. So I looked up what it's all about on the web.

Just about every site I found on the topic referenced at least one of Daniel Goleman's books: Social Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ and Working with Emotional Intelligence, so I guess these are good places to start.

Emotional intelligence: a set of competencies that distinguishes how people manage feelings, interact, and communicate. Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence can keep growing--it continues to develop with life experiences. Understanding and raising your emotional intelligence is essential to your success and leadership potential. This book is an excellent resource for learning how to accomplish this.

Everyone knows that high IQ is no guarantee of success, happiness, or virtue, but until Emotional Intelligence, we could only guess why. Daniel Goleman's brilliant report from the frontiers of psychology and neuroscience offers startling new insight into our "two minds"—the rational and the emotional—and how they together shape our destiny.

The best news is that "emotional literacy" is not fixed early in life. Every parent, every teacher, every business leader, and everyone interested in a more civil society, has a stake in this compelling vision of human possibility.

EQ - Emotional Quotient by Business Balls,

Emotional Intelligence -EI by, overview of the field and related psychology theories.

My Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ)

I found a free test on iVillage. Suprisingly I scored average. I thought I'd get the equivalent of "check yourself into the nearest institution before you hurt yourself or others". Here's my results. What did you get?
Emotional intelligence Research suggests that a person's emotional intelligence (EQ) might be a greater predictor of success than his or her intellectual intelligence (IQ), despite an assumption that people with high IQs will naturally accomplish more in life.

Emotional intelligence is a person's ability to understand their own emotions and those of others, and to act appropriately using these emotions.

You scored 75% correct!

Your score indicates that you have an average EQ.

People who typically score in this range are usually able to recognise and understand their feelings and to express them in an appropriate manner. They are fairly comfortable with who they are. In most circumstances they are not afraid to show love, empathy and compassion for other people. In general, they are comfortable with intimacy, and giving of themselves to other people.

They are pretty good communicators. They are fairly in tune with themselves and those around them. They generally know how to say the right thing at the right moment. They are good friends and partners. They are normally able to show anger in appropriate ways. More often than not, they are able to stand up for themselves when necessary, but also are not afraid to cry if they are hurt. They are able to admit when they are wrong and take steps to correct their mistakes. They are rarely unable to say they are sorry.

They are generally happy, well-rounded people. They accept challenges. They can stay motivated and focused in the face of setbacks. They are able to set goals for themselves and often achieve them. They are positive and optimistic about themselves, others around them, and their future.

However, just because people with an average EQ have a pretty good grasp on their emotions they still have plenty of room for emotional growth. They can continue to be introspective. They can continue to communicate with the people around them and continue to work on their goals. They can utilise what they have and continue to identify areas within themselves that need work.

Remember that a person's emotional intelligence never stops growing. Because we are always evolving as people, EQ is something that must be nurtured. If it isn?t cultivated, emotional intelligence will disappear.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Jan and Micki Make the USA Today Cover

Some of my "Folks I Know" blog people (see the link to The Jan and Micki Show: The incredible adventures of two girls in love on the right) got a story in USA Today. And they didn't even have to commit a major crime. Here's a link to their blog posting about it: On the Cover of the USA Today.

I met Micki Seibel and Jan Leger when we worked together at Netscape and I stayed in touch. I've seen them through houses in St. Helena, Los Gatos and Mountain View, a wide variety of cars including a Range Rover, BMW sports car and MINI Cooper, many jobs at technology companies around the Bay Area, their lovely wedding in the Santa Cruz Mountains, their dog Kisha as well as Jan's battle with breast cancer. Now their housing adventures are splashed across an national newspaper, for all the world to see. You go girls!

Jan and Micki in front of Noe/Castro Valley House
Jan and Micki in front of Noe/Castro Valley House By Jack Gruber

For Some, Renting Makes More Sense

Updated 8/10/2006 12:50 AM ET
There's been a debate ever since Micki Seibel and Jan Leger told their friends they were going to sell their home in the heart of San Francisco and rent an apartment.

"Half think it's great. The other half have been trying to talk us out of it," says Seibel, 34, who works for MyNewPlace, a new online apartment search firm.

Though Seibel and Leger love their home, which they bought in 2002 for about $1 million, it's been draining them of $5,600 a month for their mortgage and taxes, when they could be renting a place just as nice in the same neighborhood for about $3,400. "We can put that savings in the bank and make it work for us and take away the risk of the unknown future of the real estate market," Seibel notes.

It's hard to imagine the American dream as a two-bedroom apartment with a pool, instead of a single-family home with a white picket fence. But in some of the nation's priciest real estate markets, that's what's happening. The financial reasons for renting instead of buying are the strongest they've been in 25 years.

"The last time home affordability fell to such an extreme was in 1981, but that was because interest rates jumped from 13% to 16%," says Hessam Nadji, a managing director for Marcus & Millichap, an investment brokerage firm.

"What's alarming this time is that interest rates are still historically low. That means rents need to go up, and home prices to come down in some areas, for the balance to be regained. And that may be a painful process that takes between a year to 18 months."

The market was thrown out of kilter during the five-year real estate boom. Renters stampeded at the sight of an "open house" sign, trying to buy anything they could afford. Prices soared by 40%, and by even more along the coasts and in such places as Las Vegas and Phoenix. Landlords couldn't raise rents as fast, so many apartment owners simply gave up and converted their buildings into condos for sale.

So how out of whack is it now?

The national median mortgage payment is $1,687 a month, nearly twice the median rent payment of $868 a month. The financial gap is even larger in cities where home prices recently rose to sky-scraping heights, such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, according to an analysis by Marcus & Millichap for USA TODAY.

Though adjustable-rate and other exotic mortgages enabled families to buy homes with low-to-no down payments, many of them are still stretched to the financial limit. For a family earning the U.S. median income of $46,913, for example, owning the median-price home of $224,739 would eat up 51% of their income. Renting would require just 25%.

Buyers sit on the sidelines

Add rising interest rates, and it's easy to see why many would-be home buyers are sitting on the sidelines and why even some homeowners are cashing out.

By renting, they gain the flexibility of a lease and freedom from home repairs. They can also invest more money in stocks, bonds and other assets that could appreciate faster than real estate over the next couple of years.

"For someone debating whether to rent or buy in a market that's experienced recent and substantial house-price run-up, it may be better to delay the home purchase and see what the market looks like a year or two down the road," says Stuart Gabriel, director of the Lusk Center for Real Estate at the University of Southern California.

He adds, though, "Over an extended period of time, homeownership is going to make sense for most people, most of the time."

How long is an extended period? It depends on the size of the gap between the cost of renting vs. owning.

A homeowner in Orange County, Calif., for example, would have to stay in his or her home for a decade before breaking even on out-of-pocket costs compared with renting, according to Marcus & Millichap.

Of course, on the other side of the debate, homeowners can argue that they're building wealth by investing in an asset that appreciates over time, while renters are throwing money out the window. Homeowners can also enjoy stability (with a fixed-rate mortgage), tax advantages and financial security.

'It's crazy'

"Real estate is probably the best investment any young person can make," says Yadiris Ferreira, 29, who bought a condo last month in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

Still, her mortgage, including homeowner association fees, totals $1,800 a month — more than half the money she takes home as a high school math teacher. "It's crazy," Ferreira concedes.

But, she explains, "If I didn't buy something soon, it was going to get to the point that I couldn't afford anything."

Lots of other people thought the same way during the boom years. But now home sales are falling, and in some cities, prices have started dropping, too. In June, condo prices fell 2% nationwide, and single-family home prices dipped in several markets, including San Diego, Boston and Washington.

"It would be scary to buy something in a hot market and have the price just fall a few months after we buy," says Joel Coffey, a 21-year-old accountant who signed a lease last week with his wife, Katy, for an apartment in Seattle.

As more people like the Coffeys take a wait-and-see attitude, they put pressure on home sellers to cut prices. At the same time, as renters swarm the apartment market, they force up rents. This year, rents are expected to climb about 5%, and by even more in such expensive markets as Seattle, New York and San Francisco.

When the Coffeys were apartment hunting, Katy, 22, called a landlord who had posted an ad on the Craigslist website. "She told me, 'You're the sixth person to contact me, and I've had it listed for 15 minutes.' "

In Manhattan, the rental market looks pretty much the way the housing market did two years ago: multiple applications, dueling agents and rising prices.

"Renting instead of buying is becoming a more popular option than it's been in a long time," says Jonathan Miller, CEO of Miller Samuel, a Manhattan appraisal company. "Landlords who have been suffering for the last four or five years are trying to make up for lost time."

Rents in New York City have already climbed 5% to 20% over the past year, but that's still not enough to rebalance the market. Miller estimates that rents would have to rise an additional 20% before it would make more financial sense for renters to start buying.

In San Francisco, where the median home costs about $760,000, apartment rents have jumped 15% in the past two months, says Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association.

"There is a huge demand for apartments in San Francisco because homes are so unaffordable," she says.

That's still not enough to persuade Seibel and Leger to keep their home there. "We've been watching the rents," Seibel says. "But for what we're paying for our mortgage and property taxes, we could be renting a mansion in Pacific Heights."

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Culo in Puppywars

Culo is now officially part of Puppywars, so be sure to vote for him when his picture comes up.
Culo at Puppywars

I uploaded the picture on Thursday and now he's in rotation. So far, he's been in battle for 7 matches:
* Won: 4 [67%]
* Lost: 2 [33%]
* Drawn: 1

It's a picture of Culo enjoying his 9th Birthday cake last January. The dog bone shaped cake was from Five Paws Bakery of Los Altos. To pet haters who don't believe people should do silly things for their pets as long as there is hunger in the world, the cake was less than $15. You can't get a custom made human cake for that much.

By the way,
Puppywars has a dog blog called the Daily Puppy. Check it out if you can't get enough doggyness.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hoaxed by the Quintuplets Lady

June 29, 2006, 11:57:51 AM Update

A thoughtful blogger let me know that the story below was a hoax.
[Devans Cosmos] 6/29/2006 11:57:51 AM

Turns out,it was a lie. I just wonder how her husband didn't know.

I should have known it was too weird to be true.


Super-sized Belly Ends a Prank

By Jessie Tao (
Updated: 2006-06-15 17:23

Related: Super-sized Belly

As people are widely concerned about the health of Qiao Yubo and her five babies in her phenomenally big belly, the super pregnant woman confessed Wednesday to the local reporters and doctors that the whole thing was made up.

Qiao Yubo, an ordinary woman in Ningjiang District of Songyuan city, northeast China's Jilin Province, has been put into the spotlight since Jilin News' report on her quintuplets and 175-centimeter waistline earlier this week.

,,Qiao Yubo,,,
Qiao Yubo's super-sized belly "disappeared" on June 14, 2006. [Jilin News]

However, when a hospital in the capital city of Changchun offered a free medical check-up, the woman and her husband taken flee from a window, thus unfolding the true story behind, reported Jinlin News.

When the doctors finally found her in a washing room in her sister's house, Qiao knelt down, cried out, and told them she was not carrying quintuplets, Mr Li, chief of the hospital, told the newspaper.

Calming down, Qiao pulled out the staff she had been cramming into her belly, including three bed quilts, a dozen sweaters, shirt, cushions, hats and so on, Li said.

Staff pulled out from Qiao's belly on June 14, 2006. [Jilin News]

Qiao had been pregnant twice before, once with twins and the other with multiples, but had miscarriages both times. Fearing the second miscarriage might be a hard blow to her husband, Qiao hold back the truth.

Qiao became pregnant again a month after her second miscarriage, which gave her an idea -- to make up a belly with clothes and other staff before the belly got really big so that her husband would get the truth. She then filled something inside every day, and her belly grew accordingly, Li was told by Qiao.

She has been pregnant for three months in fact, Li said.

Surprisingly enough, even Qiao's husband had no idea Qiao was having a fake belly until the arrival of the hospital staff, and he was the first to inform of media of the quintuplets.

"I was thinking I could not afford five babies, so I hoped the media exposure would arouse the society's attention and some people might give a helping hand." the paper quoted her husband as saying.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I Bleeve I can Fly

Spanish Recortador

Click for Larger Picture

Modern day Spanish Recortador continues bull leaping tradition that goes back to the legendary King Minos from Crete's Minoan civilization. This lovely picture of a recortador jumping over a wild cow during a show in Pamplona, Spain on July 8, 2006 is courtesy of Eloy Alonso, Reuters. What is it with Mediterranean folks and jumping over livestock?

Minoan Bull Leaping Fresco
Bull Leaping Fresco from the 2000 BC Palace at Knossos

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Dedication to former UCSC Chancellor Denice D. Denton

As a University of California, Santa Cruz alumna and Lifetime UCSC Alumni Association member, I'm dedicating this blog posting to former UCSC Chancellor Denice D. Denton.
UCSC Chancellor Denise Denton border=

Denise Denton was a scientist who encouraged women and girls to study science, technology, engineering and math and was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her legacy includes the doors of opportunity in science and engineering thrown open wider for women and men of color.

Even though Ms. Denton was after my time at the school, I'm still proud of what she accomplished. I'm sorry to read about all the negative things she went through during her time as UC Santa Cruz Chancellor. From physical intimidation to being under a microscope 24/7.

As a former student, I remember how idealist and vocal people could be. Unfortunately that came without the life experience to really judge how big a deal things actually are. I didn't think anything anything Ms. Denton was involved in merited people throwing large objects through her window, as I read in some articles. I'm in the camp of people to believe that the University of California Governance, Office of the President and Board of Regents, failed her by not giving her the support she needed to succeed. I don't care if previous Chancellors needed the same type of support or not. Each person's situation is unique.

Some articles and websites if you want to read more about the death of former UCSC Chancellor Denice D. Denton.

Tragic Death of Chancellor Denice D. Denton
UCSC Alumni Association
Tuesday, June 27, 2006 4:48:57 PM

Dear UCSC Alumni:

In case you have not already heard, it is with deep sadness that we bring you the news of the tragic death of UCSC Chancellor Denice D. Denton who died on Saturday, June 24, 2006, in San Francisco. For more information please see

As the campus community mourns her loss, the following memorial arrangements have been made:

Memorial service:

The life and extraordinary achievements of Denice D. Denton, ninth chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, will be celebrated at a memorial service at 10 a.m., Thursday, June 29, in the Recital Hall of the UCSC Music Center. A reception will immediately follow the service.

The memorial service will be simulcast both at the campus's Media Theater and outside the entrance to the Music Recital Hall.

Parking is available at the Performing Arts parking lot. Overflow parking is available at the Core West parking structure; shuttles will be on hand to transport attendees to and from the Music Recital Hall from the Core West parking structure.

For more information about the memorial service, please contact the UC Santa Cruz Special Events Office (831-459-5003) or

Memorial fund:

A memorial fund has been established to honor Chancellor Denton's vision and priorities for UC Santa Cruz. Memorial contributions may be made by visiting our web site at:

Condolence notes and flowers can be sent to her family:

c/o Office of the Chancellor
200 Clark Kerr Hall
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95064

Friday, July 07, 2006

Dark Days NYC Tunnel People

Dark Days 2000

Last night I saw an incredible documentary called Dark Days (2000). It was about a group of people living in a mostly abandoned train tunnel under New York City. The relative isolation and lack of regular homeless people threats allowed the residents to retain some measure of independence and dignity. As one tunnel resident says, "Ain't nobody in their right mind gonna come down (here)." The movie, music (courtesy of DJ Shadow), artwork and lettering were woven together contributing to a sublime experience.

I like how Roger Egbert describes the people and the community:
One thinks of documentaries about life at the bottom of the sea, where giant worms live in the warmth of sulfur vents. Life is opportunistic and finds its way everywhere, and there is something Darwinian about these tunnel dwellers, who have found a niche where they can survive. They are not, they emphasize, "homeless." [Marc] Singer heard about the tunnel people on a news broadcast. He went looking for them, and then came back to film them.
In the perpetual darkness of the tunnels, people make their homes. They build shacks out of cardboard and lumber, and fill them with furniture dragged down from above. Tapping into city lines, they have light and water, and many have stoves, refrigerators and TV sets.

A range of stories explain how people ended up down there. The main point being there is no simple, hard and fast rules that cover every situation. I was suprised to see the ages range from young adult to almost senior citizen with everything in between. Expectedly, most residents were men but two were women. The women felt relatively safe since the neighbors watched out for each other.The History of the NYC Subway Tunnels

Besides the movie, the special features were very good. "The History of the NYC Subway Tunnels" told about how the are evolved from Shantytowns to tunnels, built so that the well off didn't have to deal with ugliness of The story about how the film came together was as compeling as the film itself. My favorite was the obligatory "where are they now" update called 'Life After The Tunnel'. I was impressed that almost all of the old tunnel residents who are still alive continue to do well. It just goes to show you that when some people are down, they just need a little hand up to get back on their feet. They are not lost causes.

Lucky for us, Marc Singer is on to his next project, Dark Days in Iraq. I can't wait to see what he'll come up with next.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4th Holiday Northern CA Trip

Over the 4 day 4th of July Holiday weekend, I took a trip to northern California with my dog, Culo. I stayed in Yreka and did a day trip to Crater Lake. I was stiff from all that driving and needed a day to recuperate but all and all, it was a good trip. Below are some of my favorite pictures.

Culo Assumes the Position in the Back Seat

Culo assumes the position in the back seat. Kennel ready for any naps that need to be taken.

First Bathroom Break

First bathroom break for Culo off Cherry Glen Roach, between Fairfield and Vacaville.
Yreka, CA Map of Downtown

Click to see larger map of Yreka California, put out by the local Chamber of Commerce. When you drive through the route, it looks like a typical old west California downtown neighborhood from the 1800s to the early 1900s. But if you look closer, you'll see placards on the front of many houses giving information about the original owners, like doctor, mayor, teacher and other prominent citizens. Sometimes, it'll say something about the archtectural style: Eastlake, False Front, Federal, Gothic Revival, Bungalow and Bungaloid, Queen Anne, Neo-Classical Revival, Gothic Style, Richardsonian Romanesque, Art Deco, Neo-Classic Romanesque, Neo-Classic Rowhouse, Classic Box. It's like driving your car to visit a museum.

Grandma's House Resturant in Yreka

Grandma's House Resturant in Yreka. Excellent pancakes. Huge, fluffy, delicious.

Klamath River Rest Area

Klamath River Rest Area off Highway 5 north. Had outdoor pancake breakfast.

Ashland, OR Chamber of Commerce

Outside the Ashland, Oregon Chamber of Commerce. Home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Horsefeathers, Ashland, OR

Culo's girlfriend (NOT), guarding the Horsefeathers store. I picked up two moose with springs for legs.

Klamath Falls, OR

Pee break at park in Klamath Falls, Oregon. I'm STILL scratching some flying creature bites I got from sitting by the lake there.

Lodgepole Campground Crater Lake

Stopping to play in the snow at Lodgepole campground and picnic area right outside Crater Lake park.

Crater Lake View and Wizard Island

Crater Lake, OR view and Wizard Island

Volcano Blasted Trees at Crater Lake

Volcano Blasted Trees at Crater Lake, OR

Another View of Wizard Island

Another View of Wizard Island in Crater Lake, OR

Edge of the top of Crater Lake

Edge of the top of Crater Lake

Closer View of Top Edge of Crater Lake

Closer View of Top Edge of Crater Lake

Mount Shasta from the North

Mount Shasta from the North driving down Interstate Highway 5

Shasta Dam and Lake Shasta

Shasta Dam and Lake Shasta far view

Shasta Dam, side view

Shasta Dam, side view

Shasta Dam, Down Spillway

Shasta Dam, looking straight down spillway

Shasta Dam, valley view from top of dam

Shasta Dam, valley view from top, right of dam