Jan 07

is an amazing place. My friend Benny and I just got back from a 2wk trip there and took a bunch of good pictures. It was our first time and both of us are now looking into buying property there. Having been to quite a few places in MX (Mazatlan, Guadalajara, Puerto Penasco, Cabo San Lucas, Loretto, Rosarito, Ensenada, Tijuana, Nogales, Laredo) I can say that of every spot I’ve been so far Playa is definitely my favorite. It has a high concentration of European tourists and is also apparently a popular tourist spot for Mexicans so you end up with this melting pot effect of non-local Mexicans, Italians, Dutch, Spanish, Kiwis and Norweigans mixed in with a handful of Americans. With the recent devastation of neighboring Cancun and Cozumel from hurricane Wilma, I really think it’s poised to explode in value. It reminds me a lot of how Puerto Vallarta used to be ten years ago when it was still an undiscovered gem . I’m glad the closest major airport is an hour away because it should help keep it “inconvenient enough” to deter the typical gringos and attract only the more mellow travelers.

Observations and Reflections

Mexico trips are always these rejuvenating experiences and before the excitement of the trip wears off and and the daily grind resumes, I want to write about the random things we observed and experienced. It’s surprising how after only 2wks of not driving an automobile, it feels completely foreign. Other stuff that seems strange right now:

  • throwing your toilet paper IN the toilet. Seriously. They are all on septic down there so you have to put it in the waste basket (which sounds gross but it’s just the way it’s done). Try doing that for 2wks and I promise you that you will have to make a conscious effort to actually drop it in the bowl when you come back.
  • drinking fountaiins: we take them for granted. All of Mexico’s water system is non-potable and used only for washing purposes. It’s odd to come back and be able to drink from the tap or a public drinking fountain.
  • the air and food are not as fresh here which is so funny because the stereotypical image of Mexico tends to be a dirty town like Tijuana and that’s just not representative of the rest of the country. Phoenix in the winter has a bad pollution problem with the inversion layer that traps our smog close to the ground. Both Benny and I noticed we felt significantly healthier day to day down there and that the air in Phx actually has a bad taste that is only noticeable when you come back to it. Same goes with produce and poultry, in Playa it’s all grown right there so it’s tough to beat the freshness.

PDC is not perfect- it’s definitely humid and supposedly their summers are unbearably hot with 100deg temperatures and 100% humidity. There’s a very real possibility though that you could set up a small office there for six months out of the year. Their internet connectivity was actually very good. I ran a traceroute from an internet cafe and there were surprisingly few hops to my server.

Actually I wasn’t intending to check email at all but we came back to the hotel one morning to find an note the hotel staff had posted on our door relayed from an ex-FBI detective who was working with my father on a big case in Florida. He needed server logs to confirm a hypothesis and I was able to assist his investigation remotely by providing by using RDP to get in and give him what he needed. Remote access is great.

I read two Paulo Coelho books down there (Eleven Minutes and The Zahir). Coelho books are ideal vacation reading material and while neither one was as good as my favorite Coelho book of all time, The Alchemist, they were both good. The Zahir hit very close to home and made me realize I have a zahir of my own right now, a face indellibly etched in my thoughts that refuses to leave. Coelho is the latest addition to the smart people list- he writes with a simplicity and honesty that nobody else does. Probably the greatest testament to his skill as a writer is that his books have been translated into every known language. If you’ve never read the Alchemist, you owe it to yourself to check out that book.

What worked well

  • Before we left, Benny and I hit up Walgreens and stocked up on a box of these $2 laser pens. It sounds funny but cheap electronic gadgetry is worth its weight in gold down in mexico and each night we went out we would bring a “super pluma” with us and invariably find a way to trade it for something worth more to us. They were practical in that you could point out stuff half a mile away or grab each other’s attention across the crowd. We both agreed it would be valuable to learn morse code as a means of communication. There were also countless other stupid uses for these pens.
  • Fortunately neither one of us lost any crucial travel documents and therefore didn’t have to rely on our remote backup plan but it was nice to know that we had it if we needed it.
  • The restaurants all hung these ziplock water bags above their outside tables. We asked why they were there and our waiter jokingly told us that it was in case we didn’t leave a good tip, they could shoot them and drench the gringos. It turns out they actually repel flies. I have no idea HOW it works but we did notice that the restaurants without them had significantly more flies. I would love to hear the explanation of why this trick works if anyone knows.
  • The iTrip came through big again and I used it to record an interview with the owner of one of the smaller hotels down there. We realized that there are a large number of hotels down there that don’t currently do online reservations. After talking with the owner of a small one we think there’s opportunity to mimic their current homegrown Foxpro booking systems that everyone seems to use and turn it into a local app that broadcasts availability to a central server. Their hangup on accepting creditcards is that it’s very difficult to get a merchant account in Mexico and their discount rate is like 6-7% (3x that of the US). We were thinking of ways to solve the online res problem in the face of these higher transaction fees. We came up with the idea of creating a type of escrow service based in the US that would allow people to book their res online by authing their card. The guest could then pay cash for their room and the hotel owner would still achieve full price without having to jack rates to cover merchant commission fees and at least the small hotels could capture the res online. . We thought setting up this service on a mac mini and selling it as a cheap appliance and taking a comission on the transactions we generate would be ideal. This could make an excellent Grid7 project. My friend John Blayter pointed me to this existing product which sounds to have a similar goal but appears to be a traditional reservation system and not the same escrow concept. Anyways, it’s an interesting idea. Here’s the interview for anyone interested.

Lessons learned for next time

  • Don’t change a light bulb while standing in the shower. This is obvious in hindsight but Benny nearly electrocuted himself in our cabana at La Ruina. He was knocked ten feet onto the bed and, fortunately so, because it broke the circuit and he escaped with just a shock.
  • Zip ties and carribeaners would have come in handy on a couple occasions for fastening stuff. We rolled with hiker packs and the trip would have been impossible with regular baggage. The mobility afforded by having a pack proved to be key when (due to a booking oversight on our part) we got kicked out of our hotel and had to find a new one at the apex of their tourist season on New Year’s eve.
  • _Never_ use a flimsy plastic bag as a carry-on with a bunch of stuff in it, it will turn your fingers into sausage links and you will arrive at your destination with zero perfusion and have pins & needles the rest of the night (notice the hand turning purple – not cool).

Here’s some cool videos :

Looking forward

My New Year’s resolution this year is to eliminate daily distractions and have laser focus on the things that matter. I’m actually resolving to read _fewer_ blogs (which is probably hypocritical because here I am writing my own huge post). I came back to 227 emails and 454 unread blog posts which really puts into perspective how much distraction I willfully subjecting myself to each day. Even with David Allen’s GTD method, it’s just a deluge of info that leaves your head spinning at the end of the day. As far as what’s going on for me now, I start classes at this entrepreneurial workshop called FastTrac on Tuesday with the goal of sponging off other entrepreneurs and ironing out the kinks in the Grid7 model. My office partner Kimbro is now my business partner and over the break he hashed out the skeleton of an immense side project he and I will be undertaking together that dovetails perfectly with Grid7. I know I’ve been talking it up for a few months now but February is the month this stuff all launches and we both have huge faith in this endeavor.

Other than that, I’m moving out of my house right now and converting it into a performing asset as a rental. It should cover itself plus my apartment rent which will nice. This is all part of a massive downsizing effort for me to sell off all my stuff, simplify, consolidate and become mobile for a big US working roadtrip I plan to take in August. This is a neat time of year because everyone has these bright hopes for the coming year. I share the same optimism but I’m always reminded of that lyric from the U2 song “nothing changes on New Year’s day.” It does and it doesn’t. It’s an arbitrary line in the sand but it helps us frame things and establish goals which is always a good thing.

I wanna end this post by paraphrasing this cool passage from The Zahir book. “Two firemen go into the woods to fight a forest fire. They both return only one’s face is covered in soot while the other’s is perfectly clean. Which do you think washes his face?” It’s like that cardgame “booger on the head” also called “indian poker” – you can see everyone else’s cards but your own. The fireman with the clean face will see his partner and assume he’s covered in soot and conversely the guy who really needs the bath will look at his partner and assume he’s clean as well. This was such a simple yet mind-blowing way to look at why some relationships fail unexpectedly.

Anyways, 2006- bring it. This image captures the essence of what I’m in for this year:

© 2005 Lights Out Production – All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Dec 22

Here’s a simple solution for the traveler who needs to ensure he/she has access to important docs while on the road. If you’re traveleing outside the US for any decent length of time it’s advisable to keep a copy of your passport in a separate place from your original in the event that you lose your wallet. So I’m standing in front of the fax/copier combo-machine trying to make a copy of my passport in preparation for a trip to Cancun tomorrow. I realize there’s no way I can run my passport through the fax machine to make a copy and decide that rather than making a trip to Kinko’s, I’ll scan it on the flatbed and print it out. Then I think "duhhh… if I’m gonna scan it why not just post a digital copy on my server and password-protect that directory?" Then the more I think about it, I realize "why not just scan every critical document I have and store them remotely?" Seriously, how many unforseen occasions could arise in which you need a copy of your health insurance card, or your driver’s license or whatever… and then I finally realize I might as well not even mess with my server/ftp/iis and instead email each jpg to my gmail account. I scanned and emailed each one separatley tagging the subject lines with "vitaldoc: passport" and "vitaldoc: birth certificate." With 2.5GB of free storage and near-perfect uptime, there’s really no reason not to store these critical docs in a gmail acct (assuming you trust the gmail security and are careful about how and where you access your account). And with the prevalence of internet cafes in most foreign cities, finding web access and a printer is a trivial task. If you have a secure USB jumpdrive you could store them there as well.

On that note, as far as the issue of security when accessing your email account from a public terminal- how have people handled this? I’ve just made a point of typing a bunch of random characters in notepad and then cutting/pasting my password from that instead of typing it in verbatim. I guess it’s possible that keyloggers have the potential to record cut/paste operations as well to reverse engineer the password but it seems like one of those scenarios (like using a CLUB on your vehicle) where an attacker probably has easier targets and would pass over this more-difficult-to-reverse-engineer password in favor of snagging just the plaintext passwords.

A completely unrelated tangent- Skype came through large for us again. My friend Benny and I are headed down to Cancun (actually Playa del Carmen) for the holidays for a 2wk adventure. After booking the plane tix we discovered that ALL THE HOTELS down there were sold out on every travel site we tried. Apparently they were hit pretty hard by hurricane Wilma and a bunch of the rooms are actually being used by construction workers. Fortunately we googled around and found this web site where you can sub the citycode in the URL and find local phone numbers of hotels in Mexico. I fired up Skype and we used some of my remaining skypeout minutes to bypass the travelsites and make international calls to the hotel managers directly. After about eight failed attempts we found one that had a vacancy which did not appear online and the owner was completely cool to us. Knowing Spanish, knowing about Skype and figuring out the pattern for the new areacodes in Mexico were the key pieces that facilitated this lucky break. I’ll be without email and phone for a few days. Happy Holidays everyone and Feliz Ano Nuevo.


© 2005 Lights Out Production – All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Oct 13

I just got back to Phoenix having spent the past week down in Cabo Mexico and though I generally try to limit posts here to condensed, useful technology-related info, I gotta write about the adventures of the week and some life-changing realizations. It was an epic vacation on so many levels (my apologies to any fullasagoog.com readers- i’ve tried to get them to just syndicate my CF-specific posts). The things I learned this week:

  1. I’ve decided I’m going to sell all my stuff and travel the world working remotely.
  2. I really miss being immersed in a spanish-speaking culture
  3. Phoenix is getting HUGE
  4. Sammy Hagar has it all figured out and might be one of the coolest people alive.
  5. Sudoku puzzles are da bomb

Realization #1 has been brewing for awhile but was crystalized this weekend. Whether it was the collective vibe of the people in Cabo or the realization from talking to a realtor that I could cash out of my house and bank a crapload of money, I realize now that the moons are finally in alignment for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to happen and I will kick myself if I fail to do it.
Realization #2 came within a day of being down there. I was raised by bi-lingual parents that met each other in the Peace Corps in Venezuela so I’ve spoken Spanish all my life as naturally as English. I don’t know what it is about chatting with natives, but it’s so great to see the expressions when you are able to step into a conversation with locals and fluidly exchange ideas in their native tongue. I really miss this experience.
Realization #3
came while flying back into PHX and seeing how much concrete there really is in this town compared to a place like Cabo. I’ve lived in Phoenix all my life and have apparently just become habituated to how monsterous this place has gotten- I can remember when you could see the perimeter of the Valley when flying in and now coming into Sky Harbor, I realize the city extends in all directions to the horizon beyond what the eye can see. Kathy Sierra talks about how we must continually strive to put ourselves in situations that purposefully blow our minds in order to stay sharp, creative and passionate. This weekend made it clear to me that I’ve been living on and off in the same city forever and really haven’t done anything to blow my own mind culturally since living down in Ecuador ten years ago and it’s long overdue to make that to happen again.
Realization #4 came as a surprise because I’ve always thought of Sammy as the weaker of the two Van Halen singers. Not so however- he put on some of the best shows I’ve seen this past week and beyond being a talented musician, he’s a really cool guy. I was unaware until now, but there is this enormous subculture of dedicated Hagar fans that visit Cabo every year at this time of year for his birthday bash at the Cabo Wabo. I had the good fortune of traveling with my friend Jeff who owns VanHalenStore.com and knows all the right people at Cabo Wabo and was able to get us in VIP four nights in a row.Sammy’s band plays every other night down here this week leading up to his birthday on October 14th and lemme tell you I have a new respect for him.- Sammy just might be my newest hero having built what I think could be the coolest bar, created one of the best-tasting tequilas anywhere and living the lifestyle he has created for himself in Cabo raising a family and rockin’ out at his bar whenever he feels like it putting on free shows for his fans. Literally hundreds of people slept in the streets to get tickets each night and then waited hours in line again the next night to get into the show. I met some of the most genuine people that had trekked thousands of miles to see Sammy play (one guy with a foot-long goatee had ridden his motorcycle all the way from Texas). I plan to try and make this trip a yearly tradition from now on.
Realization #5
I got hooked on Sudoku puzzles down there printing them out each day and taking one to the beach. WARNING: these things are _highly_ addictive. They’re not number puzzles at all really, they could just as easily be shapes, colors or characters. It’s more logic than anything. I scanned the one I did on Lover’s beach along w/ the contents of my pockets from the plane ride home today:

We pulled 750 lbs of Blue Marlin out of the Pacific yesterday. It was myself and my friend David and these five girls we met on the beach and the captain of the Edith II said in his thirty years of fishing he’s seen people come down five years in a row and fish all week and never even get one- we hooked TWO within 30secs of each other and one of them was 450lbs!! "Nunca he visto tan suerte!" he said. It took us about 40minutes to real them in and we ended up setting the big one free, unfortunately the smaller one we were unable to release because it had been hooked badly and died of stress. Other cool stuff we did- water taxi to Lover’s Beach at Land’s End, jamming on these Mariachi’s guitars at a little hidden tiki bar we found with some other americans we met, days spent on the beach at an outdoor bar called "The Office," dinner at this insanely-beautiful restaurant called "Da Giorgio" up on a cliff and hours of salsa dancing in various clubs. It was the ideal vacation in every respect.

This summer was an emotional roller coaster for me. I came out of a year-and-a-half-long serious relationship with Kristy and then immediately met another incredible girl named Tracy and had a brief but intensely-cool time with her. Aside from being supermodel-gorgeous, this girl was classy, funny and just an all around cool person to be around. Apparently I didn’t have quite the same impact on her and got scrambled in an unfortunate string of events that left me all mentally-twisted up. This Cabo trip was precisely what I needed to straighten my head out and re-prioritize things. I’ll be busting ass the next few months to get my house ready to sell and get the Grid7 infrastructure in place to support the remote collaboration of different developers on the projects I plan to seed the co-op with.

So back on realization #1 though… this is just a stream-of-consciousness ramble here but in thinking about what will be involved in plotting this international "working roadtrip," I’ve decided the goals are simple:

  1. Re-establish communication with old friends and international acquaintances and meet up with as many people as possible
  2. Travel for first within the US and then around the globe in one direction with no set plans beyond more than a few weeks
  3. Document the entire journey online and make it easy for my friends to get in touch and check where I’m at
  4. Never let the camera lense or the journaling obscure the experience itself – when in doubt, opt for soaking in the moment instead
  5. Establish Grid7 and manage development projects from the road
  6. Do the whole trip on one pair of flip-flops and come back in a year or whenever the money runs out

Things that come to mind that will need to be resolved-

  1. "Roving" offsite backups – I will definitely need to have a way to deal with the worst case scenario of my laptop being either stolen or broken on the road. In talking it over with my friend Benny we came up with the concept of running mobile offsite backups by doing an incremental to 2 firewire drives and rotating FedEx’ing one of them ahead to the next destination so at any given point there’s always an "offsite" backup traveling with you not too far away and it’s relatively easy to get back in business in the event of a theft or other data catastrophe. Code will already be stored remotely on the server in source control so it’s really more for ensuring that I can get a pristine development environment back in place quickly. Unfortunately I think services like LiveVault would be too slow and bandwidth-intensive to be useful.
  2. Making myself traceable – you want to hope for the best but plan for the worst. In the event that I were to turn up missing in some obscure foreign town, I would want to have an Onstar (or a "SeanStar" as the case may be). The method I’ve come up with is to use the Absolute.com laptop tracking software which dials in daily and give my family instructions on how they can find the last IP address it called in from in the event that something happens. I recently wrote an article for Law Office Computing on this software and it works really well. At least that would provide a physical address from which to commence a search in the event that something bad were to happen.
  3. Locating hotspots – I just got my Canary Wireless Hotspot Detector in the mail and sadly, it just does not work as reported in all the great reviews. Hotspots are so prevalent now that it probably won’t be that big of an issue to find one but I like the idea of being able to stroll down the street and casually scan for one. Internet Cafes are very prevalent in most European and Asian and South American towns and I had no trouble getting a good connection down in Mexico. The one I used each day was a freebie to get people to eat at this restaurant and it definitely kept me coming back. There are other methods like WifiMaps and Wigle so I’m not that worried. Benny says his PSP makes a great wifi detector so that’s an option (not to mention it would be a write-off too at that point).
  4. Phone connectivity – my Treo has the removable SIM card so I’m assuming I can swap out with one that works on the European cell network. I have no idea on the other locations but for areas where phone connectivity is non-existent I’ll probably use the Skype-forwarding method as it seemed to work pretty well this past week.
  5. Health Insurance- I already buy my own that covers major medical but I don’t know whether it works abroad. Will need to figure something out.
  6. Plotting location by date and overlaying locations of friends- I will probably need to develop a little web app that makes an easy way to plan all the waypoints. Yahoo just bought Upcoming.org and it seems these type of calendar/geographic mash-up apps are all the rage right now so maybe the tool I develop will even have some value beyond being helpful to me. Oddly enough I just checked on getting the domain WhereIsSean.com and unbelievably some other Sean is already doing exactly the same thing!! He’s even in Ecuador right now…how random is that?

Anyways, what a week it was. I wanna end this rambling post with a cool moment I had in my mad-dash to the airport in Cabo. I missed the first shuttle (which is about an hour from town), the next one was going to put me there within 10min of when my flight left but the attitude of the shuttle ticket-taker was "ehh, tranquilo amigo- you’ll make it and if you don’t, no worries." So I forced myself to let go and be cool with the idea of missing my plane. On the way to the airport I chatted a bit with the shuttle driver and told him of my time crunch – indeed we arrived at the airport 15min before my plane was leaving (and I managed to just make it). But in exiting the taxi, the driver looked at me with a big grin and said "muy buen tiempo, si?" Now I don’t know whether he chose this ambiguous phrase purposefully or not but in Spanish this can be interpreted in three ways: a) "we made good time just now, didn’t we?" b)"did you have a good time this trip?" c)"nice weather we’re having today, eh?" I just smiled back high-fived him and said, "Si."

If you live in an interesting city somewhere and would be interested in putting up a world-traveler for a few days in the coming months, hit me back on email- legaltech at gmail.com or post a comment here.


© 2005 Lights Out Production – All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Oct 07

So on my never-ending quest for total mobility and agility as an independent consultant, I’ve figured out how to cut the phone tether for working down in Mexico. Thanks to Skype’s phone bridge service, I’m in Cabo San Lucas right now conducting business as usual, taking phone calls and checking voicemail over a wifi connection on my laptop. The connection here is surprisingly quick and reliable (75kb/sec). Basically, I had some frequent flyer miles saved up and an offer from a buddy to stay at his hotel for $20/night. My laptop has a fully self-contained development environment via Virtual PC and I’ve got all the materials I need to build the extranet for AZ Behavioral Health and all the physical meetings archived as voicememos on my iPod. For a total cost of $50 a day to be able to work from a palapa, I figured I’d be an idiot not to go.

The phone setup is pretty sweet- Skype is voice chat service recently acquired by ebay and it let’s you talk to other people free over the internet. They have a service you can pay for that bridges their system to the public switched telephone network and let’s you handle inbound and outbound phonecalls. I purchased 600min of the skypein/skypeout service for $13 and I now have my Cingular Treo 650 forwarding all my calls to my skype number (a very simple thing to change yourself if you happen to have cingular). If I’m online, the phone rings through skype, I answer it and (other than a minor latency which you’d probably experience anyways on an international call) the caller has no idea I’m talking via my laptop. The call quality is excellent and what’s nice is voicemails show up as timestamped events in skype and you listen to them and can even save them as mp3’s. I did hear a rumor that it’s illegal in Mexico to circumvent their telecommunications system for voice traffic – I have no idea if there’s any truth to that and I’m sure as heck not going to ask a Federale. I could see this phone forwarding technique affording one the ability to backpack around Europe and work just as effectively from the road. Hrmm….

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