Spring Break!

malevplane.jpg We’re leaving this afternoon for a long-overdue vacation. It’s Ariella’s spring break from UCLA. Here’s our itinerary:

Thu, Mar 20: arrive in Rome.
Wed, Mar 26: depart Rome for Tel Aviv. Stopover in Budapest.
Thu, Mar 27: arrive in Tel Aviv. Travel to Jerusalem.
Sun, Mar 30: travel from Jerusalem to Ramat Gan. Overnight in Tel Aviv.
Mon, Mar 31: travel from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles. Stopovers in Budapest and London.

We’re really looking forward to seeing our friends in Israel. They’ve been gone for months, and it will be fantastic to visit with them (even if we’re wearing gas masks).

The adventurous side of me is looking forward to flying Malev Hungarian Airlines. Before we bought our extra-cheap tickets a couple of weeks ago, I had never even heard of that airline!

Olympus Camedia C-50 Zoom Digital Camera

We bought an Olympus Camedia C-50 Zoom digital camera yesterday.

olympus-camedia-c50.jpg

We were at Best Buy and Costco yesterday looking at the various cameras. Based on some of the comments we got last week, we decided we wanted something small. We seriously considered the 3.2 megapixel Canon Elph S230 and the 4.0 megapixel Canon PowerShot S45.

About the same size as the Canon S230, the Olympus C-50 packs a whopping 5.0 megapixels into an 8-oz size. That’s smaller than the Canon S45 and it seems a little easier to use. It lists for $699. Best Buy sells it for $599, Costco for $569. We got it for $510 + shipping at 17th Street Photo.

We found some online retailers claiming to sell it for $444, but it turns out that is the “international version” which doesn’t come with some pretty important things like the battery, battery charger, USB and AC power cables, 32 MB of memory, and software. Most of those places wanted an extra $100 for the “USA version.” Very deceptive. I know from past experience (buying Nikon SLR lenses 10 years ago) that 17th Street Photo is a reputable merchant. I guess the only reason I didn’t think to start with them in the first place is that somehow I equate digital cameras more with computers and less with traditional film cameras.

The major disadvantage of the Olympus is that it uses the less-common xD-Picture Card memory format (seems to be used only by Olympus and Nikon). It’s about twice as expensive as CompactFlash, the format that Canon and Pentax use. We paid $130 for a 256 MB xD-Picture Card, but you can get a SanDisk 512 MB CompactFlash Card for the same price.

Digital Camera Recommendations?

I need to buy a digital camera. Does anyone reading this blog have any recommendations?

Ariella and I are going to Italy for a week and a half at the end of the month and we’d like to to take some pictures.

In the past, we have been schlepping our 35mm Nikon and getting a CD burned when we get the film developed (like we did last year at my college reunion). But we’d rather go about it the opposite way: take digital pictures, post online, then order selected prints from Shutterfly or Ofoto for our print album.

If you’ve got a digital camera that you like (or dislike), post a comment so we know what to buy (or what not to buy).

[Update: we ended up buying the Olympus Camedia C-50 Zoom]

Peach-colored bathroom

Master Bath We just completed our first optional home improvement project. Our master bath is now coral cove, which is really just a fancy name for peach.

In the six months we’ve lived here, we’ve done other improvement projects, like hiring someone to fix the oven three times and the dishwasher twice, but I don’t exactly consider those to be optional. This we decided to do just because we could. We’re homeowners, darn it, and we’ll paint our bathroom whatever color we want!

We hired a guy named Armando to do the job. He did some painting for us in July so we knew he did good work for a very reasonable price. Err, reasonable might be an understatement; he’s dirt cheap and does high-quality work. If you’re looking for a painter in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend him.

And yes, someday we’re going to buy a real digital camera that actually takes decent pictures.

Pagong Chair

POÄNG Chair from Ikea Ariella and I assembled our Pagong chair from Ikea last night. It’s beautiful and bouncy.

We first visited Ikea in 2000 during the first season of Survivor and were tickled to see that Ikea had named a chair after one of the tribes. But we waited almost three years before making the purchase.

Sitting in the Pagong chair last night, I smiled as I thought about the first Surivor season and how we watched with Gil & Becky every week. Maybe I’ll get a Rudy action figure for my birthday.

(Yes, I know that the rest of the world mistakenly calls it the Poäng chair. They’re wrong. If everyone else decided to jump off a bridge, would you do it, too?)

Psychoanalysis and the Palm Zire

palm-zire.jpg I have some new insight on the Palm Zire I bought last week.

As I was talking to my shrink today, I mentioned buying the Palm and not the PocketPC as an example of the “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” mantra. Au contraire, he countered, it’s actually the perfect example of not wanting to move out of my comfort zone. I’m too afraid to try something new.

“Michael,” you say, “Surely your choice of what PDA to buy isn’t nearly that profound. You picked a the best product for the amount of money you wanted to spend, so don’t try to read more into it.”

Maybe not. My therapist might have stumbled onto something important here. So much of what goes on in life is completely beyond our control. Sure, I’d like to delude myself into thinking that I can control my own destiny. So I gravitate towards the familiar. It gives me comfort. It doesn’t challenge me. The status quo is just dandy. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

When I got my annual performance review last month, I was really surprised. Exceeds Expectations. What’s shocking about that was I wasn’t giving it my best. Not even close. So what the hell? How was it possible that I was exceeding expectations?

Perhaps I’m so talented that a mere 50% of my effort still knocks their socks off? Fat chance. More likely everyone else is doing a lousy job because the company got so huge and nobody knows what they’re supposed to do. The fact that I average about 20 lines of code a week and can reply to emails within one hour looks good in comparison. Corporate America is all about predictability and mediocrity. Anyone who does too much or tries something too new threatens everyone around them. So I’m doing my part; I’ve got the mediocrity thing down cold.

But I’m afraid to do more. I don’t want to take it to the next level. And I’m not just talking about my job here. I’m talking about the emotional and spiritual stuff, too. What would happen if I really was committed? What would that look like? I’m freaked out about what’s behind door number three.

So I resolve to fix myself by embracing my anxiety head-on. (How’s that for a 2-weeks late for New Year’s resolution?)

Even though it’s going to bring up a bunch of shit that I’d rather push deep down inside of me and forget ever happened, it’s far better than the alternative. The way I see it, if I don’t confront my fears, I’m either going to end up depressed (ha, as if I weren’t depressed already) or the anxiety will fester, magnifying itself to a point where things really start to fall apart.

Duraflame and egg nog

duraflame2.jpg We lit a fire tonight in our fireplace. It was the first time we’ve had a fire in our new home. A chimney-sweep came out a few weeks ago and said our chimney was OK to use as long as we didn’t have a fire for more than 8 or 9 hours.

Avital drove out from Malibu with some Egg Nog-flavored frozen yogurt. We blended it up with some Captain Jack’s and rice milk and it turned out absolutely delicious.

I captured some video of the fire and was going to put it online, but it’s 222K for just 2 seconds worth (48 frames). Something is screwed up with this AVI compression. Why doesn’t my cute Logitech webcam offer an MPEG export? Oh well.

Dog-sitting

chaya-thumb-1.jpg We’re dog-sitting this week. Our friends Rob & Lamelle are in east Asia, so we’re watching Chaya, their Israeli mutt.

chaya-thumb-2.jpg I’ve been told by friends before that dogs are much more work than cats. You’ve gotta walk the dog two or three times a day! Luckily, Ariella has been taking mornings (I like to sleep in) and I’ve been doing evenings.

I managed to get Chaya to sit still long enough to grab a couple of grainy frames with the webcam.

Back at Home

After a long week in Vegas, it’s wonderful to be back in LA tonight.

Ariella arrived late Thursday night, and we checked out of the Alexis Park hotel on Friday morning. We got a cheaper (and nicer) room at the Monte Carlo, so we checked in, walked along the strip, and enjoyed a leisurely brunch at the Flamingo buffet. We were hoping to see the last few minutes of Comdex, so we took a taxi over to the convention center. We arrived at around 2pm, and the place was deserted. Oh well.

We ran around Friday afternoon getting ready for Shabbat — bought some sandwiches for a picnic lunch, donuts for breakfast, purchased movie and show tickets. By the time we got back to the hotel, we had just enough time to order room service for dinner and then made Shabbat. After dinner, we saw the Blue Man Group at the Luxor.

Saturday we had some donuts for breakfast, davened Shacharit, saw the new James Bond movie, then ate our now-soggy sandwiches for lunch. We took our usual afternoon nap, then woke up just in time to visit the pool and hot tub. After the pool closed, we headed back up to our room and made Havdalah. We went out to a bar and got some 99 cent margaritas. They were watered-down, but it was fun nonetheless.

This morning we rented a car and went to see Hoover Dam. It’s an engineering marvel. The real deal. Definitely worth the 45-minute drive from Vegas. Next time, perhaps we’ll get to see London Bridge (in Arizona).

On our flight home, we were surprised to see cousins Diana & Baird board the plane. We’ll see them again on Thursday for the traditional T-day dinner in Malibu.