Mike's Mind @ Van-Zand.com
About Nothing and Everything: from Tech to Trips & Movies to Music. Coffee's on me ;-)

Houston, We've Got a Problem (in LA on Day 7)

Thursday, 3 September 2009 16:00 by Mike

Santa Barbara beach experienced a weird mix up of national sports.

IMG_3994Two Dutchies played American football last Wednesday, August 26. The big guy wearing a Dallas Rangers baseball jersey and the skinny dude a soccer shirt with Holland’s national color.

That morning, Jorrit woke up early for a change, around 8am. A bit later (ok hours) I rolled out of my bed and noticed how Jorrit confiscated my laptop and Facebook friends ;-)

Since we couldn’t see much of Santa Barbara in just 1 day, we decided to practice our football skills on the beach (who’s still thinking I’m lazy? OK, actually I am :)

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After our traditional Subway breakfast, we headed to Los Angeles. Just 93 miles according to the navigation system. Wow, what a beautiful road trip. Especially cruising through Malibu gave a glimpse of LA’s jet set.

In 2 hours we arrived at the Holiday Inn Express Century City. Pretty cool location nearby Beverly Hills and a convenient mall with awesome shops. With no concrete plans for the night, we dined out at Houston’s Restaurant. I found it on Google where Houston’s rated third as best restaurant in the Century district.

houstonsTurned out to be an excellent place for delicious food and a trendy bar for drinks. Definitely one of best Thai Steak salads (and Asian is not even the chef’s specialty). The only problem occurred at 10pm …

The bar closed, so no more beers :(

Tuesday Trip to Santa Barbara (or is it New Orleans?)

Saturday, 29 August 2009 07:00 by Mike

IMG_3898Woke up late in the morning of day 6 already. It’s Tuesday, August 25 and we’re about to continue our road trip from Monterey to Santa Barbara, CA. Roughly 200 miles to go.

Before we checked out the room in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, we had an excellent breakfast (or brunch really).

Very friendly service and always fun to see Americans struggle when they have no idea where Holland is on the map. We’re equipped with a navigation system, which we programmed to explore the scenic route via the Pacific Coast Highway.

IMG_3947Halfway, we stopped to get water and cigarettes. Jorrit entered a shop, where they funnily enough said water is cheaper at the mini market across (lol). Wish I could say the same for Marlboro ciggies, frigging $9.50 for a single pack.

Just a few miles later, we noticed quite a crowd pulling over to the left. Turned out half a dozen zebras walked around in the meadow.

Who’d know zebras lived in the wild in California? Fortunately it wasn’t a zebra that stared in my headlights a few miles later, but whatever small creature crossed the highway, sadly got to meet the Explorer’s front grill.

After 5 hours, we finally arrived at Brisas Del Mar, our hotel in Santa Barbara. A cozy apartment complex with a typically American indoor yard. Usually I only see those hotels on TV when the FBI is raiding a room to bust a mafia boss :-)

Although I’m sure we arrived in Santa Barbara, our restaurant for the night Palace Grill almost made me believe I flashed back to New Orleans, Louisiana. My Sirloin Steak in Cajun style tasted delicious, just as well as the Dixie beers. Jorrit’s Jumbo Shrimps looked pretty fine as well. Only their self-acclaimed New Orleans’ best dessert set too high expectations.

Every déjà-vu of New Orleans makes me smile anyway. With great memories of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras, even though I lost an embarrassing bet which caused me to attend a Microsoft event in our secretary’s dress (fortunately stretchy material) and a wig. So frigging glad those (blackmail) photos & videos got lost in action :)

Mafia Monday Morning with Monterey Trip on Day 5

Friday, 28 August 2009 07:16 by Mike

IMG_4023On Shady Sunday’s evening, Jorrit asked me to teach him the basics of Mafia Wars. Apparently he’s really enjoying MW, since Don Karst already logged on early Monday morning to check his stats, burn energy and blast stamina points.

Good timing to practice mafia behavior, since we need to check out our hotel room before noon and pick up our rental car at Hertz.

IMG_3881We reserved a mid-size car via our travel agent, but I felt disappointed finding out about the high surcharge for dropping off the car in Vegas. So when I asked the sales guy about our contract, he offered to upgrade our mid-size car to a SUV:

an awesome Ford Explorer! :-)

Still thinking we deserved some freebies, I hinted to supply us a navigation system without charging us for the damn Hertz NeverLost-yeah-right GPS device. The guy reluctantly confirmed he wouldn’t charge us, although he should.

IMG_3885With me behind the wheel and Jorrit as navigator, we left San Francisco for our trip to Monterey, California. Jorrit got all excited to take the Pacific Coast Hway, which admittedly is a beautiful route.

As dorky IT guy and close to Palo Alto, I wanted to drive through Sillicon Valley; home of well known internet companies like Google and Facebook (actually I’d personally infiltrate Facebook’s HQ if they’d disable my account ;-)

IMG_3868Finding the actual Googleplex didn’t work out quite well with our navigation system, so we just picked the first Google office to shoot a couple of dorky photos.

(can you see my improvised smiley? ;-)

After slurping the largest McShake, we continued our 93 miles road trip, which eventually took us roughly 3 hours.

IMG_3888Once we arrived at Monterey Plaza Hotel, the clerk thought he had good news for us:

Good evening gentlemen, we’ve upgraded your room to an ocean view suite with a king-size bed.

So I thanked the guy after he summed up his memorized sales pitch and responded:

Well, ocean view room sounds great, but 1 single king size bed … not so good.

Thank heavens they still had rooms with 2 separate queen size beds, so after the switch, I plunged on my bed and started our daily rituals: Jorrit watching American Football on TV and me writing text and Facebook messages to my Mafia ;-)

We dined out at the hotel’s bistro called Schooner’s and enjoyed top notch seafood with a bottle of Chardonnay. Whenever you’re in Monterey with your spouse, I’d definitely recommend to stay a day or 2 at this hotel and try the “Macadamia Crusted Mahi Mahi” (spicy pan fried chili garlic prawns) or the seafood pasta dish.

But if you’re a single dork like me, better find a more affordable hotel with reliable internet connection to check your Facebook profile or Mafia Wars stats ;-D

(BTW: really appreciate all your playful comments on my FB wall. If you post your comment on my blog right here, bear with me since it doesn’t get published right away due to anti-spam precautions)

Shady Sunday in San Francisco on Day 4

Thursday, 27 August 2009 18:31 by Mike

Yeah you’re right: it’s already day 7 as I write up this journal post in Los Angeles about day 4 (Sunday August 23) of my USA trip in San Francisco.

FishermanWarf-SouvenirsOn our last day in San Francisco, we just chilled in the neighborhood, drank a few beers in a local pub and bought our awesome souvenirs. Also got ourselves some cool shades, which might come in handy for our poker tourneys later this trip in Las Vegas.

But before we’ll splash any poker chips in the pot, two stops at Monterey and Santa Barbara are planned on our road trip to Los Angeles.

In the evening after a cloudy day of souvenir shopping, my poker buddy Jorrit finally said these magic words:

Teach me Mafia Wars and sign me up!

Dutch Bargainers with a Swiss Touch, Down at the American Battle of the Bay (on Day 3)

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 05:41 by Mike

SF49JerseySaturday Night Football with beer and burgers.

Can’t get any more American, right?

San Francisco 49ers met the Oakland Raiders last Saturday, August 22 (the 3rd day of my USA trip with travel & poker buddy Jorrit).

This classic derby is better known as the Battle of the Bay. Even though it’s just a preseason game, the fans definitely showed loud and clear which team they’re supporting. The atmosphere’s friendly and even quite peaceful really.

Particularly between this married couple in front of us, who each supported a different team. Perhaps they use the final score to decide who’s doing the dishes, but at least we entertained his wife with our guy talk by throwing in the F-word a lot, the only word she could understand from our conversations in Dutch.

Speaking of Dutch, besides our tulips, wooden clogs and herbal freedom, we Dutchies are renowned for our bargaining spirit. During our cab ride to the Candlestick Stadium, we showed our bargaining skills when a couple of street guys offered official printed $110 tickets. Long story short, we managed to get them for $75 since the match was about to kick off within less than an hour at 5.15pm.

CandelightDuring our walk of the final 4 blocks to the stadium, we got lost in a neighborhood straight from the Grand Theft Auto game. A guy kindly pointed out the directions, even though I mistakenly asked for Candlelight instead of Candlestick Stadium.

Jorrit bought a 49’ers jacket earlier to stay warm from the cold wind. Unfortunately I didn’t pack any jacket and also forgot to bring a sweater to the Candlestick. Mike-in-CandlestickSo just in shorts and polo shirt, I almost froze my (foot)balls off during ciggie breaks. It’s funny though to see how these guys and gals greet their own fan base and ridicule their opponents.

But apparently there’s a third party that’s even worse than their fierce opponent: neutral Switzerland.

A 49’er fan asked me for a light and started small talk about my whereabouts. His buddy shouted: Hey Tony, why the hell are you talking to a guy in a goddamn polo shirt?? He explained it’s not cool to hide your loyalty to a team, but laughed when he found out I’m from Holland and just enjoying a nice game of football.

FinalScoreBayThe 4th final quarter got filled with suspense. What seemed like a certain loss for the 49’ers turned into a cheerful victory over Oakland:

San Francisco 49’ers: 21 Raiders: 20

After the match, we waited for over an hour in a huge line for a cab. Finally we got our ride and took us to In N Out Burger for a delicious American double touch down burger with Swiss cheese.

 

Biking Dutchies with Doggy Bags on Day 2

Sunday, 23 August 2009 17:43 by Mike

Woke up at 4am Friday (August 21) early morning. 

IMG_3710Yikes, jet lag kicking in. With no chance falling back asleep, I decided to write up day 1 of my USA trip.

Last post forgot to mention I accidentally left my toiletry at home, so forgive my unshaved, big head. At least my fragrances got packed and fortunately Virgin Atlantic supplied passengers with a travel pack (toothpaste & brush).

IMG_3727 After posting, I smoked a ciggie on my way to Starbucks to get a large cappuccino and a Subway Club sandwich for breakfast. As hard-core Mafia Wars addict, it sucks to miss my daily morning routine, which includes burning stamina. Fortunately a real life Mini-Sub floated around with a mounted Aguila HV .50 Sniper Rifle to get my bad-ass mafia fix ;-)

Good idea from non-Don Jorrit after all to walk towards the pier to check out the view on Alcatraz. If only my mafia family could explain the guy why our favorite game rocks! IMG_3731(feel free to spam his wall to finally make him join MW) :-)


San Francisco’s mornings are pretty cold and foggy as well. So before we changed outfits for biking our white Dutch asses over the Golden Gate Bridge, we took some photos of the marina and Alcatraz.

(photo of Jorrit proudly escaped from Alcatraz)

Around 11am we walked to Blazing Saddles to rent our bikes. Damn Jorrit climbed the Alpes D’Huzes a few weeks ago, so he’s still in the biking spirit. My last biking experience however, was at our company’s sport event where I won a medal for my unintended triple somersault and crashing my bike in the dirt. Ouch.

-note to self: buy stock whenever Blazing Saddles is having their IPO

IMG_3775 Almost every mile we stopped to enjoy the great views the Bay Area offers (and for me, just to smoke my well deserved Marlboro :)

Our first stop at Municipal Pier stunned me: dozens of seals surfaced every minute. That’s so awesome!

IMG_3781Bypassing Americans kindly offered to take a photo of two Dutchies in their dorky outfits (yeah, i still gotta do some shopping for new shorts & shirts, oh well)

After our stop, a huge sloping hill stared laughing at me.  Whoever says cigarettes kill you, try biking that slope uphill first, okay?  We continued our biking trip to finally arrive at the top and beginning of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Amazing how fast fog can spread around, isn’t it?

IMG_3808IMG_3817IMG_3831

After biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, we ended up in Sausalito; a picturesque place with amazing architecture and nice restaurants serving great food. We ate delicious salmon and I finally drank my first rounds of beer (yay for Coronas). Since I could barely feel if my brain was still communication with my big body, I really wanted to take the ferry back to San Francisco.

We ordered drinks at an outside pub around the corner of our hotel. Apparently Jorrit felt tired too, since he went back to his room after not even finishing his first (and only) Heineken of the day. Isn’t that a frigging felony?

Oh well, I decided to drink a couple of beers with friendly Canadians at the bar who told me how their relationship is with Americans. When it turned from funny to politics, I thanked them for their interesting stories and went to the hotel :)

01exterior640Day 2 ended in Ciopinno’s, probably the best Italian restaurant on the Wharf. They serve delicious pasta and their deep fried calamari was a godsend.

Only the portions their friendly staff serves is huge! Even a big guy like me, couldn’t finish my plate, no matter if they’d put a gun to my head. Fortunately the waiter kindly offered if he could put our leftovers in a take out bag.

So there, our first doggy bag experience :-)

Virgin Flies to San Francisco for Day 1 of USA Trip

Saturday, 22 August 2009 11:41 by Mike

Early morning, Thursday August 20.

My travel buddy and coworker Jorrit is already waiting at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport where our flight takes off at 9.40a for London.

Poor Jorrit was kinda nervous we might miss our connecting flight with Virgin to the States. We arrived in London Heathrow a bit later than scheduled, but still made it on time for our first destination in the USA: San Francisco, California.

Our Virgin flight took over 10 loooong hours before we entered the Golden State for the very first time. Actually mine was pretty painful and potentially making me burst out into tears: my suitcase with personal belongings didn’t show up on the belt :(

Fortunately a friendly service employee called the luggage handling department which found and brought my case. Now I definitely longed for cigarettes, especially after a wise-ass border security guy asked if I brought “Wacko Tobacco”.

CourtyardHotel-SFAfter my smokes, we took a taxi to our hotel: the Courtyard Fisherman’s Wharf. The quiet cab driver finally loosened up when we asked about football in San Francisco. He thought we’re from Australia, but after we told we’re from Holland, he sucked up by saying Dutch are the best soccer players ;-)

At 3.00p we arrived in our hotel and rested a bit. Jorrit watched Oprah (he tried justifying it’s just to see his survival hero Bear Grylls. Yeah right - LOL) and I went online to ‘publish a work item’ (Jorrit’s turn to diss me now, since what I really wanted is to chat with someone special to me and see if her balut offer still stands :)

Anywaaay, the weather is not too bad here. How’s yours? *wink*IMG_3743

We enjoyed our first meal at Castagnola’s, an awesome seafood restaurant close to the harbor. Very friendly people, great service and delicious food. BTW, make sure you order the clams soup there, best ever!

Around 7pm we got back in our hotel and fell asleep right away from tiring flights. So today, I woke up early and got myself the largest Starbucks coffee. Jorrit’s hungry and we’re about to take away a Subway sandwich and head to the pier. We’ll probably rent bikes to cross the Golden Gate Bridge in a few hours.

 

So what’s coming up next in San Francisco?

Tomorrow, Saturday Sept. 21, we’re planning to watch the San Francisco 49’ers play American football against the Oakland Raiders. Sunday we wanna take a boat trip with the Alcatraz tour. Monday we’ll check out the hotel room, get souvenirs, pick up our rental car and head to Monterey.

Photos and videos coming up as soon as possible.

BTW: in case MW-friends are reading this post and planning to visit San Francisco some day, make sure to visit the International Spy Shop (right across my hotel). They’re selling the actual Untraceable Cell Phone and serious mafia stuff ;-)

When's the Last Time You Paid for Keys?

Friday, 8 February 2008 03:00 by Mike

Bizarre fact: you're charged for an online product that's on the house in real life

House for sale by owner - keys NOT includedEvery month, we're all expected to cough up the expenses for our comfy, brick-and-mortar house. Mostly a mortgage if you're a homeowner or rent if you're leasing the place. Either way, everyone uses electricity, water and gas, so we'd better pay for the utility bills too. Nothing unusual so far, right?

Imagine you just bought a new home and received the first bill from your public utility. A bit worried, you scan their invoice and notice this line:

"Keys to secure your home: $7.50 per/mo"

Ordinary keys in a door lockWhew, affordable! Nonetheless, it's rather strange a utility company just charged you for an item that the seller ought to give you after the buy, isn't it?

Even greedy landlords wouldn't have the nerve to add a small extra fee for cheap, ordinary keys to rental homes. They'd ask for the security deposit, but no way they'd add ongoing surcharges for securing your door. Unthinkable.

Anytime you buy or lease space, keys come with it; simply the universal standard. But if this is common sense and practice in real estate trade for our actual home, then ...

Why do we tolerate charges for virtual keys to our online home?

Key ring with $7.50 price tag with SSL certificateIndeed, $7.50 extra for digital keys to secure your web site. That's the average monthly cost for the five cheapest products I could find. Since Internet utility companies sell these so-called SSL certificates on yearly terms only.

Once this period comes to an end, your keys expire too. Even though most suppliers discount a renewal, they charge you again for virtual, digital or vaporizing keys if you will.

So they'll lock you in for at least another year, while you just want to lock up your online home: anytime you need to and for as long as necessary.

Well, guess what?

Crafty digital locksmiths market "multi-year" special offers, which appear to save you time and money. Cost-wise around 10-35% on their current single-year list price, if you pay them in full and up front for 3 to 10 years.

Ok, let's say you believe you're getting a good deal. You purchase a 5-year plan for $350, instead of $90 per year and save $100 today.

$100 bill stuck down the drainSix months later, a friend tells you how her Internet security vendor is offering a lower rate than yours, without long-term investments.

One year after your purchase, you run into a business partner. He switched to another web hosting company, because they included the digital keys to his online home. Free of charge.

So there you are, stuck with a prepaid deal and four years to go. Sure, time-wise you've spared yourself a few minutes of renewal hassle.

But what's wise about getting locked out of future better deals with no strings attached?


"Digital keys to secure your web site: $25-1500+ per year"


Author's note, gratitude and full (nonsense) disclosure

Click to enlarge and preview my Online Home (opens About page hosted on Squidoo.com - thanks Seth!)Thank you for reading my mind! Besides blog rookie, I'm a freelance trainer, writer and consultant (12 years in IT). Just a Dutch bargain lover, I searched for budget security keys to my new web site (in renovation). You can explore my findings in the next post or get it in your favorite reader.

Photo credits: SXC | Inspiration: "Nickel and Diming"

You can reach me by email or +31-708911134

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Fireworks, Reflections and Recharged Batteries

Friday, 4 January 2008 18:45 by Mike

Home office view at night with beautiful light reflections in the pond. Wateringse Veld, The Hague, Holland. Taken by Mike van ZandwijkSetback, Comeback and Playback (video)

New Year's Eve, ten minutes till midnight. All set to capture the fireworks on the horizon. My home office window displays this panoramic view with a charming pond surrounded by two bridges. I love reflections and pictured the rockets bouncing off this surface. I mounted a camera to my laptop and climbed the stairs to the rooftop. Perfect, so far.

Twelve o'clock, New Year, welcome 2008! My neighbors marched outside with their decorative explosives. We waved, wished all the best and I could virtually hear them think "you workaholic, for once - hibernate from that notebook!". They simply must master the art of wishful thinking, because after 30 minutes of spectacle ... poof.

Heck (probably misspelling the first two letters), my laptop ran low on batteries and powered off automatically while I was recording the show. I hoped it got saved, so you'd experience those reflections I enjoyed too on the moment supreme. More...

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The McDonald's Story

Tuesday, 1 January 2008 13:00 by Mike

Coffee Saved My Day Once Before

Plastic cup of McDonalds coffeeThis coffee theme reminds me of a story from my first job in 1996. Every Saturday, I worked at a computer retailer to pay for my information science study. One morning, the store manager reported late. Painfully, she ought to open up while a couple of customers already lined up. Her estimated delay: 45+ minutes.

Luckily, a father with his daughter accepted my apologies and invitation to sit down at McDonald's just around the corner. I ordered three coffees and listened to their preferences.

At McCaffeine round two, the dad asked if I recommend a suitable configuration for his studying daughter. I summed up their specification to verify good understanding and presented my best advice with three or four options. He picked a fine system on the spot, laughed and said "Alright Mike, let's check the store now and wrap it up!"

Bless the company director who just arrived with his key to finally unlock the shop. The father purchased over $2,500, just under their budget. Instead of us waiting, we enjoyed a few cups of McDonald's coffee. The real deal? Trust me, I'd rather visit a place like Starbucks if they served in The Netherlands. Frankly, instant coffee tastes good enough when you lack real alternatives, so we better keep healthy supplies!

Freedom of choice simply matters. Exactly here the Navigator fits in. With zero retail experience, I guided the family intuitively to facilitate them in making decisions. My incentive consisted of smiling customers and a grateful employer, not a futile sales commission. Heck, the McBill came out my own pocket, yet worth every guilder: a story with a happy meal end and colleagues assigned me this amusing nickname.

McMike's day saved by coffee from McDonald's. I'm Lovin' It!

Oh, the delayed store manager? She arrived over an hour later and got sacked by her supervisor the next week. Turned out she overslept due to a massive hangover.

What is your story?

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