Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ixtapa - Zihuatanejo

Well, the trip went very well. I wish I had a bit more time to do more during the trip, because I ended up pursuing a PADI Open Water Diver certification. Getting certified took a lot of time and was a major commitment given the relatively short vacation. Anyway, we'll get to that later.

Okay, I guess I might as well do this in chronological order.


So, we did end up going to House of Nanking for dinner, and we did have to wait for quite some time before we were allowed to enter the restaurant and be seated. Anyway, we finished dinner around 9pm, and we found ourselves at a New Orleans-style jazz bar where we had a couple of drinks before we headed off to the airport.

We parked over at my favorite off-airport long-term parking facility, Anza Park and Sky. If you ever use long-term parking, be sure to check out it's really a great place to get online coupons. Parking for 6 full days cost me just under $60 with their $9.50 per day coupon.

Anyway, back to the story... well, I guess it's technically Wednesday now.


Our 3-legged flight from San Francisco to Houston to Mexico City to Zihuatanejo was on-time and departed at 12:40am. Having gotten very little sleep the night before, I promptly fell asleep. When we get to Houston, we grabbed some breakfast and basically waited around doing nothing, but being tired and grumpy travellers. Finally, we're off the Mexico City, where we had a difficult time trying to figure out where we needed to be to catch the flight to our final destination. Apparently, many flights at the Mexico City airport are not assigned gates until an hour before departure. That really confused the hell out of us.

Ok, we finally get word of the gate, and we arrive there and get on the plane. But, all is not right... where are Mr. and Mrs. GZA of 12th Street? The four of us were supposed to share this leg of the trip, and we were supposed to get our pre-party drink on. Didn't happen. Turns out their flight out of LAX was delayed and they missed the connection. Bummer. So, QB and I end up at Zihuatanejo without Mr. and Mrs. 12th Street.

After landing, we catch a cab to the Barceló Ixtapa Beach Hotel. It was around 3 o'clock when we chekced in. The hotel is very nice... not 5-star nice, but a solid 4 stars. All of us purchased the all-inclusive package, and so everything was covered. This included all of our meals and all alcoholic drinks (no top-shelf stuff, but it was alright), along with all the regular stuff you'd get with any hotel room. All of us ended up with an ocean view rooms, which was definitely a nice bonus.

Here are two shots from the hotel room balcony.

So, after checking out the view, we head down to the pool area to get some drinks. Mr. and Mrs. Spud found the two of us, and we exchanged tales about our long flights. They arrived at the hotel a couple of hours before we did, and they started their journey at 1:30am.

That afternoon, we lounged around by the pool and beach for the most part. The water was ridiculously warm. Might as well have been swimming in a bathtub. Not refreshing at all. The beach, however, was awesome. The water was the perfect temperature, really. Eventually, we made our way back to our rooms, and it was then that I received a call from the GZA, who went on to explain everything.

That first night, we all ate a special hotel dinner while watching a Mexican dance show on a stage. The food was definitely decent, considering it was all included in our package and was buffet-style. And, since we're all such smart people, we figured out the secret to getting strong drinks at an all-inclusive place... you simply order a mixed drink along with shots of hard liquor of your choice.

We also kicked it at the hotel bar, which was the closest thing to a club at the hotel. It had a dance floor and everything. And, they had great servers that really knew how to take care of their customers. Also, one other thing... this particular bar was air-conditioned. It was extremely hot and humid in Ixtapa... full of mosquitoes too.


In the morning, Spud and I went down for some breakfast, and then off to the Aqua Paradise dive shop at the hotel. Spud loves diving... he's been talking about diving for quite some time now. And, before our trip, I had more or less promised I'd do a scuba diving program with him. Had I known how much time and effort would have been required beforehand, there's no way I would have agreed to it. Though, in hindsight, I'm really glad I went through with it.

We were then given a scuba diving manual and asked to read it before our first lesson, which would take place at 4pm on Friday. We had to do all this reading, because on top of completing chapter tests that get sent to the PADI organization, we'd also be given 4 quizzes followed by a final exam to obtain our cerficates.

Once we had all of that taken care of, it was time to relax on the beach. The beach was awesome, and all of us were mostly just relaxing and doing some reading, attempting to solve Sudokus, or getting a tan. The GZA went parasailing, also.

Here's the GZA up in the air. You can barely see him, but I assure you that it's him.

Unfortunately, the beach fun did not last. Mrs. Spud, the QB, and I went out into the water at some point that afternoon. I swam out sort of far to float around and do some swimming, and Mrs. Spud and QB were closer to shore jumping waves and enjoying the water's coolness. Then, I spot this pretty large wave break right on them and wipe them out. Mrs. Spud recovers, but QB is nowhere to be seen. I get really worried and start swimming towards shore, when a few seconds later QB gets up from her spill. But, something's not right, as I see Mrs. Spud rush off with her out of the water.

I make it to shore and catch up with them halfway to the hotel. And, QB's face is completely bloodied from what appears to be a broken nose. Man, I was really feeling bad. The swelling was severe, and blood was everywhere. We head off the the 24-hour First Aid center inside the hotel, and a doctor is on standby and checks her out. He was surprised that there was not a broken nose after all, just an incredible amount of swelling. He prescribed some anti-inflammatory medicine, and asked us to get X-Rays the next morning, just in case.

The hotel staff was able to secure the medication and deliver it to our room. We planned on taking the night off for the most part due to the injury. But, QB's a trooper who really wanted to go down and have fun with everyone else. So, we did. We all had a lot of good laughs. Mostly talking about old shit and funny stuff that's happened in our lives. The GZA and Mrs. GZA got their dance floor groove on that night, as did Spud and his wife. I was exempt, and decided to have a ton of pina coladas instead. Note to self: Do not go overboard on pina coladas, especially if you've also had way too much fresh fruit that same day. We won't be getting into any details about that, but you can use your imagination.


Woke up early, and headed to Zihuatanejo to get X-Rays done on QB's face. Good news... no fractures. So, we headed back to the hotel for another day of eating, drinking, and lounging around.

At 4pm, Spud and I head to the dive shop and get ready for our lessons. But, before we can begin, the instructor had use fulfill the PADI swimming requirement. We had to swim laps adding up to roughly an eighth of a mile (in the uncomfortably warm swimming pool, I might add). Following the swim, we had to float in the water for 10 minutes. The swim really shouldn't have been too tough, but man I'm getting out of shape. And, the uncomfortable temperature of the water surely did not help. The float kind of sucked, because I'm so used to floating in saltwater, which is way easier.

After the swim test, we learned all about the equipment used for scuba diving and how to put everything together. We were then ready for our confined water dive. We put on all our scuba gear and did the scuba thing in the swimming pool. Not much to see down there except for fat and hairy legs and the occasional set of sexy ones. This confined dive also included practice of many of the skills required for certification. In order to get certified, you need to show competency in a number of skills during an ocean dive ranging from flushing out water-filled goggles to performing an emergency ascent to towing an exhausted diver on the water's surface. The confined dive and all the associated training took nearly four hours!

QB was sitting by the pool waiting for me to hurry up, since we were both very late to a dinner engagement with the Mr. and Mrs. GZA. So, anyway, after this first lesson, I rushed upstairs and got changed. We were off to a 'restaurant' called La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) that GZA's cousin had recommended from when she had traveled to Ixtapa. I put restaurant in quotes, because it's much more like a bar. The food was quite good though... no complaints. I had octopus tacos, and the QB had a whole snapper. I can't recall what the 12th street clan had, but I do remember it looked good. Oh ya, the guacamole dip was excellent.

After the meal, we checked out the gift shop. Mrs. GZA bought a nice pair of earrings and also a gift for a friend. We ended up buying nothing, because we're cheap bastards. No, actually, QB was gonna buy something, but changed her mind for some reason. The GZA and I are guys, and it goes without saying that we don't really shop.

After we got back to the hotel, it was more of the same... drinking and relaxing at the hotel bar. Not for me though. I had maybe only one more beer at the bar that night, since I'd have to be up early the next morning to go dive in the real ocean.


I get up bright and early and grab a very light breakfast. Spud had mostly finished his meal by the time I started eating. That breakfast that Spud had might have played a role in the events that were to unfold.

After we ate, we are sent to the pier to meet up with our instructor to begin our real ocean dives. We need to complete four of these for the certification. As we head out, Spud is getting noticeably seasick. A very bad sign considering he had taken Dramamine, a Pfizer (PFE) Consumer Healthcare product. Well, we started our first dive, and within a few minutes Spud is really not feeling well and had to return to the boat. It was a sad hour in Ixtapa.

So, after I finished the dive and proved my competency in a few skills, we headed back to the pier and dropped Spud off. At least he did not puke, and for that we salute Spud, Mr. I-Got-Seasick-But-Held-It-In-Like-A-Man, a real American Hero.

After we dropped him off, the instructor and I headed back out for my second dive. It was a shorter dive, and also shallower. Turns out that you're supposed to do deeper dives first and shallower ones later. That's what I learned anyhow. So, after that dive, we get back to the pier, and I'm glad to see that Spud's doing a lot better.

Before I go on, I gotta say that diving is pretty awesome. There's a ton of crazy shit down there. And, unless you're really familiar with ocean life, there are a ton of misconceptions. Like, I got to actually play around with an octopus and a blown-up puffer fish while I was down there. I had no idea that puffer quills are more like blunt pencils than sharp pins.

While diving, I also got to see a number of different eels and lots of other sea life. Two eels I remember most vividly are the regular moray and the zebra moray. I also got bitten a few times by a Damsel Fish (highly territorial, and one of the bites broke skin). If I actually held grudges, I'd go back there hunt it down and cook it. I also encountered the highly venomous stonefish, which was quickly shoo'd away by the instructor.

After the dive, I hung out at the beach a bit, and then took the final examination, which I passed with an 86%... not a great score, but a fairly efficient one. Perfect efficiency would have had me passing with the bare minimum of 75%. Oh well.

That night, QB and I went to an amazing restaurant with the GZA and his wife. The place was called Villa De La Selva. What a place! What great food. It had the most awesome view, and the food was beyond excellent. We all absolutely loved the food there. It was pricy, but the kind of meal we got would have easily cost us double had it been in San Francisco.

We all had nice appetizers... here's a taste.

The GZA had an arrachera dish. For those who are unfamiliar, arrachera is a special cut of beef that comes from the cow's diaphragm. Here's a look at his lovely dish.

I had an excellent seared tuna dish. Mrs. GZA had a 'surf and turf' dish. And, QB had triple medley of fish. Here are a few more pics of our food, respectively. The food looks much better in person... blame the photographer for the poor quality pictures.

Here's a view from our table...

For dessert, GZA and his wife shared Banana Flambé. And, QB and I opted to skip dessert and have some coffee.


Our trip was coming to a close. This was going to be our last full day. I headed off to complete my diving certification. After two more dives and many skill demonstrations later, I was official. I went and got my picture taken, and I'll be expecting a certification card in the mail some time soon. Yay!

On our final night, all of us headed to the Don Quixote restaurant in the hotel. This is our one special restaurant meal that we get with our all-inclusive package. We got to choose an appetizer, a soup, a main dish, and a dessert. I personally thought the meal was great. But, not everyone shares my feelings... that night, Mrs. Spud experienced some sickness. As a result, I'll keep the kudos to myself.

At least I got to drink and party a fair amount that night having no dive to make the next day. We had plenty of beer and tequila... yay, again!


QB and I get up fairly early to pack and check-out. After doing so, we headed to the stores across the street and did some gift-shopping. I picked up a cool looking bowl for her mother, which she appreciated.

Anyway, we fly back without any real problems, and here I am days later writing this.

Hope you enjoyed the travel log.

Ding-Dong The Inflation Witch Is (Mostly) Dead

For the first time in quite a while, the Fed has hinted that the continual interest rate hikes might be coming to an end. This prompted the market to strongly rally after the Fed's announcement.

This news trumps Ixtapa. OK, OK... I will write about our trip in the next couple of days (with photos!).

For those interested, below is the verbatim text from the Fed announcement.

Verbatim Fed Text

The Federal Open Market Committee decided today to raise its target for the federal funds rate by 25 basis points to 5-1/4 percent.

Recent indicators suggest that economic growth is moderating from its quite strong pace earlier this year, partly reflecting a gradual cooling of the housing market and the lagged effects of increases in interest rates and energy prices.

Readings on core inflation have been elevated in recent months. Ongoing productivity gains have held down the rise in unit labor costs, and inflation expectations remain contained. However, the high levels of resource utilization and of the prices of energy and other commodities have the potential to sustain inflation pressures.

Although the moderation in the growth of aggregate demand should help to limit inflation pressures over time, the Committee judges that some inflation risks remain. The extent and timing of any additional firming that may be needed to address these risks will depend on the evolution of the outlook for both inflation and economic growth, as implied by incoming information. In any event, the Committee will respond to changes in economic prospects as needed to support the attainment of its objectives.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

T Minus 6 1/2 Hours

Well, in less than 7 hours we'll be on a plane heading to Houston, where we'll catch a flight to Mexico. Man, the excitement has definitely been building up... I could hardly sleep last night. That's all for the better anyway, as I want to be dead tired on the overnight flight so I can catch some sleep.

I'm going to be a tourist early for this trip. Tonight is QB's birthday, and so we're going to grab some food at the House of Nanking. It's fast, it's cheap, and while it's non-traditional, it is quite tasty. I've only been there a couple of times, and both times the service pretty much sucks, but everyone says that's part of the experience. Hopefully, the line will only wrap partially around the block.

Anyway, I'm outta here. Ixtapa, here I come!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Quick Trade Update

I swapped out of St. Jude Medical (STJ) and into more Fortune Brands (FO). Exit 100% of the STJ position at 33.70 (for roughly 13% loss) and added to the FO position at 69.32, bringing the overall cost basis to $75 even. STJ is simply not executing, and in current turbulent times, I prefer owning companies that are not only producing cash, but also distributing cash via dividends.

Another bloody day, but I'm still a selective buyer.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Weekend + Two More Days

This last weekend has been fun for the most part. Friday night, we went to Double D's in Los Gatos for some food and drinks. The pastrami sandwich I had was really tasty.

Saturday, we grabbed a late lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Jose. I haven't been there in a while, and I've always had a reasonably priced meal there. Brings back old memories... the first dinner date I'd ever gone on was at the Old Spaghetti Factory in good ol' Riverside. Later that night, we hooked it up with some steak fajitas.

Today, I played in the Online Bloggers Poker Tournament. I got busted out pretty early. When all the money went in I was an underdog with red Aces versus T9 suited clubs on a J85 flop with 2 clubs. The turn came a Q, and I was out.

Good thing I got busted out early, because there was plenty of fun to be had. Anyway, I went and got a much-needed haircut. The lady over at Fantastic Sam's asked me if I had graduated from school yet. Instead of answering her question, I asked her about all the white hairs that are now starting to spread like a plague on the sides of my head. Stress can really do some damage to your hair. I always thought it was bullshit... it's not.

After the haircut, we checked out Dolphin Pet Village nearby. That's one nice pet store. The fish are just really healthy and the tanks are well-kept. I'll be going back there in the near future for new fish. Right now, I've only got a couple electric yellow cichlids and a zebra obliquiden.

Next, we hit up Katie Bloom's for a late afternoon calimari snack and some drinks... had a couple glasses of Murphy's stout, and it was good. The weather was perfect. Not overly warm, and just breezy enough to make everything wonderful. Also, there was this table next to ours that had 6 super hot Russians. Seriously, the worst one was a strong 7. And, that's before we started drinking.

Finally, we get home and we cooked up some chicken and steak on a mini-barbeque grill outside. Technically, I'm not supposed to be doing anything of the sort on my balcony, but I figured a small mini-grill was going to be okay. And, I do mean small... it's this "el cheapo" grill I got for $9.99 at Rite-Aid. The meat came out great, since it was marinating over the weekend.

Oh, and TWO MORE DAYS, before we head out to Ixtapa with Spud, his wife, and the GZA of 12th Street, and his wife. Six of us will be partying hard at an all-inclusive resort.

In case you aren't sure where Ixtapa is... if you've seen Shawshank Redemption, then you must recall Zihuatanejo. Ixtapa is right next door. I can't wait. I really am in need of a vacation.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Quick Update

As I have previously stated... I'm in a careful buying mode right now, as many stocks are approaching prices that look attractive. About 3 months ago, I highlighted Deb Shops (DEBS). I've been waiting very patiently for an opportunity, and today, I think it presented itself.

I picked up some DEBS at 26.85.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pokerstars Blogger Tournament

I registered for this blogger tournament. One of the conditions for registration is that I advertise the tournament on the blog. So here it is. The tournament takes place on June 18, 2006 in case anyone is interested.

Texas Holdem Poker

I have registered to play in the
PokerStars World Blogger Championship of Online Poker!

This Online Poker Tournament is a No Limit Texas Holdem event exclusive
to Bloggers.

Registration code: 2474027

Hopefully, I find the time to play it.

Michael Crichton and Science

Earlier I was chatting a bit with a couple of buddies about global warming... and I was reminded of a lecture given by Michael Crichton (yes, the author/scientist/medical doctor) some number of years ago. So, I dug up that lecture, and re-read it. I think it's very good and thought-provoking.

Aliens Cause Global Warming by Michael Crichton

Here are some bits and pieces that will hopefully pique your interest enough to read it.

I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

. . .

Meanwhile, ever-larger studies failed to confirm any association. A large, seven-country WHO study in 1998 found no association. Nor have well-controlled subsequent studies, to my knowledge. Yet we now read, for example, that second-hand smoke is a cause of breast cancer. At this point you can say pretty much anything you want about second-hand smoke.

. . .

Let's think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Weekend and Drinks

The weekend was fun and pretty relaxing.

On Friday, we went to get some Japanese food over at Minato in San Jose. They aren't really a sushi place, but their tuna and yellowtail sashimi is always very fresh. We had plenty of that plus terriyaki chicken and shrimp and veggie tempura. Can't go wrong at Minato, assuming you're not specifically in search of sushi.

Saturday, we went to watch Cars. I enjoyed it. Definitely a feel good movie. There were a few references that were definitely more adult... like 'whore' tattoos and 60's drug use. I was a moron and forgot to bring the free popcorn coupon I had, and so we didn't get to up our heart attack probability at all. Later that night, we went to the Blue Monkey Lounge. I'd never been there, but it was a nice little place. The biggest complaint I had was that there was a SINGLE bathroom for BOTH men and women. We were there for a double birthday party, and so there were two tables reserved with plenty to drink. Good times.

Sunday was a day for rest, except for hitting the gym... I'm so out of shape, it sucks.

Oh, so a book I ordered came today... full of useful information: Drinks by Vincent Gasnier. But, if you are interested in buying it, get it from Overstock. Just a shade cheaper, but the shipping is far less, since it doesn't qualify for Amazon's Super Saver Shipping.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Logic of a Moron

So, I'm going to blog about this, because I'm a bit peeved by the situation. I think it's utter bullshit, but here we go... please provide me with your thoughts on this.

The Situation

A friend of mine, we'll call him TFR. He bought two plane tickets a few months ago. He finds out today that his companion might not be able to go on the trip. So, he asks me about it, and I respond that it might be transferrable with some penalty...

Here is the chat (with minor edits for clarity):

TFR: do you know if ticket is transferrable
BruteForcex: it might be for a fee... some penalty... maybe $50-150
BruteForcex: but i am not sure [if] there's a penalty on the ticket
BruteForcex: you need to call airline

Ok, so a couple of hours after this chat, TFR calls the airline and finds out that it is in fact NOT transferrable. He now blames me for getting his hopes up, and is pissed off.

Here's a taste (again, with minor edits for clarity and removal of vulgarity):

TFR: You're wrong and you don't what you're talking about.
BruteForcex: huh?
TFR: yeah f*** you
BruteForcex: ?
TFR: I just called [the airline] and i cannot transfer the ticket
TFR: Now I am dissapointed (sic) it gave me false hope
TFR: I am pissed at you

*this hate then continues for another 10 minutes, and it gets downright nasty*

And, right now, I'm not even sure if he's just screwing with me, or if he really feels this way. I should not be a mind reader, that's for sure. I should also not rely on reading people when playing poker.

Anyway, just wanted to get this off my chest, because if this is for real, then TFR's logic is ridiculous. The fact is TFR faces the issue of losing the ticket whether or not what I said turned out to be true. The only thing he can claim was my fault was giving him a sense of false hope. But, seeing as how I did not actively seek to deceive him and was simply misinformed, this is outrageous... especially, given the fact that I qualified my advice with some uncertainty (e.g. might be, need to call the airline, etc).

Ok, that's the end of my rant. And, TFR, you know who you are, I sincerely hope you were just f'ing with me. And, if you were, wow, you did a great job and got me good.

Would love to hear thoughts on TFR's logic irrespective of whether or not TFR is in actuality just busting my balls.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Market Corrections

The market continues to head lower... yes, it's a real life market correction. I haven't been sweating it too much, but it does sting and makes you question yourself and the decisions you've made.

Here are a couple articles that might be of interest:

1) Short article from a while back (October 2005)... Market Corrections: Dos and Don'ts. I agree with a good chunk of what's said. And, #11 on the list is precisely why I try my best not to worry too much about the daily losses that all of us investors are suffering.

What I don't agree with completely is his claim in #2: " There has never been a correction that has not proven to be a buying opportunity." During times of flagrantly excessive earnings multiples and truly unrealistic expectations of growth, corrections can lead to crashes, and it can take many, many years to fully recover. Look at the Nikkei... or maybe at a chart of Tulip bulb prices plotted from the days of the Tulip Bulb craze up until now.

2) Here's one that shows some information on historical market corrections of roughly 20% or greater over the last 60 years... Market Corrections: A History Lesson.

It is informational, and puts things into perspective. If we're in for a 20% correction, then we're barely halfway there. Anyway, Shinhan Financial (SHG) is getting closer to my buying range... it took a hit today along with everything else.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Another Quick Update

Sold Apple June 62.50 Calls (QAAFZ) on the position for 0.75 this morning. Market continues to fall... what a mess.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Quick Update

Initiated a position in Chevron (CVX) in the long-term portfolio at $58.55. Market has really been taking a pounding lately. Still cautiously optimistic as I look to deploy more cash and pick up shares in some companies I've been following.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Reminiscence and a Single Stock

Looking at Craftmade International (CRFT) as a potential buy at the current level around $18 a share. It is a small-cap that has proven it can continue to generate profits. It pays a 2.7% dividend, and looks fairly undervalued right now. Maybe I'll talk more about it later, but I suggest those who are interested in a small-cap play to consider it.

And, I was thinking about how we're all getting so old, and it sucks. Anyway, just to remember the good old days... here's the story of the Bus. Most of you know all about it, but here it is again for everyone to enjoy.

Link To The Bus Story - 1999