Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Canyoning for Dummies

Its been a month since coming back from vacation and it feels like its been forever. "Sunday evening depression" sets in once I realize the weekend is over and dreaded Monday morning is approaching. The only thing that keeps me sane is planning the next vacation and looking back on great memories. Here is my favorite memory from Costa Rica:

There were 2 things that I had on my "to do" list: zip lining and whitewater rafting. My girlfriend wasn't excited about either after I "calmed" her nerves by describing how high, fast, and dangerous the activities would be. I didn't have a third excursion planned so I checked the hotel's listings. I came across something called "Canyoning" and it was described as a "trek through the forest on magical trails that lead to some of the most spectacular waterfalls". I thought it was the perfect compromise since the crazier activities were planned for later in the week. We arrive at base camp and the instructors put safety harnesses on us (I figured it was just a safety precaution for the hike). We follow a path and I can hear the slight roar of a waterfall. We stop at a platform and the instructors unpack the wet ropes and drop them over the side (huh!?). The safety instructions went like this: "Are you right handed or left handed? Keep your left hand on the rope above your head and never let go. Your right hand is kept to your side and you let it go slightly to give you slack to go down. Keep your legs bent in front of you at all times" (actual time spent on rapelling instructions: 30 seconds). Translation:

- If you let go of the rope in your left hand, your body will turn and your shoulder will smash into the cliff.
- If you let go of the rope in your right hand, you drop violently until the safety rope kicks in (and you smash into the cliff).
- If you don't keep your legs bent in front of you, you smash into the cliff.

I look over the side and realized the slight roar that I heard before was the waterfall beneath us. I can only see the top of trees below and ask how high the first waterfall was: 160 feet. "OK my friends, who wants to go first?"

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Pura Vida translates to Pure Life and represents the Costa Rican lifestyle: leisurely, laid back, and enjoying life. With that in mind, I've been planning my vacation to Costa Rica since April. The first week of November was the tail end of rain season and despite raining everyday, we made the best of it. The flight from Newark was 4 hours and 40 minutes and the airport transfer to the resort was a brisk 3 hour drive. We went up and down mountains, on and off road, and ran over every rock in Costa Rica (there was more turbulence on the drive than the flight). We were more than happy to arrive at the Springs Resort & Spa in the Arenal area. The resort was secluded and no where near full capacity since it was off season. It featured 18 pools / natural hot springs and stunning views of the Arenal Volcano (Costa Rica's most active volcano - smoke and lava come out of it daily). The 103 degree hot springs were especially therapeutic after long days of rapelling, zip lining, and white water rafting. The highlight of the trip was learning Pura Vida first hand: leisurely getting up and going to breakfast, learning to be laid back when everyone operated on "Tica" time, and enjoying life with their adrenaline filled activities.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies, Oh My!

Is it me or does every new movie, TV show, or book have a vampire, werewolf, or zombie in it? I recently went to see Zombieland with Woodie Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg (the guy who looks like Michael Cera) - I really went to the movies to see Couple's Retreat with Vince Vaughn, but I was a week early. I noticed nothing but commercials or movie previews featuring one of the three. Let's see....vampires are in New Moon (Twilight series), Trueblood (HBO series), and CW's Vampire Diaries. Werewolves are in New Moon, the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire book series (Trueblood), and Wolfman (new Benecio Del Toro movie). Zombies have always been a favorite of mine (See: Swine Flu = 28 Days Later?) and they are in the parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Resident Evil franchise (video games and movies), and Zombieland. I'm starting to wonder if the entertainment industry thinks we're all mindless zombies by using the same recycled formula on the masses (making it a real Zombieland).

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Crab, Crab, and More Crab

I recently took advantage of a Starwood promotion (Free Weekend Night) and checked out Baltimore's Inner Harbor. It's nothing like the Seaport in New York City or Penn's Landing - there's definitely plenty more to do. The area is full of museums, an aquarium, chain restaurants (The Cheesecake Factory, ESPNZone, Hard Rock, Hooters, PF Chang's), historical ships, Camden Yards (Orioles), and M&T Bank Stadium (Ravens). Here are a few of the places that I checked out (thanks for the recommendations, Pete):

* Costas Inn: if you're into steamed crabs, this is the place for you. We ordered a dozen extra large blue crabs and the waitress came back with the necessary tools: a brown paper table cover, mallets, a bucket, and plenty of napkins. The crabs come out covered in Old Bay seasoning and its hammer time. After you crack your first two, you develop a system for optimal meat retrieval. Make sure your hotel has a refridgerator if you decide to take leftovers - thanks for nothing Sheraton Hotel (someone almost ended up with a hotel room drawer full of crabs)!
* The Brewer's Art: it's rated the best bar in America by Esquire. I didn't know that until I got there, but I could instantly see why. The rosemary garlic fries and mac and cheese are must haves, their Belgian home brewed beers (Resurrection and Ozzy) are $4.50 for a pint full to the rim, they had my favorite beer (Kwak), and the bartenders are super attentive.
* Blue Moon Cafe: its a great place for brunch if you're patient enough to wait outside for an hour (luckily I was). The Captain Crunch french toast is a diabetic's dream topped with whipped cream and fruit, the bacon is deliciously thick sliced, and the cinnamon bun and biscuits to go were wise choices. I'll definitely be back to try their crab meat omelette.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Is the Madden Curse Real?

I'm not a superstitious person by any stretch of the imagination - I don't toss salt over my shoulder, I step on sidewalk cracks, and I'd probably step on the foul line if I was a baseball player. Despite not believing in superstitions and jinxes, the Madden Curse has been pretty consistent throughout the years. The Madden Curse (similar to the Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx) refers to an injury or poor performance of the players featured on the cover of John Madden. Here's a look at some of the players featured on the cover:

2001: Eddie George (injuries and an all time rushing low)
2002: Daunte Culpepper (season ending knee injury)
2003: Marshall Faulk (ankle injury & team missed the playoffs)
2004: Michael Vick (broken leg)
2005: Ray Lewis (torn hamstring)
2006: Donovan McNabb (sports hernia)
2007: Shaun Alexander (broken foot)
2008: Vince Young (leg injury & a dismal 17 interceptions)
2009: Brett Favre (torn biceps tendon which derailed the Jets season)
2010: Troy Polamalu (sprained MCL knee injury)

Hopefully nothing happens to Larry Fitzgerald, who shares the cover with Polamalu on John Madden NFL 10.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories: Rick James

I don't think any skit created as many quotable lines as Chappelle's Show - Season 2's Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories: Rick James: "Fuck your couch!", "I'm Rick James, Bitch!", "Cocaine is a helluva drug", "I wish I had more hands", "What did the five fingers say to the face?", etc. Everytime I see it, its like watching it for the first time. Its hard deciding which is the best part: Charlie Murphy's narration, Rick James' interview, Dave Chappelle's acting, or the overall writing. RIP Rick James and hopefully Dave Chappelle will decide to come out of retirement. Video courtesy of Comedy Central.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Blogging 101

I've been blogging for a little over 10 months and its been fun. I started the blog to maintain an online diary of trying to develop a business idea and escape the rat race. I've read everything related to SEO (search engine optimization) and optimizing traffic. I'm learning through a lot of patience and trial and error (you can't get rich overnight). If you're thinking about starting a blog, be sure to write about things that interest you or things that you know a lot about (so you have a constant flow of content). My blog focuses on travel, food, sports, and entertainment (books, movies, TV shows, and music). Here are a couple of suggestions of applications and affiliate programs that I use:

1) Google AdSense: is essential if you are looking to make money online. You get paid based on two formats: CPM (cost per thousand page impressions) and PPC (pay per click). Google AdSense scans your page and places ads according to the content (FYI: real estate, jobs, cars, and personals ads generate the most revenue). It takes time to build consistent traffic, so don't be discouraged.

2) Google Analytics: a free tool which shows you how traffic gets to your page (referring websites, google keywords used), average time spent on your website, most visited pages, and a number of other useful stats. Surprisingly, my most popular blog postings are videos. Reno 911 - I Won the Lotto!" is my most popular link.

3) Amazon Associates: is Amazon.com's affiliate program. If I'm going to reference or promote a book, TV show, or movie, doesn't it make sense to make a commission off of sales? Typical commissions paid are 4%-6%.

4) AddThis: is the most underrated promotion tool (I'm upset that I didn't add it sooner). It allows you to add a "Share It" button so people can bookmark, email, Digg, Delicious, share via Facebook / Twitter, etc. It can get you countless links and it's a simple HTML code.

To promote your blog and drive in traffic, add your link to your email signature, request backlinks on other websites, and promote new blog entries via social networking sites. Stay patient, enjoy yourself, and results will follow.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fantasy Football for Dummies

Ask any guy how many Fantasy Football leagues they belong to and you'll be surprised by the answer. I try to limit myself to two teams a season to make it manageable. A few friends have as many as 10 teams with different scoring formats (head to head, rotisserie, keeper leagues, salary cap, etc) and smack talking opponents (coworkers, ex-coworkers, friends, etc). Keeping up with their schedule of live drafts in August and September is a part-time job in itself.

The best way to prepare for "Draft Day" is to have a cheat sheet (ranked by position and average draft position), knowing key news (like which player is suspended for 3 games: Marshawn Lynch), and having a strategy (I live by: "2 Running Backs as your first two picks" and "Kickers in the last round" mantras). Here's a tip that will help you easily import and organize fantasy football stats into an Excel spreadsheet:

1) Go to your Fantasy Football provider's (Yahoo, CBS.Sportsline, or ESPN) players stats page. Copy the URL.
2) Open an Excel Spreadsheet. Click on Data -> Get External Data -> New Web Query. Paste the URL and click OK.

All of the players' stats should neatly populate onto the spreadsheet for easy sorting. Keep repeating the steps until you get all of the players you want to rank (you can only get 25 at a time on Yahoo). I keep three tabs for Offensive players (QB, WR, RB, TE), Defenses, and Kickers. Enjoy this time saving tip and feel free to pass it onto friends (non-opponents in your league).

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Camping for Dummies

I annually torture my friends by organizing camping trips in mid-November. The nights are brutally cold (especially when you have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night), the days are spent collecting & chopping wood, and washing dishes couldn't be anymore hand numbing. I was recently invited to go camping in the unthought of season of Summer. I had my reservations - I'd gone "cabining" at Sebago Cabins a couple of years ago in May and we were plagued by mosquitoes and gnats. We camped at Mongaup Pond in Livingston Manor in Upstate NY and it was a nice change of pace compared to our old campsite (Clarence Fahnestock State Park in Carmel, NY). The campsite was lakeside, had showers (a first for me), and they had canoes/kayaks/rowboats rentals available. We went with a friend's family who have been camping for 20 years. They came with a pop-up trailer (which proved invaluable in the rain) and set up an impressive kitchen stadium area with a huge grill and numerous burners. The menu featured raviolis with meat sauce, ribs, sausage, lamb, and french toast on the last day. The thing that I enjoyed the most was that their entire family was present: from pets to kids to grandparents. Now, I'm trying to organize a family camping trip - let's hope my power of persuasion works.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's in Your Golf Bag?

I took up golf five years ago after starting my current job. It helps facilitate business and it doesn't hurt being out of the office, getting some sun, and drinking all day. Let's be honest, if shark feeding was a corporate event, I'd probably take it up to get out of the office too. I've never broken 100 (70% of golfers never have either), but its a satisfying game when everything is going right. Here's a look at the 14 clubs in my bag:

Club# 1) TaylorMade R360XD 10.5 degrees (regular flex): "old faithful" - its my first and most consistent driver.
Club# 2) TaylorMade R9 9.5 degrees (regular flex): I won it at a golf outing, but its not consistent enough to unseat "old faithful" just yet.
Club# 3) TaylorMade V Steel 3 Wood 15 degrees (regular flex): I bought it right before I played Pinehurst to get away from using the lower irons in my bag.
Club# 4) King Cobra Baffler DWS 3 Rescue Club 20 degrees (regular flex): I love this club. Its great out of the rough, off the fairway, and long par 3's.
Club# 5-12) Cleveland TA5 Irons 3-9 PW: I'm very hit or miss with my irons. I'm bringing my hands in more and swinging slower for better contact.
Club #13) Cleveland Sandwedge Tour Action 588 56 degrees: Its not the arrow, its the Indian. Sometimes I'm great out of the sand and sometimes I'm playing tennis back and forth with myself over the green.
Club #14) Odyssey White Hot #5: I've got stone hands around the green and this putter doesn't help. I'm considering upgrading to the Odyssey Sabretooth before the season ends (I love the offsetting weight in it).

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Barcelona Nights

Comparing Madrid and Barcelona is like comparing night and day. Madrid is the "royal" cosmopolitan capital of Spain. Barcelona is gritty, raw, and independent since it preserved its Catalan identity. The city is defined by its Gaudi architecture (the unfinished Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, La Pedrera) and La Rambla, the tree-lined pedestrian walkway which connects Placa Catalunya to the Christopher Columbus Monument in Port Vell. La Rambla is packed 24 hours lined with its "people watching" restaurants, stores, and street performers. At night, the rose peddlers, guys selling loose beer for a euro, and prostitutes monopolize the walkway. Barcelona definitely takes some time to grow on you, but its charming narrow alleys (Barri Gotic neighborhood), the waterfront with its beaches & Rambla de Mar (boardwalk), and the view from the top of Palau Nacional definitely win you over.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

No Reservations: Madrid & Barcelona

One of the highlights of my trip to Spain was all of the food. The tapas, pinchos (small sandwiches), and fresh seafood helped facilitate drinking because they satisfy your appetite without making you feel full. The sangria was hit or miss (depending if it was watered down by Sprite or club soda), but the cava (spanish "champagne") and wines (rioja and rueda) went well with everything. I even tried a few new things like gazpacho, sardines, octopus, cuttlefish (squid family), and crayfish (mini lobsters). Here are a few places I checked out and recommend:

Madrid Restaurants
- Botin (near Plaza Mayor): Its the oldest restaurant in the world (1725). Their specialty is suckling pig made in a wood fired overn.
- Chocolateria San Gines (near Puerta del Sol): You have to get their churros and hot chocolate thats so thick, it can support the weight of a spoon.
- Vinoteca Barbechera (Plaza de Santa Ana): You have to try their pinchos sampler - I was addicted to their curry chicken pincho.
- La Fragua de Vulcano (near Plaza de Santa Ana): Good paella and amazing service (you could tell our server loved working there).
- Mercat de San Miguel (outside of Plaza Mayor): Great market with a dine-in area with wine, cheese, pastries, etc. Its open late and always lively.

Barcelona Restaurants
- El Rey de la Gamba (Port Vell): Fresh seafood since the Mediterranean Sea is right there. The crayfish were a chore to eat, but getting the meat out of the shell made it worth it.
- Pita House or Brasil (Las Ramblas): Perfect for people watching, they serve 1 liter beers & sangria, and the tapas are tasty.
- Luz de Gas (on a boat on Port Vell): Located on the marina and they serve good tapas and seafood.
- Mercat de la Boqueria (Las Ramblas): One word: heaven. They have the freshest produce, seafood, meats, cheese, and lunch counters. I feel in love with their fruit smoothies with every possible fruit combination: kiwi, banana, coconut, papaya, mango, etc. (TIP: The smoothies are 2 for 1 at the end of the day).

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Real Madrid

I just came back from a vacation in Spain and it really blew my mind. It almost seemed like 10 days wasn't enough - I divided it between Madrid and Barcelona and there was still so many places left to see: Sevilla, Costa Del Sol, Ibiza, Granada, and Pamplona (I originally planned to go to San Fermin to Run with the Bulls, but there were no available hotel rooms and the train schedule didn't cooperate). I absolutely fell in love with Madrid: the food, drinks, music, people watching, and lifestyle (siesta anyone?). Madrid is a nice mix of metropolitan, historical, sophistication, relaxed/laid back, and a touch of hustle and bustle (Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor are constantly active). I stayed at the Westin Palace which is centrally located and within minutes of the major sites: Prado Museum, Plaza de la Cibeles, Puerta de Alcala, Parque del Retiro, Palacio Real, etc. Everyday began the same: awake at 10am, eat breakfast, sight seeing until 2pm, eat a nice lunch with bottle(s) of wine / pitcher(s) of sangria, siesta until 9pm, dinner around 10pm, bounce from place to place drinking/people watching, and repeat. Jet lag never set in and everything was informal (no dress codes and no rush to close out your bill in restaurants). Unless I find a better city, Madrid may be where I hang it up when I call it quits.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Favorite Michael Jackson Memories

They say death always comes in threes: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson (sorry Billy Mays - when I heard the news, I thought Willie Mays died). After numerous tributes and catching up with a lifetime of accomplishment, here are some of my favorite Michael Jackson memories (aside from moonwalking):

* When I saw the Thriller video for the first time, my mother was hemming a pair of pants. As the video unfolded, I was scared sh#tless that my favorite singer turned into a werewolf and then a zombie. It was very traumatic for the 5 year old version of me.
* Everytime I tried on a pair of shoes or sneakers, they had to pass my "Michael Jackson test" (standing on my tippy toes and striking a pose - see image below). It probably wasn't the best way to break in a new pair.
* In 1984, Michael Jackson's hair caught on fire while filming a Pepsi commercial (a spark ignited his hair). I remember writing Michael a "Get Well" letter - I'm not sure if my mother actually sent it out.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Microsoft XBox 360: Project Natal

Microsoft recently announced their latest development for the XBox 360 (at the E3 Expo): Project Natal. It is a motion sensing camera that will allow you to play games without a controller by sensing your movements and relaying them to your character in the game. You can punch an attacker, kick a soccer ball, drive a car, ride a skateboard, etc. It will also recognize your voice, allow voice commands, keep track of multiple players, and allow you to virtually interact with characters in the game (second video: Milo Demo). If Microsoft supports it with enough innovative games, it could be the Nintendo Wii killer.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Is Every Song in Aruba about Friendship & Happiness?

Comedian Lewis Black is a spokesman for the Aruba Tourism Authority and has a pretty cool series of commercials - the little girl's expression at the end is priceless.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Hey Young World: Puerto Rican Day Parade

It's that time of year in New York where you see Puerto Rican flags draped on car hoods, fire escapes, and fingernails....the 52nd Annual Puerto Rican Day Parade (made famous/infamous by the Seinfeld episode). I actually tuned into WPIX this year and couldn't help but cringe the entire time. It was like watching a slow motion car wreck on repeat. None of the announcers spoke Spanish or bothered to gain a rapport, the guest interviews were pointless (Calle 13), and it seemed completely condescending (complimenting onlookers on obviously ignorant things). The reporters expected everyone to dance salsa on queue and the people they chose to interview were zombies who answered every question with "Boricua!", "Viva Puerto Rica!", or whistling. Being of Puerto Rican descent, I despise the commercialization and desecration of the flag with coquis (tree frogs), cocks (rosters), muscle men, or whatever nonsense they think of. I have no problem with being proud, but don't embarrass the rest of us by playing into negative social stereotypes.

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Gordon Ramsay's "Perfect Scrambled Eggs"

While I'm on the subject of cooking breakfasts, I found an easy recipe for scrambled eggs on LIfehacker.com by Gordon Ramsay (host of Hell's Kitchen). Who would have thought to not preheat the pan, to stir the entire time, taking it on and off the heat, seasoning after its cooked, or too add sour cream? I'm looking forward to trying it this weekend.

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Breakfast of Champions

I recently made breakfast for my mother and grandmother - I try to visit them once a week (typically on a Sunday when I can steal my grandmother's Sunday coupons). If I skip a visit, I'm always riddled with guilt for the week. Anyway, as I was cooking, I realized that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day (when I actually have time to make it). How could anyone disagree with eggs, biscuits, potato latkes (or hashbrowns), pancakes, or the holy grail of food: bacon? Add in "happy juice" (mimosas) and you really can't go wrong.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Kobe - Do you have a Ring Polisher?

Here's a few more commercials from the Nike Kobe-Lebron puppet series with Lil Dez. "Lebron, you have 20 triple doubles, can I have one?" "Lebron, c'mon man cheer up, it took Mike seven years and Charles Barkley ain't even got a ring, not one!" Good stuff!

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Monday, June 1, 2009

My Favorite Commercials - Ally Bank

Ally Bank's (formerly GMAC) new commercials are my favorite - they poke fun at banks holding out on favorable terms (pony commercial), bait & switch / fine print tactics (truck commercial), and restrictive terms (bike commercial). The look on the girl's face is priceless!

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