Lake Tahoe Round 2.

This weekend involved a visit to Lake Tahoe. We decided to rent a truck, a chalet (cabin) and head up on Thursday evening to spend the weekend there and get a few days skiing in. There were originally plans to head up with the international students but last time that not only ended up being a complete disaster that involved no skiing and just a 2 day drinking session with strangers but was making a profit off us for no real justified reason.

The plan worked out with us getting this absolutely massive GMC truck. Brand new, haggled down to a lower amount from Hertz rentals and due to it’s 4X4 capabilities, absolutely no need to waste money on snow chains.

Tim Ford with GMC truck

The ride up was absolutely fine and we didn’t get there until relatively late due to late classes that people had. We ventured to the first 7 Eleven (Which for me is impossible not to say in a Welsh Accent) that we saw and bought some beers and snacks for the cabin and then we continued to pick up the keys and head to our little residence for the weekend. It literally cost us about $35 a night each which isn’t too bad considering that we all got a bed and we all could use the hot tub. There was also a large selection of glasses, cutlery and the house was pretty well stocked. Oh, and shout out to Tahoe Accommodation for the free bottle of dirt cheap wine!

Tim Ford Snowboarding

So the first night we were all pretty shattered and were in bed by 12:30. The plan was to wake up and get the first lift. Like that was actually ever going to happen. We hit up the rental shop and got hold of some equipment for a relatively decent price. I paid $40 a day for the superior snowboard package with boots included. I cannot express how much worse this was than the European service. The board was ancient. It was so old I don’t think it ever had a new season. I really missed my Burton Bullet at this point but I was only riding for two days and I was boarding with a few beginners so speed wasn’t really the most important thing. I actually really enjoyed the slopes when we got up on the mountain at Heavenly. $100 for a days lift ticket isn’t cool though. Far too expensive and it’s only ever going to go up. But hey, when was winter sports ever cheap? It’s part of the definition of the middle class.

The aprés ski was pretty good, the Village had some nice bars, I think Fire & Ice was one of the ones we visited where we sat round a fire pit drinking Sierra Nevada and chatting away about how much our disgracefully unfit bodies were aching.

The next day was my Birthday! Hooray! I got to spend my time with some of the closest friends I’ve made in America and we had champagne, cake, did the whole card thing but most importantly, I got to shred on my birthday. It couldn’t have been a better day, I spend more time on the slopes, got more runs done and after heading down the double black-diamond known as the face got to enjoy the bars in Lake Tahoe and have a few drinks in the hot tub at the house. Later that night we headed to a bar and ordered a taxi to the nearest Nevada Casino and spent some time there.

The snow sports was good, the company was great and the weekend as a whole was extremely fun albeit expensive. Sure I’d love to be going again but the only fault I found with the weekend that’s worth complaining about is that it didn’t last long enough! I’m very grateful to my friends who treated me so well and I’m so glad I got to snowboard this time and enjoy what California has to offer in terms of snow sports.

This Week – Beach, Bikes and Birthdays

Well, what a week! A few phone calls at the start of the week and a couple ideas thrown about lead to us heading out to Pacifica Beach for a bit of a surf, we also headed out for three birthdays this week and I managed to secure myself a bicycle from an advertisement on craigslist.

I purchased a bike after my fairly invigorating experience of being raced round on the back of a friends bike on the way to some parties last week. $60 for a bicycle from the mission district. A lovely fella’ fixed it up good and proper for me and I took it on my way catching the BART back to Daly City and then put it on the front bike rack of the SFSU shuttle. It’s so good that you can get your bikes on a bus in San Francisco. I know it’s kind of besides the point putting transport on transport but lets be fair, some of those hills are just going to be too tough to conquer. I’ve been riding around Lake Merced every few days and now my journey to the supermarket has been cut five fold. It’s something I wish I purchased a long time ago because I think I’ll be able to take more from my experience here in San Francisco with.

I had a bit of an “oh gosh” moment this week as well. Having been squished inbetween four surfboards and two blokes in a jeep on the way down to Pacifica the beach seemed like the great open space I needed. Then I got in the water… It was absolutely freezing. Why was I in the ocean in the middle of February. Usually I’m in a Ski Resort being outrageously middle class at this time of year but no. This year I’m yet to be on a snowboard but have already surfed? Not normal. Great fun though, apart from the raging cramp and getting my neck smashed around by a few waves it was a lush day to chill and watch the sun set.

This weekend has also seen me celebrating three of my friends birthdays. February has always been a busy month for me in terms of birthdays. I don’t know how or why but I always end up making friends with people who were born in this most glorious of months. First was on Friday, we headed to a bar called Blondes which had the pinball table from my childhood which was awesome. I love some of the bars In San Francisco having old school gaming machines. There’s something awesome about having a pint and playing Ms. Pacman. Maybe that’s why Dave & Busters is up and coming but I still haven’t made it down to San Josè to check one out yet. I can imagine the gaming machines are tad more modern there though.

Birthday number two was one the Brits I’ve been friends with since last semester. We went down to the beach on a stunning day and had a BBQ, beers and played some beach sports. There was a great crowd, the sun was shining and we played some music. It was a great day and the night to follow was going to be equally as fun. That said, when we finally headed down to the Marina and hit a bar I’ve never heard a more clueless DJ in my life. This man wouldn’t know beat matching or syncing if he read every book in the DJ library. He just sat there with his Dre Beats, broken right turntable and shocking attitude making trivial music mistakes. I enjoyed myself either way, pretending in my head that I was actually listening to someone who actually knew what they were doing. The bouncers were also some of the rudest people I’ve ever encountered. They actually took someone’s ID and threw it on the floor outside the line. Not cool.

After waking up in my friends apartment wrapped up in a bright pink blanket next to a carpet that’s about as sanitary as a skip, I got up and made the morning tea for everyone before begging one of the girls to make bacon sarnies. It was now my flat mates birthday who was still asleep cuddles up to a Simba toy despite now being 20 years old. The weekend finished on a high by heading to my favourite Irish Pub in Sam Francisco, the Irish bank just off Union Square. A nice steak and two pints of Stella put me in the perfect mood to head home, make a cuppa and reflect on a great week.

Buzz Words Must Die

This week I was reading an article on flipboard about how Microsoft’s Flip Stand is innovative. No. A kickstand is not innovative. 90% of everything that has been called innovative is not innovative at all. What on earth? I’ve not seen anything I actually think is innovative in tech since Google announced Glass and since Nintendo announced the Wii. These buzz words are being thrown around and have almost completely lost meaning because of it.

SME’s –

Small to Medium Enterprises. What a ridiculous statement, this a marketing thing. Business to Business marketing. This is so that I can offer you a service to your small to medium enterprise. It sounds wrong. A small business and a medium size business have completely different needs and until someone actually makes a worldwide definition for small and medium this has no meaning in the global market. Get it out of your vocabulary.

EDM –

Electronic Dance Musice. I.E Everything under the sun that has a synth or electric keyboard in it. Trance, House, Dubstep, Drum and Bass, Progressive Funky, Electronic. It’s so disgustingly broad it makes me feel sick. Not only that but it sounds like a dodgey sex fetish. It’s filth. I want it removed from every promotional material ever and I don’t want to read how it’s changing the world. Where as I like almost every sub genre in the supposed EDM format, it’s a horrible name.

YOLO –

Where to even start with YOLO. Most of it used to justify wasting money on something pointless. I’m a geek, I don’t do rushed decisions and I certainly don’t YOLO my way out on a Tuesday night and buy a bottle of Ciroc on the foundations that I am only going to live once. What a simply outrageous and awful way to live life. I’m pretty sure most YOLO’ers out there are going to be financially unsound and suffer severe damage to their bodies after they have crossed the road to soon because YOLO.

 

HASHTAG –

Don’t hashtag in real life.  A sentence does not need to be finished with a summary of a sentence which is why almost everybody does use the hashtag. You can take it off Facebook as well you fiend. I have no time for the hashtag unless it’s for the functions it was created for.

 

A lot of them are used for marketing reasons and marketing people do love to make things up. Why Abercrombie thinks I’m going to hashtag AbercrombieHOT every time I make a purchase of clothing I don’t know. There is hundreds of buzzwords that drive me made but these are the ones that have shown up in my life this week. The idea of a buzzword is just awful. Save yourselves.

 

 

This Week – Beer Pong, San Francisco Zoo, House Parties

Today began with a list. A list of things to do in San Francisco. A list that will ensure that we actively try and do things that don’t involve being sat around the TV watching the absolute poppycock that hit has to offer. It’s a list that is going to promote my involvement with a city I have little time to spend in and it’s going to change my approach to this semester. It’s there to get rid of being content. To take me from the comfort of my armchair and out into the wilderness of the city.

The first thing on the list has successfully been crossed off. San Francisco Zoo, it’s free for residents on the 1st Wednesday of every month.  Heading in without a real idea of what I thought of Zoo’s was something that’s played with my mind a bit. Do the animals want more space? Are they livid about the confines that doesn’t affect the other animals. I decided it looked like they were fairly well treated and had a fair amount of space. There is obviously something nice about the Zoo and is great for children and adults alike but I’m not sure where I stand ethically. It’s important understand that not all Zoos are the same and the treatment of animals here in San Francisco is likely to be much better than those in Thailand where it’s known that they drug tigers to allow “safe” human interaction. That I’m fully against, it’s absolutely vile. As much as I’d like to have a stroke of a tiger, there’s a reason that they would probably bite your head off and the people who are drugging them are part of the reason. Threats.
The zoo in itself was good fun, fairly small but a nice day out all the same. Giraffes are literally the coolest things on the planet. They’re just so huge and cool. It was also a reminder of how naturally majestic animals are. It’s beautiful. I’d easily opt for animal watching over people watching given the chance. But I’m not sure they’ve opened up a Starbucks in the Savannah just yet.

Tim Ford and Alex Nielsen at San Francisco Zoo
Tim Ford and Alex Nielsen at San Francisco Zoo

Later in the week saw a fair few house parties occurring in the sunset district and we headed down to a beer pong tournament. I’m really getting into beer pong and I’m really starting to get better at it. It’s good fun and people get involved and realistically, it’s more about the competitive aspect than it is the drinking. We experienced that with the Bro culture that was occurring at the tournament but unfortunately we turned up a tad to late to get involved.

Following Party number one we were just heading off to get some food when a lady shouted of her window asking if we could help carry a chest of drawers up in return for a beer each and we obliged. Who said being neighborly was dead?  The best bit was she had dogs and dogs are awesome. We played a few games of beer pong there and after a great winning streak I decided to call it a day. The next stop was a friends house to get ready before going through to the final party of the day. This one was going to be louder and less game involved. The journey there was just amazing. I was sat on the back of my friends push bike, heading up and down the hills of San Francisco with a beer in my hand, my hood up and the lights flying past. It was absolutely awesome and I am in awe of those who have bikes out here. It would make getting around so easy and it’s enjoyable because San Francisco is actually a beautiful city with really interesting things to see as you go past. The MUNI doesn’t quite cut it.

 

This Week – Beach, Routine, SuperBowl

First thing was first for this week. Getting back into a normal routine for classes and getting organised. I’ve got 4 brand new classes, a Monday to Friday schedule and a aspiration to get at least 3 A’s for the semester. Fortunately, due to a combination of jet lag, whiskey and caffeine I have a sleep pattern that actually fits in with a normal life. I’m getting up at 7:30am and going to bed at a reasonable time, assuming it’s not Thursday (Student Night!)

Having lived in San Francisco for a fair few months, I’ve not once been to a proper beach so it was on my list of things to do on the first sunny day here and so on Friday we headed down to Baker Beach. It’s one of the best beaches in San Francisco and the 29 will take you straight there from Stonestown… or so we thought. Turns out we got the wrong one that took us miles into the mission district and we wasted a good 40-50 minutes on public transport. Something that makes me feel a bit ill. When we actually got to the beach, the weather was nice, there were people everywhere and we slung a frisbee, drank some cider and took photos of that bridge everyone likes. There were the standard strange characters you’d expect to find anywhere in San Francisco. Meditating people and nudists alike. It was pretty relaxing and I’m sure I’ll head back down to the beach on a nice day or maybe check out some of the others. It didn’t have the fun factor of Barry Island or Porthcawl because there was no ice cream vendors or rides nearby but who could expect such fun outside of Wales!

TimFordAlexNielsen

 

After the beach we headed up to 9th & Irving for dinner at a place called Pluto’s. It’s space themed so was instantly a winner for me and it was extremely reasonably priced. I had a steak with mash potato and gravy for like $10 and it was delicious. Following dinner we headed to the pub for a pint before heading to a friends to play copious amounts of beer pong.

Today, was the superbowl. I arose with a little excitement after the first lie in I’ve had since arrival. We were going to a friends for some beers and I purchased a crate of Bud Light and one of those awful beer helmets to fit in with the American propaganda. I have absolutely no idea how American Football works but I began to pick it up towards the end of the game. It was a shame the 49ers didn’t win as I was hoping for another Giant’s style celebration downtown and a Bay Area sweep for the sports whilst I’m out here. Hopefully the San José Sharks will win the Stanley Cup and then we can celebrate that down there.

 

The Race For Driverless Cars

When most people hear about driverless cars they think of a utopian future in which we can all be doing work before we even get to work. Then they probably think Google because Google has been at the forefront of the development with the horrendous yet economic Prius. I fully believe that driverless cars will be in reach of the public within 15 years and I’d like to point out what I find interesting about the whole debate.

The first point I’d like to make is that Google is not the only company that is working on it but it will change the way we perceive car companies. Sure we have Microsoft working with Ford on the Sync system but that’s still on the software side. Google are matching software engineers with mechanical engineers and trying to solve the first world problem of the century. Volvo, Audi and BMW are also known to be working on driverless systems and will all be taking slightly different approaches. We already have cars that can do the maneuvers that make parking so difficult and we already have cars with massively sophisticated cruise control.

The question that I would like to raise is will the future of this technology change the way we go about purchasing cars. Will I be thinking about my next car purchase like I think about my next phone purchase? It’s going to come to the point where your going to need software experts to review cars as well as the likes of automotive journalists. Will it be a world in which a Lexus that is “made with Google” or “comes with Google” is going to be the best buy for someone looking for a mid-luxury saloon.

The car manufacturers are going to be funding the R&D into driverless cars intensely over the next decade because it will change the way people go about buying cars. In the past it’s been about buying a car that suits you in terms of price, power, insurance cost and style. In the future, nobody is going to buy the BMW M3 for the price of an Audi S4 that can drive itself. There is no way that any of the big manufacturers can afford to lose out on this race and that’s where a company like Google can make an absolute fortune. They are software geniuses and they can probably modify their systems to work with just about any car given the right match with the mechanical engineers. Lets say that Fiat are a bit behind in the race for a driverless auto and they don’t have the time to develop their own system. Enter Google. They will just license the technology to Fiat and bang, the low-cost manufacturer will be back in business and I’m pretty sure that’s what we are looking at in terms of market. I’m pretty sure we won’t be seeing a Nexus Lexus any time soon but maybe one day in the near future you will be looking at a car produced with Google but never by Google.

It’s going to be a fascinating decade. Companies like Bentley and Rolls Royce will require a driverless system because that fits the luxury market precisely. It’s going to be a luxury at the start without a shadow of doubt and I think it’s going to be a lot longer than a decade before people start thinking driverless cars are mainstream because they will cost a lot to implement at first and they will be something for the Audi, Volvo and BMW drivers among us. Not the people who are looking at getting their first brand new car in the form of a VW Up!

The World Is Accustomed To Free

I will start with software for a computer, a tablet or phone. More often than not you can find a free alternative of something that costs money at the expense of adverts or a little annoyance once in a while.

Ever since the rise of the App Store I have observed peoples attitudes towards purchasing of products. 10 years ago, people would head to PC World and purchase a copy of Office at a fairly large price and they continue to make the investment in the package that they deem of up-most importance to their lives. Microsoft Office is actually one of the software packages that has managed to maintain it’s pricing strategy for a long time and it is almost without reason. People enjoy what their used to despite the fact nearly everyone can have Libre Office (formally Open Office) and use it to the exact same extent that they use Microsoft Office without spending a penny. What I find so perplexing about the way people are so willing to pay for Microsoft Office is their attitude to other software. The App Store if anything, dragged the prices of software down. It has been proved that companies can hoard huge profits from an application that they sell for £0.69 yet countless times I have seen people reluctant to pay for an app unless they are absolutely certain they cannot have it for free.

Why is it someone will spend £3.50 on a pint but won’t spend £0.69 on an Application that will last forever

Now there are two main complications I have in understanding the school of thought in the process of purchasing applications from the App Store format.

1: £3.50 A Beer Hypothesis 

There are now countless pubs and bars in the United Kingdom that charge at least £3.50 for a beer and nine times out of ten people are all too happy to order the beer and enjoy it. Having worked in a pub I have seen people pile through £20 note after £20 note without even thinking about it but those exact same people will not spend £0.69 on the app. These people clearly don’t understand the opportunity cost here. Why is it that someone will spend £3.50 on a pint but won’t spend £0.69 on an application that will last forever. Let’s take an example here. Given a man Geoff, the owner of an iPhone comes into the pub and asks for a pint of London Pride. I charge him for the beer and continue to chat with him about mobile phones and he asks me whether I am aware of any applications he can use to monitor his spending and I suggest a personal finance app that is available for the phone he is using at the price of £0.69. He proceeds to complain that he shouldn’t have to pay for the app and there must be a free alternative. By now Geoff has finished his London Pride and promptly orders another one. This has actually happened. I’ve had this conversation with countless people. They are constantly happy to frivolously spent money on things that benefit their lives in little to no way whatsoever yet when it comes to an actually useful application they refuse to pay.

2: Libre Office, Google Docs and Microsoft Office 

Now, of all the people I know that use Microsoft Office, I would say absolutely zero percent of them take advantage of all the features that Microsoft Office enables the user to access. For example in Excel, given that the person actually uses it, they won’t really branch out of the simple operator functions (+, -, *, / ) and maybe a bit of colouring in. These exact same functions are available by the simple and basic apps offered for free from Libre Office, Google Docs and believe it or not Microsoft’s very own SkyDrive will do the majority of things most people need office for without charging them a single penny for. People will continue to fork out for Office despite the fact the business model relies on the fact that the majority of customers are unaware of the fact they don’t need 99% of the features even home premium offers. It’s the whole idea of not wanting to change.

But there is more. The exact same people who will not spend money on a mobile app are the people who will happily fork out for Office. WHY!? Why is it perfectly viable to shop around for a free version of a personal accounts application on your iPhone but you are happy to fork out for Microsoft Office despite the fact you don’t use half the features. It’s ridiculous and it happens every day.

Then we come to what we are used to. We are now used to having software as a service for free, or what comes across as free. Facebook is where most people spend their time procrastinating or wasting away their lives sharing things with others and endlessly liking and commenting on pointless things that hardly ever effect their lives. But it’s great isn’t it and it’s free. It doesn’t cost you a penny. You use it at the expense of contribution to big data and the chance to be plotted on a graph desperately looking for a correlation to help develop what the companies will sell you next. We get given storage for free online with SkyDrive, Google Drive, DropBox, MEGA etc. We can get almost anything for free when it comes to software and people have come to expect that. Some of the looks I got when I told people I pay for Spotify were classic. People are seeking music for free without even breaking copyright laws in this day and age and therefore they will always expect to get stuff for free. The freemium economy is getting bigger and bigger everyday. Startups almost are expected to be members of the freemium club.

So what is it? People don’t and I don’t think they ever will balance the opportunity cost of things broadly. I’m not suggesting that you should give up drinking and go and buy Angry Birds. I’m suggesting that people should really think about how little £0.69 is and how petty it is to assume that you should be given software for free in some scenarios yet fork out in others. I wouldn’t trust these people with my balance sheets that’s for sure.

Next time your looking through the App Store and you see something you might get enjoyment from, take a look at the price and then think how much you spent on the sauce the night before. Maybe have one pint less and buy that EP you think you’d enjoy for a few months to come.