View from the bike – some trail users lack a general awareness of their environment

I decided that I had to sound off on what I have determined to be people’s lack of awareness on the bike paths and trails in Minneapolis. I was hoping it would not come to this and I realize most people are not like what I will end up describing, but this is both concerning and frustrating especially as an individual who is aware of others that share our fine trails together. With this post, I call on all trail users to be more aware…

Ever since I have started riding a bike in late April, I have noticed an alarming trend – one where people are not aware of their surroundings and others around them. At first, I thought this awareness factor would get better as the weather warmed up. I thought maybe it was something with the weather. Finally though, especially on my last two bike rides, I have come to the conclusion that there is a certain subset of individuals that are not paying attention to anything but themselves when they are walking around the lake or on the bike paths. Let me discuss a few examples.

The I can’t read the signs bike rider… There are a number of signs painted on the trail that indicates the trail is one way in certain spots. Yet, I have seen more people in my last two rides blatantly riding the wrong way on the trail. To those folks, I say wake up! If I am speeding down the trail going the right way and trying to pass another biker on their left and someone is riding the wrong way, if we collide, one of us (probably me) is going to be injured. I would prefer to avoid this.

The next type of persons are the groups of riders/roller bladers who take both sides of the path… I realize everyone likes biking with their friends around the lake. I’m all for that. What I’d like those people who ride/roller blade very very slowly to understand is that people want to get through. When I yell, “On your left!”, it is because I want to get through. Another thing, when I yell “On your left!”, it is not a great idea to stop in the middle of the trail while riders are trying to pass you. If you’re going to stop, pull off the trail and let people use the trail. Be proactive…try to sense when a person is approaching you and proactively move to the right.

The final type and probably most concerning are those people who don’t look when they cross a trail…” I realize many of the people in this category are young kids which is why when I approach an aware with a lot of young kids I slow way down. On my ride on Friday around Lake Nokomis, I was near the main beach where there were a lot of kids crossing the bike trail. I was going real slow because the kids were not paying attention. I would get their attention and they would divert their path around my bike. I can understand kids not having the foresight to look for a biker when they are crossing the path, but how about adults. On this same ride, I ran into 2-3 adults trying to cross the path not realizing they were about to get run over by me. This is the part that intrigues me.

I realize as a biker that I need to be as aware as possible because I don’t want to injure myself. What would help is if fellow trail users would be equally aware meaning don’t stop in the middle of the path, stay on the right if you’re biking or rollerblading slowly, and look before you cross. If trail users are more aware of their environment, they can remain safe and injury free. So far I have been lucky and had no biking related accidents, I would like for this to continue.

Feel free to sound off in the comments if you have noticed additional things about trail users not being aware of their surroundings or have suggestions on how to remedy this problem.

Developing a secondary strategy for Credit Card Rewards Points

In previous posts about credit rewards strategies, I’ve talked about how to develop a rewards strategy, discussed why I use the Starwoods American Express and Schwab Visa as my primary cards, and talked a little bit about how I’ve earned extra SPG points buyingcoins from the U.S. Mint. Now it’s time to talk about secondary strategies for earning rewards points.

So you understand your goals and spend profile and you’ve picked a card that matches these two things, but you are thinking, “There are so many rewards programs”, you begin to wonder if you can take advantage of a few more programs. The answer is a resounding Yes! Let’s talk about secondary strategies for a minute. The way I view secondary rewards programs where it can either help contribute to an overall goal such as travel or you obtain one time bonus for things like gift cards or cash back. In other words, the credit cards that are part of your secondary strategy should include those cards with sign up bonuses. Let’s discuss a couple of examples.

I recently signed up for the American Express Rewards Plus Gold card and the Business Gold Delta Skymiles card. Both of these cards had sign up bonuses if I spend a certain amount of $ within the first 3 months of getting the card. My intentions are to fulfill the spend requirements for the sign up bonuses by ordering coins from the U.S. Mint. This way I do not have to divert any of my real spending away from my Starwords American Express card to earn those valuable SPG points.

The specific bonuses offered by the two American express cards were 30,000 skymiles and 15,000 membership rewards points. Now, in prior posts, I have alluded to the fact I am in the process of dumping all my NWA/Delta frequent flyer miles due to the massive devaluing of the program. These 30,000 miles will help me get close to having a 120,000 remaining miles to use on award travel. If I am lucky and search diligently enough, I will be able to find a perk saver business class award ticket to Asia.

In regards to the gold card and the reason for getting that, I currently have about 135,000 membership rewards points. Amex membership rewards points are similar to SPG points in that they can be converted to miles in frequent flyer programs. Additionally, if I so choose, I could convert the points to SPG points at a 3 Amex points to 1 SPG point redemption ratio. So with these 15,000 membership rewards points, I have the possibility of another 5,000 SPG points. I’m still in the process of determining if a conversion is the right way to go on this. I’ve also read that converting to Air Canda miles is another step in the right direction because of their generous award ticket policies of 2 stop-overs with one going across the Atlantic Ocean and the other going in the direction of the Pacific Ocean. My decision on which program to convert to will depend on how many SPG points I have at the end when I am trying to book my round-the-world trip and how I decide to book the travel (a bunch of one way award flights or one massive ticket).

If you can not tell, my primary goal for rewards points is travel. These two cards help me towards that goal even though after I fulfill the spend requirements for the bonus points, I will not use them again. In fact, I will probably cancel the Delta Gold Card. Additionally, I will my business Amex gold card. The reason I hold on to an Amex gold card is because I want to keep the membership rewards points and not have to spend them. So on a yearly basis, I find another Amex gold card with a sign up bonus and free annual fee the first year and I can continue to keep my membership rewards points.

Your primary goal may be cash back or you may come across an offer for an amazon giftcard or just a random $250 cashback that may have nothing to do with your primary goal at all! Maybe you have planned a big purchase at Amazon.com and could use that amazon giftcard or cashback. My suggestion is do not shy away from those opportunities. I recently applied for a chase sapphire preferred card. The bonus points being offered was 25,000 after the first purchase. I don’t even have any ties to any chase reward program, but I figured I could make use of those 25,000 points some how! This is what I mean by take advantage the opportunities. Of course if Chase approves me, I will get the bonus points, figure out the best use for them and close the card 3-11 months later. You can do a similar thing with Citi thank you points – apply for those cards that offer thank you point bonuses, cancel them in 3-6 months, apply for a different card with a thank you point bonus, and continue this process. I have even read of people applying for the same card a year or so later and getting the sign up bonus again!

Now, I will add a couple of caveats here. I caution you against applying for a large number of cards if you’re looking to get approved for a loan in the near future. Also, make sure you understand the terms for getting bonus points and if there are any annual fees involved. Typically, it is best to look for cards that are at least fee free the first year. Additionally, you do a need a decent credit score of 720+ to fully execute this strategy. These are just a couple of additional points to keep in mind.

There are many rewards points programs and credit card offers out there. Developing a secondary strategy that is geared towards your primary goal can help you realize your goal even quicker. Additionally, if you find one of those really good offers like $250 cash back or a $250 giftcard, jump on it! Sometimes it doesn’t matter if the offer helps you towards your primary goal or not if it is really good!

Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments for your primary and secondary rewards earning strategies.

What to do with GM

Well it’s been quite a week of activity for GM. Many events have led to the what has finally happened this week. On Monday they filed for bankruptcy. In past few months, GM has received over 19 billion dollars in government loans to continue operating while it came up with a re-organization plan. Their first restructuring plan was rejected by the government. As part of rejecting this plan, the government told Rick Wagnor, the long time CEO of GM, that he must resign.

This week GM also sold its Saturn brand to the Penske Automotive Group and sold the Hummer brand to a Chinese manufacturing company. GM has also gotten its unsecured bond holders to agree to an equity share in the new company in exchange for debt forgiveness. Rounding out the shedding of GM brands is Opel which was sold to the Canadian auto parts company, Magna.

GM also took steps to reduce its legacy costs. In its deal reached with the United Auto Workers union, GM was able to get the union to agree to taking on 10 billion dollars in equity in the union healthcare benefit fund. In exchange for this, the UAW’s healthcare fund will receive a 17.5% equity stake in the new company.

Finally, GM was able to secure bankruptcy up to 30 billion dollars in financing from the government. It’s not like this wasn’t a given, considering the U.S. government will control 60% of the new GM making it the majority owner.

For those who say the GM bankruptcy filing was a product of the economic crisis that started in real estate, I say think again. In 2005, BusinessWeek ran an article analyzing GM’s business plan. Here’s what BusinessWeek predicted:


How bad could it get? BusinessWeek’s analysis is that within five years GM must become a much smaller company, with fewer brands, fewer models, and
reduced legacy costs. It’s undeniable that getting to that point will require a drastically different course from the one Wagoner has laid out so far. He is going
to have to force a radical restructuring on his workers and the rest of the entrenched GM system, or have it forced on him by outsiders or a bankruptcy
court. The only question is whether that reckoning comes in the next year, if models developed by Vice-Chairman Robert A. Lutz fall flat; in 2007, when the
union contract comes up for negotiation; or perhaps in five years, when GM may have burned through its substantial cash cushion.”

It’s now about 5 years later and GM is finally shedding brands, closing factories, and reducing costs. There has been a lot of other analysis done on why GM has failed. This is one article I highly recommend reading which takes a look at the decisions that GM made decades ago to pay for employee healthcare and pensions and how accounting changes in 1992 affected the company.

Make no mistake about this, GM’s failure is a result of poor management decisions.

Now that the U.S. tax payers are the new majority shareholders of GM, we have a chance to have a say in the way GM operates. I propose to the Obama Administration that not only should the current Board of Directors be replaced for violating their fiduciary responsibility to manage the company, but the top 3 layers of management at GM be shown the door. Too often have these same people been granted the authority to manage the company and change the direction of the company only to make poor decisions. It is time to get new blood in the highest levels of GM management and run the company appropriately. Apologists may say that this time will be different in that GM will be smaller, have less legacy costs, and that the decisions will be easier for management to make. I disagree. Top management has had their chance for decades to make GM work. We’re here today because of poor management decisions, nothing more, nothing less.

Feel free to leave your solution and suggestions for GM in the comments especially since the U.S. tax payer is financing GM’s bankruptcy and the new majority shareholder!

The Obama Speech in Cairo

On June 4th, President Obama fulfilled one of his campaign promises. That is to give a policy speech in a major Arab capital. His speech focused on reaching out to the Arab world and asking for a new beginning between Arabs and the West. President Obama called on Americans and Muslims around the world together to have a “new beginning” based on “mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.” He shared his broad background of having a Muslim Kenyan father, living in Indonesia, working in Chicago communities with those of the Muslim faith, and being a Christian himself. He recalled that the first country to recognize the United States as a country was Morocco, a Muslim country.

After laying the foundation for his speech, Obama addressed 3 major issues – Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East. On the Afghanistan issue, he made clear that “we seek no military bases there.” He made clear the United States was in Afghanistan to pursue violent extremists “determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.” He acknowledged that a military solution alone will not solve the issues facing Afghanistan and Pakistan pledging support of foreign aid to build schools, infrastructure, and to “develop their economy (referring to the Afghan economy) and deliver services that people depend on.”

Obama was blunt on the Iraq issue. He called Iraq a “war of choice” and acknowledged that even though the Iraqi people are probably better off without Saddam Hussein, he shared the lessons we have learned from this choice namely – “the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.” He talked about America’s responsibility “to help Iraq forge a better future — and to leave Iraq to Iraqis.” and he discussed his orders to support this responsibility which is the removal of all troops by 2012.

Finally on the issue of Middle East peace, Obama was upfront and honest. He addressed the fact that the United States and Israel have close ties. He acknowledge the “the pain of dislocation” and “the daily humiliations ” of the Palestinian people. He endorsed a 2 state solution “where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.” He listed things that both sides must do. For the Palestinians, he said they must abandon violence and develop a capability to govern. For the Israelis, he stated that they must acknowledge the Palestinians right to exist and called on the Israeli “settlements to stop.”

Obama also discussed the issues of nuclear weapons, democracy and religious freedom. Obama ended his speech with references from the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths talking about peace. His speech seem to be well received from the audience and certainly set a new tone in United State policy towards the Arab and Muslim community.

Whether you agree or disagree with Obama’s policies, I think you would be hard pressed to disagree that this speech was not necessary. After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the United States had the entire world offering their assistance and condolences for the event that occurred to our citizens. In my humble opinion, this country squandered that good will by pursuing our own agenda in Iraq and other parts of the world. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I initially supported our invasion of Iraq, but as more facts became apparent, I became convinced that our invasion of Iraq was unnecessary and harmful to our country’s security. Now with the election of new leadership in the White house, the U.S. once again can set a new direction and tone.

President Obama’s speech in Cairo was the first step in setting this new tone. It will be interesting to see what immediate steps the Obama Administration takes to take the goodwill and new tone from this speech and put it into actionable events. If Obama does not act in the coming weeks and months, his speech will have done nothing to restore goodwill and positive thoughts of America in other parts of the world.

After Obama was elected President in November, I took a trip to India. Everyone that I talked to in India was excited to hear my thoughts on Obama. They were excited to have a new U.S. President who would take a different approach. I think that similar conversations were taking places in other parts of world as well. I think we are seeing the start of this new tone and approach.

Completing my 4th Half Marathon – Lessons Learned – Part 2

In my previous post and the title of this article, I have indicated that this is my 4th half marathon that I have completed. I have been running since 2005 and completed half marathons in Phoenix, New York City, and San Francisco. I have also run shorter races in Chicago and Maui, Hawaii. Finally, I completed my first full marathon last summer in San Diego. As you can see I have done a fair amount of races in the 4 short years I have been running. In this time, I have learned how to train for certain distances. While I do not claim to be an expert, this post is to point out things that I learned while preparing for the half marathon route of the Minneapolis Marathon.

I originally signed up to do the Minneapolis Marathon because I had planned on running Grandma’s marathon this summer. Due to a health issue and losing my motivation for training in the winter time, I have decided to for go doing the marathon in June. I have never dropped out of a race that I have started and I would rather not start a race if I am not fully prepared to finish it. Running a marathon is no joke and puts serious strain on the body, I would rather not take a chance and will skip the race.

Even though I had known since the beginning of May that I was not running the full marathon, I decided I could still do this half marathon event plus with it being the inaugural event I thought it would be cool to participate. For those that are interested, my time was 2 hours 4 minutes and 7 seconds.This is certainly not the best time I have run the half in, but it was not my worst time either. Part of the reason for my time was due to how I approached training for the last 3-4 weeks before race day.

During the beginning of May and when I decided for sure that I wouldn’t run the marathon, I purchased a trek 7.5 fx bike. I have wrote many times about how much I enjoy the bike. After I had my 7.5fx, I spent more time bike riding than running. My knees and legs enjoyed biking because there was less pounding and stress. What happened was bike riding had replaced running as my primary means of fitness. I still didn’t want to give up on the half marathon so I did do a couple of 3-4 mile runs to remind my body of what it was like to run. During the last week before race day, I wanted to get at least 1 5-mile run in. The maximum distance I ran was 3 miles during the last week of training. Now if I had been training correctly the whole time, this would be appropriate to only run 3 miles during the week. Unfortunately, the last time I had run any sort of distance (a 12.5 mile run) was 6-7 weeks prior. Looking back on the final 4 weeks of training and how I ran the race, I think I learned a couple of important lessons…

I relied on my previous experience…I will admit here, I was pretty nervous on race day – more so than usual. I hadn’t prepared for this race in the same way that I prepared for prior ones. I knew that I would have to keep my pace a little slower than normal for the first 5-6 miles. I would have to avoid the tendency to start out with a faster pace because I would need that energy to get me through the race. I also knew that there would be an adrenaline factor like there is with every race. The body is amazing in the way…it provides you with that extra amount of energy to get you through to the finish.

Biking probably helped me get ready for this event…I realize that doing training runs is still the best way to get ready for this event. I also realize that if I had not stayed active in those 4 weeks before the race, my time would have suffered even more or worse I would have not been confident in my ability to finish the race. During those 4 weeks, I biked distances of 20-30 miles on average. I also did one long ride of 75 miles. To give you an idea of how interested I am with biking…after the marathon was over on Sunday (May 31), I went for a 26 mile bike ride. When I learned about the Minneapolis Duathlon event in August, I was going to immediately interested. Unfortunately, I am going to be out of town on the day of the event.

While going through the race and doing the bike ride in the afternoon, I proved to myself that I am pretty fit even if I didn’t train 100% the right way for this event. I am probably going to focus on biking most of the rest of the summer, but I am not ruling out doing a duathlon or two at some point in the future. I also do want to complete at least one more half marathon in less than 1 hour and 55 minutes. The next half marathon will have to wait because I refuse to spend my summer training for an event.

Completing my 4th Half Marathon – Reviewing The Minneapolis Marathon (Half Marathon Route) – Part 1

Minneapolis Marathon Race Shirt
Minneapolis Marathon Race Shirt

Note…
This is part 1 of 2 of a post discussing the half marathon router of the Minneapolis marathon. The second part will cover the lessons I learned after completing the race. Overall, I am glad I ran in this first annual race. I can see that this race is going to be very successful in the future.
End Note…

Yesterday morning (May 31st), I completed my 4th half marathon running in the first annual Minneapolis marathon. I want to say that the race organizers, Team Ortho did an excellent job of putting the race together, promoting it, and making it a success. Overall there were about 5,000 runners in total (3,500 in the half, 1,500 in the full). I overheard many people saying this race will only get bigger. I tend to agree. The race has a couple factors going for it and it will no doubt continue to steal runners from races such as Grandma’s marathon. Now let me talk about the race itself…

Running Conditions…
The running conditions for this race were excellent with the weather being in the 60s to start out and getting to the 70s by the end of the race. The wind was very calm with a slight breeze. It was very windy the day before the race and I was a bit concerned that the wind would be factor in affecting the run. Thankfully, there was a very calm wind to make the run more enjoyable!

Course
This race started in downtown Minneapolis near The Depot, ran by the Gutherie, and worked towards the Mississippi river. The majority of the race from mile 5 to the finish was spent running along the river. For the half marathon, there was a turn around between mile 9 and 10 which meant running back towards the finish line. The course contained a lot of up and down hills from mile 7-13. This is a part of town I had not previously visited during 4.5 years of living in the twin cities. While I enjoyed running by the river, the up and down nature of the hills was killer on my body. I have run a half marathon in San Francisco and run in general in hilly cities like Seattle. I would say the hills from mile 7-13 were worse than what I experienced in San Francisco. It is partially my fault for not reviewing or driving the course before hand, I guess I like surprises when it comes to running.

Cool things the race organizers did…
I was extremely happy with the goodies that race participants received. Besides getting the standard finisher’s medal, the race let you keep the race chip and finisher’s of the half marathon received a technical running shirt (pictured at the beginning of the post). I read in the registration materials and on the race website that finishers of the full marathon were to receive a jacket. I am glad to see the race organizers at least providing something that runners can use in their training for other events. I’ve done other races where finishers received a t-shirt. While a t-shirt is great to wear and I wear my San Diego marathon t-shirt all the time, I can’t wear it when I am training for other events. A big two thumbs up to the organizers for these things, I hope in future years, the included race items are similar to this year. Here is a picture of the race trinkets I received…

Back of the race shirt
Back of the race shirt
Race medal, race chip, and my bib #
Race medal, race chip, and my bib #

Things that need improvement
As with any race, there is some room for improvement. I can think of two things that could be improved namely – replace the sports drink and have a gel station for one part of the half marathon. The sports drink during the race was called Hammer Heed. Maybe because it was not cold or maybe I am just too picky, but this stuff tasted nasty! I kept drinking at least one cup through the aid stations because I wanted to get the calories from the drink. I like gatorade, powerade, and accelerade the best when it comes to sports drinks during a run

My other suggestion for improvement – having gel on the route for the half marathon – I know this sounds like a nit-pick as well. Many serious runners with more knowledge and experience than me would probably argue and state if you’re only running a half that this is not necessary, but I’ve also been in race where there was energy gel provided at mile 10 during a half marathon. I suppose this all comes down to dollars and sponsorship.

Verdict
For this being the first time of having a marathon race in Minneapolis during the month of May, Team Ortho, did a fantastic job! They deserve serious props and kudos for planning and putting on this event. Also, a huge thumbs up for the race shirt, chip, and medal! While I found the up and down nature of the hills challenging and more difficult than what I experienced in San Francisco, I enjoyed the course running along the river. I would encourage Team Ortho to look at changing the course for next year as there are many interesting parts of Minneapolis (hey maybe running through Block E or different part of downtown would be cool). I can definitely see this race being a success in future years to come!

If you ran the race, please feel free to leave a comment discussing your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you thought about this race.

Please check out Part 2 where I discuss my lessons learned from training for this race.

Twins Baseball Game: Saying Goodbye to the Metrodome

Saying Goodbye to the Metrodome
Saying Goodbye to the Metrodome

I attend 1 to 3 baseball games every season. Maybe it’s because I always say if the twins go to round 2 of the playoffs or make the world series…(hmm that hasn’t happened recently) or maybe it’s the overpriced beer (now that’s a legitimate reason for not attending many games). The games that I do attend I usually end up people watching to see what other crazies are at the stadium. So when a few friends from Iowa called me up at the last minute and said they had tickets to the Twins / Red Sox game, I was excited to get my first and maybe only twins baseball game in for this year. Additionally, it is the last season of the metrodome so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to snap some photos as well.

We arrived at the stadium about 20 minutes before the game started. What I didn’t remember was that it was Hormel “dollar dog” night and that getting to our seats might be a pain. If I had remembered this small detail, I would have walked outside the stadium to the gates nearest our seats, instead we walked in Gate H and slowly moved towards our seats along the first base line. Fighting through the people waiting in line for the dollar dogs took almost 15 minutes. Now judging from these lines, someone might have thought…”Wow the ball park is full tonite!”…However, once I got to my seat, I began to snap a few photos and observed the many empty seats.

This to me indicates either the horrible inefficiency of the stadium concession stands or poor stadium design in moving large numbers of people. Go and ahead and see below for yourself the large number of seats that are unoccupied…

View of the Stadium from the first base side
View of the Stadium from the first base side

Besides watching the game and getting photos of some of the more well known players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, David Ortiz, and Jason Vartiek, I started looking around the stadium and noticed the signs like the “Count down to outdoor baseball” or “Count down to real grass stains”…I’ve included a few of those sign photos in the post. I thought they were interesting and gave the fans something to look forward and things to think about when the new outdoor ball park is opened next year!

The number of home games left this season
The number of home games left this season
A reference to fact there's no retractable roof at the new stadium...April and September/October baseball could get mightly cold!
A reference to fact there's no retractable roof at the new stadium...April and September/October baseball could get mightly cold!
More of the countdown signs
More of the countdown signs

Seeing these signs had me thinking. First, they did decrease the countdown number from 53 to 52 somewhere in the 6th or 7th inning. I actually wanted to get a picture of the sign changing and somehow missed the number decreasing. Second, I can’t believe they had already played 28 home games. The baseball season is long, but it seems to be going by quickly.

The next sign of “Countdown to CH-CH-CH-CHHHHH” had me thinking….”Which idiot vetoed the retractable roof?!?!” Apparently the retractable roof would have added a couple of hundred million dollars to the cost of the new stadium and the reliability of retractable roofs are suspect. To those people, I say it should have been added. After living in Minnesota for the past 4.5 years, I know for a fact it doesn’t start warming up until at least the first week in May. The question that remains to be answered is “Will Minnesotans go to the ballpark in the cold weather?”. My guess is that if its playoff baseball (think October), the stadium will be packed and of course this coming April it will be packed because people want to see the new park, but what about in future April months after the park is opened? I guess it will depend on how good the team is perceived to be.

The next countdown signs are for grass stains, starry nights, and skyline sunsets. Its hard to believe that they played baseball on astro turf for so long. There have reports that playing on the astro turf is harder on players’ bodies. Plus really, it isn’t a baseball game without the potential to get the uniform dirty. The starry nights and skyline sunsets…this is talking about the location of the new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. I think this will be great to see and experience once the weather is warm during the summer months of baseball. I think people will appreciate this because they’ve had nothing to see other than the ceiling of the Metrodome since the twins have been playing baseball.

While I was taking in the signs around the stadium, I was also observing the people seated around me. I was surprised at the amount of red sox fans at the game. It was funny though, the people to my immediate right were die hard twins fans and I could tell based on how they were “cheering” against the red sox. Then there were the people seated in front of me. They seemed like they didn’t even want to be at the game. I guess if you don’t want to be there, why are you showing up? People like that confuse me.

In the end, the twins won 4-2. I got to watch a few well known players hit and play baseball and experience a game in the last season of the Metrodome. The Metrodome doesn’t have quite the history that was associated with old Yankees stadium (which I attended a game there last year), but it is still nice to say that I saw a game in the last season of indoor baseball. I am looking forward to trying out the new stadium and seeing how outdoor baseball works in the state of Minnesota. You can follow the progress of the new stadium and find out more information here.

Restaurant Review – Ike’s in downtown Minneapolis

On Wednesday evening, I met up with some friends who were coming from out of town to see the Twins / Red Sox game. One of my friends really likes burgers. Originally, we weren’t going to attend the game and I was going to take my friends to Town Talk for their burgers and fries. At the last minute, we decided to go to the game which altered my plans for Town Talk…instead we went to Ike’s as it is relatively close to the stadium. When I worked in downtown Minneapolis, I would go to Ike’s for lunch. I had not tried Ike’s during dinner, but since we needed something close, I thought Ike’s would be a good choice plus I like the shakes there!

Location: Ike’s is located in downtown Minneapolis at 50 South 6th street. It is only one block from the Nicollet Mall Light Rail station…a big win in my opinion especially when we purchased these 4 hour light rail passes.

Pre-Restaurant Experience: The combined factors of not eaten at Ike’s during dinner, previous experience during the lunch hour rush, and it being a game night, I decided it would be best to call the restaurant to gauge how busy it would be around 5:30PM. I didn’t really think they would take reservations (because they don’t for lunch), but to my surprise they take dinner reservations! I made mine for 5:30PM. I drove over to my friend’s hotel and we caught the light rail at the Mall of America. The only problem was that we were going to be arriving at the restaurant about 20 minutes later than my reservation…(oops!).

In Restaurant Experience, Arriving: We arrived at Ike’s about 20 minutes later than my 5:30PM reservation. The restaurant was fairly busy in the bar area and in their tables and booths. I thought for sure they would have canceled my reservation and opened my table up, but sure enough we were seated right away! I certainly appreciate a restaurant that keeps reservations even when the patron is late to arrive.

In Restaurant Experience, Ordering: As I said earlier, we arrived at the restaurant about 20 minutes later than I expected. The game was starting at 7:10PM. This left us very little time to actually eat and somewhat enjoy our meal. I made it clear to our server that we were in a hurry to make the Twins game. Our server was understanding and efficient and immediately offered for us to order drinks. Because I had been to Ike’s before, I immediately recommended one of their shakes to my friends. We ordered two shakes for our table. As we were waiting for the shakes to come to the table, I made a few recommendations namely the Ike’s burger. When the server returned with our shakes we were ready to order. One of the nice things that the server did was because my friends were splitting a shake (the shakes are enormous and my friends are married), the server split the shake equally into two glasses. This is a nice touch and paying attention to the little details. The server took our table’s order – 1 Ike’s burger, 1 – Turkey burger (my order), and 1 – small appetizer .

Our order:

Ike's Burger
Ike's Burger
My meal - Turkey burger with mashed potatoes and cranberries
My meal - Turkey burger with mashed potatoes and cranberries

Our order came relatively quickly, although it felt like a long time probably because we were in a hurry. In fact, I was in such a hurry to order, that I didn’t realize the turkey burger did not come with cheese! So I was quite surprised when it came out to me with no cheese. I inquired with the server and asked if they could throw cheese on it. This was not a problem and 30 seconds later I had a turkey burger with cheese!

I admit the only reasons I ordered the turkey burger were:
1. I was not in the mood for beef and
2. I wanted the mashed potatoes.

The turkey burger was good. I won’t say it is the best turkey burger in the city, but Ike’s didn’t burn it or over cook it. The mashed potatoes were also very good. They definitely didn’t taste like instant ones that you find at other places and even had potatoes peelings mixed in the gravy. I also appreciate the fact that Ike’s gives you a generous portion of whatever side you order with your main meal.

My friend who is picky about his hamburgers seemed to like his burger. I heard no negative comments from him on it. If he didn’t like it, he would have let me know for sure.

Because we were in hurry, we asked for the bill as the main meal came out. Our server had no problems ringing it up right away and letting me pay for the meal. In total for 2 shakes, 2 burgers, and 1 appetizer, it was about $50.00. Not bad for a quick dinner downtime. When the server returned with the bill, she bought these out with it:

Ike's Cookies
Ike's Cookies

This is probably my favorite part of the Ike’s experience is the after meal cookies. Most of the time, you are so full from the shakes and burgers that you don’t have room to order from their dessert menu, but you always have room for a small chocolate chip cookie! As always, the cookies hit the spot, even if I was in a hurry and had to enjoy it on the way back to the baseball stadium.

Verdict: I had been to Ike’s for lunch and enjoyed it each time I was there. This was my first experience with dinner at Ike’s and I was not disappointed. Our server was fast, efficient, flexible, and worked within our table’s schedule. The food was good and nothing negative happened that would impact customer experience. I have no problems recommending Ike’s for lunch or dinner if I were near the restaurant. (Note: There is an Ike’s at the MSP airport which is also very good) I noticed Ike’s serves brunch and would be interested in trying them out for brunch in the near future.

Betting against the American economy (My bet against the Dow)

Throughout the months of March and April, as the markets were moving up and down, Steve, my roommate, and I exchanged 125-150 emails on the subject of the market. Some of the time I would email an article that I knew Steve would disagree with, just to get a discussion going. Much of the time, I was pointing out that the markets were still too high and how more bad news was forthcoming. I complained as the markets moved positively on bad news such as increasing unemployment or companies not losing as much money as predicted. He complained the markets pulled back from earlier gains on things like housing news and the analysis of bank quarterly earnings. Eventually, this led to the following email exchange:

my roommate:“will the DOW hit 9000 this year? ill bet you $20 bucks”

me:“Just because it hits 9000 doesn’t mean it will stay at 9000. I’d be dumb to take this bet because all you have to do is hit 9000. it could go down the next day, but you could still claim victory.”

my roommate:“ok whats your bet then”

me:“My bet is that DOW will unable to sustain 9000 for an entire month during 2009. 20$.”

my roommate:“deal. dow stays above 9k for a month

remember that you are betting against the biggest badest economy in the world: the american economy. while capitalism and all these ‘stupid banks’ show how capitalism goes astray – it also adapts quickly – there is a monetary incentive to do so.”

me:“and you’re betting that the illusions created in this current market will hold up.”

As of today, the market stands at about 8360. The market has swung up as high as around 8500 recently, but nowhere near 9000. Now I realize 2009 isn’t over yet and that it is too early to claim victory, but, I don’t see the Dow making 9000 this year. I think there is going to be more bad debt writes off by the banks and more prime borrowers having problems due to job loss and declining home values. The banks in their quarterly earnings reports were increasing their provisions for bad debt. So even the banks are expecting more bad news. From time to time I will update the status of this bet.

Feel free to leave your comments or predictions for the Dow / markets in 2009.

China Trip Update – my visa is here!

I have my Passport back.
I have my Passport back.

About two weeks ago, I sent my passport to Washington DC to obtain a Chinese visa. On Thursday, I was excited to receive my passport back with a brand new Chinese visa! I quickly flipped to the visa pages in my passport to check out what a Chinese visa looks like….

Chinese Visa
Chinese Visa

Since I’ve received my visa, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to spend some time talking about why China is my next destination.

Ever since I started traveling to different countries, I have always wanted to visit China. I think it has something to do with seeing things that are hundreds and thousands of years old mixed in with modern buildings and high tech things like high speed rail or the world’s largest man made dam. Last year when China hosted the Olympics and seeing the amazing structures and shows put on by Chinese, I knew I had to go to China to see and experience the sites, sounds, and culture of the Chinese. At the end of August, I will be in China for two weeks.

As I started to research what things I wanted to do in China, I realized that two weeks was not nearly enough time to see a country as large as China. Part of the decision of where to go and what to see was easy. I am flying in and out of Shanghai so it made a lot sense to spend some time in the city. I also definitely wanted to see the Great Wall of China so that made a trip to Beijing the next part of my trip. Finally, after seeing the images of the Terra Cotta Warriors during the Olympics, I had an interest in checking that out. This led me to add the city of Xi’an to my itinerary.

So far my itinerary looks something like this:

Shanghai – 6 days
Xi’an – 2 days
Beijing – 6 days

I am still researching everything there is to do in Beijing and Shanghai. I know there is the Forbidden City and Summer Palace in Beijing. I am still reading up on Shanghai and am not as familiar with the things to see and do there. I do have a couple guide books that I am going to use to give me an idea of what there is to do. I won’t necessarily do all the suggestions and will maintain flexibility to do other things once I am on ground in China.

The things I am most looking forward to are (in no particular order)

1. Train Travel in China
2. Getting to try different foods
3. Practicing my Mandarin Chinese!
4. Experiencing the friendly Chinese culture
5. Standing on the Great Wall of China
6. Seeing the Terra Cotta Army
7. Taking lots of photos

If you’ve been to Beijing, Shanghai, or Xi’an and have a suggestion, please feel free to leave a comment. I will provide a couple more updates before I leave in August.