Travelling to New York (NYC – Manhattan)

New York also known as the Big Apple is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation’s third most populous state. It is known for its status as a financial, cultural, transportation, and manufacturing center, and for its history as a gateway for immigration to the United States.

In the last 2 years I have been to New York twice. Every visit leaves me feeling like it wasn’t enough and I want more. There is more to see and experience on each visit. New York is my favorite place on this planet. The best! Yes it’s busy & fast but it’s Alive! Full of energy and plenty opportunities for experiences. It is an ecosystem of it’s own which I recommend everyone should experience. For some it will be too much but for others that let go it will be a playground.

Some quick notes about travelling in the USA

  • Use a “SuperShuttle” to and from the airport. http://www.supershuttle.com/ it’s a shared taxi van of around 9 people. It’s dirt cheap vs. crazy taxi fares and you get to see more of the area as they drop off people around town.
  • Come to USA without much clothes since clothes / fashion here is cheap and the range vast.
  • If you need to rent a car do it through Enterprise. They are the cheapest. http://www.enterprise.com/
  • For accommodation I highly recommend AirBnB (Air, Bed & Breakfast). http://www.airbnb.com/ You basically rent a room with people who live in the area. So much cheaper than a hotel and you get to experience the real culture of the city. Best of all is you can live in the heart of the city / anywhere you like without being restricted by Hotel locations.

Now… onto New York, Manhattan!

The city that never sleeps.

Downtown

Here are a bunch of places I’ve been to and recommend you also drop by and experience for yourself:

To be, do & see

  • Check out Seinfeld Café (if you’re a fan of Seinfeld) – it’s at the corner of West 112th Street and Broadway, near Columbia University. Food is nothing special but the photos of the Seinfeld crew plastered all over the walls and the feel make it worthwhile.
  • Visit Central Park – it’s huge and beautiful. The photo below was taken during winter. An ice rink is setup by Trump Group for everyone to enjoy the cold season. During summer the whole park lights up in green flora.
  • Shop shop shop @ SOHO District in Manhattan. You do not need to go anywhere else. This is the place to be ~ http://www.sohonyc.com/
  • Nightlife is at the “Meat Packing” district in Manhattan – weird name for a place but it’s where all the top clubs are. Make sure you go to:
  • Visit “Pier A” for a boat trip to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty. Get there early since it’s always packed.
  • Coming back from Pier A visit Wall Street NYC Stock Exchange. It’s only a few blocks away on foot.
  • See a Broadway show. Anything will do! It’s something everyone has to experience.
  • Empire State Building queues are crazy so you can get the same experience from the Rockefeller Building if not a better view since you get to see the whole of Central Park and the Empire State. You really get a feel for how high you are when all the sky-rises look like tiny lego blocks from Rockefeller ~ http://www.rockefellercenter.com/

Food

  • Finally, best for last, dine at Daniel. Be prepared to pay BIG $$$ for an unforgettable dining experience that excites the senses, an elegant and vibrant ambiance, gracious service and a delectable menu. Chef Daniel Bouluds award winning contemporary French cuisine is inspired by the rhythm of the seasons. This restaurant has 3 x Michelin stars. Only 5 restaurants in NYC have this high level of achievement. Located at 60 East 65th Street, New York, NY, 10065 ~ http://www.danielnyc.com/daniel.html

If you have any questions regarding New York please contact me. I’m always happy to help and share my experience. Also feel free to contribute to this post by commenting below.

Happy trekking!

AirBnB – find a place to stay

If you need a short-term stay there is nothing like the service AirBnB provides. My wife and I have used their service a number of times in New York & Los Angeles and loved the experience. Their online service is “wife proof” meaning that it’s so friendly and easy to use that I didn’t have to get involved when my wife used their service. Check them out by clicking here to visit Air Bed and Breakfast website (also abbreviated / known as AirBnB).

~ Ernest

Major roads in Silicon Valley

We flew down the twisty mountain road in a metallic gray VW Jetta. The wheels screeching tightly to the apex as I took the corner holding the steering wheel at 9 & 3 o’clock. Yes I was taught to drive this way at a rally school back in Sydney (Australia). The Jetta was a hire car. The surroundings screamed past us as I demonstrated to my friend how to take the apex on sharp corners for a smoother tight turn. Then we noticed a group of bicycle riders heading straight toward us. Well this is odd, I said. What are they doing on our side of the road. Oh crap, “we” are on the wrong side of the road. I jabbed the steering wheel to the right to get the car back onto the “right” lane. As soon as we did this a car zoomed round the corner on the right side of the road. We avoided a collision. Missed by that much.

You may already know this but in America everyone drives on the “right” side of the road. In Australia it is the left side. Today about 66.1% of the world’s people live in right-hand traffic countries and 33.9% in left-hand traffic countries. Being Australian I fell into the 33.9%. However it was time to adjust to the 66.1% and learn to drive on the right side of the road. In the beginning it takes some getting to used to. I found that having a non-Australia passenger in the car helped. Every time I would drift to the left (wrong side of the road) I would be instantly slapped back into gear avoiding another collision.

Unfortunately in the story above I was with another Australian and thus for us being on the left hand side felt comfortable so no internal alarms were set off until we noticed strange traffic patterns. I love telling that story because we spent so much time on the wrong side of the road feeling all comfortable until a shock later and we learnt one valuable lesson.

Roads are wide and big

One of the 1st things you will notice in Silicon Valley and well America in general, are that the roads are massive. Kramer (from Seinfeld) wasn’t exaggerating when he adopted a piece of the American freeway and showed us how wide the lanes are. They are huge here. You can practically dance around in your car on one. Not only that, most freeways have 4-5 lanes each way. That in comparison to Sydney (Australia) where the Sydney Orbital (freeway that takes traffic around Sydney) is 2 lanes each way – that explains the traffic issues!

Major roads in the valley

Major roads in Silicon Valley - from left in green: 280, El Camino & 101

There are 3 major roads you can travel up and down the valley. They are, starting from the left (see map above in green):

a.       280Interstate 280 (I-280) is a 57 mile (92 km) long north–south Interstate Highway in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California. It connects San Jose and San Francisco, running along just to the west of the cities of San Francisco Peninsula for most of its route. This is what I call the sceanic route and you get to see the fog roll into the valley over the mountains – looks scary & beautiful when it’s happening (see pic below).

b.       El Camino RealEl Camino Real (Spanish for The Royal Road, also known as The King’s Highway) runs between the 280 and 101 through all the major cities in the valley. It is the road to take if you intend to do some shopping / food hopping during your drive.

c.      101U.S. Route 101 (US 101) is one of the last remaining and longest U.S. Routes still active in the state, and the longest highway of any kind in California. From San Jose to San Francisco, Highway 101 is known as the Bayshore Freeway as it passes through Palo Alto and the other major communities along the San Francisco Peninsula.

When going to San Francisco for dinner or to party I like to take the 101 if I want to get there quicker or the 280 if I’m in the mood for a scenic drive. On the 280 you will get to see a lot of eagles (American National Emblem) and that famous fog San Francisco is so famous for. The fog starts rolling in around 5-6ish in the afternoon as demonstrated in the pic below.

The fog rolling in over the mountains towards 280

American’s drive fast

Yes it’s true. American’s drive fast on both 280 & 101. I have a heavy foot but still find myself trying to keep up to the average traffic speed of 80 miles (128 km) per hour. In America as long as you are not driving dangerously a cop wont bug you. That sort of explains the mutual traffic flow at high speeds – mutual agreement. I love it.

So you have 3 roads to choose from when heading up and down the valley. This is great and has the power to beat boredom by allowing you to alternate your routes and keep the drive different. Now that you know your roads, here’s to safe and happy driving!

Ernest

Build credit history superfast – get a car loan

Yes it’s true. If you want to build credit history in America you should consider getting a car loan. There is no better or faster way to building credit history then through a car loan. Here’s why.

Why a car loan?

Remember my last post on building credit history? If not then click here to read about building credit history in America. In a nutshell, getting a car loan is the BEST way to quickly building your credit history. You need to have a listing on your credit history that you are capable of paying off a sustainable large dept, like a car loan. This loan must be no smaller than $5K.

Get a loan from Technology Credit Union (TechCU)

TechCU were the only folks who would even consider giving me a car loan. And remember I came to America with 0 credit history. TechCU caters for technology folks in Silicon Valley with no credit history. The downside is you will be on a higher interest rate – around 15%.

According to Zmarta Fi and their loan experts, no big American bank will lend you money on good rates because you are a liability, someone without credit history. I have a personal account with Wells Fargo Bank (one of the largest in the US) with plenty of money in it sitting in a special high yield checking & savings account and they they still thought I was a liability when I wanted to get a loan through them. Again, because I had no credit history. Loans Now is the option available to customers at the click of a mouse.

Well Fargo would only give me a “secured loan” – a loan which was backed (locked up) with my own money. This is not good enough for me since:

  • it’s using my money and
  • it is not what the credit bureau considers a “car loan” – not good in building credit history.

Before you can get the loan approved by TechCU they will need from you:

  • Paper work from the dealer on the car you are purchasing inc. it’s Kelley Blue Book value. See my post of purchasing a car from a dealer located here.
  • See certificate of purchased for “car insurance”. Also the dealer won’t let you drive off the lot without one, and so, it’d be a good idea to take one from Utility Saving Expert
  • See that you are a “software engineer” – basically you need to bring a letter from your company’s HR department showing your income and your position/title of a software engineer. The position/title is important since TechCU is for technology folks only.
  • A copy of your Californian Drivers license. Your International Drivers license will not do. It’s worthless. Read this post on getting your Californian Drivers license. All you need to do is pass the Theory exam to get your temporary drivers license number. But don’t forget to schedule your practical exam since your temporary drivers license expires in 3 months.

Sounds painful? it is! But it pays off in the end.

Links mentioned in this post

TechCU website: http://www.techcu.com/

Building credit history: http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/finance/building-credit-history-america/

Let me know if you found a quicker way to get around this by posting in the comments below.

Ernest

Choice of Banks in America

The following is a short list of Major Banks you can use in America. Last in this list I included a Credit Union which is not a major bank since those guys look after new engineers (with no credit history) in the bay area.

Wells Fargo

About: Wells Fargo is the fourth largest bank in the US by assets and the second largest bank by market capitalization. In 2007 it was the only bank in the United States to be rated AAA by S&P, though its rating has since been lowered to AA- in light of the financial crisis of 2007–2010. Wells Fargo is the fourth largest bank in the US by assets and the second largest bank by market capitalization.In 2007 it was the only bank in the United States to be rated AAA by S&P, though its rating has since been lowered to AA- in light of the financial crisis of 2007–2010.

Experience: This is the 1st bank I established my accounts with. As soon as I walked in I was greeted by one of their representatives and asked what help I needed. Once this is established, they directed me to the right bank associate. All Wells Fargo banks share this personal service. The atmosphere inside the bank feels warm and comforting eliminating any anxiety you may face regarding finances. Everyone is smiling.

In comparison to CitiBank and Bank of America branches (which I also visited), they both were very corporate, high booth everywhere, felt cold with no Wells Fargo like personal touch – just a line where to line up. Felt like a processing plant.

URL: https://www.wellsfargo.com/

Bank of America

About: Bank of America Corporation is a financial services company, the largest bank holding company in the United States, by assets, and the second largest bank by market capitalization. Also known as BOA – short for Bank of America.

Experience: Very corporate, high booth everywhere, felt cold with no Wells Fargo like personal touch – just a line where to line up. Felt like a processing plant.

URL: https://www.bankofamerica.com/

CitiBank

About: Citibank, a major international bank, is the consumer banking arm of financial services giant Citigroup. Citibank was founded in 1812 as the City Bank of New York, later First National City Bank of New York. As of March 2010, Citigroup is the third largest bank holding company in the United States by domestic deposits, after Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase.

Experience: Very corporate, high booth everywhere, felt cold with no Wells Fargo like personal touch – just a line where to line up. Felt like a processing plant. BOA must be their idol. I setup an account with CitiBank because I have a Credit Card in Australia with Citi. However as soon as I did I realized that their service is just as poor as the one in Australia – I’m surprised that for a bank this size the low understanding of what a good consumer experience is like both offline and online.

URL: http://www.citibank.com/

Technology Credit Union

About: Tech CU is now among the top 1% of the nation’s largest credit unions with ten full service branches in the Silicon Valley. Now with more than $1.3 billion in assets and still growing. Also know as TechCU – short for Technology Credit Union.

Experience: Best way to describe this is a very small-scale of Wells Fargo. There is the personal touch component and also the booths for fast service. They only work with folks in the technology space like software engineers / entrepreneurs. TechCU also takes risks and will give you a loan for a car so that you can start building credit history. This is the bank which I approached after Wells Fargo said no for a car loan.

URL: http://www.techcu.com

If you have any specific questions about these banks please use the comments section below. I typically respond within 48 hours to all questions. If you have other banks which you’ve had experience with or want to add to my experience above please feel free to do so by commenting below.

Happy Banking!

~ Ernest

I’m cured, I can breathe again!

Ever since having wisdom teeth extraction in a private hospital in Australia (use this page to find the hospital near you), I have my body has been addicted to Drixine or more specifically its active component called oxymetazoline. But the good news this is history thanks to the American health care. Here’s how to beat this nasty legal drug which is putting many with nasal breathing difficulty through hell. There is hope! read on.

What is Oxymetazoline? – get to know the devil

Oxymetazoline, or Drixine/Afrin as it is known to consumers as a rapid nasal decongestant. The marketing sells it to you as a “rapid 12 hour relief from nasal congestion due to colds, hay fever and flu for the whole family.”. Oxymetazoline is the active ingredient in Drixine/Afrin which does all the damage. It is also present in Vicks Sinex, Afrin (USA), Sudafed etc..

Let’s compare the marketing to reality

Marketing The truth
Starts acting in a few minutes True. It’s frightening at 1st to feel a drug acting so quickly opening up your nasal canal.
Reduces swelling in nasal passages True. By “shrinking” the blood vessels & turbinates in your nose. You actually feel them shrinking and occasional pop and nose bleed.
Controls excessive flow or build up of nasal secretions Nasal secretions are good since they clean out the nose from all the mess you breath in. Now your nasal canal is going to be dry and open to intrusions.
Acts fast for up to 12 hours At first yes this is true but it quickly escalates into max of 2 hours.
Treatment should not exceed 3 days Should say more than 1 day. After the 2nd day you need to use this to breathe normally. This is where 3 days escapes into a weeks, months and then years.

The dangers

Once you have used Oxymetazoline for a few days you cannot stop it without going through pain. Your nose by then has gotten used to being fed this drug and if you stop your nasal passage will expand so much that you wont be able to breathe through your nose or sleep and will feel like your nose has swelled up. Worst is, after weeks of use your nasal passage gets damaged so much that you start loosing your sense of smell. Lack of smell will change your life around especially taste – watch out!

What are your options?

  • Go cold turkey for at least a week of torture not being able to breathe and hope your nasal passage “rebounces back”,
  • Stop using Oxymetazoline in one nasal passage and survive on the other and gradually ween off the 2nd one or (if neither options worked)
  • Radio frequency.

The cure – Radio frequency

The turbinates are shelves on the side of the nose. The main ones are the middle and the inferior. They normally enlarge and shrink. They especially enlarge with a cold or infection because blood is coming to the area to fight infection. They enlarge with allergy, and become pale and swollen.

What do Turbinates do?

The turbinates serve a major function. They warm inhaled air before it enters the lungs. They are covered by millions of cilia which defend the body against contaigons and irritants in the inhaled air. They provide an environment for the good white blood cells, and a bacteria-fighting enzyme called lysozyme, to gather and fight infection. They act as a baffle to better direct the flow of air.

No matter how much your turbinates seem to cause you trouble, you don’t want to just remove them. If you did, you would have dryness, crusting and sensations of burning pain. Doctors have therefore come up with various ways to reduce the blockage of your nasal passages without removing your turbinates and their cilia.

The procedure – Radio frequency

The device used to send radio frequency

The physician uses a radio frequency current to coagulate the material under the mucosa. This therapy is precisely directed, and does not damage nearby tissue as do other methods which generate heat. . It seems to be the best approach. It is an office procedure taking around 30 minutes and is somewhat painless.

Where to get this done?

I had my done at the ENT (ear, nose & throat) center in Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) in Palo Alto, California USA. I never heard of this until my allergy specialist (also at PAMF) advised me of this quick win procedure with the amazing ENT specialist Dr. Arman Abdalkhani.

Back in Australia I traveled from specialist to specialist spending a large amount of money trying to get myself off Drixine. Xrays, meds that made me sick and failed cold turkey attempts yielded no results until I arrived in America. This whole procedure was covered by my private health care.

So, now I can breathe again 24×7. I sleep better, feel better and my sense of smell is coming back… slowly but it’s getting better. The world feels fresh to me to be able to walk past flowers and able to smell them. You really get a sense of appreciation only once you lost something and then gain it back. I’m back baby!

Drixine/Afrin (and their Oxymetazoline variants) should be banned! Full stop.

If you know anyone out there who is going through nasal issues direct them to this blog post and save their life!

My mum had this procedure done in 2013 too

Ernest

The American private health care system

I love the American Private Health Care. My American friends might think I’m crazy but let me explain and compare Australian vs. American private health care as I see it and having experienced both first hand. I wont go into the detail of these plans because it’s never a clean apples to apples comparison but I will compare the cover based on my usage of the plans in both Australia and USA so you can see where the 2 differentiate on a daily basis.

In Australia my wife and I had private insurance for nearly 10 years. We had MBF Healthsmart for couples. MBF stands for Medical Benefits Fund. This plan is meant to cover most health scenarios a young couple might encounter. It basically allows me to visit any specialist, hospital or medical group to get service.

In USA we are covered by HMO from Blue Shield of California. HMO is a Health Maintenance Organization. It is a medical plan that has a network of selected physicians at a modest co-pay. Thus I had to choose a “Medical Foundation” to be my primary source of care. I chose Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) because of a good reputation and of having great specialists from a top-tier USA University, Stanford University. PAMF is a massive group of hospitals spanning the Bay Area. I have 3 of them within 15 minutes drive from Mountain View (my hometown).

PAMF – Palo Alto Medical Foundation

This is the only medical foundation I can visit during the year. That’s the rules of the game with Blue Shield.

Let’s compare the two plans

In Australia (MBF) In USA (HMO Blue Shield)
Dental. I have 2 root canals and in Australia was quoted $1,500 for a crown to protect those teeth. That would end up $3,000 in total and I’d be out-of-pocket by $2,700 after MBF cover. Today, I have 2 crows. Both done in the USA over the last 1.5 years and all it cost me was $300 out-of-pocket.
MBF gave me $300 budget every year on dental. Is that even enough for 1 filling and a clean. HMO gives me $1,500 budget every year on dental. Enough to get a crown, 5 fillings and 2 cleans. Here’s the catch – there is a gap and most dentists will cover this gap hence it costs you nothing out-of-pocket. Find the right dentist!
General practitioner (GP).
Free. Actually covered by the public health system else it would be a $40 out of pocket fee per visit (as of 2009). Private wouldn’t cover it. Co-pay of $10 per visit. Without the private you would end up paying in the hundreds.
Specialist visits. The Australian public health care system (Medicare) helps with covering some specialist visits to around 30-40% of what you paid. But you still have to visit Medicare, fill out a bunch of papers and wait for an hour to get your money back.
MBF covers 20-30% of specialist visits. Supposedly they would cover 100% if you could find one which is part of the MBF network and complies with MBF gap cover – Good luck with that! lol neither of the specialists my local GP suggested over the last 10 years ever were a part of the MBF network of specialists. HMO co-pay is $10 for “any” physician I see within my network. It doesn’t matter if it’s a geneticist, x-ray, ENT, skin or allergy specialist et al that I see the most I will pay for each visit is $10. Even an “in-house” procedure like Nasal Turbinate Surgery is included in the $10.
Medical supplies (medical prescriptions/drugs)
Prescribed by the GP and/or specialist vary in price and only a very very small number are covered by private. I only ever came across 1, and this I had to file & lodge the claim myself. Asthma inhaler costs around $30 (2009). Most will cost me $10 or $25 if it’s a rare med. Asthma inhaler costs me $10.
Other differences
  • Waiting period of up to 3 months before I can start using the benefits – like wtf!
  • My medical supplies are prescribed on a piece of paper and I have to hand it to the pharmacy of my choice and then wait.
  • No waiting period to use the benefits.
  • All my med supplies are electronically sent to the closest pharmacy (nominated by myself) and they call me a machine calls me to inform me the medical supplies are ready to be picked up. Typically within an hour.

So how can this be true Ernest… I hear you asking. It’s true. But only IF you have private health insurance in the USA. Without it you are a sitting duck in the water. Not only do the private health insurance plans vary in benefits, not all are as good as the one I outlined above. I consider myself lucky and am very thankful for the amazing company I work for to be offered this level of cover and security. Most companies in the bay area are known to offer benefits like private insurance (of varying degree) which helps ensure good ongoing health of the their staff. God bless America!

My aim with drawing this comparison was to illustrate that private health is all proportional to wherever you are and whatever situation you are in. Having had an active cover in Australia and one here I am able to draw on these conclusions. I hope this was an eye opener and also a myth buster to some of the false views of the American health system.

Check out the following URL to find the best mouthwash for a better oral health – https://waterflosserguide.com/best-mouthwash-for-gingivitis-gum-diseases/.

Ernest

The Monk who sold his Ferrari: Rise with the Sun

“Things are always created twice: first in the workshop of the mind and then, only then, in reality” – Robin Sharma

I had the pleasure of reading Robin Sharma’s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams & Reaching Your Destiny. Robin is one of the world’s top leadership experts and has published few other books in this field but this one is his all time classic.

The book is full of Big Ideas. A truley inspiriting and mind opening story with powerful teachings about unlocking who you truley are.

Everyone loves a good fable, and this is certainly one. The protagonist is Julian Mantle, a high-profile attorney with a whacked-out schedule and a shameful set of spiritual priorities. Of course it takes a crisis (heart attack) to give Mantle pause. And pause he does–suddenly selling all his beloved possessions to trek India in pursuit of a meaningful existence. The Himalayan gurus along the way give simple advice, such as, “What lies behind you and what lies before you is nothing compared to what lies within you.” – Amazon

If you haven’t read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich or Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now then this book is a great introduction to enlightenment and becoming self aware.

Seven Virtues of Enlightened Learning

Sharma goes into detail about the “Seven Virtues of Enlightened Learning”, the habits and how to develop them.

1. Master your mind.
2. Follow your purpose.
3. Practice Kaizen. Japanese for “improvement”.
4. Live with discipline
5. Respect your time
6. Selflessly serve others
7. Embrace the present

Anyone can practice these habits. All it takes is action.

Some great quotes from the book

One of the best pieces of advice I learned in that far-off oasis of Sivana was to rise with the sun and to start the day off well…

The ten-minute period before you sleep and the ten-minute period after you wake up are profoundly influential on your subconscious mind. Only the most inspiring and serene thoughts should be programmed into your mind at those times…

What you put in is what you get out… By determining the thoughts that go in, you also are determining precisely what will come out. So, before you go to sleep, don’t watch the news or argue with anyone or even go over the day’s events in your mind’s eye. Relax. Drink a cup of herbal tea, if you like. Listen to some soft classical music and prepare yourself to drift off into a rich, renewing slumber…

Once you are up, there are many things you can do. The fundamental principle to keep in mind is the importance of starting your day off well. As I’ve suggested, the thoughts you think and the actions you take in the first ten minutes after you wake up have a very marked effect on the rest of your day…

Think positive thoughts. Give a prayer of thanks for all you have. Work on your gratitude list. Listen to some great music. Watch the sun come up, or perhaps go for a quick walk in natural surroundings if you feel up to it. The sages would actually make themselves laugh whether they felt like it or not, just to get the ‘happiness juices’ flowing early in the morning…

Jairek Robbins interview with Robin Sharma

Jairek Robbins

Jairek Robbins did an AMAZING audio interview with Robin Sharma here.

I encourage you to listen to this short but powerful interview to understand Sharma’s approach.

Robin Sharma

Sharma’s message is simple – ”I am a simple man with a very simple message… my mission is to help people in organization around the world lead without titles…”
I believe this is a very powerful message. On a daily basis we and our actions are influenced by the titles people give us. And even more damaging, the titles we give ourself. We forget who we truly are and loose touch with our true self. Have a listen to Sharma’s interview with Robbins and awaken!

Read it

In conclusion, Sharma is a great teacher and did a fantastic job with his book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams & Reaching Your Destiny. Take it for the teachings packaged in this book and let the story be a vehicle in your journey.

If you have read this book already I would love to hear your thoughts.

~ Ernest

Transport infrastructure in the valley

They called me the VW Jetta pirate! Thanks to my buddies at Enterprise Rent-A-Car I would always get a great weekend hire deal and roll out in my choice of a car, a nice clean VW Jetta. I was set for the weekend to start exploring and settling in Silicon Valley.

My 1st Jetta hire from Enterprise car rental in Silicon Valley

Choose your weapon

The most common ways to travel up and down the valley:

a.       Enterprise Rent-A-Car – is the cheapest car rental service I found in the valley. They also have a huge range of cars to choose from. Hiring a car is straight forward and no you “do not” need an international drivers license. So do not waste your AUD50 in Australia getting that useless paper from NRMA. All you need is your Australian driverse license and your set to go within few minutes. Enterprise website even has online booking so you can take care of all the paperwork online and just drop in and pickup the car from your closest provider. Make sure you read my post on car rental hidden costs so your well prepared before renting a vehicle.

a.       VTA (Valley Transportation Authority) – has both buses and light rail operating within the local county. The buses travel up and down El Camino Real and cost a few bucks pending on the distance you want to travel. There are stops on El Camino Real every few hundred meters so be prepared for frequent stops and longer journey times. The buses and light rail are high tech with display & computerized voice giving you updates what street you are approaching. The buses also lower forward so you can attach your bike to the front – that’s a neat setup. While the light rail always carry a middle carriage for bike storage.

b.      ZipCar – wheels when you want them is a no obligation share a car service. You sign up on their site and whenever you want a car all you pay for is the per hour hire, nothing else and when your done just drop the car off at a predefined location. This service is more popular in big cities like San Francisco and San Jose where street parking is a nightmare hence the market for such a business.

c.      CalTrain – diesel driven locomotives pull cars of people up and down the valley. These trains stops at most major towns along the way and are very noisy (see my post of apartment hunting to get an idea how noisy). However they do move quickly and the “baby bullet” service is a few stops direct line from San Jose to San Francisco. I would be on these at least once a week when heading into San Francisco. A ride from Mountain View to San Francisco on one of these costs around $6 one way.

CalTrain

Finally, don’t catch any taxi’s. They are a rip-off. One trip from the SFO to Mountain View (20 miles / 32 km) once cost me USD100 + tip. That was my first and only time I would be catching a cab in the valley. However do take a taxi cab in New York since it’s super cheap there.

Happy traveling!

Ernest

Google Voice – how to protect your privacy

Teach your phone new tricks – Google Voice enhances the existing capabilities of your phone, regardless of which phone or carrier you have – for free. In my view, Google Voice is the 2nd most useful product offered from a set of Google apps. Here’s why.

What is Google Voice

Google Voice gives you one number for all your phones, voicemail as easy as email, free US long distance, low rates on international calls, and many calling features like transcripts, call blocking, call screening, conference calling, SMS, and more. Google Voice allows me to select any of my phones (fixed line and/or mobile) to connect me with the caller.

Google Voice interface

What features work for me

  • One Number – I have set up a nice network of phones closest to me for Google Voice to call. So I am no longer limited by a handset or carrier and I can always give just the 1 number to people.
  • Online voicemail – Should I miss a call or choose to not accept a call Google Voice will divert the user to my online voicemail (which can be customized to each caller) and record it. No big deal here right. But here is where it gets better. I also receive via email and SMS a transcribed version of the voice mail and if I log in to Google Voice there it is again, the transcribed version.
  • Call screening – Everytime someone calls me on my Google Voice you go through my virtual secretary who asks you your name and then tries to connect with me. I can choose to decline the call if I’m busy or am getting spammed and it goes directly to my voicemail.
  • Do not call block – In Google Voice online interface I can “Block” callers from ever calling me again. This is great since in Australia we have the “Do Not Call Register”. A government ran website protects individuals privacy by stopping certain telemarketing calls to fixed line and mobile telephone numbers. In the USA (as far as I’m aware) there is nothing like this. This is where Google Voice helps.

Blocking a caller

Protecting my privacy

This means that I can still keep my fixed land line and mobile (cell) numbers but now I give out my Google Voice number to people I meet at meetups, real estate agents, car dealers etc… if one of them abuses my number or passes it to a telemarketing agency I just block them in Google Voice and Google Voice will no longer connect me with those callers. Simple.

Also, since there is a screening feature which allows Google Voice to 1st call me and ask me whether I want to speak with the individual trying to connect with me I always know who is calling me before I say g’day. Should I wish not to speak to them, Google Voice will tell the caller I am not available and they can leave a message for me. Talk about a personal assistant!

Business cards

When Google Voice launched into Beta I was one of the lucky few American’s to get access to it. Google also gave out a bunch of free 25 business cards with the Google Voice number. Since then I have paid to have a lot more printed since I love the simplicity of these cards and the fact that I can hand these to people I meet.

Here’s my Google Voice business card:

Call me!

URL’s mentioned in this post:

Do Not Call Register – https://www.donotcall.gov.au/
Google Voice – http://google.com/voice

Ernest

Floatation (isolation) Tank – indepth and upclose

Welcome back for more juice on Flotation Tanks. If you have not read my previous post “Floatation (isolation) Tank – fringe science?” then I highly recommend you go there first and read the introduction to understand what they are, the benefits of the experience and see some screenshots of tanks I’ve been in, in Sydney (Australia) and San Francisco (USA).

Let’s delve inside – how to temporarily turn off your 3 senses

  • The tank is not airtight – it is designed to let air in via the roof.
  • It’s pitch black inside. Used to disassociate your visual senses from the environment.
  • The tank environment is humid – 37° celcius (99° Fahrenheit) – your body’s temperature. Helps with disassociating your kinestatic senses from the environment.
  • Around 10 inches of water in the tank with 800 lbs. of Epsom Salt dissolved in it. When you lie back you will float like a cork. Your ears will be under water. All places I’ve been to provide you earplugs. Use them to cut out all remnants of noise. That’s how your auditory senses are disassociated from the environment.
  • Keep the salt out of your eyes. Once inside do not rub your eyes or touch your face – the salt is very strong and even a small drop will sting. Make sure you have a towel near the tank to dry your hands before touching your face / eyes. The same goes for any cuts you have on your body. Make sure you cover them up with Vaseline or similar to stop the salt from entering the wound.
  • At the beginning of each float set an intention for what you would like to accomplish during your float. Then enjoy the float – the rest of the journey your mind will take you through.

What to expect during a float

The following is based on my experience. Each experience varies but they all share similar stories.

  1. First 20 minutes is calming down your mind and relaxing your body. First timers will find it strange to let go at first because being buoyant is a strange feeling and letting go of tension without touching anything in the tank is even stranger – yes you do float in the tank without touching the bottom or the side walls. When the tension pain is gone that’s when you have fully let go (especially neck muscles).
  2. Concentrate on your breathing – in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try this approach, 4 seconds in, hold for another 4 seconds and 2 seconds out (I will cover breathing techniques in a future post and why doing it correctly is super important). Also try to resist moving or scratching an itch. During the start of a meditation session when your senses are slowly being turned off, your brain will send signals to your body to try to awaken them – this will come through as an itch or a muscle twitch. Resist it for couple of minutes and it will pass. Concentrating on your breathing will also help you with the fight against the “monkey mind”. The monkey mind are random distracting thoughts which rush in and out of your mind.
  3. After 20 (or so) minutes have passed you will find yourself in an open minded state. Your mind should feel clear & open, your body free of tension. This is the relaxed state. Your mind will be in a frequency state called Alpha. A state which you can also use for accelerated learning.
  4. After another 20 minutes (40 minutes into the float) you will enter Theta state. You will be conscious in this state and know when it comes. In this state your subconscious mind awakens and your concious mind will experience auditory and visual hallucinations. You will feel as though you have separated from your physical body and are pure energy, a part of something  greater. Monks practice years to reach Theta in a concious state. Do not resist. Do not get frightened. This state gives you access to insights, bursts of creative ideas – a key state for “reality creation” through vivid imagery.
  5. After 1 hour of floating, soft music will start playing inside the tank. This is your queue that the journey for now has came to an end and it’s time to go back to the reality we call society.


With time you will want to float for longer and longer. I have floated for 2 hours before and even though it may sound like a long time there is no sense of time during a good float. John C. Lilly was known to float for up to 6 hours and trained himself to reach such high states that his experiences are what some people would call out of this world.

I would love to hear your experience in the tank. Please use the comments section below to share your journey in the tank.

Common questions & answers

  1. Q: Will I drown if I fall asleep in the tank?
    A: No. You are always buoyant, floating on top of the water like a cork. Same as the dead seas. If you did roll over, the strong Epsom Salt in the water would instantly wake you up.
  2. Q: I have a fear of being alone in the dark, drowning, not having enough air, claustrophobia, and others
    A: For some the first time might be a bit overwhelming. You can go in and out of the tank as you please. You can use the tank with the door completely open, you can keep it partially open, or you can close it. There is no particular way to use the tank that is more correct than another. Any way you use it, that is comfortable for you, is correct. But once you relax and let go you will experience peace and tranquility and want to come back for more.
  3. Q: I did what you said to do and nothing happened. What gives.
    A: Practice makes perfect. Like anything in life you need to immerse yourself in it and embrace the offering. I recommend you give it a go at least 3 times and each time be open and willing to let go.

Joe Rogan on Floatation Tank