Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I would like one Square of Mint please…

I think Square is perhaps the coolest thing I have seen since Mint with respect to personal finance management. Square is a new service aimed at helping both the payer and the payee. As someone making payments, with a Square account receipts are instantly at your fingertips through either email or a mobile device. As someone taking payments, with a Square account the payer can swipe their card on a dongle that fits onto a mobile device. This enables virtually anyone to begin accepting credit card payments. Think of the possibilities.  No cash but want to buy a hot dog from the street vendor, no problem.

Here is a pic of an example receipt. Note the location of the purchase, the number of times the payer has been there, the signature, and how the transaction will appear on an actual credit card statement.


(Copyright Square, Inc)

Much more can be learned about Square at the website. What I think would be very cool is if Square and Mint joined forces. As an active Mint user I want to see my Square account and Square receipts in the Mint user interface. No more having to track down what some cryptic restaurant or bar is.

If Square really takes off it could be much larger than Mint would ever be. It is disappointing that Intuit purchased Mint in what I considered an early part of its initial product offering. Mint has a long way to go at becoming the end-all-be-all of personal financial  management. A scenario can be imagined where Square takes off and needs an intuitive UI to manage users’ payments – that is Mint’s strength. Unfortunately Mint is no longer a private entity.

Hopefully some of the innovations Square is pioneering will find a way to be integrated with Mint in a first-class solution. Basically I want my Mint^2.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Photosynth of Four Seasons Hotel at Sayan near Ubud

Here is a simple photosynth I created of the Four Seasons Hotel in Bali. You enter on the “roof” which is a huge circular pond with stairs leading down to the actual hotel.

Check out the panorama below…

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Bali – Villa at Keliki near Ubud

Days 9 and 10

I woke up determined to find my friends somehow. I assumed their internet was down or not present at all so I figured I would just trek up to their villa and surprise them. The owner of my bungalows, Madi, offered to take me up to the village of Keliki (about 20 minute drive) for 100,000 Rp. That was the price of one night at her bungalow. I shopped around and that was the going rate.

Before we left I got my second massage – they are so cheap here. It was pretty good and cost about 60,000 Rp (six dollars).

We set off out of Ubud and into the surrounding villages. I had once thought I could ride a bike to this next village, but am very glad I thought better of it. There were many hills to climb. We eventually passed Seliba and the villa was supposed to be in between Seliba and Keliki. At last we came upon it. Down a long narrow driveway and between two rice fields and backed by a jungle was Villa Amala. The only problem was that my friends weren’t here. They had just left to go to Ubud for the day for lunch. After a phone call between Madi and the driver of my friends car we found them. They were eating in Ubud where I had just come from.

Madi and I got back in the car and drove into Ubud. I eventually found them and said goodbye to Madi. We all had lunch – I just had a pizza and after they took some photos of Ubud proper we got back in the car and made our way back to the villa which I hadn’t really seen yet.

Villa Amala would mark the first time I have ever really been at a villa where there is staff, a cook, etc. The villa itself was very cool. I will let the picture do the talking. I spent two nights here in my own swanky little room and bath (and the occasional huge fucking spider … uggh).

That day I immediately jumped into the infinity pool and a quick little monsoon started up. Very few things are as relaxing as laying on the edge of an pool as rain is pouring down on you. At least for me. After some Bintangs and some appetizers it was time to get ready for dinner.

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Here is a vid of the monsoon:

The group had already planned on going to dinner at the Chedi Club which was on the opposite side of Ubud. With the exception of my lobster dinner I was due for another more indulgent meal. I hadn’t really planned on going out to any nice outings however and only packed t-shirts and shorts. Fortunately Brett packed a bunch of linen shirts and pants and gave me some stuff to look more appropriate in.

The Chedi Club lies on huge spacious grounds filled with ponds, pools, statues, and tropical plants. The actual resort itself does not have that many rooms. After snapping a bunch of photos and walking around the grounds we settled at a table where we could catch the sunset going down over the rice paddies and the jungle beyond. The drink of choice was a purple basil cocktail – I think I had three or four.

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Dinner at the Chedi Club resort was in a huge open air building that looked out over the rice paddies. What was really cool was that set amidst the rice paddies were stone lanterns that someone had to – each night – go and manually light up. The effect after the sun went down was very cool. I have a pic before the lanterns were lit:


We were seated at the far end of the building right next to the rice paddies. As dinner commenced we were the only people eating which felt kind of strange but as the night went on more people showed up. Dinner was great, the drinks were good, and the dessert filled me up too much (one scoop of ice cream is enough – no need for three– but it was butterscotch!).

There was also a cool bird in a cafe there that would do a little dance for you:

That night everyone promptly crashed – except for me. I had a nice little visitor waiting for me in my room…


Now this picture doesn’t do the size justice but that thing is huge. Everyone who knows me knows I have a strong sense of arachnophobia.  This spider was large enough that it wouldn’t just crunch when you killed it; it would crunch, ooze, and pop. It was huge. And there it was just chilling five feet from my bed (thank god the room was huge).

I resorted to throwing things at it. First a sock, then another, then a shoe. It eventually scurried towards the floor to ceiling doors that open up into the jungle (and had been closed during the day) and went behind the drape you see it on above. So I didn’t kill it, but it didn’t bother me anymore. I have a video I will try to post later of me being quite squeamish and cursing a lot under my breath.

Sleep eventually overcame me and I woke up to a gorgeous morning and and the staff started spreading out a huge breakfast spread:


The fruit in the middle is called mangosteen and is super good. I don’t believe you can get it in the states – yet.

Half the group went to go on a tour given by a Balinese man through his “backyard” to give you a glimpse of how they live. Jeff and I decided to use the bikes at the villa and ride up to the next village, Keliki, and beyond.

The bike ride was short – its too damn hot – but was fun. The way up to Keliki was up hill just slightly which made the ride back down fast and fun. At one point a van almost brushed me (people drive crazy here) but other than that it was a clear ride.

The rice paddies and the people working them are pretty amazing. People walk around with scythes chopping away, others have sheaths of rice bundled on their heads. Some are “ca-cawing” at the heavens to scare away birds, and lastly you might see someone herding ducks to a rice paddy. The ducks keep bugs out.


After the bike ride I just chilled at the pool and read my book (surprise surprise).  Uber relaxing. Pool. Rice paddies. Jungle. Drinks. Book.


The rest of the crew eventually came back and everyone settled in for lunch which was huge. Brett had originally requested that the staff keep lunch light because everyone but me was going to go to Mozaic for dinner that night. Mozaic is a really nice restaurant that was just to far out of my budget. Something got lost in translation and a huge plethora of meat was laid before us:


I think we ate almost everything and just had some chicken left over. The rest of the day was spent just chilling at the pool, drinking, and reading.

That night the idea was to go check out the Four Seasons hotel in Ubud for some drinks and then we were going to split off – myself to Naughty Nuri’s for diner and the rest of the group to Mozaic.

The Four Seasons hotel was amazing. We had just one (long) drink here after walking the grounds. The hotel pools are built right along the edge of the river. The hotel bar is about two stories up. The entrance to the hotel is actually the top story. You walk out onto a huge circular pond that has a staircase in the center. The jungle is surrounding you on virtually all sides. Again, I will let pictures do the explaining.

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After dinner the driver dropped everyone off at Mozaic and then took me to Naughty Nuri’s. The menu at Naughty Nuri’s was all meat and that was the exact opposite of what I wanted given the lunch we had.  I decided to go eat at Casa Luna again. It was good the first time and just as good the second. I did some emailing there, ate my dinner and then the driver took me back to Mozaic to pick everyone up. Back at the villa everyone slept and luckily there were no spiders in my room …

Monday, December 07, 2009

Bali – Nusa Dua to Ubud

Hello! A lot has happened since my adventure at Ulu Watu that capped off my last post. My Indiana Jones-ing happened on Day 4 for me which was a Wednesday. That left me three more nights at the resort in Nusa Dua.

Days 5 and 6 – Poolside

I spent these two full days diving into my next book, Pillars of the Earth. I spent the first day at Hyatt’s pool. The Hyatt Resort is gorgeous. The pool was quite warm though and wasn’t very refreshing. At this end of Nusa Dua the beaches are much nicer than my end up north. After reading for awhile I was kicked out – but I was about to leave anyway. I took a quick dip in the ocean and then took a 4 km walk back to my hotel on the beach promenade. In my last post, you will remember I complained a bit about the quality of the beach promenade. Down on this end of the resort the promenade is kept much more maintained.  The walk was nice and I got to see all of the five star resorts and their nicely manicured lawns and pools. If you have the $$$ there are plenty of great places to stay.

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I got back to my hotel well past dark. I actually overshot my hotel because a street vendor was trying to sell me a flashing light yo-yo thing. He was shining it in my face right as I was walking past my hotel and by the time I told him I didn’t want it I had walked right on by my hotel entrance. I realized this about four more hotels down. The walk was relaxing though so I didn’t really care.

After turning around and arriving I took a night swim, ate some dinner (very tame dinner since I was still being cautious after my digestive escapades) and turned in early.

My last full day there I just hung out at my hotel’s pool and beach, chatted it up with some Aussies, read my book, and stayed cool. I took a video of the beach on my last day. All to myself:

Day 7 and 8– Central Ubud

Map picture

One week down and I still had LOTS left to see. My next stop was Ubud. Ubud is known for its art, relaxing cafes, great food and is used by many people as a hub for their Bali adventure. I had a new driver (also named Made – there are only four male names here – Wayan, Made, Ketuk, and Nyoman (sp)) and we trekked up to Ubud. I had no accommodation set and he offered to take me to three hotels. I didn’t like any of them and took a break at the Laughing Buddha Bar. There was WiFi there. I had a beer and started looking up some places in my guidebook. There was one two doors away that was super cheap – Pramesti Bungalows.

I went in and the lady – Madi – asked how many nights I was going to stay. I didn’t really know because I had friends coming and was going to try to stay in their Villa north of Ubud when they arrived on Sunday (Day 8). She said 150,000 Rp  for one night (and I got here down to 100,000 Rp (ten bucks :)). The bungalows themselves were very quaint but were set in this gorgeous tropical garden. She also had four rabbits that were running around and she made banana pancakes for breakfast in the morning.

After I got settled there I immediately set out to make the most of the half day I had left. I was starving and walked up the Monkey Forest Road where the bungalows were to the main drag of Ubud. Ubud was my first real taste of a real Balinese village. It was hard to grasp the sense of this in Nusa Dua due to the number of resorts.

The city was very much alive and full of tourists, places to eat, and shop. Ubud is known for its artsy nature and I passed many art galleries in my trekking. The first place I ate was Nomad where I had a great chicken satay. This also marks the first time I had Balinese food since my event.  It also marked the first time I had a drink with real liqour in it so far – can you believe that! I had a Capinomad which was Balinese palm gin, lime, lemongrass and sugar. Very tasty.


A friend of mine looped me into one of his friends there and I let her, Winnie, know I was at Nomad. She came over as I was finishing up and we talked for awhile. It was great to have someone to talk to and then travel with for a bit.

She wanted to go check something out in East Ubud and I was just happy to tag a long an explore more so we started walking.  On the way there she mentioned here and some Kiwis were going to the fire dance later – the keyack (sp?) dance. It sounded like a good way to spend the evening so I bought a ticket to that. Our walk ended up being a bit longer than expected and we still had to get back to our respective hotels and shower. Just walking around the block here will make you sweat buckets. My shirt was almost drenched as it was.

The fire dance was pretty impressive. It was broken up into three different dances. The latter was a man kicking burning coconut husks as part of the dance. It was pretty cool. The chanting of the males in the dance troupe did not leave my head for the rest of the evening.

Here he is kicking the fire around:

Afterwards we ate at Kafe which is a very organic, green, eco friendly restaurant. I had some ginger spiced chicken and vegetables which was really good and washed it down with a Bintang, the local Indonesian brew.

I was super tired – we all were – and after dinner I headed home in a light drizzle. My room at Pramesti had no air conditioning but it wasn’t that bad. I slept great and woke up very early – like 7ish (early for me).

One of Madi’s staff asked if I wanted breakfast and remembering the banana pancakes I said sure. I grabbed Pillars of the Earth  and settled into that for awhile as my breakfast was being made. As I was reading one of the rabbits came to nibble on one of the ceremonial offerings put out every morning.


After playing with the rabbit for awhile (mind out of gutters people) my pancakes arrived:


It was more like a crepe than a pancake, and was very tasty. After eating I packed up my stuff so it was ready to go. Later this day I was going to go meet my friends at their Villa. At about ten thirty I set out for the Monkey Forest and after that a hike around the more rural parts of Ubud to get a feel for daily life and to just get out of the city.

My first stop on Monkey Forest Road was the Monkey Forest itself.  The Monkey Forest (no that is not the official name) contains a temple, a cemetery and is home to hundreds of grey monkeys. The monkeys are not shy at all and at one point one of them jumped up on me – sadly I don’t have a pic of that. If you have a banana or other fruit you might as well wear a sign on you that says “attack me”. In my case I reached into my bag to get out my water bottle and a monkey thought I was going to feed it so it jumped on me and clung on for awhile.

Here is a video of one of these guys going crazy after a banana. Watch how fast he opens the sucker up:

After roaming the monkey forest and exploring the outside of the temple I moved on to some of the roads around Ubud outside of the city. Here are some pics of the monkey forest:

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My favorite:


In my trek around Ubud I stumbled upon an abandoned house that was kind of creepy and overrun with wildlife (by the way the spiders here a ridiculous …. ughh).

I stopped at several vendors along the way to get Pocari Sweat and water (you can read about my fascination with Pocari Sweat here). The hike took me through verdant rice fields that were being harvested, some views of the river and the surrounding jungle. The rice fields here are very cool and in some cases where the land is not flat they are terraced. 

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After about three hours I had made a full circuit around Ubud and made my way back to the bungalows. My plan was to go spend the next three nights at a villa north of Ubud where my friend Jeff was staying. Long story short their internet wasn’t working and I had no way to get in touch with them. I ended up having a very relaxing rest of the day reading my book at the Green Room which had a good 2 for 1 Happy Hour and then finished up with dinner at Casa Luna restaurant.

I checked my email one last time to see if Jeff had arrived and when there was no word from them I went back tot he bungalow and slept. This was my first encounter with the wildlife in the hotels and I had a mean battle with a cockroach that ended up with it falling in the toilet on accident and me flushing it down two or three times … Matt 1- Cockroach 0.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hi everyone,

Here is a quick little message I recorded before our Thanksgiving here at the villa in Canguu. I have another blog post I have been meaning to send out, but I probably won’t get to it until later or when I come back :( …

Happy Thanksgiving and see you soon!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bali Update

Hello! So I haven’t sent out any updates yet for a few reasons. The first few days I had just been chilling at the pool reading books and relaxing in the sun. Not much to show you (although I have some great shots of my feet on various lounge chairs).

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The real reason though is that I got what I most feared right off the bat … Bali Belly (I actually think it was something worse. I would have welcomed Bali Belly as some have described it to me).  I will spare you all the gory details (and trust me they are gory), but my second full day here was seriously one of the worst days of my life.  I don’t exaggerate.

I had to have a doctor visit me, go on a slew of antibiotics (some that I brought and new ones that she gave me) and a variety of other drugs to stop certain parts of the body from behaving badly. I had a fever, aching back, a butt that wouldn’t stop and a mouth that wouldn’t stop either. Yeah TMI!


I may seem jovial about it now (I’m not really) but it was definitely the wrong foot to get my trip going on and it was hard for me to really get relaxed. This was frustrating of course because as I looked around I was more or less in paradise, but it definitely didn’t feel that way 100%. Her advice to me was classic too: “eat at the hotels". I had actually eaten that  night at one of the top 5 restaurants in Bali and had a very good dinner.  Anyhow my time during these first few days was spent at the Peninsula Beach Resort.

Peninsula Beach Resort in Nusa Dua

Enough of the gross stuff. I still got to relax a lot. Like I said I read two books. The first was Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin (and yes it is Fevre not Fever). He writes the Song of Ice and Fire Series that they are making into an HBO series now – it is going to kick so much ass. Think Rome but medieval fantasy.

The next book was Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This was very good. I had been wanting to read it for awhile and blazed through it in a day. Spoiler: I am going to search for a carnivorous algae forest while I am here.

The Nusa Dua area is the ritzy area of Bali with many of the big name resorts you would expect to find. I had been uber-amped up on glistening white sand beaches and other standard staples of paradise. Unfortunately it is not as I imagined but it is still gorgeous. There is a beach promenade that, in the maintained parts in front of the resorts, is a great walk. I spent one afternoon strolling along it and staring at all of the infinity pools and over the top amenities and services offered. Some of these hotels go all out. Other parts of the promenade are unfortunately not as well maintained and just accumulate trash and weeds. Later in the week I plan on going further south on the Nusa Dua coastline to see if the beaches get better.

My hotel is perfect though. Small, good food, a little bar (although I couldn’t drink for a few days because of the antibiotics – felt pretty good actually), and a great pool. Their beachfront is nice too. A lot of water sports take place here and in between chapters of my book I would watch jet skis, flying fish (has anyone seen one of these – really cool – and no not the animal), and parasailers go by.

Here are some shots of the pool:

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This whole time I was still suffering from a war being waged in my tummy from the various antibiotics. It always kept me kind of on edge – what was going to happen next in the circus that was my body?

Wednesday however that all changed. No more antibiotics and a normal, healthy feeling Matt. I had no more books, had pooled it too long (is there such a thing) and decided it was time to see some of this island!

Ulu Watu

I called up my driver Made (Mad-ay) and asked if he could come get me around elevenish. Lucky for me the day was slow for him and he could.

Bali is much bigger than I expected and there are many people who will offer to drive you around for the day for a reasonable amount of money. A half day is about 35 $ (350,000 Rp) and a full ay is about 50$ (500,000 Rp). Keep track of the relative cost of things as I bring it up because I have a sucker of a story for later (where I am the sucker who had a brain skip).

I suited up with my backpack and some shoes because i figured there would be some hiking around and I also thought it more appropriate to go into a temple with closed toe shoes on. I was one of few who thought that would be nice and later regretted this decision when I was at the beach. Not a big deal though…

The distance to the temple from my resort in Nusa Dua is probably about 20-30 km. Maybe twice that. But it takes much longer to get there because they don’t have highways here and the roads are cramped with scooters. There are no lanes here really and everyone drives very offensively – tailgating is an understatement.

But I trusted in Made and in about half an hour we made it over to the Ulu Watu temple. The temple was built in the 11th century and that is about all I learned about it  in particular.  It is supposed to be gorgeous at sunset but I chose to watch the sunset at Jimbaran Bay.

The view from the temple was breathtaking. It is built right on these cliffs that plunge right to the crashing surf below. Of course I took pics for you to see (I have many more that I will send out when I get back):

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One thing to be wary about at this temple (and others from what I read) is the monkeys will get frisky with your hat, sunglasses, pretty much anything accessible to their mischievous little hands.

That’s right f-ing monkeys. Coolest thing! I took many many pics of them. I may have even accidentally caught one of them plowing himself into another but I think I took my finger off the button.

Some monkeys:

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After I was done being Indiana Jones and watching the monkeys we set off to check out the famed Ulu Watu beach and moreover its surf.

The beach itself was a tiny little thing down a series of stone steps and carved over time between two giant stone structures. Built above it were a bunch of villas and surf rental shops.

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Here I met the first other American so far! Crazy. She was from North Carolina and her boyfriend was surfing. There are mostly Australians here, German, French, and neighboring Asian countries, but ay my resort – no Americans that I have met.

I took two dips on the ocean, watched the surfers for a while and then set off back up the stairway to the parking area where Made was waiting.


Here is the view from above the beach:


That about covers Ulu Watu. The next stop was Padang Padang Beach.

Padang Padang Beach

This beach was much more swimmable than Ulu Watu and had a break that was farther off the shoreline. I pretty much did the exact same here that I did at Ulu Watu: swim, relax and people watch.

The whole time at both beaches I was wearing a rash guard so I would blend in with the surfers. No really, I was wearing it so I wouldn’t get sunburned. My ghost like features haven’t adapted yet to the blazing sun here. (and again, not to bring it up but the antibiotics didn’t help much since you need to stay out of the sun… grrrr)

This beach also had some gorgeous Italian woman sunbathing topless which reminded me of Italy where the woman sunbathed topless :) … However I still prefer the bikini. Don’t show it all off at once.


After relaxing a bit more it was time to go off to get some food. It was about five o’clock and I had skipped lunch. The destination: Jimbaran Bay.

Jimbaran Bay

Jimbaran Bay is beautiful and was home to just the beach I was looking for. Reminded me a lot of Hawaii actually. Along the beach are twenty four restaurants (Warung as they are called here). I am not going to detail my sucker story in this post but here is where I got suckered.

The draw here is that they catch the fish fresh and you get to pick the fish, prawn, or lobster (or Live Lobster if your name is Matt Stein) and they throw it on this big grill for you and cook it up with various spices and what not. I was a big fan of the idea of fresh food after my ordeal a few days ago. I could see it alive, watch it be cooked and hopefully there is no room in between for error.

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My driver and I posted up on a table on the beach (note to people: this would be a very romantic dinner spot, but I was with my driver). When we first got there it was just him and I and a couple to our left. By the time we left all the tables in front of us (two more rows) were filled to the brim with honeymooners, families, and other groups. It was slightly strange eating with Made, but not really. We would talk here and there, but mostly it was still as though I was on my own. I did share a bit of my dinner with him.

The sunset was spectacular and the food was amazing.

Here is the feast before I devoured it:


And after:


It was my first time eating lobster if you can believe that. After watching the sun go down I paid the bill (ugghh) and Made drove me home to my hotel.


This day was hands down my best day here so far. I got to explore some of the culture of Bali, see some wild monkeys, go to three beautiful beaches and indulge myself in a tasty if overpriced dinner.

More to come! Tomorrow I am chilling at the hotel pool and Friday I may head back to Jimbaran Bay to go to the beach there for the day and catch another sunset (but NOT eat Live Lobster).

Send me emails! They are fun to read…

Oh and here is a pic of me :) …


And another from the temple …


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