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Investing in Gemstones

If you are buying stones at retail prices from, say, a Jewelry shop, the only value to the investment will be your pleasure in the stones you buy - which may not be a bad thing. But understand that if you go to sell those gems, you are not likely to get more than 25%, or less, than what you paid for them.

Even at wholesale prices, there is still significant risk. For example Tanzanite that was around $500 per ct a few years ago is now $150 per ct. On the other hand, Tsavorite has increased from $250 per ct to perhaps as high as $1,000 per ct for larger sizes, in the same period.

Blue sapphires right now are at a comparatively low price. Even stones 5ct plus can be found at under $500 per ct (albeit with some treatment). Pink sapphires and rubies are at comparatively higher prices because of demand from China. While at the same time there are many very poor quality rubies, with intense heat and colour treatment, entering the market that seem quite cheap.

I believe there is good investment opportunity for Alexandrite, if you can find it. I was recently shown a beautiful 1.1ct stone with good red/green colour change at an asking price of $10,000, where the 'tourist' retail price was $35,000.

Are Women Bad at Poker?

Some women are bad at poker in the same way some men are bad at poker. For either gender there is a bell curve from 'terrible' to 'excellent'. Women may be bad at poker for different, gender based, reasons than men, and it is true that less women play poker than men, but that is all that can really be said.

My view however is that women have two distinct advantages playing against men, namely:

Poker is a game where you are trying to deceive your opponents in to thinking your hand is different to what it is. You want your opponents to think your hand is stronger than theirs if it is weaker, and weaker than theirs if it is stronger. The advantage for women is that they are better than men at detecting deception in men. (I admit I have no empirical proof of this, but I am pretty sure it is true).

Second; My observation is women playing against men will tend to get their bets and raises called much more than a man would, even if that man is a known loose player. Men just don't seem to like laying down a hand to a woman - this is especially true if the woman is young and/or good looking. While it means a woman will get her bluffs called more frequently, it also means she will get paid out on her good hands more often. If the female player knows this, she has a distinct advantage over her male opponents.

Best Hotel In Bangkok

I have to say it is the Mandarin Oriental. I have stayed at most of the 5 star properties in Bangkok over the years, and the Oriental tops them all in my opinion. It is excellent in every category, as its impressive list of awards attest:

The Gallivanters Guide, 2014
#1 Best Hotel in South East Asia + Editors Choice

Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards USA, 2014
#1 Best Hotel in Thailand

Travel + Leisure Award, 2014
#2 Top City Hotels in Asia

Conde Nast Traveler Gold List, 2014
Best for Food, Best for Service

Consistently on Gold List for over 20 years
Icon Award

Destinasian Readers’ Choice Awards, 2014
Best Hotel in Bangkok

Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, 2014
Top award Luxury Thailand

The Times, The Sunday Times & Sunday Times Travel Magazine, 2013
#1 Best Worldwide Hotel

Travellers World, 2013
#1 Best City Hotel in the World

Readers’ Travel Awards Conde Nast Traveller UK, 2013
#3 Best in Asia

Given the really, really high price of good hotels in Asia now (compared to a few years ago), the rate for the Mandarin is pretty reasonable.

Is Bangkok Safe?

I was in Bangkok in the middle of the 'riots' and during Military take over. I felt no less safe than at any other time - which is to say, very safe. With one notable exception; It was much safer to cross the road in the main city areas, because there was much less traffic.

Crossing a road in Asia, Bangkok in particular, can be a daunting experience if you are used to the 'well behaved' pedestrian aware traffic in Australia. Here are some tips for the first time traveler:

- do not think traffic will stop for you if you are using a crosswalk. Pedestrians on crosswalks are invisible to drivers in Bangkok
- don't assume traffic lights will be obeyed by all drivers, and expect them not to be obeyed by scooters
- if you have a green signal to cross the road, you still need to give way to turning traffic
- if a policeman directs you to cross, check the traffic first. Policemen are only slightly less invisible than pedestrians

The best way to cross the street is to wait next to a local and cross with them, making sure you are 'down-stream' of the traffic from them. But sometimes, even with a fair bit of experience now, I have found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then, the only thing I can do is hold up my hand, palm out to the traffic - the universal sign for 'sorry, dumb tourist crossing, please don't kill me', which has worked so far.

Best Single thing to do in Thailand

I had visited Thailand 5 or 6 times before I tried street food - an overcautious mistake. Forget the price for a moment, Thai street food is one of the best eating experiences in the world and for flavour and taste can match anything anywhere. And a full meal, including beer, will set you back about 200-400 Baht - $6-$12.

If you don't know a local to find you a good place, just walk down any street and look for somewhere lots of Thais are eating and you can't go wrong. The best dish to order is a river perch grilled over charcoal. The fish is cooked whole and stuffed with lemon grass and served with spicy sauce, lettuce leaves and fresh basil and coriander. To eat, lift off the skin, and scoop some of the delicious moist flesh onto a lettuce leaf, spoon on some spicy sauce and add a few basil and coriander leaves, then wrap up in the lettuce and eat.

Why should we wear gemstones?

Because they are beautiful. As well as being beautiful itself, a fine gemstone will draw eyes to the wearer and enhance their natural beauty. It will show the wearer as a person of discernment and good taste.

Gemstones are natural and unique and can never be vulgar or overstated. A gemstone will be a mote of colour in soft light and a flash of brilliance in strong light. It will enhance skin tones and soften lines.

Given as a gift, a gemstone is a great compliment, and when worn, returns the compliment to the giver.

Western Ground Parrot Survey - Fitzgerald National Park

Part of the DPaW (Department of Parks and Wildlife, previously CALM) charter is community involvement. One aspect of that is to take volunteers on Department project field trips - working trips - to assist with various monitoring activities.

And so it was that I found myself volunteering for a one week trip to the Fitzgerald River National Park for a wildlife survey, including listening for Western Ground Parrots.

Leaving Albany at 7am on Monday morning, we headed in convoy along South Coast Highway to Jerramungup and then a bit further east of there to the access road taking us into the central part of this huge national park. How huge is it? Just a bit shy of 1 million acres. From personal experience, many years ago, it takes a week to walk from end to end along the coast.

Once we left the highway, we drove for about half an hour on unsealed public roads to a gated track, then another half an hour along the DPaW access track to the campsite. I have to say, the logistics of the whole exercise was impressive. Not just for the great organisation, but the minimal impact policy that DePAW follows is a tribute to the caring dedication of its field officers. Ten people camped for a week - in reasonable comfort - and once we had packed to leave, you would have to look pretty hard to tell we were ever there.

Bird surveys are done at dawn and dusk. Or to be precise, starting one hour before dawn and from sunset to one hour after. This covers the morning and evening 'chorus', the cacophony when everything calls to everything else.

The way it works is this; at about 4am we wake up and head off, GPS in hand to our assigned position. Each person is placed at a point on a grid 400m apart. The grid typically starts 400m from the edge of the access track, to 1.2km in for the deepest point. Since it can take 30-40 minutes to trek to the grid point (still in the dark at this point), it means starting 2 hours before dawn to get to the point 1 hour before.

Once at the assigned point it is time to find a spot to stand where not too many Kangaroo ticks will find breakfast, get out the clip board, and wait for the dawn chorus to start. On the way to the drop-off points in the 4WD, we have been listening to Ground Parrot calls on CD, so we have the sound fresh in our heads.

All calls of note are recorded on running sheets, with precise times, direction, conditions and of course, location. Then, at sunrise, chorus over, we trek back to the track for pickup, back to the base camp, and breakfast.

During the day there are a number of other monitoring tasks to do, which include checking and resetting small animal traps and remote unit monitoring placement and pickup. Generally there is a bit of downtime after lunch, or an excursion to some place interesting. Then around is an early dinner before heading out to the same spot on the survey grid to arrive at sunset and listen for one hour and the evening chorus.

Finally for the day, we head back to the track in the dark, and then to camp to compare notes, finish the paperwork, a cuppa and, because we have been good, a chocolate biscuit. Then off to our tents for the night and a good six hours sleep before the next 3am start.

It has been 5 years since the last Western Ground Parrot call has been confirmed in the 'Fitz'. The consensus is that they are most likely extinct there now, leaving the only remaining population in the Cape Arid National Park. The purpose of this field trip was to visit locations where populations had been known to exist, to see if any had returned. Also, we placed several dozen remote listening units that will stay in the field for three months, to detect calls in other locations.

Sadly, our survey came up empty on this trip. Adding weight to the extinction possibility for this area. Also adding further critical need to the action required to secure the survival of the, very possibly, last remaining population of this species at Cape Arid.

Some notes on the 'Fitz':

My first foray into this area was on a Year 11 high school camp. We hiked from the west side to the east side of the park, taking six days in total as I recall. Our hiking song for the trip, sung to the tune of 'Land of Hope and Glory' went 'Land of rocks and blisters, land of gullies deep...' and 'harder still and harder, does the south wind blow, tent pegs fly like hail stones, will it bloody snow?'

The song, amusing to us at the time, did little justice to the raw beauty of this near pristine and unique environment.

Now, having both a greater appreciation and more well developed aesthetic sense for nature, it was easy to be lost in the moment, watching dawn's rosy fingers spread over East Mount Barren, bringing to life the vivid red, pink, blue and yellow wildflowers in bloom, and the morning chorus in full song.

Unit 7 Balneaire, Albany

I am staying at our unit in Albany for few days I am down here. The unit is part of the Belneaire Resort. As owners we get to use of for a couple of weeks each year, though I try to pick times when it isn't otherwise wanted by tourists.

For exercise I have been walking into town each morning, along the boardwalk at Middleton beach. This is a very pretty walk, with great views of Middleton Beach, King George Sound and Princess Royal Harbour opening up along the trail. There are also some side trails to very interesting historic sites, such as the old lighthouse keepers house, and WWI and WWII gun emplacements. It's an 8km return trip and even though I have done the walk about 10 times now, the views never seem to get boring.

We have started our own site for our until - www.unit7balneaire.com. It's not quite finished yet, and I plan to put a lot more scenic shots on there. What I am looking to do is show some of the less well knows, but very beautiful scenery of the region, as well as some tips for travelers of what I think is the best Albany has to offer.

Back to Albany and the Western Ground Parrot

I nominated for, and have been accepted as, Treasure for the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot. We sponsored this organisation heavily when I was at Exetel, and, post Exetel, I am keen to see its objective - to save the Western Ground Parrot species - realized.

Whether that can happen or not remains to be seen. There are only an estimated 110 of these birds left in the wild. The current 'rescue' plan hinges on effecting a captive breeding program, removal of feral predators, and re-release of birds bred in captivity.

At Exetel, we funded the trial for the captive breeding program, which involved the capture of 8 birds, conversion of a building to an aviary, and some other time and materials costs. But what we could afford, as a small company, only got us to the end of the trial - proving that yes, it is possible to run such a program on full scale.

Unfortunately, a full scale program is well beyond the means of a small business to fund.

I am going to Albany today to meet up with my fellow comity members, take up the reins as Treasure, and get a handle on just what level of funding is going to be needed. My guess is we will be looking at around $750k over maybe 5 years. A lot of money, a lot of money per bird in fact. But that is what happens at the very pointy end of extinction this species is facing.

Our 'ace in the hole' is that I think we can leverage off the fact that any money put into this project can have direct and measurable effect on species survival. Which is very good for potential sponsors who actually want to know, and get some green mileage, from what their conservation dollar is doing.

A bit of a change

I am expanding the scope of this blog to include other interests as well. Namely, gemstone and travel. To give a bit better continuity, I will gazette posts from other blogs and articles I have written to this site, and 'backdate' the post with the date it was originally posted.

If anything I write here is of interest to you, please feel free to 'friend' me on Facebook. Always happy to make new friends.

Cheers,

Steve

A Win is A Win

Picked up a nice little tournament win the today playing APL at the Ship & Dock Tavern.

I haven't played APL for a long time - swearing off the 'pub' tournaments several years ago because of the drunks and loudmouths that made the game fairly unpleasant. But, after a long hiatus, and wanting to improve my tournament game - cheaply - I have started playing again, with reasonable results.

The very fast blind structure of APL tournies does make it a crap shoot, with a huge inflection point when the blinds jump from 100/200 to 200/400. Almost everyone goes from average to short stack at that point. However, I am finding it does teach discipline in a couple of ways.

First, is to play tight in a loose game. Because you just don't get any looser than pub poker.

Second is Patience. Even as your chip stack dwindles beneath the pressure of blinds, even when you have only 3-4 blinds of chips left. Still hold on for a good hand. In fact in this tournament I won, at one point I had 3,500 chips with the blinds at 300/600. Checked to me on the button, I stole the blinds pushing all in with K,4 suited, doubled up with A,Q vs another all in from A,J, and then tripled up with and AA slow played, check raised pre flop and all in against two chip leaders, to become the new chip leader.

Now, if I had panicked and just shoved with, say J,9 in an earlier position, the result would have been quite different, and much worse. I think I got the timing pretty well spot on in this case though.

A nice win.

First Reason to Visit Sri Lanka

The reason speaks for itself if you have never been there. It is a unique place in the world and while becoming more popular for tourism, still has plenty of the 'off the beaten track' feel to it.

You can safely build an expectation of going to Sri Lanka and finding it unlike anywhere else. Sure, it is a bit like India, in the same way tea is a bit like coffee. But as a Sri Lankan once told me, there are at least 118 differences between a Sri Lankan and an Indian.

The culture of the land is very gentle and accommodating. People are helpful and courteous - in a sub continent way.

One time we were en-route to a place several hours travel out of the city when the car we were in broke down. The driver pulled over and we got out to wait on the side of the road for a replacement vehicle. Without askance, locals from nearby bought us some chairs, glasses of cool water and a shade umbrella to sit under. None of them had much English, but their smiling happy faces made it clear they were just happy to offer a bit of kindness to strangers. It was really nice.

Being, literally, a tropical paradise, Sri Lankans aren't too bothered by anything much. Life is good for most, and that is the feeling that pervades the land.

Reasons 2-6 to Visit Sri Lanka

There are many more, such as scenery, ancient temples, beaches and elephants. But since I never get out of Colombo, these are what I like:

2. The curries. You _think_ you have had a good curry, but wait until you try a Sri Lankan Fish curry or Cucumber and Cashew curry. Sri Lankans make the best curries in the world, no doubt about it.

2. Clothes. Garments are a major export of Sri Lanka, many top brands are made there, such as Ralph Lauren, Cargo and others. You can get designer jeans/pants and shirts from around $12. Or local band names (almost certainly from the same factories and as well made) like Odel for half that.

3. Fine China. Noritake is made in Sri Lanka and you can buy direct from the factory showroom in Colombo. Absolutely beautiful designs on the finest porcelain and bone china. Nothing is pre-packaged, you can buy whole settings or piece by piece, then watch each piece being wrapped and packed ready for you to take back. Best I can make out, you pay about half the price you would if you bought from a department store.

4. Sapphires! If you can find the right place, you can get 4-5 carat flawless natural blue sapphires for under US$1,000 per carat. Rubies of the deepest colour under US$2,000 per carat. Other stones like aquamarine or citrine of exceptional size (like 10 carats +) and quality in the US$20-$40 range. Zams and Carimms have showrooms in the Colombo Hilton. Some of the pieces will just blow you away with their beauty. You CAN NOT even see stones like this in even the best jewelry shops here, and if you do they are going to cost you 5 times what you would pay in Colombo.

5. Cost. A hotel car with driver for the day will cost about $50. The most expensive hotel in Colombo is the Hilton - full 5 stars, rooms start from $155 per nigh including breakfast. Pay a bit more and get a room on the Executive floor, which has a butler for the floor. Pay around $300 for a room, and you will get a suite with your own butler, who will come with you when you go out (if you want), and make sure you get the best prices and the best deals, as well as direct you to the best sights and places to eat and shop.

So go to Sri Lanka and have a great time. And tip. Tipping isn't expected and you will get excellent service anywhere you go anyway, but if you tip it is genuinely appreciated and it will make the very nice time you will have just that much better. I usually tip around 100-200 rupees ($1-2) for valet or waiters, and 500-1000 rupees ($5-$10) if I have a driver for the half day/day. Doing that you can be sure you will be very, very well looked after, steered away from the tourist traps and see the absolute best Sri Lanka has to offer.

The 7th Reason to Visit Sri Lanka

Remember the tea your grandmother used to make? Remember the old tea crates it came in? A strong, rich brew you could smell through the house while it was drawing in the pot.

Tea now is a pale imitation of that. Tea bags - forget it. But even the loose leaf tea from quality manufacturers still just doesn't seem to cut it, does it?

Well my friend, I have news for you. Tea like that is still made and in Colombo you can buy a 100g vacuum packed tin of the best single plantation high altitude tea for around Rs. 250 ($2.50).

In the olden days, before vacuum packing, it used to be shipped as the full leaf, because a broken leaf would oxidize faster and not be as rich by the time it got to the pot in another country.

About the time I remember my Grandmothers tea from, the leaves were broken, but into larger 'chunks', and shipped in big tea crates sealed with tin foil. The larger crates reduced the surface area to volume ratio, so the tea arrived fresh.

The smaller the leaf is broken, the richer the tea - if it can remain very fresh.

The best Ceylon tea is called 'Orange Pekoe' - OP, and when grown above 6,500 feet is considered (by some) to have the best flavours.

Broken Orange Pekoe - BOP is when the leaf is more broken up, and gives a darker and richer brew. It also contains a lot of leaf tips, which is where the flavours are most concentrated.

BOP Fannings, or BOPF is a finer grade again, with very small leaves and produces a very dark, rich and full bodied brew. Nana's tea, just as I remember it.

Vacuum packing allows that to happen because with it, very small leaves can retain their freshness for a very long time.

Depending on the area, the altitude and the plantation, the flavour will vary just like fine wine. The differences are apparent as subtle overtones of vanilla, mint, 'grassyness', 'earthyness' and even caramel and berry. Well, that is what I taste anyway.

Anywhere you go in Sri Lanka, you will always be offered tea. Never refuse - the Sri Lankan's know their tea and many come from, or have ties to, a family plantation and have access to what I think of as 'special family reserve' grades that you can't buy anywhere. You are going to be in for a treat every time.

Post WSOP - Cash Games

5 days to go in Vegas after my exit from the WSOP. Freemont Street filled in and afternoon and evening, just love that area. Gambling is cheap, booze is cheap, entertainments is good and so is the food. I thought I would sit in for a few hands at the Binion's poker room, but, can you believe it, completely empty. I guess everyone was at the Rio.

Back on the Strip, I was looking for a poker room. Aria was closest, lots of tables, and spread a $1/3 game. However also very very popular, with a wait time of 1 1/2 to 2 hours for a seat. Next door is the Monte Carlo. It has a smaller room, only 6 tables, but spreads a $1/2 game, and had a seat for me right away - Perfect.

There were a couple of other WSOP ex-hopefuls at my table. A lady to my left even mentioned she had backers for her buy in (which made me think about the possibility for the future, perhaps). Anyway, the table played pretty tight and small ball, I guess peoples heads we still in tournament mode. It suited me though, while I made the adjustment to a cash game.

For my first session I played for just over 6 hours. I had my stack up to $700 at one stage, from my $300 buy in. I really should learn to quit at those 'large stack' points, but I never do, because the game always seems good.

Just an aside on that - plenty of times I have built up a stack to 2-3 times my buy in, in the first few hours of play. Then, over the subsequent hours, see it chipped away, often to nothing. Yet my play is as good as it was and the table stays pretty much the same. Sometimes I can put it down to suckouts and bad beats, but that can't account for all the times. I am starting to form a theory that, in the first few hours, no one really knows how I play or any tells or leaks I have. But after that, the better players start to figure them out. If that is the case, then it is a major leak I will have to plug.

Back to the story...

I like the Monte Carlo poker room, I played there for maybe 40 hours in total. The dealers are good, the room is well run, the stakes are in my range and most importantly, I always got a seat straight away.

So, I have $700 through tight and conservative play. It is getting late and some novice players join the table, including a couple of drunks. The table loosens up and I decide to keep playing tight but take advantage of any situations that arise.

On the button I see AA. Often hard to get paid out with that hand on the button, but there is a raise and a re-raise before it gets to me. I don't see any advantage in slow playing here, both raisers are pretty loose, and I am figuring on at least one call to a four-bet. So I pop it up by a healthy amount, about $60 I think.

The big blind, who is the lady who said she was staked for the main event, calls, and both initial raisers fold. I figure her for KK, QQ or possibly AK suited. She is pretty tight.

The flop is great for aces, 10 8 3 rainbow. Also I think it is great for me to get paid out on the likely hands my opponent has, except maybe AK.

My opponent checks. If I don't bet here it will look suspicious, and I figure she may be putting me on high pairs, AK, AQ or AJ, and looking to trap when I c-bet. So I oblige her and bet about 1/3 of the pot, call it $50. Sure enough she check raises me to $100. Ok, the pot is big enough, time to show I am not bluffing and take it down now.

I raise again to $250. My opponent thinks for a moment and shoves all in.

Hmmm.

Always give a lady credit for a hand is a maxim that has saved me money in the past. The flop is also safe for her KK, QQ type hands, but she must also put me on something like that too. There is no way she called a 4-bet with 10 8, or even J 9. What is she up to? We have been playing the same table for several hours, so we both have each other pegged as pretty tight. Her stack is about the same as mine, though a similar style of play.

I have to think about it for a while. I don't know what she has, but something is wrong and I am pretty sure I am beat.

I fold my aces face up. The table gasps.

'Good fold' she says, and mucks her pocket eights face up too. Which makes me very happy with the laydown. Thinking after though, I don't think the way she played it was very good. She said she didn't want to see another card so she shoved. But what was she afraid of? There were no plausible draws on the board, so the only hands I could really have were over-pairs, trip threes or trip 10's. If I had the 10s she was already beat, and anything else she was a massive favourite to my one or two outs. If she had just called my raise instead of shoving, it is very likely she could have got my whole stack by the river.

I ended that session only $100 up. Could have been worse.