Sunday, October 6, 2019


As I described, a very sporadically updated blog :) What's new? Family is doing well, just got back from a trip to Tokyo, which was productive (for work) and fun. Michigan, despite the a woeful offensive effort, had a big win vs Iowa which I was actually able to radio livestream on my trans-Pacific flight (technology!).

I've been listening to more podcasts and one of my favorites is the Knowledge Project, some really neat interview content. Some interviews are quite long (1.5h plus) though. Techwise, been focused on Machine Learning and Site Reliability Engineering content and books. Bookwise, some stuff I've read recently:

  • Principles (Ray Dalio) - in progress, but very good. Have gleaned lots of great ideas from here whereas most biz/productivity books you may get one or two.
  • Overtime (John Bacon) - for Michigan football fans, another dive into the JH regime. I enjoyed it!
  • Elon Musk (Vance) - entertaining read, I like "bios".
  • Imajica (Barker) - recommended by a friend, classic sci-fi, pretty good.
  • Player of Games and Consider Phlebas ( Ian Banks) - another friend reco, very entertaining as well. I think Amazon is making a series or movie of these, very curious how they'll produce.
Streaming wise, Netflix and Amazon have gotten so good at producing great content. Stuff we've watched and enjoyed the past couple of years include:
  • Stranger Things
  • OA (yes, season one ended frustratingly "bad", but season two was amazing)
  • GLOW - surprisingly very good!
  • Travelers - super disappointed they cancelled, great series!
  • Man in the High Castle - either you really like it or find it too boring
  • Dark Matter - was a guilty pleasure, kind of a mix/ripoff of STNG and Firefly, but liked it and disappointed to see it cancelled
  • Colony - never watched it live but saw it on Netflix, also disappointed it just was cancelled!
  • Lost in Space - cool remake
  • Altered Carbon - may read book series
  • Ascension - mini-series, bummed it was never made into a full series
  • The Expanse - very glad Amazon picked this up
  • Jack Ryan - first season was surprisingly very good, excited for season 2
  • The Americans - awesome show, highly recommended, maybe my favorite of the past several years
  • GoT - everyone watches, last couple of seasons felt rushed and half-done, but still good
  • Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee - hit or miss, but some really great/funny episodes
Probably others I'm forgetting but just too many shows. Anyway, until another year or two :)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Instant Pot (not really instant)

During Amazon Prime Day 2016, I made an impulse purchase of the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker - IIRC, it was 30 or 35% off the normal $99 so a decent deal.  Well, I've only used it twice in the past 10 months.  I was browsing TV last week and saw the similar "Pressure Cooker XL" on an infomercial with all sorts of crazy recipes - given the family has been eating out so much I figured it's time to dust the IP off and cook a couple dinners.

One thing to realize about the IP (or any electric pressure cooker) is that it can take time, sometimes a long time, for the pressure to build before it actually starts cooking.  So when you see commercials touting "beef in under 10 minutes!", that's pressure cooking time, not total wall-clock time.  If you're throwing in frozen or cold food, it can take over 30m for heat and pressure to build!  This obviously makes sense and is still way faster than crockpot cooking.  For example, the first recipe I tried last year was this simple Colombian Chicken - total time was over an hour, but super easy prep.

Anyway, I did some Google searching and cooked two IP dinners this week:

1. Chicken and Brown Rice (warning, the webpage is busy as heck and loads tons of other garbage)

The family ate both and actually liked them (success!).  I thought both were very tasty as well, though probably didn't add enough salt/pepper to the chicken recipe.  Both required you to saute (onions or beef) as prep, but that can be done right in the IP and is super fast.  The benefit is that the IP and some ingredients are already hot, making pressure buildup much faster.  I was able to complete (from start to serving hot) the spaghetti dish in under 30m and I'm a fairly slow veggie chopper.  The chicken was easier to prep but took longer to cook for me since I just pulled the chicken from the fridge cold (probably around an hour total).

I'm a big fan of various chicken and stewed tomato recipes so am going to morph #1 above to use stewed tomatoes next time.  Next recipe will be something with ribs :)  I have yet to try any desert recipes but may queue one up as well.

Overall happy with the IP.  Seems to be pretty easy to cook with and the results are surprisingly great.  It is also very easy to clean and really doesn't take up much space.  One could argue about total time to cook, but I like the one-pot aspect of the IP w/o complete babysitting.  I guess we'll see how much I use it in the next year!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Six Flags Gurnee Illinois

My kids had a couple free tickets from school to Six Flags (Gurnee IL) so we decided last minute to head up yesterday.  Their website was inexplicably down but Jewel Osco has adult tickets for $50 each.  Anyway, we got there around 1:30 and it was pretty damn hot already, around 90 degrees.  Like most theme parks these days, they have "fast" or "flash" passes - if available, you pay a premium per person and you are able to skip much/most/all of line for certain rides.  I've bought these before, most recently at Universal Studios in Orlando, but they were very pricey there.

Given our lateness and the summer heat, and because one of my kids loves roller coasters (which always happen to have 1-2h waits), I bought a couple flash passes [1].  While it was definitely worth it (more on that), I actually felt guilty at times.  I mean, some of the lines were ridiculous and the flash pass line is usually right next to the mob of hot people waiting...and you just waltz by. We never had these at a kid and I still remember the long waits at Cedar Point, Kings Island or Canada's Wonderland.  I've put my kids through that already but no sense in teaching them the same lesson over and over.

I'm very happy with the gold level pass we bought - while it was $70 per person (almost 50% more than the ticket price!), there is no way we would have been able to hit every major ride in the ~8h we had available.  The passes we bought worked out perfectly where we could go ride to ride with very minimal wait.  The higher level pass is only worth it if you're trying to turbo OR want to do repeats immediately.  The alternative to spending all that money is to just upgrade to a season pass for another $30 - however, you have to keep coming back to the park and pay $25 to park per visit.  Not worth it for me (plus we probably drank about 2 gallons of pop yesterday).

How I'd rank the roller coasters:

  1. Superman - super unique in that they tilt you parallel to the ground so you're flying like superman.  The loop is nutty too.  Really fun experience. Definitely my son's fave.
  2. Raging Bull - very smooth and fun ride, one of the best coasters I've been on in a while.  I actually liked it just as much as Superman.
  3. Goliath - also crazy fun.  We actually got stuck on the first ascent for like 15m, that was a bit disconcerting.  That aside, this wooden hybrid coaster was sick - it's like a 85 degree drop and you go upside down with no shoulder straps!
  4. Vertical Velocity - basically like a big U.  Fast and fun, pretty unique in that it's the first time I rode this type.
  5. Batman - floorless looping coaster - smooth as well but lots of loops.  I'm not a huge fan of too many but my son loved it.
  6. X-Flight - pretty unique but nothing really exciting.  I had my strap on too tight which probably lowered my experience.
  7. Whizzer - my daughter LOVED this "family" coaster.  Just exciting enough for her to get a thrill as she scares easily, but fun.
  8. Dark Knight - not a fan, basically like an old "Wildcat" (or Goofy Sky School from Disney CA Adventure) two-car ride with lots of strong U-turns but in darkness.
  9. Viper - pretty old ride and shakes your head around as if you've been head-banging in a mosh pit.  My son liked it but I won't go on it again.
  10. American Eagle - atrociously bad on the body.  An old (has to be from the 70s) old wooden coaster that sounds rickety as heck, I kept thinking we'd break off the track.  Probably the worst roller coaster I've been on ever.  My body was aching and jostled riding that.  Can't believe it's in still in service.
We skipped the Demon because I already knew it was also old as dirt and would rattle my body too much.  I was impressed that they had so many good ones, we'll have to compare to Cedar Point if we go later this year!

[1] Six Flags has three levels, we got the middle tier which basically allowed you to reserve a time in the future based on half the current wait time.  You could only reserve one ride at a time based on this pager unit you carried.  For example, if it was 2PM and the current wait time for Raging Bull was 1h, it would "reserve" 2:30 and we could arrive anytime after 2:30 and "skip" the line.  You don't get put right to the front, usually just to the final leg of the line but it cuts down the wait to ~15m max, with most of the time being around 5m.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Acura MDX DVD broken...and the internets save me 2 grand!

We sadly realized during our roadtrip to Florida last year that the built-in DVD player to our 2006 Acura MDX wasn't working - screen was dead but the control unit still had the digital display.  At the time I thought (hoped) it was just a fuse but replacing that didn't help.  Fast forward to last month - during some routine maintenance, I also asked the shop to check out the DVD unit - they diag it and say it's an electrical problem, basically would cost around 2K to order a new replacement and install.

Well, I know my kids like watching movies on road trips but I'm not dropping 2K to be able to play some movies on an infrequent basis, especially on a ten year old car!  So, I turn to my attention to scouring the interwebs for solutions.  I've had success with pick and pulls before - basically pulling/buying parts you need from "junkyards".  They've modernized and you can find stuff all over the web.  Still, that will run around $600-$800 dollars for a used unit and there are all sorts of software security hoops to go through, plus the plastic may not even match your car (fading, etc).

More searching and I find a thread on MDXers [1] with others experiencing same problem.  Turns out some curious owner (aka HockeyDog) removed the embedded unit, took it apart, and found that the ribbon cable between the control unit and screen is highly susceptible to partial ripping if the screen is opened/closed to frequently and roughly (and yes, my kids and nephews loved opening and closing that screen for whatever reason, probably the big button).  He tracked down a third party cable parts supplier direct from Thailand (because neither Acura nor Panasonic, who actually makes it, will sell you just the ribbon) that sold a replacement ribbon.  He also posted how he opened and repaired the unit (yay).  While somewhat dubious, I was able to track this supplier on Ebay and order the ribbon for a whopping $12.99 including shipping.  I figured, worst case, I'm out a lunch (in Palo Alto haha) and 1-2 hours of my time.

Anyway, part comes in, I take apart my DVD unit following HockeyDog's instructions and yeah, I see the design flaw.  I really love my MDX but the DVD design for this ribbon is poor and near guaranteed to break over time. Anyway, I install the new ribbon - put the unit back together and reinstall, pop in Pacific Rim...and voila, I'm seeing Jaegers taking down Kaijus!  Kids and wife are happy, high fives all around.  Thanks HockeyDog, whoever your are, you just saved me (and a ton of other MDXers I imagine) a nice chunk of change.  The internets come through again!


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Force Awakens...sigh (but not the movie)

Being a huge Star Wars fan, I was excited for the new episode seven, The Force Awakens.  I'm also a fan of JJ Abrams and liked what he did for the Star Trek reboots.  I very purposefully spent the preceding year avoiding any news articles and spoiler talk other than the officially published teasers and trailers.

Unfortunately, I couldn't go opening day Friday due to my kids' schedules but got seats for the first Monday afterwards.  Anyway, I'm at my son's basketball tourney on the weekend lounging between games - two kids are sitting next to me and before I know it, one of them blurts out the major spoiler of the movie (which anyone who's seen it would know!).  Sigh, so much for no spoilers.  I felt like the dad in the World Cup "spoiler" commercial last year.

Ah well, still a great movie IMO.  Yeah, I get they "rebooted" it but I thought it was cast well with a lot of nice refs to the original.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Road Warrior Year

I've logged a pretty eye-popping 5000+ miles driving the latter half of 2015.  This included vacaction road trips from Chicago to Florida and Michigan, as well as one from mid Florida to Northern California (to move my parents nearer).  The vacation ones were more for my kids' experience as I had fond memories of road trips down to Florida from Michigan as a child.  As an adult, yes, it's a haul, but still great family time.  That said, I probably have a limit of "road trip" miles on me and we'll resort to flying for the next long hauls!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Montara Mountain Hike at McNee Ranch State Park

As today was a holiday for A9 (unfortunately, not for Amazon), I decided to embark on a hike.  I was in awfully poor shape for my last hockey game, with way too much huffing and puffing after each shift, so decided to do something a bit more strenuous.  After scouring the internets, I decided on McNee Ranch's Montara Mountain [1].  It was a bit longer than I had wanted (at around 8m) but the literature said it was "moderately strenuous".

I learned a long time back that if you need to go up Highway 1, avoid 92 like the plague unless you go really early (like before 8AM), otherwise it gets packed and it could take you 2h to just reach HMB.  Thus, I came in from the north and promptly parked at the wrong trailhead (Grey Whale Cove) and started my ascent.  I fortunately realized this within about 5m and headed back down to my car and drove another minute south to the proper trailhead "lot" (more like a pullout with space for 5 cars), which was full.  Fortunately, there's another larger lot on the west side of Highway 1 a bit south; this was pretty empty at 8:50AM.

After a careful, but short, walk up Highway 1, the hike was on!  The hike is mostly a fire road and about 8m round-trip.  It's not overly steep but steep enough to feel :)  I did some running bursts on the way up at times, but didn't want to blow my legs out given the length and unfamiliar territory.  You get some really nice views on the way up and at the peak.  Unfortunately, it was a bit fogged out on the ocean side on this day.  Here's a pic at the peak:

It took me around 1:10 to reach peak and less to come back, though I was also jogging at times on the way down.  If you were just hiking, it's probably be 2.5-3h depending on how fast you can go up steep hills :)  This is not a good trail running hike though as the ground is pretty uneven and very hard - be careful if running.  Also watch out for mountain bikers on the way back.  There weren't many today but I read they sometimes come barreling down.

Overall, a good workout hike and some nice views to boot.  While longer, the difficulty was close to Mission Peak, but without the ridiculous heat.  Not as hard as Black Mountain.  Finally, I'd recommend getting to the lot at least by 9:30AM on weekends - when I got back around 11, the lot was completely full.