Monday, December 29, 2014

an impromptu trip to Reno

The year is ending on a high note as my parents and I went on a two-day trip to Reno for a concert over the weekend. The trip was almost completely free. :-)

I'll start with some background: my mother frequently writes for a Chinese culinary magazine called Distinctive Taste. The magazine's general manager recently gave away two tickets for a Denise Ho and Shirley Kwan concert to each of the major contributors. The hotel costs were covered, meaning it was an all-expenses-paid vacation!

Day 1

The first stop was Eileen's house in El Cerrito as we had some things to give her. The Tangs were thrilled to see us even though we couldn't stay long. Our party also went to the Costco in Citrus Heights for gas and samples, as well as an antique store in the area. It wasn't too late when we arrived in Reno despite the traffic.

We went to the Grande Exposition Hall to pick up the tickets after checking into Silver Legacy Reno. The venue was conveniently located just across the street. I had planned to explore the hotel on my own or play RuneScape while Mom and Dad attended the gig. However, the general manager saw me with my parents and gave us a third ticket so we could listen to the concert together. That was definitely super nice of him.

The three of us played the slots for about 15 minutes before returning to the venue. The attendance was huge. Everyone was given glow sticks at the door; that was really cool. The songs were largely in Cantonese; although we didn't understand most of the lyrics, the concert was fairly enjoyable.

The event lasted longer than expected, ending around 11 p.m. All of us were too excited to go to sleep just yet and spent another two hours at the slots before heading back to our room. It was well past 1 a.m. when we finally got to bed!

Day 2

Having had so much fun at the casino the day before, we decided to hit the slots again after lunch. Our luck wasn't spectacular as we lost around $36 in total, but as the saying goes, the house always wins. Well, almost always.

Speaking of which, Mom and I bumped into Lily from Henry's film club while at the casino. I also got to meet her daughters Jessica and Jasmine. Talk about a small world.

It was soon time to begin our drive home. Dad found three antique stores along the route; Mom bought some fine china that she liked, along with several high-quality sweaters. As per tradition, the three of us also went to WinCo Foods in Vacaville for groceries. The last stop was a Burger King in Fairfield for dinner. The place had some bad Yelp reviews, but we ate there anyway as it was pretty late.

Conclusions

While I'm not a big fan of concerts, this one was no doubt memorable. I'd say playing the slots was overall the best part of the trip even though we lost a record $36 this time. The vacation was quite awesome despite being only one night long, especially considering that most of the costs were covered. I've posted some pictures on Flickr.

Currently listening to: "Dela" by Johnny Clegg

Monday, December 15, 2014

an exciting and well-earned holiday break

After finding out I had several vacation days that don't carry over to next year, I've decided to take the rest of December off. It's certainly nice to relax after working so hard!

Christmas break is looking to be really awesome. The Tangs have invited my family to lunch at a nice restaurant in Berkeley this Friday. Mom has also received two free tickets to a Chinese concert in Reno and definitely won't pass that up. Last but not least, three other families are coming over for New Year's Eve. I'm so excited!

Currently watching: Maleficent

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thanksgiving long weekend report

"The thing about Thanksgiving is that it makes you wish you had a bigger stomach." -- Ruth

The long weekend was awesome as my parents and I went to two gatherings and ate lots of good food. It had to be one of our best breaks ever. Read on to find out more!

Thursday

Thanksgiving was pretty fun as our family friend Henry had us over for dinner. Given that it was going to be a busy evening, I spent much of the afternoon listening to online lectures. There was some free time afterwards, during which I watched Superman: Unbound on the Amazon Fire TV.

The party itself totally rocked. The nice thing is that there were several young people; not only were Henry's daughters Ruth and Connie both home, they also had one of their cousins and a couple of friends over. I certainly enjoyed meeting them.

Of course, no Thanksgiving party is complete without lots of tasty food. The Changs treated us to lobster and crab while the Tings brought a turkey dinner from Whole Foods Market. Mom made some of her famous red bean buns as Henry has always been a huge fan of her cooking. The seafood was by far the best part of the meal, although there were all kinds of other good stuff, such as Ruth's homemade butternut squash soup. I was so full that I didn't get to try everything!

The girls invited me to play board games with them after dinner. Let me tell you, Cranium is damn hard if you don't have Wikipedia memorized. We then played Scattergories, and the hilarious thing is that Ruth's boyfriend Steven kept coming up with all those dirty answers. I guess being less than classy has its merits because Steven ultimately won. All of us had such a good time that the party didn't end until well past midnight!

This year, I'm thankful for all the great things that happened in the summer, particularly my cousin Connie's wedding in Pasadena. It was something I had eagerly anticipated, especially considering that I never get invited to weddings. Seeing Connie get married wasn't the only highlight; the San Francisco field trip and my 10-year high school reunion were also quite exciting.

Friday

The local Chinese newspaper had a coupon for a highly-rated Indian restaurant in Millbrae called The Third Eye. The deal was too good to pass up, so we went there for lunch. The coupon turned out to be valid only for dinner, but that wasn't an issue because there was another discount. The buffet was limited but otherwise delicious. I'd say The Third Eye is worth a future visit.

Having done so much the day before, I studied for most of the rest of the afternoon. The evening wasn't too bad as we watched the 1949 film Le Silence de la mer for Henry's film club.

Saturday

Being short on groceries, the three of us went shopping at Costco in the morning. From our experience, Costco usually has lots of samples the weekend after Thanksgiving. There were relatively few samples this time; however, that's probably because we arrived a little earlier than usual.

Later in the evening was the film club meeting. Everyone had a good time discussing Le Silence de la mer while enjoying the snacks. This felt like an extension of the Thanksgiving party to me. I got a bad headache afterwards for some reason, but that fortunately went away after a good night's sleep.

Sunday

I spent much of Sunday studying as the rain made it impossible to go hiking. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on the Amazon Fire TV in the afternoon. While I liked Rise of the Planet of the Apes more, Dawn was nevertheless a good movie.

All in all, the Thanksgiving break was absolutely amazing. I can't wait for New Year's Eve. In the meantime, I've posted some pictures from the long weekend at Flickr.

Currently watching: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Monday, October 27, 2014

Check out the new Fire TV Stick from Amazon!

You may remember that Amazon released the Fire TV set-top box this past April. That was definitely one of the highlights of my career. I'm thrill to say that we just announced the Fire TV Stick this morning!

The Fire TV Stick is similar to the Fire TV in terms of functionality but has a smaller form factor. At only $39 each, the device is cheaper than the Roku and Chromecast. Though it starts shipping in November, you can pre-order it right now. On top of that, Amazon Prime members can get the Fire TV Stick for $19 - which is less than half price. Just make sure to be quick as the Amazon Prime deal only lasts two days. :-)

Disclaimer: Amazon did not pay me to make this post. I only speak as a user.

Friday, October 10, 2014

my last year as a twenty-something

Happy 29th birthday to me!

It's hard to believe I'll be three decades old next year. Holy crap. Time goes way too fast these days.

Having gotten up a little earlier than usual, I helped my father plant a jujube tree in the morning. Dad says there was no better time add the tree to our backyard. The container was heavier than expected, but we eventually managed to get the job done. Although jujube trees are uncommon in North America, the climate here should support them.

The nice thing is that Nob Hill Foods gave me a free six-pack of cupcakes. I then bought six more so there would be enough to share with my co-workers. It was great to have people tell me how good the cupcakes were.

We also invited Sheila, Jeff and the Changs over for dinner. This wasn't actually a birthday party per se - seeing that Shiela and her partner have shown an interest in joining Henry's film club, Mom felt this would be an excellent way for the two couples to get acquainted. There were lots of delicious food, and the gathering was overall lots of fun. Things couldn't have worked out better.

I should probably head to bed as I have a money management class tomorrow morning. That said, I'm sure the rest of the weekend will be just as awesome. :-)

Currently playing: Angry Birds Star Wars II

Friday, September 12, 2014

level 60 on Newgrounds!

I never thought this would happen, but my Newgrounds account finally reached level 60 after all those years. For those unaware, Newgrounds is a website that hosts games, animations, music and digital art. Getting level 60 requires a total of 38,640 experience points; given that users can only gain up to 10 points per day under normal circumstances, this took around 13 years on and off. Damn, I really spend too much time on that site. ^_^

Currently watching: Her

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Labor Day long weekend report + an incredible summer

I had an awesome Labor Day weekend, starting with a party Saturday night. As our new friend Sheila had recently treated us to dinner, my parents figured this would be the perfect opportunity to return the favor. Having greatly enjoyed Howard's company three weeks ago, they invited his family over as well. The gathering was lots of fun, especially with all the good food. I've posted a few pictures here.

Sunday was relatively uneventful as I mostly listened to online lectures; there wasn't much else to do besides play RuneScape and Angry Birds Epic during breaks. However, Labor Day itself wasn't too bad as we went hiking near Woodside. The plan was to go to Half Moon Bay afterwards, but the heat made us change our minds. On the other hand, I watched The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on the Amazon Fire TV in the evening. The action was intense!

Summer in review

The rest of summer also rocked. July began with a visit from my aunts Jill and Yu-Hua. Figuring that we had to do something special, Dad took all of us to Reno and Tahoe just after they arrived. The five of us then went to Pasadena for Connie's wedding two weeks later. Seeing my cousin get married to the love of her life was by far the highlight of the summer.

August began with the annual Lab126 family picnic on the 9th before Sheila had us over for dinner later that evening. We then went on a field trip to San Francisco with Henry's film club on the 17th. I also went to my 10-year high school reunion on the 23rd. Last but not least, summer ended with this long weekend. Just because I had to work didn't mean we didn't have fun!

In other news...

I recently joined the World Financial Group's money management program at the recommendation of Min, my former supervisor at Cisco. The classes cover topics related to personal finance and are no doubt pretty useful.

Currently watching: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Sunday, August 24, 2014

on high school reunions

The Los Altos High School class of 2004 had its 10-year reunion last night. It took place at a microbrewery in Mountain View called Tied House. This was super exciting as I hadn't gotten in touch with most of my LAHS classmates outside of Facebook since graduation.

I counted about 50 people, including significant others. The gathering was lots of fun even though only about 12% of the graduating class came. While there were some unfamiliar faces, that's probably because we never had the same teacher. At any rate, I had a great time reconnecting with people, even those I didn't regularly talk to in high school. Oh yeah, and lots of girls gave me hugs - couldn't complain about that. ^_^

One of the math teachers (the father of one of the students) came to join us later in the evening. Although I never took any of Mr. Randall's classes, having a teacher show up was pretty cool. Some of my classmates decided to take the party to another pub after Tied House closed for the night. I didn't want to stay up too late and went home at this point. That said, the reunion totally rocked. I'd like to thank Derek and his fiancée Jody for organizing this amazing event, and Preeti, Charline et al. for making it all possible.

The biggest downside is that I didn't get to see all of my classmates. The venue was also somewhat crowded at times. Yet neither of those made the reunion any less fun. I definitely wish those four hours hadn't gone by so quickly. One thing for sure is that we need to get together more often!

I didn't take too many pictures as the limited space made it difficult to get individual shots of people, but here they are.

Currently watching: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I left my heart in San Francisco

"Dealing with other drivers in San Francisco is almost like going to war." -- Mom

Today was lots of fun as my family went to San Francisco with Henry's movie club. The purpose of the field trip was to see some of the locations where the 1958 film Vertigo was shot. Though it was somewhat exhausting as we were out for almost 14 hours, all of us had an amazing time.

We had to start out early due to potential congestion along the route. The drive went pretty well; not only was there less traffic than anticipated, my parents and I actually ended up being the first to arrive. The three of us then headed to Portsmouth Square to wait for the other families. The San Francisco Chinatown Ping Pong Festival was being held at the plaza, and even mayor Ed Lee was there!

Once everyone showed up, the tour began with a walk on the Barbary Coast Trail. Our party visited several points of interest in the area, such as Saints Peter and Paul Church and the Cable Car Museum. The latter contained the cable car power house; that was really cool for sure.

All of us then had a short rest at Fairmont San Francisco before deciding where to go next. The hotel was impressive - both inside and outside - although I'm not too keen to find out the rates. The last stop of the morning was the beautiful Grace Cathedral. One interesting feature of the church was the labyrinth outside the entrance. Going to the center of the maze was a workout in itself.

The group split up for lunch; my family and several others went to a Chinese restaurant called Imperial Palace. Everyone was super hungry as it was well past noon. Let's just say it was like feeding a pack of half-starved wolves when the food arrived. While the prices were somewhat high, the food overall wasn't too bad.

Several families went home after the meal, leaving only nine of us. The later points of interest were farther apart, meaning there was more driving than walking. The second half of the tour began with a visit to Mission San Francisco de Asís. Founded just before the U.S. declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, the mission is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco. We then went to the nearby Palace of Fine Arts but didn't actually go inside due to time constraints.

Up next was Fort Point, located at the base of Golden Gate Bridge. The fort had just closed for the evening, but we stayed in the parking lot for a while to enjoy the cool ocean breeze. The next destination was the Legion of Honor; as the museum was also closed, all we did was look at the outdoor artworks. The afternoon concluded at the makeshift memorial outside the home where the late Robin Williams once lived. It was touching to see that so many people cared about him.

The plan was to head to another Chinese restaurant for dinner. However, my father had such a hard time finding a parking spot that we almost decided not to stay. Mom was about to call Henry to tell him we were leaving when Dad found a place to park at the last minute. Our group then had dinner together before going separate ways. The food wasn't that good, but at least Mom was able to take a break from cooking.

Due to all the traveling, my parents and I were totally exhausted when we got home. MapMyRun says we walked a total of around 12 miles - which is a new record for us. I'd say that burned off quite a few calories. :-)

On the whole, this had to be one of our best day trips ever. I had no idea San Francisco could be so much fun. I'm hoping similar events are planned for the future. In the meantime, you can see pictures from the field trip here.

In other news...

Only six more days until my 10-year high school reunion. I'm so excited!

Update: The pictures are online.

Currently listening to: "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett

Sunday, August 10, 2014

two parties and a rummage sale!

Saturday started out much like a year ago: my parents and I went to a rummage sale at a local church in the morning. I didn't see that many things for sale this time, but it was fun to look at what was available.

Yesterday was also the annual Lab126 family picnic. Seeing that the event didn't start until noon, I studied for a bit before we headed to Coyote Ranch in Morgan Hill. Like at the previous picnics, there were lots of food and drinks. The Coyote Ranch staff again put on games for families. One of this year's activities was bingo; that was pretty fun even though none of us won. If only there were more than just five rounds.

We didn't stay too late as there was another party in the evening: Eileen's cousin Sheila was having us over for dinner. She and her partner Jeff both love cooking and made lots of delicious food. It wasn't just the five of us as Sheila also invited her brother Howard and his wife and daughter. All of us definitely had a great time. I've posted pictures from the Lab126 picnic and Sheila's party here.

This morning began with a visit from Min, my old supervisor at Cisco. Having done so much the day before, I spent most of today listening to online lectures. It wasn't all work and no play as I watched Vertigo to prepare for an upcoming field trip with Henry's film club. I also saw Iron Man and Captain America: Heroes United on the Amazon Fire TV for fun. So yeah, the weekend was awesome. :-)

Currently watching: Iron Man and Captain America: Heroes United

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pasadena trip report + congratulations to my cousin Connie!

"Are you sure he's not an undercover NSA agent?" -- me asking Luc about the wedding videographer

The weekend had an awesome beginning as my family and aunts Jill and Yu-Hua went to Pasadena for Connie's nuptials. This was especially exciting as I hadn't been to a wedding in almost 18 years. It was great to touch base with the Shiehs again after not having seen them since Thanksgiving 2011.

The vacation was also somewhat exhausting as none of us got much sleep. I'm glad it's still the weekend. In any case, here's the trip report!

Day 1

We started out pretty early due to Pasadena being about 350 miles away and the possibility of heavy traffic in the L.A. metropolitan area. Except for a stop at Casa de Fruta in Hollister so Jill and Yu-Hua could have a look around, the drive was kind of boring given the limited number of attractions along the route. Contrary to our expectations, the traffic in L.A. turned out to be smooth and didn't cause any delays.

In the interest of time, Luc and Connie opted to have their ceremony at a courthouse. They decided to forgo the traditional wedding party - meaning no bridesmaids, groomsmen or whatnot. Despite our early arrival, we didn't get to see the couple exchange their vows because checking into the hotel and dressing up took longer than expected. While this wouldn't have been the case had we gone directly to the courthouse, Mom felt showing up dressed inappropriately would be worse than not showing up at all. That said, I don't think we missed much as Connie says the ceremony was fairly simple.

The reception began around 5 p.m. at a small restaurant called POP Champagne & Dessert Bar. There was no dancing as the venue had limited space, but that make didn't the party any less fun. The place was crowded as there were over 60 guests in total, most of whom were related to Luc as he has a large extended family. I got to meet lots of people, including Connie's friends, Luc's relatives and Cathy's boyfriend Gene. Aside from the parents and one little girl, the guests were mostly my age. I had a great time getting to know them.

Dinner consisted of two passed appetizers, followed by assorted beef sliders and macaroni cheese with truffle oil for the main course. The Shieh and Danziger families then shared funny stories about the couple during the toasts, after which we were served crème brûlée, churros and pavlova for dessert. Luc and Connie later gave their speeches and thanked everyone for coming before cutting the cake.

One feature of the cake was the Millennium Falcon topper, the reason being that Connie and Luc's aunt Armelle (who helped plan the wedding) are huge Star Wars fans. It was a nice touch, considering that I love Star Wars too. Although the cake was delicious, all of us were so full that Mom and I shared a single slice!

On the whole, the evening was nothing short of amazing. The only downer was that my father couldn't attend the wedding. Dad was tied up with an important work project and also didn't want to pass any germs around from his cold. He nonetheless showed up at the end of the night to give Connie his blessings.

Day 2

I had no more than three hours of sleep and was rather tired in the morning. It was probably due to my excitement, not to mention the sugar rush from all the desserts. The rest of the day fortunately wasn't too taxing as I later got some rest in the car.

The plan was to visit the J. Paul Getty Museum with the Shiehs and some of the couple's friends. The side trip was sadly canceled due to my aunt Cynthia not feeling well the night before. Our party therefore stopped in Old Pasadena for pictures instead. Dad says this was his favorite part of the trip.

Cynthia felt much better later in the morning and invited us and Luc to her place in L.A. for lunch. The Shiehs had a large home with three floors. It was no doubt nice to relax and hang out with my cousins. The lunch made for some wonderful family time, especially with Dad cracking all those in-law jokes. ^_^

Cathy and I accompanied Cynthia back to Pasadena as my aunt had to pick up her car from the valet. One cool attraction along Route 66 was the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain, and Cynthia was kind enough to take me there. While the heat would have been the perfect excuse to get some ice cream, I decided against it due to having consumed a lot of sugar the day before. I also didn't want to risk getting sick again as I had just recovered from a cold. The Fair Oaks Pharmacy is definitely somewhere I'd like to revisit on a future trip to Pasadena.

Jill and Yu-Hua are staying with the Shiehs for the rest of their visit, leaving just me and my parents. The three of us hit the road shortly afterwards as Dad didn't want to arrive home too late. Saying goodbye to my aunts and cousins was the hardest part of the trip. There was a bit of traffic in the area, but we still managed to get back to the Bay Area earlier than expected. Our adventure ended with a nice dinner at Il Postale.

Conclusions

The highlight of this trip was obviously the reception. Seeing my cousin get married was one of the most special moments in my life. This was my first time attending a wedding in almost 18 years and so was super exciting. At any rate, I'd like to offer my congratulations to Luc and Connie, and may they find nothing but love and happiness as they begin their life together.

There is so much to do in Pasadena. One place I wanted to visit was the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as I've always been interested in science. However, that wasn't an option because the facility is generally only open to the public on weekdays. Dad actually considered staying an extra night, but I didn't want to be too tired upon returning to work Monday morning. It looks like we'll have to go back to Pasadena soon!

Our biggest regret of the trip is missing the ceremony at the courthouse. Though Connie says it's not a big deal, I'm a little bummed about not being there when she and Luc officially got married. The other downside is that Dad was unable to come to the reception. I'm glad he was at least able to join us for the post-wedding lunch.

I also have a moderate case of the post-vacation blues right now; this usually doesn't happen often for short trips. Vacations come and go, but the memories from this one will undoubtedly last a long time. You can see my pictures from the wedding and the rest of the trip on Flickr. I've also uploaded two videos on YouTube.

Currently listening to: "Wake Me Up" by Avicii

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reno weekend getaway report

"All right, everyone, let's get to work." -- Dad at Rail City Casino

Summer is off to a good start as two of my aunts are visiting from overseas. Figuring we had to do something fun together, Dad took all of us to Reno and Tahoe over the weekend. The vacation was quite enjoyable aside from the intense heat.

Day 1

The trip began with a stop at Solano Town Center in Fairfield so Jill and Yu-Hua could have a look around. There wasn't anything they needed, but it was nice to get out and stretch. Our group arrived in Roseville around noon, and the nearby Maidu Regional Park was the perfect spot for a picnic lunch. Though the weather was kind of warm, the park luckily had a large shaded pavilion. The picnic made for some great family time.

The route took us through Auburn and Truckee. Given that it had gotten rather hot outside, Jill and Yu-Hua opted to stay in the car. This was something my parents and I were fine with as we had been to both towns before.

Dad checked us into Hampton Inn & Suites Reno after the long drive. Our suite was spacious and had more than enough room for everyone. Jill and Yu-Hua rested at the hotel while the rest of us went to buy dinner at the nearby WinCo Foods. The artisan flatbread from Leonardi's Pizza was delicious!

We went to Grand Sierra Resort in Reno in the evening so my aunts could get a feel of what casinos in the U.S. were like. Seeing that the slots there weren't that fun, Mom suggested going to Rail City Casino in Sparks instead. The five of us played the penny slots at Rail City Casino for around two hours and actually ended up winning a few dollars. This was my favorite of the trip.

Day 2

All of us got up fairly early as the heat made it hard to sleep. The historic Virginia City awaited us after a nice breakfast at the hotel. Virginia City was a highlight of our trip to Reno and Carson City five years ago, so my parents thought Yu-Hua and Jill might be interested. But because most of the stores weren't open yet, all we did was take a couple of photos.

Our party then went back to Rail City Casino to play more slots and watch the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina. Luck wasn't on our side this time, and yesterday's gains soon went back to the house. I can't say this was unexpected. As the saying goes, the house (almost) always wins.

The plan was to check out other nearby casinos and look for hiking trails in the area. However, none of us wanted to stay after the weather turned out to be even hotter than the day before. Dad made a quick stop in South Lake Tahoe so my aunts could get pictures. There were more people on the beach than we've ever seen. How they could stand the heat is beyond me.

We began heading back to the Bay Area as the heat was becoming unbearable. The five of us had a short rest at the Nyack Shell convenience store before leaving the mountains. I bought a bag of potato chips and some much-needed ice cream.

As per tradition, my family also stopped at WinCo Foods in Vacaville for groceries. Jill and Yu-Hua were impressed by the size of the store. Dad had hoped to have dinner at one of his favorite dim sum places in Fremont but later found out it had permanently closed. We therefore went to a Chinese restaurant in Milpitas instead. The crazy thing is that the power went out in the middle of the meal. Oh dear!

I'm guessing the outage was related to the heat. It was hard to see the food until Dad brought in a flashlight from the car. This kind of ruined the mood but was nonetheless an interesting experience. Sometimes it's these little mishaps that make a vacation more memorable. Other than that, the outage seemed to affect just that particular area and didn't give us any problems on the way home.

Conclusions

The biggest downside of the trip was the unexpected heat wave. It was difficult to spend more than a few minutes outside, and our plans often had to change as a result. Although the car rides were uncomfortable due to the cramped space, having companions always makes traveling much more enjoyable.

On the whole, the vacation was awesome despite the short length and triple-digit temperatures. I'd say the best part was playing the slots at Rail City Casino. This was our first time traveling with Jill and Yu-Hua since our trip Taiwan and China seven years ago, and their company made this getaway especially awesome. Speaking of which, I can't wait for my cousin Connie's wedding in Pasadena. Jill and Yu-Hua will again be joining us. I'm super excited. :-)

In the meantime, be sure to check out my photos from this trip.

Currently listening to: "Summer" by Calvin Harris

Sunday, July 6, 2014

4th of July weekend report + summer plans

I had a nice 4th of July long weekend even though my family didn't do all that much.

The fun began with lunch at Tomatina in San Mateo on the 4th. The plan was to go to Il Postale in Sunnyvale, but the place was inexplicably empty even though the doors were open. There was absolutely nobody inside, not even the waitstaff. I have no idea what was going on. At any rate, the food at Tomatina was quite good. We even got to watch part of the World Cup match between Brazil and Colombia on the restaurant's TV.

The three of us then looked for fine china at antique shops before heading home. This was somewhat exhausting as we made several stops. All of us were too tired to go anywhere to see fireworks, although I did pull a few party poppers in the evening.

Saturday and Sunday relatively uneventful. Seeing that it was fairly hot outside, I spent most of those two days studying Android development. Other than that, I reached level 85 magic in RuneScape over the weekend. W00t!

2014 summer plans

The rest of summer should also be awesome: my aunts Yu-Hua and Jill are coming over from China on the 12th and will be staying with us for a couple of weeks. The plan is to take them on a road trip to Reno this coming weekend. Two weeks after that, the five of us will be heading down to Pasadena for my cousin Connie's wedding. It will be my first time attending a wedding in almost 18 years, something I'm greatly looking forward to.

There's also a lot going on in August, starting with the annual Lab126 family picnic on the 9th. Henry's film club is taking a field trip to San Francisco the weekend after that. Last but not least, my 10-year high school reunion is at the end of the month. So yeah, I'm extremely excited for the summer. :-)

In other news...

On the subject of weddings, happy sixth anniversary to my cousin Anne and her husband Lawrence!

Currently watching: Batman: The Animated Series season 1, episode 47: "Birds of a Feather"

Monday, June 9, 2014

a very special 30th anniversary...

The past weekend marked the 30th anniversary of two wonderful people in my life: Mom and Dad!

Seeing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, I figured we had to do something special. For several months, I had been thinking about where to take my parents out to eat. But my mother had a different idea: she didn't want me to spend too much on a meal and opted for a hot pot dinner at home instead. I obliged as this was her day after all.

Having found some high-quality seafood at an Asian supermarket, Mom made an amazing hot pot dinner on Saturday. She used nothing but the best ingredients, all of which were delicious. However, due to the time required to prepare such a meal, my family didn't do much in the evening other than go for a stroll around the neighborhood.

Sunday was also lots of fun as we went hiking near Woodside in the morning. It was almost noon when the hike was over, at which point we headed to Half Moon Bay to grab something to eat. As Dad was hungry for Japanese food, I took the opportunity to treat my parents to lunch at Sushi Main Street. Yum!

The three of us visited five antique stores on the way home as Mom wanted to shop for fine china. We were all too tired to do anything else in the evening, although I watched an episode each of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Batman: The Animated Series on the new Amazon Fire TV.

This was overall an awesome weekend. Here's to congratulating my parents on 30 happy years of marriage and hopefully many more to come!

Currently watching: Star Trek: The Next Generation season 3, episode 2: "The Ensigns of Command"

Sunday, May 25, 2014

level 99 woodcutting in RuneScape

I'm happy to say that I finally reached 99 woodcutting in RuneScape after being semi-retired for several years. Click here for the screenshot!

This was my first major achievement in ages I haven't played the game much since 2009 due to real life. It was especially challenging as I got most of the experience in the free version. Training options in F2P are limited, not to mention I had to compete with those annoying bots. Level 99 stats may not be such a big deal anymore, but I'm proud to say this was 100% legit. :-)

As for my next goal, I'm thinking about going for 99 runecrafting. Wish me luck!

Currently playing: RuneScape

Monday, May 19, 2014

post-Mother's Day weekend report

The Mother's Day weekend wasn't too interesting. I was extremely busy familiarizing myself with Android Studio as the Fire TV team at Lab126 is migrating from Eclipse. Mom felt my job duties were more important than going out to eat and suggested staying home instead.

On the other hand, this past Saturday was pretty fun as we had some people over for lunch. Considering that I didn't get to treat my parents to a Mother's Day meal, I did my best to help Mom prepare the food. She had already done most of the cooking while I was at work the day before and so didn't need much help, but I guess it's the thought that counts. :-)

Our guests were the Tangs, Lius and our family friend Lily. You can view my pictures from the gathering here. It was somewhat hard to join the conversation as everyone else was much older than me - like at least twice my age. However, the nice thing is that Eileen gave me a box of Pralibel Belgian Chocolates. While I haven't tried them yet, they look damn good. Thanks, Eileen!

Sunday was relatively uneventful as the weather was fairly hot, although we did go for an evening stroll around the neighborhood. I also got to play a bit of RuneScape in my free time. Speaking of which, I'm really close to 99 woodcutting. W00t!

Currently listening to: "Pompeii" by Bastille

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9"

Our new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" just arrived. Dad ordered it a few days ago as he wanted to make use of the free e-books on the Internet. Ours is the 64 GB model, meaning it can do much more than just read e-books.

The Kindle Fire HDX will be useful for the rest of us as well. An actual Android tablet will allow me to quickly test my apps instead of having to wait several minutes for an emulator to initialize. It also means Mom and I will hopefully no longer have to fight over the iPad 2 all the time. :-)

In other news...

I recently passed 50,000 edits on the English Wikipedia. Although I don't have time to edit Wikipedia much anymore, this is something I thought was worth mentioning.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

sometimes I miss the '80s...

As mentioned earlier, Amazon recently announced the Fire TV streaming media player. During its development, the device was given the code name Bueller - after the eponymous character from Ferris Bueller's Day Off due to the founders of the team being fans of the movie.

Of course, no product launch is complete without some sort of celebration. Therefore, Lab126 had an '80s party at Firehouse Grill & Brewery in Sunnyvale this afternoon. The events team put the Fire TV to good use by playing Ferris Bueller's Day Off on the restaurant's projector screen. They also put on retro music as well as set up additional devices for gaming. There were tons of food, including a cake made to look like Ferris Bueller's famous Corvette. It was an amazing afternoon for sure!

I'm sure you'd love to see the pictures, so here they are.

Currently watching: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

check out the Amazon Fire TV!

"Ladies and gentlemen, the dawn of a new era has arrived." -- me

Back when I joined Amazon Lab126 almost two years ago, I mentioned that I was working on a secret project. Well, our product has finally been released!

In case you've been wondering, the thing we've been working on is the Amazon Fire TV streaming media player. The set-top box features high-speed video streaming, voice search, cool apps, parental controls and lots of other neat stuff. Each device costs only $99 and comes with a free month of Amazon Prime. The Fire TV is pretty awesome for sure. Or at least it should be, considering that I spent countless hours testing it. :-)

The official launch began at 11 a.m. in New York City - or 8:00 a.m. on the West Coast - meaning we had to arrive at the office early for the live broadcast. The video disconnected a few times due to the bandwidth, but things otherwise went without a hitch. It certainly feels great to be part of the team that made such an amazing product possible.

So yeah, if you haven't ordered an Amazon Fire TV yet, then I highly recommend that you get one. :D

Currently listening to: "Burn" by Ellie Goulding

Disclaimer: Amazon did not pay me to make this post. I only speak as a fan.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chinese New Year party report

"The party van is here!" -- me, as the Tsais arrived

Saturday was relatively uneventful as I was busy studying 3D computer graphics. However, today was much more exciting as my parents and I went to Carmel for a Chinese New Year celebration. You may remember that our family friend Joseph organized a class reunion at the home of the Taos last year. Well, they graciously hosted it at their place again!

Joseph's daughter Claire was caught up with schoolwork and unfortunately couldn't come. On the other hand, the Taos' children Yuan and Fang had several of their friends over, meaning there were lots of kids in addition to Mom's classmates. All of the families brought food as this was a potluck lunch; the table had so much good stuff that I couldn't try everything!

I felt a little out of place at first as I was pretty much the only twenty-something present. Though the other millennials were of high school age or younger, I managed to find common ground with Yuan, Fang and their friends. Several of us played Sorry! after lunch; I was able to get up to speed with the rules despite not having touched that game in over 10 years. Alas, just when our game was at its most exciting point, the party came to an end as many people had to leave. The parents ruin all the fun. ^_^

Super Bowl XLVIII came on in the afternoon, hence everyone leaving so fast. As fun as it would have been to watch the game at the Taos' house, this wasn't practical as they lived quite far away. I reckon most of the guests didn't want to overstay their welcome anyway as the gathering was only supposed to last until 2:30 p.m. per the invitation. While this year's reunion was shorter, I felt it was even more exciting.

Some of us considered taking a stroll around the neighborhood afterwards as we did last year, but this wasn't really an option either due to the heavy rain. That left lots of free time, during which my family stopped at three antique stores on our return trip. Mom found some nice china at each of the stores. This certainly brought back memories of our recent trip to Reno.

Dad and I decided to watch the rest of the Super Bowl after getting home. I rooted for the Denver Broncos as the San Francisco 49ers had lost the NFC Championship Game. As the saying goes, the enemy of one's enemy is one's friend. The Broncos were sadly no match against the Seattle Seahawks either; the final score ended up being 43-8 in favor of Seattle. Oh well, there's always Super Bowl XLIX to look forward to.

Today was overall pretty fun, albeit slightly exhausting. I've posted pictures from the get-together at Flickr.

Currently playing: Epic Battle Fantasy 4

Thursday, January 30, 2014

cultural exchange

"Danny, my students said you're really cute!" -- Aunt Jill

Happy Chinese New Year's Eve!

The past week has been rather busy as my aunt Jill and two of her students stayed at our house during their visit from China. This was my first time seeing Jill since our trip to Taiwan and China six and a half years ago. It's hard to believe how fast time flies. The reason for my aunt's visit is that her students Sunny and Melody were interested in studying abroad for their higher education. Jill had arranged for us to show them around so they could get a feel of Western culture and what living in the U.S. was like.

We took the girls to Stanford University and some local stores over the weekend. Jill and my parents also gave them a tour of San Francisco and a few other places afterwards. It was an exhausting week as Mom had to prepare meals for three additional people, not to mention teenage girls in general can be bratty at times. Despite all that, I really enjoyed their company.

Our guests left this morning and are heading to Florida. They'll be visiting Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World for a few days before returning to China. I'm going to miss them for sure, but Jill says she hopes to visit again later this year. :-)

Currently watching: Star Trek: The Next Generation season 2, episode 12: "The Royale"

Sunday, January 19, 2014

two parties over the weekend

"I, for one, shall welcome our new robot overlords!" -- me at the Star Wars exhibit at the Tech Museum

The weekend rocked as I went to a corporate party as well as our family friend Fennah's reading club!

Lab126 post-holiday celebration

The Lab126 party was held at the Tech Museum in San Jose last night. It was something I had greatly looked forward to as the one in 2013 was amazing. I took my friend Ian as a guest as the event was restricted to full-time employees. Although San Jose is a long drive from my house, Ian was nice enough to let me carpool with him. Thanks, dude!

Like last year, there were lots of food as well as a dance floor. However, the highlight of the evening was the limited-time Star Wars exhibit. It was geek heaven as I've always been a huge Star Wars fan.

The dance floor opened at 9:50 p.m. Our DJ put on great music like he did last time. The downside is that he wouldn't take any requests. Case in point, I suggested some '80s music - which he dismissed as "outdated" despite it still being popular. The DJ also outright refused to play any slow songs even though many guests came as couples. He didn't give a reason other than that he didn't like slow songs.

While I'm in no position to tell the DJ how to do his job, I feel he should have read the crowd better. To be honest, the lack of slow songs and older hits was more than a little disappointing. In his defense, the guy worked with a catering company and probably didn't specialize in mobile entertainment. Perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh on him. At any rate, I've been on my soapbox long enough. ^_^

I've posted some pictures from the party here. You can also read my review of the event.

Fennah's reading club

Today wasn't too shabby either as Mom and I went to Fennah's reading club at Winnie's house. This was our first time attending the club in several months. It was also a new experience as neither of us had been to Winnie's place before.

As with most reading club gatherings, there were lots of food. The party started getting boring after a while as there was nobody else my age. On the other hand, I watched the NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks with Winnie's husband Winston. The 49ers unfortunately lost and thus won't make it to the Super Bowl this year, but it was overall a good game.

As my mother and I were leaving, Winnie gave me a small gift bag with candies and cookies. She also let us take the leftover snacks. Her generosity is truly appreciated. You can go here for the pictures I took at Winnie's house.

This weekend was quite exciting despite being somewhat exhausting. It's too bad I don't have Martin Luther King, Jr. Day off. Of course, that's nothing to complain about, especially considering that I already had two parties.

In other news...

I passed 100 million total experience in RuneScape today. Click here for the screenshot!

Currently reading: The Computer Image by Alan Watt

Friday, January 17, 2014

2,000 skill total in RuneScape

I finally reached 2,000 skill total in RuneScape after playing on and off for three years. This probably isn't such a big deal anymore now that we have so many skills, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to brag. You can see the screenshot here.

In other news...

The annual Lab126 post-holiday party is tomorrow. I'm so excited!

Currently playing: RuneScape

Sunday, January 12, 2014

O hai, RuneScape members!

You may remember that I used to post about RuneScape all the time. I haven't played it much lately due to being busy with real life, but Jagex has recently been running a promotion where selected players could get a month of membership for just $0.01 by paying with PayPal. If only insurance was that cheap!

Being one of those eligible, I redeemed the offer as it was way too good to pass up. While I don't expect to play much now that I'm working, I do hope to complete a few quests and level up some of my lower skills. In any case, there is lots of catching up to do as I haven't been a member in almost five years. ^_^

Currently playing: RuneScape

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

new 405 nm laser!

The 405 nm laser pointer I ordered on eBay last month finally arrived in the mail after almost three weeks. It was well worth the wait!

These lasers are normally sold as 5 mW to comply with eBay policies. From what I've heard, they tend to be much more powerful than advertised, often reaching up to 100 mW or more. That said, mine probably isn't that strong as it doesn't burn anything or even sting my skin. Judging by the brightness, I'd say the output is around 15 to 20 mW. The dot is somewhat dimmer than that of my 5 mW green laser pointer, but this isn't unexpected as violet is at the very edge of the visible spectrum.

The coolest thing about 405 nm lasers is that their wavelength causes many objects to fluoresce. They would certainly make for some very interesting photos. In any case, I'll try to have a review up soon. Stay tuned!

Update: The review is online. Check it out here.

Currently watching: Star Trek: The Next Generation season 1, episode 22: "Symbiosis"

Thursday, January 2, 2014

an exciting January...

I'm back in the office as Christmas break has ended. I've got to admit - going back to work right after the New Year is so hard, especially on the 2nd.

On the other hand, there are many great things coming this month. For starters, I only have to work two days until it's the weekend again. Lab126 is also having its annual post-holiday celebration on the 18th. The week after that, my aunt Jill and two of her students will be visiting from China and staying with my family for a few days. This will be our first time seeing Jill in six and a half years, something I'm greatly looking forward to.

I also have a 405 nm laser that is due to arrive soon. Seeing that violet lasers have greatly dropped in price since their inception, I took the plunge and ordered one on eBay last month. Shipping from Hong Kong can take up to two weeks or more, but the laser should show up anytime now.

So yeah, January should be super exciting. :-)

Currently watching: Star Trek: The Next Generation season 1, episode 19: "Coming of Age"

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014!

So 2013 has come and gone. Each year seems to be going by faster and faster. In any case, happy New Year!

The nice thing was that my family had our first New Year's Eve gathering in six years. It wasn't a huge one as we only invited the Wilsons next door and Dad's colleagues Paul and Po-Kang. Mom made tons of good food, and the Wilsons also brought some, so everyone had a great time at the dinner table. I've posted pictures of the food here.

Alas, the party ended just after the Times Square countdown. The Wilsons didn't want to let their daughters be home alone for too long and were the first to go. The girls were celebrating the New Year with their friends, hence they didn't come. Paul left shortly afterwards as he also had a wife and child at home. Po-Kang shared a ride with Paul and departed at the same time.

There were also some New Year's Eve events in downtown Mountain View. While it wouldn't have been too late to check them out, my parents weren't too keen on the idea as Mom was exhausted from all that cooking. As much as I wish our evening could have been longer, I probably shouldn't complain.

2013 in review

In many respects, 2013 was one of the better years; things generally went well at work and at home. One major highlight was our recent trip to Reno. That was quite enjoyable, especially considering that we don't travel much nowadays. The least fun part of 2013 was when I had pelvic pain for several months. It wasn't extremely bad but was enough to warrant several visits to the doctor and almost $600 in medical bills. >:(

Other than that, last year wasn't too shabby. I hope 2014 will be the same. On the subject of which, my New Year's resolutions are to increase ownership of my project at work and make more real-life friends. Challenge accepted!

Currently listening to: Now That's What I Call Music! 28 (U.S.)