Sunday, December 20, 2015

2,200 skill total in RuneScape

As I have the next two weeks off, I figured this would be the best time to get some RuneScape membership. Speaking of which, I just reached 2,200 skill total. Click here for the screenshot!

I probably won't play that much as I have several online classes, but this should be a nice time killer, especially considering that my family doesn't plan to go on any overnight trips. :-)

Currently playing: RuneScape

Friday, December 18, 2015

a long-awaited holiday break

The company operations have winded down for the holidays, so I'm taking the rest of the year off. I had originally planned to start my PTO the week before, but my manager had asked me to stay a few more days due to a project deadline. The current phase of the project has been completed, so this was quite a relief. I do have a few vacation days that won't carry over to next year, but my manager was kind enough to convert them to comp time for next year. He's a pretty awesome guy for sure.

I should mention that my family probably won't go on any overnight trips this time. As we already went on three vacations in the summer, my parents and I decided to take a break from traveling and relax at home instead. Of course, that's not a bad thing as traveling can get pretty expensive these days. :-)

Currently listening to: "Pompeii" by Bastille

Sunday, November 29, 2015

another awesome Thanksgiving break

The Thanksgiving long weekend was pretty fun as my family got to attend a really awesome party at Henry's house. The rest of the weekend was less eventful, but it wasn't bad by any means either.

Thursday

The morning was fairly busy as I was mostly listening to online lectures and helping my father unclog our drains. However, the evening was really awesome as the Changs again invited us to their annual Thanksgiving party.

Sophie and the girls made several dishes, and the Tings brought six more, including desserts. In addition, Ruth's boyfriend Steven brought lots of high-end whiskeys, as well as prepared a table with a bunch of cheese, crackers and chocolates. There was so much food that I didn't get to try everything despite my best efforts.

The party was so enjoyable that we didn't leave until 1:15 a.m. The only reason we didn't stay longer was that Henry had to teach an 8:00 a.m. class, and we didn't want to disturb his sleep. The gathering was just as fun as the one last year, if not more fun.

This year, I am thankful for being able to visit New Zealand, especially considering that my aunts helped us pay for the trip. International travel is expensive these days, and the memories from that trip will undoubtedly last a lifetime.

Friday

The three of us stayed home for Black Friday as we didn't feel like braving the crowds. Experience tells us that it's extremely hard to get good Black Friday deals, so we decided not to waste the time. Therefore, I took the opportunity to work on my assignments for an online class.

Saturday

The day was pretty busy as the assignments for the online class took quite a bit of time. It was pretty late when I finished them, so we didn't have time to go hiking as we had hoped. That said, getting that homework out of the way was certainly nice.

Sunday

Our neighbor Bob had generously allowed us to pick persimmons from their tree, so that's what Dad and I did in the morning. Mom had recently found a way to make some really nice dried persimmons. Other than that, we did take a stroll to the local BevMo and Cost Plus World Market to look at some wines, as well as watched the 2013 remake of Oldboy in the evening for Henry's film club. It was a freaky movie to say the least. The movie being discussed at the next meeting is actually the original 2003 one, but Mom felt that we would have more to talk about if we watched both movies.

On the whole, the Thanksgiving long weekend totally rocked.

Currently watching: Oldboy (2013)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

my thirty years on their shoulders

So today is my 30th birthday. It's hard to believe I've spent that much time on Earth. Am I really that old?

I should mention that my family didn't have a flashy celebration this year. Instead, the three of us had a quiet dinner at a local Japanese restaurant. It wasn't a fancy one or anything, but there are few things better than sharing a meal with two of the most wonderful people in my life: my mom and dad.

The birthday rewards are also nice: I got a scoop of Baskin-Robbins ice cream, a cinnamon roll from Le Boulanger and a choice of an item from Starbucks. For the Starbucks reward, I picked a sandwich because it seemed like the best deal. While freebies aren't quite the same as presents from friends, I certainly ain't complaining.

In other news...

1. Amazon just announced the second-generation Fire TV earlier this month. The cool thing is that Lab126 had an event at Campo di Bocce in Los Gatos to celebrate the launch. I got to play bocce ball for the first time; that was definitely lots of fun. Check out the pictures here.

2. Dad recently got a dash camera for each of our family cars. Dash cameras are useful in that they can provide cover in case of incidents on the road. As a side benefit, they'll also allow us to document road trips. :-)

3. Congratulations to my friend Derek on getting married!

Currently playing: Angry Birds Friends

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

New Zealand trip report: an adventure like no other

"I'm the king of the world!" -- me on the deck of the TSS Earnslaw

Summer ended on a high note as my family went to the South Island of New Zealand. It's easily one of the most special places in the world. We left on the evening of the 7th and came back a couple of hours ago. The trip was absolutely amazing.

This was no ordinary trip as we traveled with my uncle Yeh-Wei and aunt Yu-Hua, my cousins Anne and Tom, and three second cousins. Yeh-Wei was a tour guide for over 10 years and knows every square inch of the South Island, so we were incredibly lucky to have him show us around. I hope you enjoy reading my trip report as much as I did writing it.

Pre-trip

The Labor Day weekend was pretty busy as we spent most of the time preparing for the trip. As our home would be unattended for almost 10 days, there was lots of stuff that needed to be done, such as harvesting the vegetables from our garden and shutting off non-essential electronics. However, all that effort paid off because everything went without a hitch.

Days 1 and 2: kia ora

The first day was mostly packing up as the flight to Auckland was in the evening. We had a quick bite before our family friends Jeff and Sheila picked us up and drove us to SFO. The flight was fairly enjoyable aside from being almost 13 hours long. For starters, the in-flight safety video was hilarious. The food was also delicious, especially the raspberry and white chocolate mousse that came with dinner.

The in-flight entertainment included movies, games and music. I watched Terminator Genisys, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on the plane. The latter was quite fitting, given that the entire Lord of the Rings series was filmed in New Zealand. There was also a feature that allowed passengers to message each other. I wouldn't be surprised if people are using it to hook up and join the mile high club. *insert Lenny face*

The plane landed in Auckland in the morning. Clearing customs took some time due to the stringent biosecurity measures but wasn't anywhere as bad as we had imagined. The three of us then boarded our connecting flight to Christchurch. The in-flight entertainment was limited due to this flight being much shorter, but my parents and I nonetheless had a great time guessing the answers to the trivia questions.

We arrived at CHC and made our way to the baggage claim area. To our surprise, Yeh-Wei and Yu-Hua were already there waiting for us. It was wonderful to see Yeh-Wei again after all those years. He and Yu-Hua drove us to their house, located just a few minutes from the airport. I helped with the unpacking and had some rest before the Hus took us to some local attractions.

First up was Mona Vale. The park wasn't that big but had lovely gardens. Yeh-Wei then gave us a tour of a prison-turned-hostel called Jailhouse Accommodation. Staying here for a night would be an interesting experience, although I can't say the same for going to a real slammer.

The five of us had lunch at a Chinese restaurant before heading to Hagley Park for a stroll. The place was huge; my uncle says we only explored about 10% of it despite spending an hour there. The next stop was a temporary mall called Re:START that was built from shipping containers following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. It was no doubt a cool sight.

Yeh-Wei then brought us to Tom's house. This was our first time seeing him and his wife Sarah in over eight years. Also worth mentioning is that Mom gave them some of my old clothes to give to their kids. The clothes actually once belonged to Tom, who had given them to my parents when I was a toddler. Talk about a full circle moment.

Anne arrived later in the afternoon; this was beyond exciting as our last time seeing her was almost 18 years ago. I also met Tom's sons Jerry and Ryan, and Anne's daughter Valerie, for the first time ever. The family reunion was something we had been eagerly looking forward to. Anne's husband Lawrence sadly couldn't join us as he is working in Taiwan, so that will have to wait until another time.

I had dinner with Tom's and Anne's families while my parents ate at Yeh-Wei's house. Sarah turned out to be a great cook just like my mother; Tom is no doubt a lucky man. I hung out at Tom's house for a bit before he and Anne took me back to my uncle's place. Being completely exhausted at this point, I went to bed shortly afterwards. This was pretty nice, considering that I hadn't gotten any sleep in about 42 hours!

Day 3: hitting the road

It was time for the big road trip. Yeh-Wei rented a minibus with 12 seats so we could all fit in. The first stop was a retail and restaurant complex called Farmers Corner. Like at most tourist spots, the items weren't cheap. However, my uncle had access to a 30% discount through his connections and got me a box of local chocolates. Our group then had lunch at a Japanese restaurant before taking pictures at the nearby Lake Tekapo. The aquamarine waters were beautiful. Also along the way was the picturesque Lake Pukaki - its blue waters were equally stunning.

Yeh-Wei took us to a couple of other stops later in the afternoon, the most notable of which was the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. The view of Aoraki / Mt. Cook was amazing. Though the museum was closed when we arrived, the café was still open. The lounge was the perfect spot to have a coffee break and enjoy the atmosphere.

The final destination of the day was Omarama. Our families had dinner at the hotel's restaurant, and this was my first real taste of New Zealand cuisine. The other adults and I went to the recreation room after the meal for foosball and table tennis. This made for some wonderful family time. I then logged into RuneScape to collect my daily rewards before calling it a night.

Day 4: all kinds of everything

The first stop in the morning was Puzzling World in Wanaka. As its name suggests, the attraction features all sorts of puzzles and optical illusions. This was one of my favorite places; I could spend the entire day here.

Speaking of which, our biggest regret is that we didn't get to explore the Great Maze. Tom went in but ended up having to bail out through the emergency exits. I was up for the challenge, but the tickets were expensive, not to mention our schedule was a little tight. Puzzling World is definitely a place I'd like to revisit on a future trip to New Zealand.

The Kawarau Bungy Centre awaited us next. Bungee jumping is too extreme for me - you couldn't pay me enough to do it - but we enjoyed watching other people take the plunge. Well, maybe I'd consider jumping if you offered me a million dollars. :-)

Another point of interest was the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement. This was where many Chinese people lived while mining for gold. Some of the housing was extremely small and resembled over-sized doghouses rather than homes for humans. One could imagine the hardships that people went through to make a living.

Our destination for the next two nights was Queenstown. The 11 of us had dinner at a Chinese restaurant after checking into the hotel. This was my first time trying venison; the meat had a similar texture to beef but a somewhat different taste. We then bought some food at a grocery store before heading back to the hotel for the evening.

Day 5: sheep jokes, anyone?

Yeh-Wei and Yu-Hua got us tickets for the Walter Peak farm tour. The five of us had to take a boat as the farm is on the other side of Lake Wakapitu. A cool thing about the TSS Earnslaw is that you could enter the engine room to see the inner workings of the steamship. The deck provided a nice view of the lake. I couldn't resist reenacting that famous scene from Titanic while there. xD

The tour group disembarked at the Walter Peak High Country Farm. Our guide Hamish introduced us to the animals and even let us feed them. Up next was a demonstration of the Border Collies herding the sheep. The guests were then treated to some afternoon tea and snacks before Hamish showed us how sheep were sheared. This was one of the most memorable things about the trip.

The Hus dropped us off at the Skyline Gondola after we returned to Queenstown. The gondola ride was quite worthwhile. The top of Bob's Peak had several attractions, including a a luge track and another bungee jumping platform. Anne and Tom went on the luge ride with their kids, although we didn't run into them. Yeh-Wei then took us to a few more photo stops afterwards. It was an exhausting day for sure.

Day 6: alien worlds

We left for Te Anau and got there in the early afternoon. Yeh-Wei dropped me and my parents off at the Real Journeys visitor center after buying us tickets for the glowworm cave tour. The entrance to the caves is on a remote shore of Lake Te Anau, meaning we were in for another boat ride. The tiny specks of blue light in the dark were an otherworldly sight. The tour itself wasn't that long but was nothing short of amazing. The guides then led us back to the visitor center for drinks and a presentation.

This excursion was by far the best part of the trip. Photography was unfortunately not allowed in the caves as the worms are sensitive to light. For what it's worth, getting decent pictures would have been impossible anyway in the near-total darkness. Considering that my brain isn't compatible with any PC interfaces, I guess a scan of the postcard we bought will have to do. :P

Yeh-Wei picked us up at the docks and took us on a drive to Fiordland. He brought us as far as Homer Tunnel; the views were spectacular and reminiscent of the Arctic Circle tour during our 2004 Alaska trip. One fascinating sight was the mirror-like lake surfaces in the absence of wind. I definitely wish we could have spent more time here.

Back in Te Anau, all of us had a nice seafood dinner at a Chinese restaurant before returning to the hotel for some well-deserved rest. The lobster was easily the best part of the meal.

Day 7: a historical perspective

The highlight of the day was Dunedin. Unlike the other cities we visited, Dunedin had more of a historical feel. There was a Chinese couple that was doing a photo shoot for their wedding, and Tom's sons insisted on taking pictures with the bride. She was more than happy to oblige; Kiwis really are friendly people. The whole thing was rather hilarious. We congratulated the couple and chatted with them for a bit before going separate ways.

Yeh-Wei then took us to Anne's alma mater, the University of Otago. He let Anne be the guide for this part of the trip because she got her bachelor's degree here - despite her protests that she doesn't remember much. The campus was full of students as school has started. Our other major stop in Dunedin was Baldwin Street. With a 19° slope, the street is the steepest in New Zealand. Getting to the top was an intense workout!

Mom says Dunedin was her favorite part of the trip. The plan was to book a hotel here, but because Yeh-Wei wasn't feeling well, all of us opted to return to Christchurch as soon as possible so he could get some rest. Though he was tired, my uncle still made sure we didn't miss out on seeing the famous Moeraki Boulders. They were among the strangest things on Earth.

It was almost midnight when got back to my uncle's house. He was nagging me about staying up so late; not wanting to disturb his sleep, I went to bed shortly afterwards.

Day 8: back to nature

Having traveled so much in the past several days, my parents and I didn't do a lot in the morning other than relax and check our e-mails. Yeh-Wei took us to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens after lunch. The gardens featured all kinds of plants native to New Zealand. This was another one of my favorite places.

The Hus also took us to their friend Sue's house. The Lins treated us to some snacks and gave us a tour of their 12-acre farm. Their DIY projects were impressive, especially considering that Sue's husband did most of the work alone. Looks like Dad has competition. :-)

Our party then stopped at a Coupland's Bakeries store for bread and snacks. The variety of food was enormous. The plan was to visit more supermarkets after dinner, but the fatigue made us change our minds. After all, my family had lots of packing up to do for our journey home.

Days 9 and 10: all good things...

It was sad to realize this was our last day in New Zealand. Seeing that our flight to Auckland was in the afternoon, my aunt and uncle used the opportunity to take us to New Brighton after breakfast. The weather was just right; the cool ocean breeze made for a nice stroll on the pier. The five of us ordered some fried fish and oysters at a take-away restaurant before returning to Yeh-Wei's house.

Tom and Sarah came to join us for lunch, and Anne also showed up a bit later. It was just us adults as Jerry and Ryan were at school and Valerie was sleeping. Yeh-Wei prepared lots of delicious food; my parents and I made sure to fill ourselves up as it would be a while until dinner.

We bid farewell to Anne and her parents before Tom and his wife gave us a ride to CHC and helped us check in. Parting with our relatives was the saddest moment of our trip; I'd be lying if I said we weren't close to tears. As much as we hated to leave, it was time to go through security and catch the plane.

The flight to Auckland was shorter than anticipated, leaving more than enough time to browse the airport shops. Mom and I ended up buying all sorts of local snacks. While I haven't tried them yet, they look damn good. The flight back to SFO wasn't too bad either; I saw San Andreas, Interstellar and Tomorrowland before getting some sleep.

Claiming our baggage and clearing customs took longer than expected due to the large number of arrivals. Jeff and Sheila then picked us up and gave us a ride home. It was nice to be back in our cozy little house after all that time overseas, although I'm not exactly looking forward to the jet lag and post-vacation blues. Good thing the weekend is almost here!

The not-so-fun part is that Yeh-Wei got a cold two days ago. I also have a sore throat myself at the moment. It seems whatever we caught was quite contagious. Being sick while traveling is no fun, but at least the germs had the decency to wait until our trip was almost over. Haha.

Conclusions

To say the vacation was awesome would be an understatement. This was our first international trip in over six years and first ever foray into the Southern Hemisphere. It was something we had greatly looked forward to. While the highlight of the trip was the Te Anau glowworm cave tour, the Walter Peak farm excursion comes a close second. The food in New Zealand was unforgettable too. I'm also happy that I got to touch base with Anne and Tom for the first time in ages.

One of our regrets is that we didn't get to try the Great Maze at Puzzling World. Although computer-generated mazes can be equally challenging, they just don't offer the same thrill. The other annoying thing is that Internet access was spotty at times. Of course, that's a relatively minor issue as we didn't come all the way to New Zealand just to surf the web.

I ought to mention that the Hus covered the costs of almost the entire trip. There are no words to express our gratitude. Though our next trip to New Zealand will likely be years from now, the memories from this one will undoubtedly last a lifetime. One thing I've heard is that the North Island is just as awesome. The layovers in Auckland had barely scratched the surface. Yu-Hua says there will be more chances to visit New Zealand if we work hard - which is exactly what I'm going to do!

Last but not least, no trip report is complete without pictures. I've also posted two videos on YouTube. We took a total of around 3,000 photos - and I spent hours uploading the good ones - so you better enjoy them. :-)

September 19 update: Pictures are up. This probably doesn't come as a surprise, but I have a bad case of the post-vacation blues right now. It feels like I left my heart in New Zealand...

Currently watching: Interstellar

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lab126 family picnic report

Today was pretty awesome as my parents and I went to the annual Lab126 family picnic and a V-J Day commemoration.

The picnic took place at Saratoga Springs this year. Let me begin by saying that Saratoga Springs is much nicer than Coyote Ranch. The venue is located in the mountains and has lots of shade, and the surrounding scenery was pretty nice too. There were also carnival-style games, something Coyote Ranch didn't have.

The cool thing is that the Panns also showed up. Spencer and Jennifer were more than excited to touch base with my parents again. This was also my first time seeing their son Robert in almost five years. At Dad's suggestion, I also invited my friend Katie as she has done a lot for me. The more the merrier!

I didn't see many other familiar faces except for a few people that I've worked with before. This was rather surprising, considering that Saratoga Springs is in a more convenient location. I'm not going to lie - lots of my colleagues are missing out.

The food was similar to that served at Coyote Ranch. The drink choices were somewhat limited, and some people complained that the ice cream stand was only available for two hours. However, those were fairly minor things. On the whole, I'd say this was the most enjoyable picnic to date. You can see a few pictures here.

There was an exhibit commemorating the 70th anniversary of V-J Day later in the afternoon. Dad wanted to check it out, so we headed to the Silicon Valley Asian Art Center as the picnic winded down. The reason for coming here is that several folks from Eileen's poetry club were presenting. Some of their relatives were high-ranking officers in the Republic of China Armed Forces during World War II and had some interesting stories. The exhibit was fairly small, although I can't complain about the free food. :-)

Currently listening to: "Surfin' U.S.A." by the Beach Boys

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Davis trip report

The weekend was pretty fun as my family went on an overnight trip to Davis. I know we just came back from another trip last month, but Dad had several thousand Hyatt Gold Passport points that were close to expiring. I'm certainly not complaining!

Day 1

Our first stop was the Petaluma Marina. Seeing that it was almost noon when we arrived, the three of us had lunch in the car before taking a look around. The only thing of interest was an office complex with a handful of shops, but we still had a great time taking pictures.

Mom had been wanting to go to Bodega Bay for a while, so that's where we went next. Despite the relatively short distance, the drive took longer than expected due to traffic. The reason for coming to Bodega Bay was to see some of the spots where The Birds was filmed. Our previous visit here was around 20 years ago. Can you believe how fast time flies?

This was followed by dinner at an Indian restaurant in Vacaville. The food was super spicy but otherwise delicious. We checked into the hotel before going for an evening stroll on the UC Davis campus. A major attraction of the university was the arboretum. However, my parents and I decided to come back the next day as it was getting late.

Day 2

The morning started with a tasty breakfast at the hotel, after which we returned to UC Davis to see what the arboretum had to offer. The gardens were beautiful and had all kinds of plants. The lack of crowds made this a pleasant experience.

The next destination was the Budweiser factory in Fairfield. We've passed it many times but never had the chance to check it out until now. The tour was informative and included beer samples. This was definitely the best part of the trip. The plan was to visit the Jelly Belly factory as well, but we changed our minds after finding out it had no tours on weekends.

The final stop was the local WinCo Foods for groceries. While I didn't see that many interesting snacks this time, Mom bought lots of soy milk and flour. We began heading home at this point as my mother didn't want the soy milk to go bad in the heat. The smooth traffic allowed us to get home fairly early - which is probably a good thing, considering that I have to work tomorrow!

Conclusions

This trip was quite enjoyable despite being just one night long. The highlight of the vacation was the Budweiser factory tour, although the UC Davis Arboretum comes a close second. I didn't know the campus could be such a lovely place. It's not often that we go on more than one trip during the summer nowadays, so this was nice for a change. You can view pictures from our trip at Flickr.

In other news...

Happy one-year anniversary to my cousin Connie and her husband Luc!

Currently listening to: "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey

Saturday, July 18, 2015

an amazing train trip to Sacramento

Today was pretty exciting as we went to Sacramento with the China-America Shanghai Friendship Association. Our family friend Ching-Lin had invited us on a field trip organized by the club, to which we happily obliged. There were around 30 other families!

The morning began with a rendezvous at the Amtrak station in Fremont. This was a new experience as we had never been on Amtrak before. Although the train had a 8:20 a.m. departure time, my parents and I had to get up fairly early as the organizer of the event had asked everyone to arrive by 7:40 a.m.

The ride to Sacramento was about two and a half hours long. The train picked up numerous other families at various stops; there were so many of us that we took up nearly an entire car. Ching-Lin acted as the tour guide during the ride; his knowledge of the history of California was particularly impressive.

After arriving in Sacramento, our party split into groups and rode the bus to the California State Capitol. It was almost noon at this point, so we had a picnic lunch in the adjacent Capitol Park before signing up for a guided tour of the building. The tour was quite informative; I had no idea the Capitol could be so fascinating.

Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park awaited us next. However, the front doors were locked. We thought the place was closed and were about to leave when someone noticed a second entrance. The tour guides were awesome and more than happy to accommodate our schedule. The mansion was beautiful and gave us a glimpse of what life for the 1% used to be like. It's a shame photography wasn't allowed inside. I can't wait to be able to download pictures from my brain. ^_^

The final stop was Old Sacramento. Our families took a stroll to the picturesque Tower Bridge and checked out local shops. The weather was extremely hot, but one of the cafés had cheap ice cream. I enjoyed a double scoop before heading back to the Amtrak station.

It was hard to bid farewell to all the cool people we met. The evening concluded with dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant in Sunnyvale. While the tapas were delicious, the fish wasn't too fresh and the water tasted terrible. To be honest, this wasn't exactly a stellar dining experience.

The field trip had a few funny moments. There was a cutout of Doge in a window at the California State Capitol. One of the girls noticed that I recognized the meme and decided that "Mr. Doge" was my new name. It was rather comical to say the least. The other thing is that several moms asked me whether I was still in college. That made me feel young for sure. :D

The only downside is that there were few people my age; most of the millennials in our group were high school students. I guess twenty-somethings don't hang out much with their families anymore. The day trip was nonetheless a major highlight of the summer. I definitely hope similar events are being planned for the future. In the meantime, you can go here for the pictures.

Currently listening to: "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone

Sunday, July 5, 2015

4th of July long weekend report

The 4th of July weekend wasn't too bad even though the weather was pretty hot most of the time.

Friday

The day started with a mishap: I had forgotten we have today off and was under the impression that it would be the 6th. As a result, my parents and I wasted a good 25 minutes carpooling to the office only to find that nobody was there. This could all have been avoided had I checked my holiday schedule. *facepalm*

The rest of Friday was fairly uneventful because of the heat, although we walked to our family friend Sheila's house in the evening to give her some of our lemons. She and Jeff invited us in for some ice cream and tea; their hospitality was truly amazing. All of us had such a good time chatting that it was well past 10 p.m. when we got home!

Saturday

The plan was to visit Bodega Bay as Mom has been wanting to go there for some time. She later suggested going to Santa Cruz instead after seeing the temperatures were still quite high. However, the forecasts showed a lot of traffic along the route, probably because everyone else was thinking the same thing. In the end, my family went hiking in Los Altos Hills.

The three of us later stopped at Nob Hill Foods for some ice cream before going for a stroll around our neighborhood in the evening. There were several local professional fireworks displays this year, some of which were visible from our street. It's nice to be able to catch a good show from the comfort of our home.

Sunday

It was so hot outside today that none of us wanted to go anywhere. On the other hand, my parents and I watched Dog Day Afternoon for Henry's movie club. I also saw Riddick and Guardians of the Galaxy for fun. Guardians of the Galaxy was totally hilarious; I'd absolutely love to see a sequel.

Last but not least, the U.S. won the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. I can't think of a better way to end the 4th of July weekend.

Currently watching: Guardians of the Galaxy

Thursday, July 2, 2015

new iPhone 6 Plus!

So my family each got an iPhone 6 Plus as part of an updated contract with Verizon. They're all the 128 GB model; my parents got theirs on Tuesday while mine arrived this afternoon. From my initial impressions, the iPhone 6 Plus is really nice. It seems to be faster than the iPhone 4s and has a noticeably longer battery life. The larger screen also makes it easier to use. The only downside about the iPhone 6 Plus is its somewhat bulky size, but that's probably something I'll get used to.

However, there are two annoying issues. The first is that I'm having an extremely hard time importing my custom ringtones. Although iTunes indicates that the files have been synced to the new phone, they simply won't show up. I've tried several different solutions and rebooted the phone multiple times, all to no avail. This went on for about two hours, after which I eventually gave up. I don't understand why Apple has to make what should be a simple task so complicated.

The other thing is that I lost two months of progress in Angry Birds Epic after syncing my files to the new phone. I used to play the game on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4s before switching to the Kindle Fire HDX due to iOS issues. The iOS version would frequently start lagging and eventually crash. I figured the app might work better on the iPhone 6 Plus, but when I copied the data over, the save file from the iPhone 4s somehow overwrote the current one on the Rovio servers. Shit happens.

While it's only a game, I'm a little pissed off about losing hours of work and tons of Lucky Coins. In any case, I've contacted Rovio customer support; let's hope this is something they'll be able to sort out. *fingers crossed*

July 3 update: Rovio managed to restore my Angry Birds Epic save file. Their customer support is pretty amazing. :-)

Currently playing: Angry Birds Epic

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day weekend trip report

The Father's Day weekend was awesome as my family went on a three-day trip to Roseville and Tahoe. It was particularly refreshing as we visited several new places!

Day 1

The plan was to go to Bodega Bay in the morning. Although we've been there before, Mom wanted to get better pictures for her articles. However, Dad had gotten word that Eileen's poetry club was meeting at Lake Chabot Regional Park in the afternoon. Both of my parents are philosophers at heart; having each recently written a poem, they opted to go to Lake Chabot and defer Bodega Bay to another time.

The three of us arrived just in time for a potluck lunch with all the fixings. The club members then recited their poems before going for a stroll along the lake. This was a wonderful experience; my family would have stayed for the entire hike if we didn't have to drive another 110 miles to Roseville. The event was originally going to be held at Lake Merritt in Oakland but was moved to Lake Chabot due to traffic following the Golden State Warriors game. From what I've heard, Lake Merritt is also beautiful.

Getting to Roseville didn't take too long despite the traffic jams. Seeing that the weather was rather hot, none of us did much in the evening other than have dinner at a local Japanese restaurant. The noodle soup was among the best I've ever had.

Day 2

The breakfast at Hyatt Place was also really good. It was then time to head to Tahoe. While the distance wasn't too far, the drive took several hours due to congestion. As the temperatures were still high when we arrived in Reno, the afternoon was uneventful except for a late lunch at a stylish café. We only ordered two sandwiches as it was well past noon, but they were delicious!

After the weather cooled down, our party went to a local pizza joint for dinner before going to Circus Circus in the evening. The slots were lots of fun, although we didn't have the blessings of RNGesus this time. ^_^

Day 3

Happy Father's Day and summer solstice!

The day began with another nice breakfast, after which we went to check out some nearby trails that Dad had recently found. I was super excited as this was our first time hiking in Tahoe. First up was a section of the Tahoe Rim Trail near Mt. Rose. The hike was the best part of the trip, especially with the amazing scenery.

Further down south was the Diamond Peak trail, located next to the ski area of the same name. We had lunch before starting out as it was already past 1 p.m. This hike was more strenuous and might have been a good workout, but my parents and I turned back shortly afterwards as the views weren't that great.

The next stop was Eagle Falls at Mom's request. There were lots of people, many of whom were wading in the water. That looked pretty fun; I wouldn't have minded stayed a little longer.

Someone in Eileen's poetry club had recommended Fallen Leaf Lake, so that's where we went next. The lake was indeed nice; I even enjoyed a frozen treat while relaxing in the shade. Despite its merits, Fallen Leaf Lake probably isn't worth another visit due to its remote location. The plan was to look for more hiking trails, but we changed our minds after Mom started getting tired.

The drive home wasn't without mishaps: my father missed an exit leading to a Costco due to our GPS alerting us too late. The reason for picking Costco is that the fuel there is much cheaper and Mom wanted to buy some groceries. Dad took the next exit, and while we ultimately found our way to Costco, the detour was really long. The main store closed just as we finished refueling our car, meaning we couldn't get groceries as planned. Shit happens.

The route took us past a WinCo Foods store. As much as we love WinCo, all of us were tired from the traveling and decided to skip it this time. The traffic fortunately wasn't too severe and allowed us to get home earlier than expected.

Conclusions

Tahoe is one of those places that never gets old. But what made this trip especially exciting is that we explored several new locations. The Tahoe Rim Trail was my favorite, although Fallen Leaf Lake wasn't too bad either. I definitely hope to hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail again soon. The vacation was also exhausting due to the heat and the amount of driving; I'm actually a little glad we didn't get home too late. You can see our pictures here.

Currently listening to: "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hospital visits are no fun...

...especially in the middle of the night at 4 a.m.

The family across the street is moving and has generously let us take their extra stuff. I was helping my parents carry some of the furniture last night when I started getting an itch. At first we thought it was caused by dry skin or bug bites, but the itching became worse with bumps began appearing everywhere. It eventually got so bad that I couldn't sleep. I figured it was nothing more than hives, but Dad insisted on taking me to the hospital just to make sure it wasn't anything serious.

The doctor took one look and confirmed it was indeed hives. A nurse gave me medicine to suppress the allergic reaction; that must have been some pretty powerful stuff as the symptoms went away within an hour. From what the doctor and the nurse told me, the hives were likely caused by food allergies. Considering that I didn't get any sleep until coming back from the hospital, this was undoubtedly an exhausting experience. I just hope it doesn't happen again. *fingers crossed*

One thing for sure is that I'm not looking forward to the bill. From what I've heard, emergency room visits are expensive as hell. :\

Currently playing: Final Doom

Monday, May 25, 2015

Napa County day trip + rest of Memorial Day weekend

The Memorial Day weekend had a great beginning as my family went to quite a few places. The remainder of the break was fairly uneventful as we mostly stayed home, but I can't complain about getting that extra rest.

Saturday

The day was pretty fun as we headed up north to the Napa County area. The original plan was to take the Tangs along; however, they couldn't join us due to Eileen not feeling well. We nonetheless paid them a short visit before continuing on.

The reason for the day trip is that Mom wanted to see the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum in St. Helena. It was noon when we arrived, and the adjacent vineyard was the perfect spot for a picnic lunch. The museum was somewhat small but had many exhibits dedicated to the author. Having enjoyed this place, my family gladly made a donation before leaving. I'll have to admit - I had no idea Stevenson wrote so many books.

Downtown St. Helena awaited us later in the afternoon. St. Helena was a cool little town; I'd have loved to try the local food if everything wasn't so expensive. There was still some free time, during which we went to three nearby wineries. Although we had visited them on our trip to Napa and Carson City several years ago, Mom wanted better pictures for her articles.

The next stop was the WinCo Foods store in Fairfield for groceries. This was followed by a nice dinner at a Thai restaurant in Fremont. All of the dishes were spicy as hell but otherwise delicious. It was finally time to return home after a busy day.

Our original itinerary included Bodega Bay as well, but time constraints didn't allow for this excursion. I'm glad we didn't go there as we likely wouldn't get home until really late. That said, we're still planning to visit Bodega Bay in the near future. In the meantime, feel free to check out my pictures from the day trip.

Sunday

Having done so much the day before, the three of us decided to relax at home and not do too much. RuneScape breaks aside, I mostly studied Android and PHP programming.

Monday

I again spent most of the time studying. Our plan for the evening was to watch the foreign movie The Hunt for Henry's film club. The DVD unfortunately turned out to be damaged, in which case I listened to some online lectures instead. Other than that, I completed a few quests and the medium Arduogne tasks in RuneScape during my free time.

So yeah, the Memorial Day long weekend wasn't too bad.

Currently playing: RuneScape

Thursday, May 21, 2015

2,100 skill total in RuneScape

I just hit 2,100 skill total in RuneScape a few moments ago. You can go here for the screenshot. This probably isn't a big deal in today's standards as skills have become so much easier to train, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to brag. :-)

Currently playing: RuneScape

Monday, May 11, 2015

an amazing Mother's Day weekend

The weekend was totally awesome as my family went to Pacifica with the Tangs and had dinner with Jeff and Sheila. Mom and I also went to the movie club meeting at Henry's house!

Saturday began with a trip to the Gate of Heaven Cemetery to pay our respects to my late maternal grandmother Pi-Tan. Considering that I hadn't visited her resting place in well over a year, this was something we felt needed to be done. We then made a quick stop at Trader Joe's before going to the BART station in Millbrae to pick up George and Eileen.

As an early Mother's Day celebration, I treated my parents and the Tangs to lunch at a Mexican-Peruvian restaurant in Pacifica called El Toro Loco. The place wasn't open yet when we arrived, so the five of us took a short stroll around the area in the meantime. The nice thing about arriving early is that we were the first to be seated. The servings were huge, and there was more than enough food for everyone. It was truly a wonderful experience.

Sening that the meal had lots of calories, our party went for a walk at the nearby Sharp Park Beach afterwards. There was a dead whale that had beached a few days ago, and my mother figured it would be an interesting sight. I had never seen a whale so close before, although the carcass smelled absolutely fucking awful. Mom and I took a few pictures before getting the hell out of there.

Dad then took us to the nearby Frontierland Park for an afternoon picnic. The older folks mostly discussed philosophy and the arts - topics that were admittedly above my head. After everything was said and done, my family dropped George and Eileen off at the BART station before heading home. I've posted pictures from the day trip here.

Later in the evening, Mom and I went to Henry's movie club with Sheila and Jeff to discuss the 1978 film Days of Heaven. Before anyone asks, Dad was caught up with work and didn't come this time. It was great to see everyone again as we hadn't been to the film club in several months. This was a busy day for sure.

Mother's Day itself was also pretty fun as we invited Sheila and Jeff over for dinner. As usual, Mom made lots of good food. I offered to help out with the cooking - this was Mother's Day after all - but she wouldn't have any of it. On the other hand, I did spend a few hours helping her pick goji berries from our backyard. This was hard work as we have lots of goji bushes. However, the harvest was also quite rewarding as goji is expensive these days.

Despite the busy weekend, I got to play some RuneScape during breaks. I actually redeemed a bond for membership today because the RuneScape Road Trip was too good to pass up. :-)

Currently playing: RuneScape

Sunday, May 3, 2015

85 smithing in RuneScape

I just got 85 smithing in RuneScape a few moments ago. You can view the screenshot here. This probably isn't terribly impressive in today's standards, but being able to smith the best metal in the free game is nonetheless useful.

While smithing is one of the most expensive skills, the XP boost from the RuneScape Road Trip cut the costs in half. The lag was annoying at times due to my crappy Internet connection but fortunately didn't impact me too much. Although, standing there hitting metal bars for two hours straight does get repetitive.

Currently playing: RuneScape

Monday, February 23, 2015

Chinese New Year weekend report + more

The weekend wasn't too shabby as there were two parties, one at home and the other in Mountain View. I also leveled up several skills in RuneScape thanks to the bonus XP event. :-)

Chinese New Year's Eve

Although not part of the weekend itself, Lunar New Year's Eve also rocked. One of Dad's colleagues came over to discuss a project, and Mom took the opportunity to treat him to supper. As usual, she made lots of good food, such as her signature fried rice and catfish soup. Everything was delicious!

This wasn't so much a social gathering as Po-Kang was mainly here for business reasons. Still, having someone over made Chinese New Year's Eve a lot more enjoyable. The not-so-fun part is that I had a pounding headache in the evening, but that fortunately went away after some rest.

Friday

The weekend had a great start as we invited the Tsais, Changs and our family friend Karen over for dinner. Mom again made lots of delicious food for the occasion; my favorite was the shrimp with homemade XO sauce. Yum!

Alas, there was nobody else my age; Connie already had other plans, and Claire bailed at the last minute out due to school-related issues. Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against old people - but it was hard to join the conversation because we barely had any common interests besides Mom's amazing cooking. Damn generation gap. ^_^

Seeing that the topics were mostly above my head, I decided to play RuneScape after dinner. The nice thing is that I managed to get 87 mining and 84 smithing thanks to the XP boost. I can't wait to be able to smith rune.

Saturday

The weather was just right in the morning, during which we went for a hike on some trails in Los Altos Hills that my parents had recently discovered. Located less than two miles from our house, the trails are conveniently within walking distance. I'd say we now have a new favorite hiking spot.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful as I spent much of the afternoon studying. Other than that, I did reach 82 runecrafting in RuneScape later in the evening.

Sunday

Yesterday was also pretty fun as the local World Financial Group office had a potluck lunch. To be honest, I hadn't attended the workshops in several months due to being busy with my job. As there happened to be some papers that needed Min's signature, I figured I might as well check out the event. The party turned out to be the best part of the weekend.

I left early as my parents had to run errands and didn't want to drive back to the WFG office to pick me up. It's not like I couldn't get home by myself, but I didn't feel like walking several miles under the hot sun. That said, having two parties over the weekend is nothing to complain about.

Oh yeah, and I hit 84 fishing in RuneScape just before the bonus XP weekend ended. Considering that fishing is one of the more boring skills in the game, the XP boost makes the journey to level 99 slightly less arduous.

The weekend was totally awesome even though a few things didn't exactly go to plan. The RuneScape bonus XP weekend certainly made everything even better; I gained almost one million total XP across my four accounts. Here's to hoping the Year of the Monkey will be just as awesome!

In the meantime, you can see my pictures from the Chinese New Year weekend here.

Currently playing: RuneScape

Sunday, January 25, 2015

an amazing post-holiday party

I just got back from the Lab126 post-holiday celebration at Levi's Stadium. It was one of our best parties ever!

The new home of the San Francisco 49ers was impressive. The staff allowed us to hang out on the field, although we had to sign some silly waiver first. People could also take the elevator to the top of the stadium for an even better view. This was no doubt an extraordinary experience.

As for the party itself, the company rented out the entire Bourbon Pub. There was no shortage of refreshments, all of which looked delicious. I'd have tried more of them if I wasn't so full. Note to self: don't eat dinner right before the next Lab126 post-holiday event. While the selection of desserts was smaller this time, that didn't make the party any less fun.

At the center of the pub was a dance floor. Speaking of which, the DJs were much more awesome than the one from JW Catering: not only did these guys put on music for the entire four hours, they were also cool enough to take requests. In comparison, the previous DJ didn't play any of the requested music and was actually a bit arrogant.

One thing I've noticed is that our generation doesn't slow dance much anymore. Case in point, the DJs played "Take Me Away" by Keyshia Cole before ending the night - which only about 20% of the couples actually slow danced to even though the song is considered a slow one. It seems people just aren't as romantic as they used to be. *shrugs*

The event was quite successful as I saw lots of familiar faces. Among them were our family friend Jennifer and her husband Spencer, the latter of whom now works at Lab126 as a materials engineer. Their son Robert and I attended the same job training program several years ago, hence my acquaintance with the couple. It's a small world indeed.

This was overall an amazing evening. The only downside is that the security checks were kind of annoying, but that's probably necessary for a large public venue like Levi's Stadium. I'm looking forward to next year's event for sure. In the meantime, you can see my pictures from this one here.

Currently listening to: "Don't You Worry Child" by Swedish House Mafia

Friday, January 23, 2015

welcoming Connie's little one to the world

I just found out that my cousin Connie delivered her first child last month. It's a boy named Dean!

Connie had initially wanted to keep this secret, hence I didn't find out until just now. In any case, there is nothing more special than bringing a new life into the world. A new addition to my extended family is certainly exciting. I'm really happy for Connie and wish her family all the best for the future.

In other news...

I recently compiled my first iOS application. W00t!

Currently playing: RuneScape

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I left my heart in San Francisco, part deux

Today was also lots of fun as my family went on a day trip to San Francisco with Sophie's hiking club. It was no doubt a great way to start the year!

The adventure began with Jeff and Sheila giving us a ride to San Francisco. The group met at a corner near Clement Street; the five of us arrived a few minutes late due to unexpected traffic, but luckily everyone else was nice enough to wait for us. The first stop was the mosaic stairs at 16th Avenue. The stairway was impressive and must have taken an incredible amount of effort to build. The view of the Pacific Ocean from the top was just amazing.

Things didn't exactly go to plan as one of the ladies was bitten by a stranger's dog near the stairs. The guy walking the dog wasn't too helpful and left without providing any identification. Dad helped make a police report; the incident took up much of the morning as the woman had to look for a doctor.

The rest of us decided to hike up to the nearby Grand View Park in the meantime. The ascent of the hill was particularly strenuous but rewarded us with one of the best views of San Francisco. The next stop was the Hidden Garden Stairs, another one of those mosaic stairways. This one was completed in December 2013 and was also beautiful. It was noon when we were done taking pictures, after which we went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. The eatery was kind of small, and our party easily took up two-fifths of the tables. At any rate, the food was delicious!

Golden Gate Park awaited us in the afternoon. I wish we could have stayed longer as the park was a lovely place. The bison paddock definitely brought back memories of Yellowstone. The final stop of the day was the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden. It was a nice spot for a rest even though there were no tulips at this time of the year. Seeing that it was getting late at this point, our group shared some snacks at a nearby picnic area before going separate ways.

Although not as long as the field trip in August, this hike was nonetheless a great workout. MapMyRun says we each walked a total of over eight miles. The only downside is that there were no other young people in our group. I guess most millennials just aren't interested in these types of activities.

A huge thank-you goes out to Jeff for the ride to and from San Francisco. Although Mom wanted to treat him and Sheila to dinner for their troubles, Sheila declined as she didn't want us to be too tired. Her consideration is truly appreciated. Even though Jeff and Sheila didn't stay for dinner, the day couldn't have been better. I've posted pictures from our hike here.

Once again, happy New Year, everyone!

Currently listening to: "Last Friday Night" by Katy Perry

Happy 2015!

So another year has passed. It's hard to believe 2014 is no more. If Back to the Future is anywhere near accurate, then we should see flying cars and hover boards soon. ^_^

Party report

Last night rocked as we invited three other families to our house for dinner. This was our first time having so many people over for New Year's Eve in seven years. Mom made lots of delicious food as usual, and our family friend Mei also generously brought some. I later saw Divergent with Casey after the Times Square countdown. It was definitely an awesome evening.

Alas, nobody stayed until midnight this time. CY and Grace were the first to leave as they live far away in Saratoga. Henry and Sophie soon also left as our families are getting up early for an annual New Year's Day hike in San Francisco. The Lees didn't want to disturb our sleep and declined our invitation to watch the West Coast countdown. I truly appreciate the consideration, although I wish they had stayed another 15 minutes. At least we'll be seeing the Changs again tomorrow later in the morning. :-)

In the meantime, I've posted some pictures from the party here.

2014 in review

I'd say 2014 was one of the better years. For starters, my parents and I got to connect with many friends in the past few months. Our team at Amazon Lab126 also released two major products, the Fire TV in April and the Fire TV Stick in October. The highlight of 2014 was my cousin Connie's wedding in Pasadena, although the film club field trip and my 10-year high school reunion come close. The only downside is that work was stressful at times, but that's nothing to complain about.

For those curious, my New Year's resolution for 2015 is to become better at PHP programming. As RuneScape goals, I'm hoping to get 99 runecrafting and 2,100 skill total. Rock on!

Currently watching: Divergent