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Dallas Trip - Friday, November 24, 2023
In October, Priscilla and I went on a 5-day trip to Dallas. And, more so than on previous trips, almost nothing went as expected!

Why Dallas? Priscilla likes to find places that have cheap flights and then plan the trip around that. Round-trip tickets to Dallas were just $101 on Spirit Airlines. Also, she wanted to visit the Capital One Lounge at DFW again. And there was a treetop obstacle course called Go Ape in Plano (20 minutes from North Dallas) that was the main incentive for me, since I'd always wanted to do one of those.

We departed Saturday morning and the flight was a little over 3 hours. Spirit is a budget airline that charges for everything, so we didn't have snacks on the plane. We did of course stop by The Club at SJC before our flight, and we effectively had dinner at a lounge at DFW called Plaza Premium. The food at the latter was pretty good!

We took the shuttle to Thrifty to pick up our rental car. We had booked the manager's special, the cheapest option, and to our surprise and somewhat horror, we were given a Chevy Bolt EUV - an electric vehicle! Apparently, Thrifty is owned by Hertz, and 10% of Hertz's fleet is electric. We'd had no prior experience with EVs, and vacation in an unfamiliar area was the worst way to get up to speed. But more on that later.

It was around 8pm when we checked into our hotel at the Holiday Inn Express. We walked to the nearby Walmart (nearby meaning a mile away) to get a few groceries for our trip. And that was pretty much it for the day - just a travel day.

The next day, we drove up to Oak Point Park in Plano where Go Ape operates from. The obstacle course is 30 feet up in the tree canopy. The height made me a little nervous at first, but I quickly got over it and started focusing just on how best to get through the course. Some obstacles required some strength and endurance, but there was nothing too crazy, except for one impossibly hard obstacle that I and others had to zip through instead of doing "properly".

Priscilla did the hard obstacles with me since we missed a transition point where she could've taken an easier route. She was tired by the end of Course 3, so she sat it out while I did Courses 4 and 5. That was too bad since Course 5 was easier than 3 and 4 and had arguably the most fun obstacle - the Tarzan Swing. Hopefully we can do something like this again and both make it to the end!

After Go Ape, we drove over to a nearby business park to charge the car. There was only a level 2 charger there and it was pretty slow, but it was the best thing we could find nearby. We'd found it using the ChargePoint app, which seems like the main way to find public chargers outside the Tesla network. We walked over to a nearby plaza where there were a lot of Asian stores including 99 Ranch and 85 Degrees. After a long lunch and a leisurely walk about, we returned to the car and found that it had charged 31 miles over 2.5 hours - barely enough charge to cover our trip to Plano and back.

The next day, we did some sightseeing in Downtown Dallas. We first drove around trying to find a place to charge, but the two free chargers at City Hall were taken, the one inside a residential garage was broken, and one was supposedly inside a public parking garage but we didn't want to go in since you had to pay starting from the first minute. We eventually just parked the car a mile from downtown, not charging. Our trip had become all about finding places to charge and we were failing. I can't see how widespread adoption of EVs is viable. The charging infrastructure is just not there.

Since it was lunchtime, we walked over to the Dallas Farmers Market and perused the different shops before deciding on jerk chicken at a Jamaican place. It was decent but wasn't as good as Back a Yard in San Jose, which in turn probably can't hold a candle to food in actual Jamaica.

After lunch, we walked around and saw the Giant Eyeball, AT&T Discovery District, JFK Memorial, Pioneer Plaza, and City Hall. And that was it for the day. A pretty low-key day, but I guess that's how we roll.

It was raining most of Tuesday, so we just stayed in the hotel and did work instead of visiting Fort Worth like we had planned. But the rain let up on Wednesday and we were able to walk around the Fort Worth Stockyards for an hour before returning to the airport. We missed the daily cattle drive, but we saw the longhorns in their pen afterwards. The Stockyards felt a little touristy and I wouldn't really call this place a must-see, but it was fun enough to walk around and explore.

We had decided to just return the car to Thrifty undercharged and pay the $35 fee. A minor fee to avoid a lot of headache. We returned the car with around 40% charge remaining, but interestingly, Thrifty never charged us the fee. Maybe they felt sorry for us, or just didn't want to process it.

Finally, back at the airport we headed straight to the Capital One Lounge where, after a 10 minute wait, we enjoyed a variety of hot food, sparkling water, and desserts. We tried to also visit Plaza Premium but the place was packed and we weren't able to get in before our flight. Which was fine because we were pretty full from the previous lounge!

Overall, this trip wasn't as restful or as eventful as we had hoped, but it was enjoyable and memorable in its own way. I'm writing this a month late because it's been insanely busy at work, with me putting in a lot of overtime to wrap up a large project that's been on the books for too long. Priscilla has already booked a trip to Japan for next March, so hopefully during that trip things will go a bit more smoothly and I won't have to think about work.
Washington DC - Friday, September 1, 2023
It'd been a while since someone in our group of high school friends got married (the last person was me!), but this past Sunday we got to see David and his fiancée Steph tie the knot in Silver Spring, Maryland.

As this area is close to Washington DC, this was a good excuse for me and Priscilla to travel and do some sightseeing. The last time I visited DC was on a family road trip, perhaps when I was in middle school.

Most of my friends got there on Thursday or Friday, but I didn't want to take too much time off work, so Priscilla and I flew out Friday night on a red eye. We flew American Airlines (because we have points) from SFO to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), with a layover at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). At DFW, we visited the Capital One Lounge, which is quite the premium lounge, though we only had around 15 minutes to eat before we had to get to our connecting flight. We arrived at DCA on Saturday around 11am. We managed to get a little bit of sleep on the two respective fights, but it wasn't quality sleep. Doing a red eye with a layover is tough.

DCA conveniently has a metro station right there, so we took the metro and then walked a mile to get to the Capitol Hill area. Steph works at the Library of Congress and was supposed to be gathering people there for a tour at 1pm. Priscilla and I got there at that time, but we were the first ones there and had to wait a bit for everyone else.

I enjoyed seeing the library and learning about some of its history, though my favorite part was looking at the architecture and reading the different quotes around the Great Hall while Priscilla and I were waiting for people to arrive. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see anything behind the scenes on our tour. We didn't have time to visit the reading room, either.

Afterwards, our small group walked to the US Capitol through the tunnel from the library. We got into one of the last tours of the day, but the tour felt a little short, maybe because the building was closing.

After that, we took the metro up to Jongro Korean BBQ in Wheaton-Glenmont, a few miles from our hotel in North Bethesda. David had invited us all to dinner there, so I thought it was just going to be our small group of friends, but it turned out he had invited 40 or so people. We had 6 people at our table and so the food on the grill had to be split up many ways, but at the end we were all decently full.

On Sunday, we made our way over to Brookside Gardens in Silver Spring where the wedding took place. David had booked a premium shuttle to ferry guests over, but only a few people actually took advantage of it. Brookside is a public garden that also has a small outdoor venue for events. The wedding was quite streamlined with no bridal party, no hymns, no candle lighting, and a fairly short sermon. It felt pretty low-key and totally reflected the bride and groom's personalities. There were around 100 guests.

It was getting warm and DC is very humid, and there was no shade at the venue, so perhaps it was a blessing that the wedding was over so quickly. We all then made our way over to the reception at Fogo de Chao, located very near to our hotel, and there we ate way too much meat for the second day in a row. David had half-jokingly told me to come to the wedding/reception wearing pants with an elastic waistband.

Not ones to let the fun die early, David and Steph had invited everyone to their place for the afterparty, stretching from afternoon till night. But Anton, Richard, Raymond and I decided to first head down to DC and rent bikes to bike around the National Mall. It was pretty cool seeing the different memorials and being able to get to them quickly. Afterwards, we headed back to Silver Spring and rejoined the rest of our friends (and Priscilla) and a few others at David and Steph's place. Priscilla and I stayed a couple hours but then booked an Uber back to our hotel, as it had been a long day and we were still jet lagged from the previous day's travels.

For breakfast the following morning, we met up with our friends one last time at the Original Pancake House. David and Steph were there too, her sitting with her friends. Afterwards, we all went our separate ways, one person flying out shortly after and another having flown out the day before. It was nice hanging out with our friends for 2.5 days straight, but it was also nice finally having some time for me and Priscilla to explore on our own!

We took the metro down to DC again and dropped our stuff off at our hotel there. Then we visited the Bible Museum, which some church friends had highly recommended. The museum has an impressive collection of old Bibles and other manuscripts, interesting displays making good use of multimedia, and an amazing walk-through experience on the Old Testament story. It was really well done. The place was also not crowded, likely due in part by there being an admission fee.

After that, we had about 45 minutes to tour the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum before closing time. We kind of rushed through it but felt like we got the gist. The place was super crowded, a little surprising since it was Monday, so it was hard to get a good look at things. I guess that's what happens when a museum has free entry.

After a late lunch/early dinner and some resting at the hotel (mainly waiting for the weather to cool down a little), we ventured out again to walk around the National Mall. Our hotel was about a mile from the east side of the mall. We walked around the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Tidal Basin, George Mason Memorial, and finally the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It got dark by the time we left the Lincoln Memorial, but it was nice exploring the Mall in a different light and getting to spend more time at each place than I was able to while biking. The place that made the most impact on me was the wall at the Korean War Veterans Memorial that's engraved with the reminder that "Freedom is not free". Words to live by.

On Tuesday, it was time to pack up and head back to the airport. On the way, we stopped in Crystal City and had brunch with my coworker Spencer who moved to DC several months ago. It was great catching up, and Priscilla enjoyed discussing travel tips with him, as he is an avid traveler.

For the return trip, we had a layover at DFW again but the final destination was SJC instead of SFO. Unlike the last time, this time around we had ample time to rest at the Capital One Lounge and enjoy all the food without rushing to our connecting flight. We finally got to SJC around 8pm and had a small dinner at The Club before they started closing up. A pretty tiring day to end a pretty packed four days of travel and activities. I needed an extra day off work just to shake off the exhaustion. But I'm glad that we went to be part of David and Steph's special day, spent so much time with friends, and saw some of the many things our nation's capital has to offer.
New Phone, Who Dis? - Thursday, August 17, 2023
Well I held out for as long as I could, but after using the same phone for 6.5 years, I've finally moved on to something newer.

Okay, technically we had two ZTE Axon 7 Minis that I bought in 2016, and I switched to the spare one (which was Priscilla's but she gave it up for a Samsung Galaxy S8) a year and a half ago, but the point still stands. This phone wasn't made to be easily serviced, and every time I pried it open to fix something, a small piece of something would break off. The antenna finally got so damaged such that I could make calls but not receive them (though some might call that an anti-spam feature). The phone was also getting sluggish and some apps were no longer available due to the old OS. So while I like keeping things running as long as possible and am averse to buying new things, buying new parts to keep the phone operable no longer made sense.

I was set on sticking with Android and I still wanted a small form factor. I also needed NFC to be able to badge into the parking garage at work, and I wanted a headphone jack since I sometimes use wired headphones when on calls. According to the phone finder at GSM Arena, there were only 4 phones that fit all my criteria. I ultimately settled on the Asus Zenfone 8. The Zenfone 9 and 10 would've also checked all the boxes, but I didn't want to pay more for something newer.

Though it's two years old, the Zenfone 8 turned out to be a pretty decent phone. Most of the hardware is way better than my Axon 7, responsive times are great, and the battery life is terrific. I've gone 4-5 days between charging, though my usage tends to be low overall. The phone even has an FM radio, requiring headphones to be plugged in to act as an antenna. I don't know if I'll actually use that, but it's pretty cool to have.

On the downside, though the phone has stereo speakers, they don't sound as full as those on the Axon 7, which has some phenomenal speakers. So I'm still using the Axon 7 to listen to podcasts and music when working in the backyard. The other couple downsides are that the front pinhole camera is punched into the top of the screen (instead of being in a bezel above the screen like on the Axon 7), and the notification LED is on the bottom of the phone, making it harder to notice.

I had several apps where all the data was stored locally, and all but one of those was able to be migrated using the Android Setup Wizard. Unfortunately, the wizard failed to copy some things the first time, and it doesn't allow you to run it again without factory resetting the phone.

Overall, I'm really happy with the upgrade. Priscilla had been telling me for a while to replace my aging phone. There isn't going to be a perfect phone for me, but the Zenfone comes fairly close.
Taking to the Skies - Tuesday, July 25, 2023
I haven't been great about keeping up with previous coworkers, but last Friday I was able to catch up with Maciek in person for the first time since he left the company three years ago. Seems like he's doing well and staying busy. He's still into jumping out of planes, but now he also flies them, as he got his private pilot's license this year. So when we arranged a hangout, we decided to make it more fun and flew up to Sonoma for half a day!

We picked Sonoma because neither of us had been there and because it was a relatively short flight (around an hour including safety checks and taxiing). We flew in an American Champion Citabria out of Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose.

We landed at Sonoma Valley Airport and were the only plane there the whole time. This small airport is owned and operated by Vintage Aircraft Company and they let the public land there for free. The airport is untowered (has no control tower), so the protocol was that we announced our landing on a designated frequency to inform any nearby planes. But during our time there, we were the only visitors. Maciek said that it was because everybody else was at Oshkosh, an annual airshow and the world's largest.

We did a 20-minute biplane ride with Vintage Aircraft. They have several different planes including a WW2-era Boeing PT-17 Stearman that we rode in, which was faster than our Citabria. You have to book in advance, which allows them to get the plane ready. This plane has an open cockpit with a modified front seat fitting two people (though it's very cozy) with the pilot in the seat behind. Since you're in the open, it's pretty windy and a radio is not feasible. Flying without a radio is apparently still allowed in Sonoma.

The biplane ride took us around the scenic Sonoma countryside. Everything looked green and fairly flat. Since it was pretty windy, I started getting queasy due to all the turbulent air going into my nose, and the queasiness stayed with me pretty much the rest of the day. The ride was $418 after a 10% cash discount. It was fun enough, but I don't know if it was worth the money, especially since we had our own plane.

Next, we headed over to Sonoma Skypark, a short 5 minute flight away. We pretty much took off from Sonoma Valley Airport, made a left turn, and landed at the Skypark. There's a guy, Eric, who lives in a unit there and has a hangar with antique planes, and Maciek had made arrangements for us to take an informal tour. It was cool learning more about small planes, though most of it was over my head.

The Skypark has a truck that pilots can borrow, but that day was one of the few days that the truck was in use. But Eric was kind enough to give us a ride into town. We walked around downtown and looked at the pricey menus of the restaurants there before finally deciding on the less pricey food at Mary's Pizza Shack, where we had a late lunch. We hung out in the area for a couple hours until it was early evening, then took a Lyft back to the Skypark.

We flew out west over the Bay, around Golden Gate Bridge, and over SF before heading down the peninsula. It was awesome seeing the city landscape from the air. Everything looks closer together when you're looking down from a higher vantage point.

Golden Gate Bridge from the air

As we neared San Jose International Airport, we were directed to fly pretty much right over the airport. Maciek explained that the airspace directly above an airport is safest because any planes taking off or landing are passing below, not through that space. We finally got back to Reid-Hillview a little past sundown.

I'm really glad that we got to hang out and I was able to scratch my aviation itch. I'd previously thought about getting a private pilot's license, but the trip helped me realize that it's not quite for me. I had a romanticized view of how flying would be, like it would just be you and the open sky. In actuality, the cockpit seems like a noisy place - on top of the constant roar of the engine, you're constantly talking to air traffic control or listening for what others are doing. Even while just flying, you're communicating with ATC to coordinate your passage through their airspace. And when we did have the opportunity to talk, I couldn't always hear Maciek too well through our headsets. Not a great place to have a conversation.

Our trip definitely gave me a greater appreciation for those who fly. There's a ton of work that goes into it and a lot of experience involved in making flying safe and enjoyable. It's not that I don't want to put in work, but rather that I have a lot of other things I'd rather do that will keep me busy for a long while. My stomach also prefers being on the ground. So while I learned a lot and had a lot of fun and wouldn't mind doing a trip like this again, I'm okay with this just being a bucket list thing. I'm grateful for experiences like this and friends to share them with!
July 4th and Constancy in Relationships - Friday, July 7, 2023
Like last year, Priscilla and I went down to LA for the July 4th holiday. We stayed with my parents for two nights and Priscilla's parents for two nights. It was a pretty low-key visit, and we didn't see Aaron's family this time around because they were camping.

We drove two cars down so that we could leave Aaron our old Corolla for his in-laws who are staying with them (they moved from China and are trying to get a green card). The Corolla has needed a new catalytic converter for over a year, but we had been planning to donate it to charity instead of spending money fixing it since Priscilla's parents gave us their Civic. But Aaron didn't mind getting it fixed up (he actually got it done today for $600, far less than I thought it would cost).

So Saturday morning, Priscilla left around 8:15am and I left half an hour later. She avoided a couple slowdowns that I got caught up in. We met up at Harris Ranch, where she didn't mind waiting since she wanted to take a longer break. Then we caravanned the rest of the way down. There were a few slowdowns, so the total driving time was around 6 hours.

Most of the time we spent interacting with parents was over meals. As usual, I helped my dad and Priscilla's parents with computer issues. On Sunday, Priscilla went to CCAC with my parents and I went to Shepherd Church by myself since I've been sleep deprived and wanted to wake up later, and since Crescentia had asked if we wanted to see her sing in the worship service, so I figured that one of us might as well be there. The church is massive and has the pros and cons of a typical mega church, but one thing I liked during the sermon was how the pastor reminded us that despite the battles we're facing in our own lives, the real battle is "out there in the Valley", i.e. highlighting the importance of evangelism.

After church, we ate with Gina, Cindy, Weber and Crescentia at California Fish Grill in Mission Hills. The food was pretty decent and the portions were ample. It's nice that we can maintain our relationships with some of our longtime friends, but it requires conscious effort, for which I have Priscilla to thank.

On Tuesday, we walked with Priscilla's parents to the main street near their condo and caught the nighttime fireworks being launched from Almansor Park. We made it to the street at 9pm, right as the fireworks kicked off. The show was pretty good and was nice to watch, especially since our own city still hasn't resumed its fireworks show after dropping it in the first year of the pandemic.

We headed back home the next day, though we got a late start since I had to help everyone with more computer stuff, but traffic wasn't bad. As usual, my mom made us a lot of food to bring back.

It's always nice seeing family and friends. Sometimes I don't know what to talk about. I don't even remember much of the conversations that we had. But I think the act of getting together says more than words can. It says "I care about you. This relationship matters to me." Like I talked about in my previous post, time is fleeting and people grow apart if effort is not made to maintain the relationship. The relationships that do stand the test of time are precious and are worth the world.
Friends Come and Friends Go - Tuesday, June 27, 2023
This week, our church bids farewell to Dan and Melody as they leave for their new home in the Boston area. They started coming to our church 3.5 years ago (right before the start of the pandemic), but though their time here has been relatively short, they've touched a lot of lives. Dan has a new role at work that's taking him to Boston, and they've always been East Coast people and viewed their time in the Bay Area as temporary. They'd originally planned to be here for just a year, so they ended up staying a bit longer than planned.

I've enjoyed training with Dan and doing Spartan races together. No one else has been crazy enough to sign up for a race with me, but Dan is even crazier than I am. He'd already done a dozen Spartans, and when I suggested doing the Trifecta last year, I didn't have to ask twice. Priscilla and I had a great time traveling to SLO and Monterey with them for two of the races. Priscilla got to know Melody as I got to know Dan. Their kids are also adorable. Other kids don't pay me any attention, but their kids are always saying hi and want to play. Though, my theory, half jokingly, is that they just have a positive association between me and getting to go to the park and going for a stroller ride when Dan and I are training and running. They were the first (and only, so far) kids that Priscilla and I babysat for.

Dan was also good about asking me and another church friend to go running most weeks during the time that we were training for Spartan. We had some meaningful conversations during that time (as much as we could talk in between breaths while running) as well as during our travels and at church. But more than challenging me in physical fitness, Dan encouraged me to pursue spiritual growth, service, and relationships with others, both by his direct encouragement to me as well as through his own example.

Yesterday, we all had hot pot dinner at Seapot with them as a final farewell. Priscilla and I wanted to pay, but they wouldn't let us. Just another instance of the many times they've been generous to us. We'll miss them a lot, but a future trip to Boston is in the cards for us. I'd be down for doing an obstacle course race there, and Priscilla has been researching flights. Some church guys are also thinking about doing next year's Monterey Spartan, and Dan and the family are considering flying back for that. Our friendship means a lot to me and I really hope that we can maintain it. But maintenance requires more than just hope.

So far, the people with whom I've had the closest relationships have all moved away and contact has become infrequent, if we haven't fallen out of touch completely. High school and college friends. My college roommate of four years. My two officemates from my last company. Friends from my current company. Church friends that we would often eat with on Sunday. People move, drift apart, make new friends. It's part of life and I'm sure it's true in everyone's life. And there's always a reason for not reaching out. I'm busy. They're busy. I'm always the one who initiates; why does it always have to be me? I'll get to it another day - there will be time.

And yet, time is slipping away and one day it will be too late. Everything good requires work. If we don't spend the time to pursue the things that matter, then one day, perhaps at the end of our life, we will look back with regret. I don't want that to be me.
Skunk Under My Shed - Tuesday, June 13, 2023
For probably a few years now, various nocturnal critters have taken up residence under my shed as a place to sleep during the day. This usually would happen for a few months before they'd leave to go someplace else. I'd become aware of their presence when seeing a hole at the base of the shed, and I'd fill in the hole only to find it dug out again the next morning.

Alas, when the previous owner had the shed constructed, she didn't opt for a concrete base. I can't say I blame her; that probably would've added a few thousand dollars to the project. Nevertheless, the shed having a raised foundation has made it easy for animals to dig under the metal skirting and make their way underneath.

The most recent squatter has been the neighborhood skunk. Now I don't know if it's just one skunk, but I've seen a skunk around the neighborhood and in our yard, and I saw him disappear under the shed one night when I heard noise in the backyard and went out to investigate. Plus, we could smell him at least one night a week.

Now skunks are supposedly beneficial in the garden, so I didn't mind him visiting, but I didn't want him living here. He was also occasionally leaving droppings that I resented picking up. I knew he was going out at night to roam the neighborhood and then crawling back under the shed before morning. Filling in the hole didn't deter him at all, as he would just easily dig it out again. Neither did filling/blocking the holes leading to the neighbors' yards. If I blocked the hole with a board or brick, he would just push it aside. If I used heavier stuff, he would just dig a new hole. One night I heard rustling and went outside to try to scare him off, and I saw him leave by wriggling through the mere 2-inch gap under the side gate. I didn't even think that was possible.

But he kept returning, despite me going out multiple nights to try to scare him off. One night, he ran to the other side of the house where there is no gap under the gate. And then he just froze there, with no way to get out. He probably could've sprayed me if he wanted to, though I tried to not get too close. I ended up going around to the front yard and opening the gate, and then going back to the backyard to chase him out. He seemed as wary of me as I was of him.

Despite all this, he kept returning to the shed in the wee hours of the night. Maybe this was all just a game to him. A challenge to outwit the silly human. So, to raise the stakes, I tried making his stay as unpleasant as possible. I set up a motion-sensing garden light pointed right at the hole. I stomped around inside the shed during the day. I slipped my spare phone underneath to play hours of podcasts to keep him awake. But nothing worked. The hole kept reappearing. I even set up a security camera so that I could catch him coming and going.

One night when he was out, I slipped a dish of ammonia under the shed. Skunks supposedly hate the smell, associating it with urine from potential predators. A few hours later, the camera caught the skunk coming back and being very hesitant to go back under the shed. He would start to poke his head into the hole, tail raised high and ready to spray, and then run away a few times.

Here's one such picture of him ready to strike the unknown predator. Or maybe he just wanted to moon the camera.

Skunk going under the shed

But finally, he figured out what the smell was and then crawled back underneath for his bedtime. The jig was up.

I was really annoyed by this point, but I was impressed by his tenacity. I knew that if I really wanted him gone, I would have to stop relying on half-measures and instead focus on complete physical exclusion. That worked well when I installed a chicken wire fence around the planter box to deter cats from pooping there. For the shed, I wanted something that felt bulletproof. So in the spirit of overcomplicated solutions, I decided that burying a contiguous line of cinder blocks around the perimeter of the shed was the way to go. Since the blocks would be buried just below the surface, this would extend the skirting of the shed 8 inches down and also 8 inches outwards. I knew that skunks will dig shallow holes to get under something, but they avoid burrowing.

So I took measurements and ended up ordering 29 double-wide cinder blocks from Home Depot. I was surprised at how many things they can deliver. The day of, a semi truck with a flatbed trailer loaded with several pallets arrived. There was a forklift mounted at the end of the trailer. The guy lowered the forklift and then used it to pick up my pallet and set it in the place I directed.

I felt like the king of the world, being able to have any construction materials I wanted delivered on demand!

Cinder blocks on a pallet

It was a workout for me to just get all the blocks to the backyard, as each weighed around 40 pounds. I had to keep the pallet, as the guy said Home Depot would charge me if I called them to pick it up.

It took several weeks, a few hours at a time whenever I could find time, to completely trench around the shed and bury all the blocks. I had to excavate thoroughly so that each block would fit neatly with a minimal gap between the block and the skirting. But when I was installing the blocks on the final side of the shed, I realized that it didn't seem like the skunk had been visiting for a while. The board I had covered the hole with hadn't seemed to move for a couple weeks. Sure enough, I filled the hole in with dirt and it was never dug out again. Maybe the skunk saw what I was doing and knew he needed to leave before I blocked him inside. He had basically one-upped me on everything else thus far, so I knew he was intelligent and understood what was going on. He apparently knew when to fold.

So at last, I won't have to worry about any critters getting underneath the shed again. The next step will be to properly grade the soil so that water runs away from the shed, and then to put down landscape fabric and rock mulch to prevent weeds from growing there. That will save me a lot of weed pulling every year.

I know the skunk is still coming into the yard, at least sometimes, since I saw the garden lights come on one night and saw him ambling around. He's welcome to come by and eat whatever garden pests he wants. I'm just glad that he's no longer here to stay. I haven't found any more poop to pick up, either.

Maybe one night if I see him again, I'll go out just to say hi.
A New Era for Pure - Friday, June 9, 2023
Wow. 10 years. That's how long I've been at Pure now. It's amazing how time just... flies by.

When I joined, engineering was maybe 35 people and we all fit on one floor. We occupied the 4th floor of Building 650, and everyone else was on the 5th floor. At that time, I knew everyone in engineering by name, and most by face.

We were small and scrappy but we got the job done. There were antics characteristic of a startup. Like a Nerf gun fight that broke out when the 5th floor came down and started shooting (with weapons having been distributed an hour before). There was a shrine that two HR people made to "worship" our CEO, and that became a meme with posters around the office and buttons that were passed out. And a gong that was rung every time we made a sale in the early days. The gong was on the 4th floor and some people tended to hit it pretty hard, and I had mixed feelings about it.

The first company meeting that I was a part of was held in the couch area on the 4th floor, and it was large enough for all the on-site employees to fit there. Then there was a ski trip the year I joined, and someone called it the annual ski trip even though it was the first one, so then it became an annual thing. And later that year, there was a boat trip to celebrate the company's fourth birthday, and I remember the CTO telling us to relish the moment, since we would probably be too big the following year for the whole company to all fit on a single boat again. That prediction definitely came true.

Over the years, the company grew steadily, eventually exponentially. At one point, I think we occupied 5 separate buildings on Castro Street. We had perhaps the most employees of any company along Castro. My team got moved around a few times, and my favorite location was Building 605 where it was just us and the lab team on the top floor. We were pretty isolated from the rest of engineering, which has its downsides but also upsides.

Fast forward to today, when we have over 5,000 employees and have outgrown our Mountain View home. The company has for several years wanted to have a campus where we can fit everyone, instead of having people be dispersed across multiple distant buildings. So for the last several months, the Facilities team has been working hard to renovate the two new buildings at Santa Clara Square that will be our new headquarters, and in the last few weeks, departments having been moving over. My department moved over this past week.

Compared to the old office, the new one feels more corporate. Everyone has a cubicle now and the desks are a little narrower. The free lunches are gone, replaced by a cafe where lunches are subsidized (but the quality isn't great and the price isn't that cheap). The canned drinks are gone, replaced by a touchscreen dispenser with soda and sparkling water. Parking needs to be validated daily, unless you're one of the few hundred or so employees lucky enough to have garage access via a parking app. There's a gym but it's not open weekends, and it's shared with other tenants and was fairly crowded when I visited. On the upside, my commute by car has gone from 20 minutes to 10 minutes. I plan to bike to work most days, and the ride is only 15 minutes. I just wish that the company would build another bike room, as the single bike room we have is already at capacity, and we still have employees who haven't moved here yet.

Pure is definitely not a small company anymore. Teams are more specialized, though a lot of process inefficiency and tech debt still remains. I've been feeling like a cog in a machine even before the move, but now even more so in the new office. The ski trips are gone, the holiday gift at Christmas is no more, and last year we almost didn't get to bring a +1 to the holiday party - no telling what will happen this year. I get that tech companies are scaling back in this economy and Pure is fortunate to have avoided the kind of widescale layoffs that some larger tech companies have had, but I think a lot of the changes are just due to how the company has grown. It's the end of an era, and the move to the new office cements it in stone.

So will I stick around? Another 10 years, or another 5, or 2? I do like my team and I generally like my work, and the work-life balance is still usually decent. So while I'm always open to new opportunities, I recognize that I still have a good thing here, even though it doesn't quite have the "it" factor that it did before.
Grit OCR - Wednesday, May 3, 2023
Having done three Spartan races last year, I thought it would be a while before I felt the need to scratch the obstacle course racing itch again. But then a local SoCal race called Grit OCR piqued my interest, and I ended up signing up just four months after I completed my last Spartan. It was also a nice excuse to go down to LA to see family. This past Saturday, the event finally kicked off at its signature location at East Walker Ranch in Santa Clarita.

Since this is a local race, the obstacles aren't as elaborate as Spartan. Instead, they comprise smaller obstacles and more heavy carries, the latter which I had a hard time with and definitely didn't train enough for. I did the Spartan Trifecta last year and I do some dumbbells once a week. Should be sufficient, right? Hah.

Saturday was the hottest day of the week, with temperatures getting into the mid 90s. It was probably 80-90 during my run. Because of the heat, the race organizers were letting people start in earlier waves. I was in the 9am wave but joined the 8:45 wave, though they started late and we all headed out the gate at 8:58.

The first obstacle was a series of heavy cargo nets to crawl under, just to start tiring us out from the get-go. Then an 8 foot wall to climb over, with two more appearing later on the course.

There were some pretty challenging heavy carries on the course. Like carrying a 60 lb sandbag up and down the side of a hill. Pushing a heavy wheelbarrow to tax the arms. Cinder blocks attached to a bar weighing 90 lbs (I opted for the 70 lb version since I had trouble keeping the 90 lb one stable), carried on your shoulders for 300 meters. A farmer's carry with 45 lb water canisters. I had to take lots of breaks during most of those.

I did better on obstacles like the rope climb and slingshot. At the latter, I was able to hit the target on my first attempt, thanks to watching a tutorial on YouTube the morning of. The ruck obstacle was made easier due to all the packs being 15 lbs or so, instead of us having to choose between 20 and 30 lb packs. And one of the obstacles involved solving a tangram puzzle, because mental grit is just as important as physical grit.

My 8.5 mile Claw course differed from the 5.5 mile Fang course by just a 3 mile loop where we had to carry a raw egg without letting it break. The name of that obstacle was "Most Expensive Obstacle". I had no idea what this would be ahead of time, but the pun hit me as soon as I was given the egg to carry. Egg-spensive indeed. For one, the privilege of running this 3 mile loop cost an extra $10 over the price of the Fang!

I still have no idea what the Dragon's Spine obstacle is, as it was listed on the map but didn't appear on the course. And I saw the wooden boxes for Flip This House but it looked like that obstacle wasn't in operation.

The last two obstacles were raising a kettlebell on a rope by turning a spindle with your hands (very taxing on the forearms), followed immediately by the multi-rig with alternating rings and banana-shaped grips, where you have to climb a rope just to get to the first ring. Of course, your arms are completely dead by this point. I probably watched people attempt (or skip) the multi-rig for a good 20 minutes, and the only people who completed it were those in the competitive wave.

In some ways, this event felt harder than the two Spartan Supers that I've done. My final time was 3:06:18, placing 118 out of 219 people in the open wave for the Claw. The Fang had more participants, with 323 people in the open wave. My time wasn't great, though it could've been better had I skipped obstacles or used footholds on walls like I saw others doing. Grit has no penalty for failing/skipping obstacles. But I took time to recover at lots of obstacles, particularly the multi-rig (ironically, the only one I wasn't able to complete) in order to be able to do them right. So my ranking doesn't mean much, but I know I could've done better with better preparation.

The rest of the trip was pretty productive as well. We flew down on Thursday and went with Priscilla's parents to the DMV that day to transfer the title for their Honda Civic to us. They wanted to downsize to one car and very generously gave us their spare car. It's newer and in better condition than our other two cars. We'll be getting rid of Priscilla's Corolla since it needs a new catalytic converter and won't pass a smog inspection, but Aaron wants it for when Lauren's parents will be living with them, and he's planning to get it fixed up.

My parents made us lots of food and gave us a lot to bring back as usual. On Sunday, we went to church at New Life and then got lunch with Gina, Weber and Crescentia at the Galleria food court afterwards. We finally drove back home on Monday. Other than Grit, it was a pretty ordinary visit, but it was all time well spent.
Walk for Life - Saturday, March 4, 2023
Every year, our church participates in the RealOptions Walk for Life. It's a great way to raise money to support a faith-based pregnancy resource center, and to push one another to exercise!

The event is held annually at Martial Cottle Park in San Jose, and participants can either walk 2.4 miles or run a 5k. In addition to this year, I've participated in 2018 and 2020. Naturally, I sign up for the run. Priscilla prefers to walk with church friends. We had 15 registrations from our church this year, with 10 of those being families. Our church has gotten big, and we had a large turnout today. A lot of the kids are starting to get to the age where they're able to run a 5k, and we have some fast kids!

The primary goal of the Walk for Life is to fundraise for RealOptions. With over $16,000 raised, our church placed 3rd out of all groups signed up for the event. I don't like asking people for money, so Priscilla and I just donated $400 to ourselves (and more to others). But we set a goal of $1,000, recalling that in the past, there were people at church who wanted to support participants. We didn't ask anyone for donations, but 7 people donated to us! Most of the donations were made anonymously, but they were almost certainly from people at church, as the link to join/support our group has been in the church bulletin for the past few weeks. Our last donor gave $25 after the event and brought us to our exact $1,000 goal! Everyone else in our group got at least several donations, and most people got to their fundraising goal. We have a lot of generous people at church.

My training hasn't been ideal. The past several months have felt colder than usual, and there have been so many rainy days, many of them with heavy and prolonged rain. Atmospheric rivers have been dumping so much rain on us that half the state is no longer in a drought. So it's been hard to get outside and run, though that's partly just me making excuses.

During my last training run, I ran a 5k at a 7:01 pace at max effort. I always have a tendency to start too fast, especially when I'm with people and they sprint out of the gate. So for today's race, I knew that I had to start intentionally slower and gradually increase my pace so that I could save some fuel for the latter half. I started almost at the front of the group (64 runners in all), but quickly had 15 or so people sprint past me, many of whom were kids. But one by one, I started passing people as I maintained a mostly constant pace while people started slowing down. 0.5 miles in, I saw one guy stopped on the side of the path catching his breath - he definitely went all in way too soon!

There was one guy who stayed in the lead the whole time, way up ahead, and I knew I had no chance of catching up to him. Trailing him by a fair distance was a pack of three or so guys who seemed to be trying to keep up with each other. I knew I wouldn't be able to catch up to them while maintaining that pace for the whole race, so I let them get a little ahead while making sure I never lost sight of them. Towards the 2 or 2.5 mile point, I increased my pace a bit more and was able to pass two of the guys, who might've also been slowing down. I then hustled to catch up to the third guy, but we both full on sprinted at the end and I crossed the finish line a fraction of a second behind him. Interestingly, though I came in 3rd place by gun time, I came in 2nd place by chip time, and the final results were based on chip time. My official time was 21:31, putting my pace at 6:56. My times in 2018 and 2020 were 23:17 and 21:38, respectively, so it seems like I've improved. The winning time today was 21:09. It really depends on who shows up - in 2018, there were 8 runners with a time under 20 minutes, with the winning time being 18:06!

I guess I do like the competition of racing, but even more, I value self-improvement. I recently read an article about a "totally average runner", close to me in age, who trained until he was able to run a 5-minute mile. That's become a goal of mine, as the necessary progression seems like a worthwhile investment to pursue. It sounds crazy and I know there will be a ton of work involved, but I'm not getting any younger, and late is better than never.

And hopefully all the training will help me get an even better 5k time next year. Anyway, I'm glad that today we were able to have fun and support a good cause. But the work, for all of us, is never done.