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Holiday Hosting - Tuesday, December 27, 2022
For the last four days, Aaron's family was staying at our place. The kids have two weeks of winter vacation, and Aaron and Lauren wanted to do a bit of sightseeing in the Bay Area and needed a place to crash.

The last few days have been tough for me and Priscilla (okay, mostly me). Ever since our last renter left over two years ago, we've been used to having privacy at home. We're definitely not used to having kids around, and anyone who's spent a day with young kids knows how demanding they can be. The kids are 5 and 2, respectively, and the older one seems to have become quite the extrovert (or maybe this is just a phase that most kids go through?). There have been lots of requests for hide and seek and other preschooler games, climbing on furniture, numerous questions about why things are the way they are, a certain metal toy being dropped repeatedly on the floor, some screaming and crying, and a couple pee and poo accidents. These are just normal things that parents have to constantly deal with, but for me, they've revealed how much I value order and control, how much I covet quiet and alone time, and how (inwardly) annoyed I get when those things are taken away. I've never really wanted kids of my own and maybe that's fine, but I think my reasons for it are pretty selfish. I need God to change my heart.

But there have been plenty of sweet times. Aaron and Lauren have tried to be good guests - they've cleaned up after themselves, and while Aaron and the niece have been sleeping in the gym room, he's moved the bedding in the morning so that I can use the gym room to work out. We all went out for a walk one night and that was a nice time. And the niece is beginning to demonstrate the ability to learn and understand things. She loves counting; Priscilla joked that maybe she'll be an accountant one day, and I've noticed that she has attention to detail, so maybe she'll be an auditor. She got pretty good at matching up the numbers on dominoes after I taught her how to play. And she had trouble with a metal puzzle until I showed her how to solve it, and then the next day, she was able to solve it on her own in a couple seconds. She also enjoyed spelling a bunch of words using the tiles from my Bananagrams game. Meanwhile, the nephew is a bit young to really understand anything, but he's starting to take behavior cues from those around him.

During their time here, Aaron family's managed to visit different places including the Willow Glen holiday lights, Christmas in the Park, and Pinnacles National Park. And they took the kids out a couple nights so that Priscilla and I could have some time to ourselves.

So it felt bittersweet when they left this morning. Originally, they had wanted to leave Monday or Tuesday in order to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park, but those plans fell through due to snow (a lot of the country is experiencing freezing temperatures right now). So they had then expressed the intent to stay with us until Thursday or Friday, but they ultimately left for Sacramento today because that made more sense for their travel plans, and because the kids were starting to get restless (more than usual). So while I'm definitely glad to have peace and quiet at home again, I will kind of miss having them around. I still don't really have a desire to have kids of my own, but I think I'm beginning to actually understand why most parents say that it's the best decision they've ever made.
Holiday Party Play - Saturday, December 17, 2022
Yesterday was Pure's engineering holiday party at The Plex in San Jose. This was our first holiday party since 2018; we didn't have one the previous two years because of the pandemic, and in 2019 we had a 10th year anniversary party in lieu of a holiday party.

This year, our party encompassed just the engineering orgs, as the company has gotten so big that we can't fit a couple thousand people under one roof just anywhere. Other orgs got their own parties. For budgetary reasons, this party was originally open to employees only, but it was changed to allow guests after enough people complained. If there's one thing the company does right, it's caring about and trying to listen to its employees.

Sadly, nobody from my team appeared to have attended. A few people were traveling, a few were sick, and a couple people probably didn't want to make the long drive. I saw just a couple people that I recognized but didn't get a chance to talk to them. So Priscilla and I just kept to ourselves and enjoyed the many amenities there. Cost savings aside, I can understand why the company wanted this to be an employee-only event; being there with a spouse/guest results in a very different dynamic. Of course, if only I were able to go, I probably wouldn't have gone.

But I'm glad that Priscilla made us go. We arrived 10 minutes after the start time and went straight to the buffet, where we loaded up on a little bit of mostly everything. The dinner theme was burgers and tacos, though the taco shells were absent at the start. I piled up my plate high with salad, potatoes, chicken, ground beef, tater tots, bacon, a burger patty, pulled pork, and cheese. They also had things like charcuterie, Impossible Burgers, and beignets. There was also a beer wall with different kinds of beer; Priscilla sampled a few of them and liked the Angry Orchard the most, as usual. We probably could've eaten more but I didn't want to stuff myself silly, though we did grab a slice of pizza later in the evening.

So after dinner, we hit up the arcade, where most of the games were free to play. We did basketball, ball throwing (I was very bad), bowling, skee-ball, and a couple shooter video games. Then we did roller skating for a little over half an hour. Nobody else was skating at first, but people started gradually joining. The first few of us weren't that great, but I think we all improved with a little practice. Priscilla had a tough time as always, but she too was a little better by the end. And she liked that the DJ seemed to be playing an entire album by rapper NF.

We ended our time by playing a couple rounds of cornhole. I did a lot better with this, redeeming myself from my prior poor performance at throwing balls.

We had a lot of fun. This party was noticeably not as fancy as previous ones, but I think this one was my favorite because of all the activities we could do at our own pace without it being too crowded. If future parties are like this one, I guess I won't mind going!
Positive to Negative - Thursday, December 15, 2022
In my previous post, I mentioned that we tested positive for COVID on a rapid antigen test last week, after testing negative the week before despite having cold symptoms. We got a PCR test last Friday and it confirmed that we were positive. But our symptoms never progressed beyond those of the common cold. We've been getting marginally better each day, slowly.

Priscilla has now tested negative, and my latest result was positive but with a very faint pink line that took 10 minutes to show up. I just have slight congestion now, so I'm probably in the home stretch. I should be good to return to the office next week, after having been working from home for the last three weeks. Apparently, my company no longer wants employees to report when they catch the virus, and we're no longer enforcing any type of isolation requirements. It's up to individuals to decide what they think is right now. The CDC's new guidelines state that you may end isolation after day 5 if you've had mild symptoms and are fever-free. Such a change from how things were before. I guess we really have turned the corner on this pandemic.

We still have no idea whom we caught the virus from. Being sick was an inconvenience, but we got the best case scenario. None of the friends and family whom we saw in LA got sick, and our symptoms stayed mild. Our church friend who caught COVID around the same time (not from us or vice-versa) had it much rougher, as did my aunt's sister-in-law, who was hospitalized due to low oxygen levels. Now we have some natural immunity that will hopefully protect us from serious illness for a while longer. I'm thankful for medical science and for the different tests we have readily available to us. And for the ability to work from home, which is a privilege that many don't have.
Not Positive We're Positive - Wednesday, December 7, 2022
I mentioned at the end of my previous post that Priscilla and I came down with cold symptoms on our return from our Thanksgiving trip to LA. We took a home COVID test the day after we started showing definitive symptoms, and we both tested negative. Since then, the symptoms have progressed from a head cold to a chest cold, but have remained mostly mild. So we were surprised when we took the COVID test again this past Monday and got a positive result.

We haven't had any symptoms specific to COVID like shortness of breath, muscle fatigue, or loss of taste or smell. It just feels like the colds I've had in the past, which makes me wonder if some of those in the past couple years could've actually been COVID, though I did test during those times and always tested negative. The instructions for this test on the FDA website mention that the false positive rate was 5.7% in a study done with 139 participants where 35 subjects got a positive test result, though this seems like a pretty low sample size. I've seen other articles claiming that other studies of rapid antigen tests have up to a 42% false positive rate. And multiple false positives are supposedly more likely from the same batch of tests.

So are we actually positive? Who knows. It's probable that we have it, but it doesn't really feel like we do. But I think this pandemic has taught us that the presence or absence of symptoms is not a reliable indicator. In the meantime, we continue to quarantine and we just used Instacart for the first time to buy groceries from Sprouts. And we have PCR tests scheduled for Friday, courtesy of the county health department. It's awesome that they're still providing this service. And fortunately, it seems like the people we spent time with in LA haven't gotten sick.

At any rate, the recovery will probably have a long tail. I'm mostly recovered; I've just had a minor sore throat and congestion for the past couple days that seems like it's dragging out. And Priscilla has a runny nose and a persistent cough. The last time she had a cough like this, it took her two months to get over it. Fun times ahead.
A Pretty Normal Thanksgiving - Saturday, December 3, 2022
This past Thanksgiving was pretty normal. Which, given how abnormal things have been since COVID, was a welcome change.

In both 2021 and 2020, we saw my parents and Priscilla's parents separately during our time in LA. I think the last time we all had Thanksgiving dinner together was in 2018 (though I apparently didn't blog about that - bad Anson).

We headed down around 7am on Thanksgiving Day and though there were a couple minor slowdowns along the way, traffic was pretty smooth overall. We rested a few hours at the condo before driving with Priscilla's parents over to my parents' place. We arrived a little late since we got stuck in a standstill due to an accident on the 118. Aaron's family was already there, and the kids look like they've grown a lot. Our niece wasn't shy this time and wanted to play with us right away. It's nice that she seems at ease with us now!

We had most of the traditional fixins for dinner. My dad and Aaron both made a turkey, and Priscilla's parents brought a chicken and a duck from Sam Woo BBQ. Unlike in some previous years, we didn't have dessert. Maybe my mom reminded my dad that people have blood sugar and gut issues.

We stayed a little long, but it was nice to see everyone interacting. Priscilla and I were pretty tired as we drove back to the condo with her parents that night. On both Friday and Saturday, we visited The Huntington, first with her mom and then with our old church friend Cindy. Adult tickets are normally $25 on weekdays and $29 on weekends, but I get free admission for myself and up to three guests with my Cultivist membership, which I have a 6-month free trial of due to getting the Capital One Venture X card. It's a decent card for travel, and Priscilla's already used it to book things for our trip to Japan which will be in February.

So back to The Huntington. It was really crowded on Friday (according to an employee there, Mother's Day and the day after Thanksgiving are the two busiest days), but there were far fewer people on Saturday. The gardens are immense and you can really spend a whole day walking around and taking it all in. The two nicest parts are the Chinese Garden and Japanese Garden. I really liked the water, bridges and buildings that create the atmosphere of a tiny village in the Chinese Garden. Between my two visits, I also saw some European art at one of the art galleries, and paid a short visit to the library. There wasn't much to see at the library, but they did have a Gutenberg Bible on display.

On Sunday, we went to CCAC and ran into Tim and his mom after the service. Tim gave us a tour of the new A/V room in the back of the upper level that he and his parents built out. It was really a sight to see - different stations for people to control camera feeds, audio, and the livestream, and a rack of servers that all the equipment is hooked up to. And most of the equipment was either donated or purchased at bargain prices.

After church, we had lunch at Galleria Market with Gina and Weber. It's always nice to catch up with old friends, even if we don't have the most exciting updates. Priscilla also caught up with Crescentia at Starbucks later that day while I was back at my parents' place catching up with work (bleh).

After a quick breakfast with my parents on Monday, it was time to head home. My mom of course packed us a lot of food to take back with us, including some amazing pot pie that my dad had made. The drive back was smooth pretty much all the way. So even with Thanksgiving travel being nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, Thanksgiving Day and the Monday after seem to be good days to make the drive.

And of course we had to get sick while traveling. That's pretty common for me, but this time both of us came down with a cold, with Priscilla showing minor symptoms about a day before me. The definitive symptoms started while we were driving back up, and we've been stuck at home with a minor cough and stuffiness ever since. And now it's supposed to be raining for the next three days straight, so no going outside for fresh air.

So the time in LA was nice. The days after, not so much!
Mobile-Friendly - Sunday, November 20, 2022
Well it only took about ten years, but I finally updated this site's layout to a mobile-friendly and more visually streamlined version. There are lots of little things that I cleaned up, and I revamped the Articles section and the Blog Archives page. I also switched away from XHTML in favor of HTML 5. Yeah, only eight years behind there.

So if you're on mobile, you'll no longer need to pinch-zoom to move around the page, and navigation links will no longer appear too small to read. If you're on desktop with any normal sized monitor, you'll get a little landscape graphic in the background, a slightly desaturated variant of the landscape graphic I now have on the homepage.

Lately I've been messing around in Photoshop and creating some 2D landscapes. Given the name of this site, I figured that it was about time that I had a picture of a dragon somewhere on it. So since I suck at drawing, I bought a stock image of a dragon and edited it into my landscape. I like how Photoshop's tools allow you to create some basic but cool-looking images without the need for a lot of talent. Hopefully over time, I'll grow my artistic ability and maybe even learn to draw some dragons of my own.

So yeah, since I was never really using my homepage for anything notable, I put up a 2D landscape there which is hopefully a little more interesting. Someday I'll figure out what I actually want to do with this site.

So to the one or two people who still visit my site and read my blog, thanks for being with me all these years, and I hope you enjoy the update as much as I enjoyed working on it.
DreamHost is the Dream Host - Tuesday, November 1, 2022
Since my hosting term was about to renew, I wanted to take a second crack at evaluating alternatives to DreamHost. I realized that if I was willing to give up things like unlimited disk space and unlimited hosted sites (I'm not hosting multiple sites anymore), I could find a cheaper plan just about anywhere. But as I mentioned in a recent post, a lot of the big web hosts seem to not have a great reputation for one reason or another.

I finally decided to give one particular host a try. We'll just call them Host B. It's one of the few hosts generally recommended by Reddit's r/webhosting community. Unfortunately, the experience left a bit to be desired. While DreamHost has supported multiple users for as long as I can remember, Host B only provides this under their slightly more expensive reseller plans. I have a couple subdomains and I serve them out of different user accounts for greater segmentation, so the ability to create multiple users is important to me.

There were also some technical issues. Host B uses cPanel, and there I had the ability to create an FTP subaccount, but the FTP server didn't accept my credentials. And the automated SSL certificate deployment was broken - when visiting my site, my browser showed an error saying that the cert was invalid and belonged to a random website.

At this point I had a day before my hosting would renew, so I decided to just stay with DreamHost for another year. But I did downgrade to the cheaper plan which will save me $72 a year. On this plan I still get 50GB of disk space, which is way more than I've been using. I did have to give up email forwarding (it costs extra with the cheaper plan), but now that my domain is registered with Google Domains, I'm able to set up forwarding for free there.

I do like DreamHost. There's a reason why I've been with them for nearly 16 years. Their customer support is top-notch, their custom-built admin panel is easier to use than cPanel, and everything just works. Well, occasionally (not frequently) there are hiccups like I talked about in my previous post, but their sysadmins are usually on top of those. So now that I'm paying a pretty reasonable price, I feel happy sticking with them for the foreseeable future. Maybe even for another 16 years.
Return to Office - Tuesday, September 6, 2022
Now that most people seem to think that the pandemic is over, life appears to have gotten back to normal. Well, maybe a new kind of normal.

At the beginning of March, governor Newsom lifted California's indoor mask mandate. And in April, the federal government's nationwide mask mandate for public transit was struck down by a federal judge. As COVID turned the world upside-down in a matter of a couple weeks in 2020, things have gradually started turning right side up in the last year or so as people have gotten vaccinated and as the virus has mutated into a less deadly form. Nowadays, supply chain issues, labor shortage and inflation seem to be more pressing problems than "the rona".

As such, companies have been calling employees back into the office, typically under a hybrid schedule where feasible. Pure gave us notice a couple months ago that today would be the first day of the mandatory return to office (RTO), where most of us are expected to be in the office three days a week at minimum. So at last, after being able to work remotely for 2.5 years, I and most others stepped foot back into the office under the new schedule today.

The office had been open for the last several months, though most people unsurprisingly chose to keep working from home during that time. Attendance had been ramping up over the past couple months as lunches started being offered on Thursdays and then on Tuesdays as well, and as upper management "strongly encouraged" people to come in in order to make the transition to official RTO less jarring. I'd gone in a few times over the last two years, including stepping in a couple weeks ago, but by and large I preferred the flexibility that working from home gave me.

Going back today felt pretty, well, uneventful. I stopped by the IT helpdesk to get another dock, since I'd gotten a new laptop during the pandemic and I'm keeping my current dock at home. I spent time setting up the new dock and cables at my desk, clearing out emails, eating with coworkers, being in two meetings, and I managed to get a little bit of actual work done as well. The Tuesday and Thursday lunches are now buffet style, served in the kitchen close to where my team sits, and today we had BBQ chicken, brisket, mac and cheese, Hawaiian bread, salad, and roasted vegetables. Pretty decent fare. There were cookies and other sweets for dessert, and some cupcakes showed up in the kitchen a couple hours later. There were balloons and some decorations set up in the kitchen, which I thought was a small but nice way to welcome people back, but otherwise, the RTO went by with not much fanfare. Maybe because many people had been coming back already.

I still prefer working from home, but I'm glad for the lunch and the snacks (and I got some leftovers for the next day), and it was nice seeing teammates and some old familiar faces in person. Today was fairly special, but I'm sure the days will start feeling more mundane and more of a slog soon. Maybe let's just try to make the best of it. Having to commute this way again gives me more reason to hit up my gym in Sunnyvale; I kept the membership since it's just $14 a month, but I haven't been going often because I have dumbbells at home and I don't usually have any other reason to drive that way. And I'm looking forward to sometimes biking to work again since my cycling ability has fallen off a cliff during the 2.5 years of working from home. I'm thinking of biking to work this week but we're in a 1-week heat wave after nearly a whole summer that's felt cooler than usual. Today it apparently got up to 107 degrees, tomorrow it'll be 96, and Thursday will be 101. LA's been pretty hot as well; Priscilla's been down there visiting her parents, and one day it was 115 in the San Fernando Valley. We seem to be smashing a lot of climate records in recent years. Yesterday, both Livermore and Fairfield hit 116 degrees, an all-time record for the Bay Area. Hottest day ever? More like hottest day so far! This is fine. Totally.
DreamHost is Bananas - Tuesday, August 23, 2022
I've been hosting this site with DreamHost since 2007 (wow), and in that time, I've been largely happy with them. Their hosting plans are not the cheapest, and even their domain registration fees are a little inflated, but staying with DreamHost has meant a mostly worry-free experience.

I've appreciated having private domain registration when that wasn't an industry standard, being able to set up email aliases for subdomains (lots of other popular registrars don't seem to have documentation about this, so they probably don't support it), and having no caps on bandwidth or even disk usage for as long as I can remember. Their uptime is the best in the industry, as measured by at least a couple different review sites. And their customer support, with few exceptions, has been stellar.

This week, though, they've been having some hiccups. Mail forwarding from my aliases has been unreliable. Several test emails that I sent to myself from another account were never delivered. Their status page mentioned email issues earlier today but has since been updated to say that everything is operational. However, my test emails still seem to be disappearing into the void.

They also apparently rolled out an Apache config change recently that broke things for me under certain conditions. I was trying to edit a blog entry earlier today and was greeted with a "server error" page when submitting the form. I narrowed the issue down to being triggered by a certain keyword in the text I was submitting. DreamHost makes Apache logs available for requests to each domain, which is extremely useful, and in the logs I could see that ModSecurity was blocking messages containing several words including "get", "post", "delete" and "head". However, it appeared to be matching against the request body instead of (just) the headers, which is a bit silly. So having text like "head home" or "get bananas" in a paragraph followed by a newline caused the request to be rejected.

Bananas indeed. I contacted support and, after another message where I had to re-explain what was broken, they went ahead and whitelisted the rules that were causing my error. Hopefully they did this for all impacted users, as I'm sure the config change wasn't affecting just me.

Lately I've been thinking about switching to a cheaper host, and the latest round of mishaps has further fanned that desire. I just recently moved our church domain's registration to Google Domains because it's $12 there compared to $15.99 with DreamHost. But all the other major hosts seem to be disliked by saavy users due to shady business practices, less than ideal uptime, and whatnot. And the hosts generally recommended on Reddit's webhosting subreddit are more expensive than DreamHost, at least for my particular use case. So, every so often I think about switching and every time my conclusion is the same: DreamHost is still the best value I can buy. I'm sure that they'll resolve my email forwarding issue after I contact them, and then things will go back to running without a hitch. I'm also reminded that I was extremely impressed with how hard they fought the DOJ over a user privacy issue, which became a win for privacy across the entire Internet. So while the frugal side of me hates paying more for things than I absolutely have to, it's hard to put a price tag on peace of mind.
RBF Retreat - Tuesday, August 2, 2022
This past weekend was our church retreat - the first in three years, retreat having been cancelled the previous two years due to the pandemic. It was our second time meeting at Sonoma State University, the last time being in 2019 for the all-church retreat.

The Chinese congregation didn't join this time due to COVID concerns. Regardless, there were a lot of people there because our church has gotten so big. Our program, which listed discussion group assignments, listed 200 names, not including children. 2019's program listed 186 names. There were probably around 100 children there this year, certainly more than last time because a lot of people at church have been having kids over the past few years.

The accommodations were mostly the same as last time. Each person had a room, typically shared with a roommate. Each room had its own bathroom and there were four rooms per suite. Dining and services were held at the student center a short walk away. The food was alright but I remember it being better last time. And I was bummed that the recreation center, which has a climbing wall and gym, was closed this time.

Overall, retreat was good but tiring. We ate with someone different for each meal, and we had more impromptu fellowship for an hour each night after the nighttime session. The schedule also kicked off early each morning. So it was hard to get sufficient sleep, and so during the free time hours on Saturday, Priscilla and I went back to our room and took a two hour nap.

Our guest speaker, Pastor Tranwei, covered the biblical narrative during each of the four sessions. It was cool how each message had the thematic consistency of God's work in the Garden of Eden, in Israel, in Christ, and finally in the new Heaven. Most of the material was pretty familiar, but there were some great nuggets of insight - for instance, in discussing how Satan tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world, Pastor Tranwei pointed out that it was because Jesus wants all the kingdoms of the world, that one day He will reign over them, and Satan was essentially telling Jesus to skip to the end and skip the cross. It's the same idea as in Matthew 16 when Jesus talks about being killed and raised to life, Peter rebukes Him and says that this shall not happen, and Jesus responds with "Get behind me, Satan".

The weekend was pretty busy and though we relished the opportunities to fellowship with a handful of people, we also felt a little overwhelmed being amidst so many unfamiliar faces. We feel that way at church as well. The English congregation was maybe 30 people when I first joined (I think that was in 2009), and we've become a somewhat large church over the years. I'm feeling like how I felt when I was attending GRX back in 2008 - i.e. only knowing a handful of people, mostly the people in my small groups, and feeling distant from the church body as a whole. Sometimes I don't see the point in corporate worship when I don't feel entirely part of the corporate body. But in those times, I have to remind myself that it's not about me, and that we are to be like Christ, who came to serve, not to be served.