Blog: Entries From 2015

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Holiday Happenings - Friday, January 2, 2015
Thanksgiving: Lots of being sick
We drove down to LA on Thanksgiving day; I was getting over being sick and Priscilla had gotten sick from me. Both families plus Aaron's girlfriend Lauren met at my parents' place for Thanksgiving dinner.

Priscilla and I took it easy over the weekend. We walked around the pond at Reseda Park every day and had hot pot with her parents on Saturday. On Sunday we went to CCAC and joined some old church friends afterward at Poquito Mas. And on Monday we drove back home.

Christmas: Lots of little things
Trying to avoid traffic again, we chose to drive down on Christmas day; we left at 8:30am (not super early) but traffic was light all the way (and barely any semi-trucks on the road!). Christmas dinner was again at my parents' place, but no Lauren (she was on a road trip with friends).

The next day, Raymond joined me and Priscilla in going to a sushi place (Sushi For You) I found on Yelp and hiking at San Vicente Mountain Park and Westridge-Canyonback Wilderness Park. On Saturday, Priscilla and I went with my family to Forest Lawn, where we visited my grandparents' columbarium. I think it was my first time visiting after they'd both passed away. The grounds at Forest Lawn are quite nice, and we visitied this large building where the Crucifixion (HUGE! The largest painting I've ever seen) and Resurrection paintings are on display, and another building housing a stained glass reproduction of The Last Supper. We had lunch at Hong Kong Kitchen (it was alright), and Priscilla and I had hot pot with her parents for dinner.

Sunday was perhaps the busiest day. Priscilla and I again visited CCAC and had lunch at Pieology with people; afterwards we all went to a new boba place called Boba My Tea. We hung out for a long while, and Raymond (who came with us) and I barely had time to make our way over to Van Nuys to hang out with our VNHS friends that evening. We watched The Interview (meh, occasionally funny but way too crude), which a couple of them had wanted to watch because of the recent hype, and had dinner at Kinnara Thai Restaurant (woot).

Monday again was the day we chose to drive home.

New Year's: Crowds, crowds, crowds
On New Year's day, after a month and a half of having to postpone our visit for one reason after another, we finally visited Nathan and Andrea at their new rental house and watched Mockingjay and had hot pot at Little Sheep. Both the theatre and restaurant were packed. I guess this is what many people do on New Year's!

I took Dec 25 through Jan 1 off from work, and returned to work today. I managed to get a lot done there, but it feels strange/liberating to work just one day and get another weekend. Here's to a restful and productive weekend, and a great new year!
Third Pure Ski Trip - Sunday, March 8, 2015
I skied a blue run today.

Well, however much you can call it skiing.

This weekend was our third annual Pure engineering ski trip! While we had something like 75 people last year, this year we had 130 from all our different offices!

Last year I took the second-timer ski lessons, and this year I did the novice lessons. Our class was only four people, with one being a co-worker. I started off really terrible, being unable to turn well or slow down well. But by the end of the class, I was carving up the beginner slope with relative ease!

My problem was in the feet. When turning, you're supposed to put more weight on your outer foot and less weight on your inner foot. I had been doing the opposite, and then trying to pull with my thighs to compensate for my inability to turn. Yuck. Once I learned the correct method, my form greatly improved immediately.

Our instructor Jacqueline (aka Jax) was great. She analyzed what people were doing and got to the underlying paradigm of why we were doing things that way. For instance, turning is all in the feet, but novices often try to turn with their legs or hips. This is a natural paradigm in normal life because we turn around first with our shoulders, then torso, then legs and feet. But in skiing, turning is done mostly in the feet, a small amount in the legs, and almost none in the hips.

My form greatly improved throughout the day, though making sharp turns was still difficult. At the end of the day I decided to go for a blue run, so I did the California Trail, the same route that I tried and had to walk down two years ago.

While a green run can mask imperfect form, a blue run will reveal it. My inability to make tight turns hurt me on the blue run, causing me to pick up too much speed and/or bail out of turns. Halfway down, I got a sense that my problem with that I was leaning back in my boots out of fear. Leaning forward is more scary, but I found that by doing so, I had greater control and was able to execute turns better and actually be more effective in slowing down. The trail kicked my butt (100% of my falls that day were during this run), but suffice it to say that I made it to the bottom without having to walk down!

I enjoyed getting to know some people over our dinners. Dinner on Friday was served in a private room at the hotel, and dinner on Saturday was at Himmel Haus, which our company had booked the entire restaurant for the evening.

Instead of Harvey's, this year we lodged at the Hard Rock. The rooms were not as nice as at Harvey's, but no complaints; it was still nicer than the hotels Priscilla and I typically stay at.

And just like last year, my roommate ended up not being able to go, so I got a room all to myself and didn't have to pay extra for it.

Lots of fun. Looking forward to next year's!
Hawaii, Round 2 - Thursday, May 21, 2015
Priscilla, her parents and I went to Hawaii from February 20 to March 2. I'm only writing about it now. I guess you can say that I've been busy, and that when I try to multitask, it's easy for me to let things fall by the wayside. Here's one step towards turning that around.

Friday, 2/20
Because her parents had never been to Hawaii, we (Priscilla) wanted to take them before they get too old to travel. So on Friday at 8am, we headed off to San Jose Airport for our flight to Honolulu. Our plan was to visit Oahu for six days, reliving some of the things that Priscilla and I did the first time we visited for our honeymoon, and then something new afterwards - Kaua'i for five days.

Upon landing in Honolulu, we got picked up by Star Taxi and taken to the Aqua Bamboo Waikiki, where Priscilla had arranged our stay at a rental unit owned by a guy named Norman and his wife. We had an early dinner at Marukame Udon (of course), watched a music show at the Royal Hawaiian Center, walked around Waikiki and bought food from Food Pantry. So far, all familiar activities.

Saturday, 2/21
The next morning, we got a rental car from Budget and hit up Manoa Falls, a short hike out in the jungle where parts of LOST happened to be filmed. It was really cool hiking through the jungle, and the first half of the hike was mostly flat, but there was a small ascent in the second half over terrain that was narrow, rocky and sometimes muddy. Priscilla's parents had a more difficult time with this portion, but they forged ahead and made it to the end eventually. People on Yelp had called this an "easy" hike, and for me and Priscilla it was on the easy side, but had we known exactly what to expect, we probably wouldn't have brought the parents here.

The falls at the end were a bit underwhelming - just a small trickle down the face of a small cliff; I guess it just wasn't rainy season. But it was definitely a memorable hike!

After Manoa, we did something more manageable - visiting the Dole Plantation for Dole Whip and the pineapple cutting demonstration. No pineapple maze this time, as they've raised the admission fee to something like $15. We visited a beach at North Shore, took a wrong turn on the way back and ended up at the spot where the food trucks congregate. Hono's Shrimp Truck again! We got three plates of shrimp and Priscilla's dad got a fish sandwich from the McDonald's across the street (he's funny). On the way back to Waikiki, we went to Walmart and picked up a multi-box of Hawaiian Host chocolate-covered macadamia nuts to give to friends.

Sunday, 2/22
The next day, Priscilla's parents went on a bus tour and visited Pearl Harbor while Priscilla and I took TheBus to Hanauma Bay and swam (me)/snorkeled (Priscilla) with the few fish scattered here and there. The beach was quite beautiful but it was sad for me to later learn that the now-brown coral used to be colorful but was killed due to human activity.

We rejoined the parents for early dinner #2 at Marukame Udon, got more groceries from Food Pantry, and watched TV back at the hotel.

Monday, 2/23
We went to the Royal Hawaiian Center the following day and attended a session where we learned huli huli massage, went to a storytelling session given by a docent, and did lei making with Aunty Bella's, where I, for whatever reason, was better at lei-making than Priscilla.

In the evening, we took a bus up to Paradise Cove, our first-ever luau! Our guide, Cousin Kai, was hilarious and a really down-to-earth guy who likes to keep it real. At the luau, we were welcomed with shell leis and found some games (like spear throwing and bowling with a rounded block of wood), a 2-minute canoe ride, and beautiful scenery. The blowing of the conch took us to different portions of the evening's activities - a hula lesson that a few selected guests got to participate in, a shower of flowers from atop a tree, pulling in the fishing nets, hula dancing, hukilau on the beach, more hula and the unveiling of the pig that had been cooking in the ground for hours, and finally the nighttime dinner and show, where you don't eat till you're full, but eat till you're tired.

The dinner was so-so; can't say that I was really enjoyed having non-traditional food like spaghetti and fried chicken, and I tried the poi at Cousin Kai's suggestion and can't say that I really cared for it. The nighttime show was entertaining, and the fire dancer was really talented (I think he'd won first or second place in some legit competition), fearless, and probably just a little bit crazy. All in all, a fun luau!

Tuesday, 2/24
On Tuesday, we hit up the Royal Hawaiian Center again for hula and ukulele lessons, respectively. I was equally unadept at both, but it was fun. Back at the hotel, I did a bit of swimming while Priscilla and her mom relaxed in the hot tub, and then the four of us went to see some hula put on by dance troupes at the free Waikiki Beach Hula Show. We picked up dinner from Me's BBQ on the way back to the hotel.

Wednesday, 2/25
We spent this whole day at the Polynesian Cultural Center! Maybe because it was a weekday, the place was not as crowded as the first time when we went. It was fun like the last time, but the island of Tahiti was a notably smaller production this time around with just a single dancer. The Gateway Buffet was again fine, and the HA: Breath of Life show was enjoyable as ever.

Thursday, 2/26
After checking out of our hotel, we boarded an Island Air plane for Lihue Airport on Kaua'i! After getting our rental car from Avis, we ate poke at Pono Market, popular with the locals, and visited the Kapa'a Beach Park nearby. Priscilla and I walked a bit of the paved path while the parents napped. We bought groceries from Cost-U-Less and checked into our room at the Aston Islander on the Beach - quite a charming place located in a beautiful spot (aren't they all?) on the beach. Each room has a PS3 in it, and there are two DVD/game rental kiosks downstairs, so I played some PS3 Minecraft (my first time really playing it) and we watched Big Hero 6. We got dinner at TC's Island Grill in the shopping complex next to the hotel.

Friday, 2/27
While Priscilla's parents spent the day around the hotel, Priscilla and I rented a kayak from Kamokila Hawaiian Village and did the kayak + hiking trip to see the Secret Falls. The falls were slightly more impressive than Manoa Falls, and there was a pool in front of the falls where people were going in. Priscilla and I stood right under the falls and let the water rain on us - it was like taking a big shower! We saw Opaeka'a Falls from a lookout point on the way back. I swam at Wailua Beach in front of the hotel, which I would not recommend. People generally say you shouldn't swim at non-lifeguarded beaches on Kaua'i because of the fierce currents, but the currents at this beach were not bad and the water was shallow - I could stand on the ground even 200 feet from shore; but the worst part was all the coral that I kept being pushed into, which gave me some cuts. Yeah, not a great swimming spot. Dinner was at Tiki Tacos, and the tacos were just ok.

Saturday, 2/28
This was another outdoorsy day for me and Priscilla, and we made the 1-hour drive to Waimea Canyon, sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of Hawaii. We drove along the two-lane highway 550, ever so often taking pictures at photo op spots along the way. We hiked the Canyon Trail, which was only a 3-mile hike but had lots of inclines (Priscilla didn't enjoy that part). On our hike, we saw a small waterfall and had lots of gorgeous views of the canyon. I would love to come back here.

We made a short stop at Kaua'i Coffee Company, sampled several flavors of coffee and took a guided tour. The place had a gift shop and a visitor's area with a movie about the plantation playing, and felt more touristy than Mountain Thunder on Big Island. We had dinner at Kaua'i Ramen (a Chinese ramen place) on the way back, and at night was when my skin started breaking out.

Sunday, 3/1
Like with our trip to Europe several years ago, I found out again that my body doesn't like it when I've been traveling for several days. I think the combination of not drinking enough water, not getting my normal dose of vitamins and healthy foods, and travel-related stress causes my body to freak out, which manifests as hives all over my body. This time around it was all over my arms, legs and neck. It took a few weeks to fully dispel, but I learned a valuable lesson for the next time we travel.

So on Sunday, being in a bad condition to go out, I spent the whole day in the hotel room, playing Minecraft on my computer after I bought it. Hooray.

Monday, 3/2
This was our last day, and after checking out of the hotel, we had Pono Market and made a short visit to Kapa'a Beach Park again. Priscilla's mom got a coconut from a vendor, and we all agreed that it wasn't the most fresh. We returned the car, took a shuttle to the airport, and all got on a plane bound for San Jose. I had the next day off from work and dropped Priscilla's parents off at SJC again for their return trip to LA.

Overall we all had a good time, though Priscilla's dad's stomach is a little weak and he can't eat everything and has to use the bathroom frequently. He was always a good sport, but it was clear that certain parts of the trip were hard for him.

Kaua'i was definitely interesting in contrast to Oahu. It felt slightly less touristy than the Big Island, even though life seems slower and more relaxed on both. Priscilla had planned full day's worth of activities for Oahu, but we sort of winged it for Kaua'i. I wouldn't mind coming back to Kaua'i, but hopefully we'll do a bit more research and I'll keep myself from getting sick next time!
Trip to Portland - Saturday, June 6, 2015
Because we haven't traveled enough this year, Priscilla and I visited Portland from last Friday until the following Monday. Actually she had scheduled this trip before deciding to schedule Hawaii, but that was besides the point.

So Friday morning, we landed at PDX. We liked how the airport was well-laid out and had lots of restaurants and shops - in some places it looked more like a mall than an airport. We made our way to the Alamo counter only to find a sign saying to go outside and wait for a shuttle. A shuttle came shortly and brought us to the Alamo lot a mile away, where the agent said we could choose any of the economy cars. There were actually only two left in the lot, and we picked a blue Kia Rio.

Our first stop was Forest Park, where we hiked 5 miles. I was really impressed by how much greenery there was everywhere. We had a late lunch at The Waffle Window, which we thought was just ok (the waffles weren't crispy). We went to Costco and got a cup of chilli and four salads, two of which we ate that night in our hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express.

Saturday morning at 11am, we met up with our tour guide Erik from the Secrets of Portlandia free walking tour. We met in front of the Pioneer Courthouse, and our first stop was the Pioneer Courthouse Square just across the street. The square is nicknamed "Portland's Living Room" and is the site of 300 events a year. We walked past the Teachers Fountain, where our guide explained that it's legal to swim in many of Portland's fountains, and they're purposely designed to be swimmable. We walked through the South Park Blocks and learned about the Abraham Lincoln statue there. We walked past The Heathman Hotel (which is supposedly haunted), the Portlandia statue (whose image rights are owned by its sculptor, so its image can't be used commercially), the Elk Fountain, and Mills End Park (aka Leprechaun Park), which holds the Guinness record for the world's smallest park. The park is a mere 452 square inches but continues to be the site for St. Patrick's Day festivities. People even get married here.

Food carts, the Keep Portland Weird sign and Voodoo Doughnut were our final stops during the tour. The tour was quite informative and we learned a lot about Portland's history and culture.

Afterward, Priscilla and I got food from different food carts - I went to a place called The Cultured Caveman, while she got a pita taco from a Mediterranean place. We walked to Powell's City of Books, a huge book store occupying an entire city block. We stopped by a coffee shop called Public Domain to get some coffee before hitting up the International Rose Test Garden, a public 4.5 acre garden which has 10,000 rose plantings representing 600 varieties. Minus all the people, what a beautiful and serene place! We had some really good Mediterranean food at Nicholas Restaurant, and ended the night watching the Starlight Parade on TV back at the hotel. Apparently lots of people set up chairs along the parade route in downtown, because when we were walking through during the day, we saw lots of chairs already set up where people had staked their claim!

On Sunday, we hiked around and saw the Wahkeena Falls and Multnomah Falls, just two of the many locations along the Columbia River Gorge. We parked right off the road by the start of the trail up to the Wahkeena Falls, and it was a short 0.2 mile walk up to see the falls. The water flows down in a series of steps, and you can get pretty close and get misty.

We then walked over to the lodge in front of Multnomah Falls; walking turned out to be a good idea because it was extremely crowded there with lots of people waiting for parking spots. It was very touristy with a restaurant, snack shop and gift shop. It's a short walk up to a bridge at the base of the falls, but you can continue the rest of the 1.2 miles to get to the top of the falls. The view isn't great from the top since there are some trees obscuring, but at a little over halfway up, you get a nice view of the Columbia River. Plus, the all uphill hike makes for good exercise! I really enjoyed both of these, but I think my vote is in favor (only slightly) of Multnomah Falls. It's a lot taller than Wahkeena, and the pattern the water makes is very distinctive. From in front of the bridge, you can see the main waterfall behind the bridge, as well as a smaller one in front. This was my favorite outdoorsy activity during the trip!

We had a restful remainder of the day and watched a lot of Shark Tank back at the hotel. We even worked out at the hotel's gym, which had only an extremely basic set of equipment.

It was raining on and off on Monday, but we managed to avoid most of it during the times that we were outside. We had lunch at a place called Shut Up and Eat, picked up donuts from Voodoo Doughnut Too (their second location, which had no line) to bring back home, and walked around a Catholic sanctuary called The Grotto. The gardens there are beautiful, and they have an upper level atop a cliff that costs $5 per adult to take an elevator up to. We enjoyed walking around up there and enjoying the view from the meditation chapel. Finally in the evening, we returned our rental car and boarded a plane back to San Jose.

Portland was a lot of fun, though on Sunday my skin started breaking out again like it did in Hawaii, only this time a week earlier into the trip. Perhaps I haven't had enough downtime from traveling, though us having walked around in the sun for a couple hours the previous day, and it being too warm at night, might've also had something to do with it. But I think at this point, I really just need rest. Aside from there being lots of fires at work to put out, June should be a restful month, and I hope to have some time to finish up some Yelp reviews and home repairs that I've been putting off.
Fun with Sink Strainers - Sunday, June 7, 2015
For the last couple weeks, one of our kitchen sinks has had a "do not use" sign taped in front of it because the sink strainer was leaking. The washer underneath the sink was starting to disintegrate, and the putty was starting to crack, allowing water to slowly drip out.

So after watching a few DIY videos on Youtube (especially this one) and perusing the numerous sink strainer options online, I ordered a replacement strainer from Home Depot's website and had it shipped to the store. I picked it up from the store yesterday, along with plumber's putty and a 12" pair of Channellock pliers.

To my frustration, I found that the nut holding the strainer housing to the plastic tailpiece was so tight that trying to turn it with the pliers just caused the whole strainer housing to turn. I found a suggestion online that said to try sticking a pair of needle nose pliers down the strainer to hold it in place, but even that was no match for the stubborn nut. After half an hour of struggling with it, I realized that I wasn't making progress.

Fortunately, our church friend had a 16" pair of Channellock pliers that he let me borrow. So today, using his pliers to hold the strainer assembly in place, I was able to loosen the nut with my pliers on the first try! Unscrewing the big ring holding the assembly to the sink was a bit harder, but with Priscilla clamping hard with one set of pliers, I was able to use the other to finally break the seal on the stuck ring and finally removed the worn-out strainer.

It was then that I discovered that my replacement strainer, carefully chosen to match the old one in height, was actually 1/5 of an inch taller. I thought I was screwed until I realized that the plastic tailpiece is height-adjustable. So plumber's putty on the new strainer, I set it into place and was starting to tighten the ring on the underside when I realized that I'd forgotten to put the plastic tailpiece back into position after I'd taken it out.

So after detaching the new strainer from the sink, putting the tailpiece back in, reapplying the putty, I finally got everything installed and tightened down the ring and the nut. After removing the excess putty that had squeezed out from around the strainer and testing for leaks (I found none), I realized that the strainer was off center from the hole by just a millimeter. Not sure if the old one was as well, but it's barely noticeable and hopefully won't cause a leak. Only time will tell.

And the next time I have to do this, maybe it'll take only two hours of work instead of three!
New Phones - Sunday, August 2, 2015
Since MetroPCS got acquired by T-Mobile, a couple months ago our area was being transitioned off the CDMA network and onto T-Mobile's GSM network.

Metro did something nice, offering trade-in upgrades for old phones, and in June I was able to get a new LG Leon, a case and a 16GB microSD card for free after trade-in. The Leon is a quad core phone with 8GB of internal memory, and seems superior to my old LG Spirit in every way except one: the camera is fixed focus and doesn't take clear pictures up close. But overall I'm pretty happy with the new phone as well as the blazing-fast LTE speeds.

At some point in the past, Metro upped the amount of data in my plan from 1GB to 2GB without changing the price. Priscilla's also had smartphone envy for a while now, so two weeks ago we drove to the Metro store and got her a Samsung Core Prime. We also switched to the 1GB plan, so each of us would be paying $30, but Metro was also doing a promotion where multiple lines under the same plan would pay just $25. So while before I was paying $40 for just myself, we're now paying $50 for the both of us. Not too shabby!

Now I just have to watch my data usage, as I tend to go over 1GB at the end of the month (Yelp and Chrome are such data hogs). Metro does unlimited data, so after you pass the cap, you still have data but it's throttled a LOT, such that you should basically not bother trying to watch Youtube or view pictures on Yelp.