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A New Used Car - Sunday, November 18, 2018
Two days ago I did something I'd hoped I would not have to do for many years to come. I bought a car.

For the last 8.5 years, I've been driving around in my grandfather's 1990 Taurus. It hasn't been a reliable car. Early on, I dealt with a massive coolant leak and a broken wheel bearing, the latter which left me and Priscilla stranded 20 miles from home at midnight when we were coming back from my company holiday party. Great way to make an impression on your girlfriend.

But it's been a sentimental car. And it's cheap to insure, so it appeals to my frugality. My original intent was to drive it to the ground. But in the past year, as I've learned more about vehicle maintenance, my goal has evolved into keeping the car running as long as practically possible. I fixed an issue with the wipers by replacing the multi-function switch. I solved a rough idle/stalling problem by cleaning the IAC (which apparently is called an Idle Speed Control valve on this car). I replaced the valve cover gaskets which were leaking. I had a mechanic use parts that I ordered to replace the transmission filter and the pan gasket that was leaking. And I even replaced the old rusty wheel covers to spruce up the look.

Part of the reason I've done all this work is because it's a lot cheaper than buying another car. And part of it is that the car is one of the few things I have from my grandfather, and I kind of think of it as my connection to him.

But lately, the work involved in maintaining this car has taken a mental toll. It's been only a few months and already the transmission pan gasket and one of the valve cover gaskets are leaking again. The design of the engine also makes it a pain to work on, unlike the Corolla. And the recurring coolant leak is caused by a flawed design where the timing cover gasket is too close to a Y-pipe, gets cooked and degrades, and then can go from a minor leak to a catastrophic leak very quickly. It's this leak that's been responsible for my car smoking a few times lately. And last Wednesday, after I parked at the gym and saw the engine smoking again, I decided that this ongoing maintenance wasn't worth it anymore. It's one thing to learn new things by fixing/maintaining a car, and another to continue pouring time and energy into fixing the same recurring issues.

So I started researching used cars. I wanted something not too expensive but reliable and easy to work on. So for me, that narrowed the choice down to Corollas and Civics. At my dad's suggestion, I signed up for a Consumer Reports membership so that I could see reliability metrics, and I noticed that Corollas generally had better scores than Civics, particularly in the early 2000s. And of course I was also biased towards Corollas since we had one already.

I didn't want to pony up for something too new. Too new also means more electronics, which are more complicated to diagnose and more expensive to fix. I found a 2006 Corolla CE with 105k miles being sold by a local BMW dealership (it was most likely a trade-in) that looked reasonable. Pretty bare bones and no cruise control, power windows or power locks. But it would be cheap to insure. And it was listed at $5292, which was apparently $428 below the Carfax value. CarGurus also said this was a good deal. The car was originally listed $700 or so higher a month ago, so it was clear that the dealer was having some trouble getting rid of it.

So I went to see the car on Friday. I had watched ChrisFix's videos on how to inspect a used car and had printed out the checklist, but I made the mistake of rushing and glossing over some details. Had I been thorough, I would've noticed a small crack in the windshield and that the paint on the front of the car had several small spots that were touched up crudely. But I did verify that all the electronics with the exception of the clock worked, that the underside looked sturdy and rust-free, that the brakes and wheels looked dry (the dealership repaired the rear wheel cylinders because they were leaking), that most of the engine was free of leaks, and that fluids looked the right color. My mistake was allowing myself to feel rushed. When the salesman brought me out to see the car and I told him I'd like to inspect it, he told me to test drive it first. I asked for time to inspect it, but by then I was in a hasty mindset. Very clever, those salesmen.

But the car drove smoothly. And it appeared to be in better condition than our existing Corolla. It had only one owner, who seemed to have taken care of it. For the given feature set, I felt like this particular car was a good choice. But I felt like the price was a bit high despite what Carfax and CarGurus said. NADA Guides gives this car a clean trade-in value of $3250 and clean retail value of $4975, which is the price a person would reasonably get when selling to a dealer and the price he'd pay when buying from a dealer, respectively. That's a $1725 spread. Not a shabby profit for the middleman!

The salesman initially said that the $5292 price was fixed. I told him I'd need time to think about it, so naturally he asked what price would get me to buy. I told him that this was the first car I've looked at and that I'd like to have a couple options, and that the most I'd be willing to pay at this time is $4800. He kept going out of his office to check with the manager and tried to get me down to $5200, $5000, and finally $4900. I kept reiterating that for more than $4800 I would need to think on it, but for $4800 I would take it right then. The salesman finally agreed to my price. It helped that this car hadn't been selling and that I wasn't desperate. I didn't entirely want to buy the car. Part of me was hoping that they would refuse my offer as maybe an omen that I should really try to stick it out with the Taurus.

So after paying DMV fees (the dealership will handle everything with the DMV, and I'll get my registration in the mail) and tax, my total came out to $5427. I think I bought a good car and I feel like the price was fair, though I wonder if I could've gotten another couple hundred off if I had noticed and mentioned the paintwork and the crack in the window.

But no matter. I'm happy with the car. The white and black color scheme and the gold stripes that were added make it look old, as does the worn faux leather steering wheel cover. Pretty sure nobody will be stealing this. Also, all the side windows had DIY tint on them, and it wasn't done very well. It was bubbling in some spots and some of the edges were cut haphazardly. The tint on the rear side windows was very dark and made it difficult to see out when driving, which was a safety hazard. So I pulled all the tint off. Fortunately it came right off and there was no glue. The dead clock is a known issue with older Corollas (we had the same problem with the first Corolla) and should be repairable. Other than that, the only problem I've found is that the valve cover gasket is leaking oil. But we had that problem on the first Corolla as well, and it should be easy enough to replace. My frugal self keeps telling me that I overspent, but I think the price was fair.

Part of me still wants to keep the Taurus running (heck, the registration is good for another year since I had recently renewed it). But I think I'm going to need to tell that part of me to let go. My time is better spent on improving myself, caring for my family and serving others. A car is a tool, and though our cars can often be quite sentimental, it shouldn't be the object, but rather the memories, in which the sentiment belongs. Sentimentality should not override practicality and the duty that I have to be a good steward of my time. If my grandfather were alive today, I think he would agree.
Tough Mudder Thrice - Sunday, November 4, 2018
Yesterday I did my third Tough Mudder, this time in Lake Elsinore. I opted for this one after the March SoCal event was cancelled due to excessive rain and mud (the irony).

So Friday night, we flew down to Santa Ana/Irvine, got our rental car, met up with Raymond at Pokenoya, walked around the Orange County Great Park (we wanted to get on the hot air balloon but it was shut down early due to wind conditions), and drove to our hotel in Lake Elsinore. The hotel was pretty ghetto but we chose it because it was 0.8 miles from the Lake Elsinore Diamond where the event was. So the next day, Priscilla just drove me down the street and dropped me off right at the venue.

After the event (which I'll elaborate on in a bit), we drove back to Irvine and checked into the Hilton by the airport. In the evening, Raymond picked us up and we went to Aaron and Lauren's place to hang out with them. But we didn't see the baby since she'd already gone to sleep. And finally on Sunday, we went to church at the Saddleback Irvine South location (we walked there from our hotel) before flying home. It was a pretty eventful weekend, so we hit the hay early.

So back to the SoCal Tough Mudder. Checkin and bag drop were pretty quick, though that was perhaps because I had an earlier wave time (9:00) and got there at 8:20, so it hadn't gotten too crowded yet. The format was pretty similar to the NorCal event a month ago, though the Full route here didn't involve doing two laps and repeating some obstacles. Unlike my previous two times, I ran this one solo (hard to find people crazy enough to sign up with me, especially if it involves travel). It was definitely more fun with a team, but since I was able to set my own pace, I chose to run most of the way and finished in just over 2.5 hours. But my legs started cramping at mile 8, and I'm not sure if that was due to the tight compression socks that I was wearing. On the positive side, the socks did prevent a lot of (though not all) grit from getting in.

There were 21 ostacles on the Full route. Like with NorCal, the first obstacle was Kiss of Mud 2.0, ensuring that everyone started off with their entire frontside covered with mud. On Hero Carry, I paired up with a big guy and it was challenging carrying him on my back, mostly because his damp legs (from the previous obstacle) kept slipping from my hands. So he started carrying me about 20 feet before the switch point.

Blockness Monster was again a lot of fun, though most people didn't turn around and grab the block on their way down, which reduced throughput by a lot. SoCal had one obstacle I've never done - Tower of Tire, where people had to climb over a wall made of giant tires stacked three layers high. Pretty easy.

Mud Mile 2.0 was easier than it was at NorCal. Most people were able to get over the first two sections without help. The remaining sections required minimal help - just one person giving one hand from above.

Having had experience from a month ago, I breezed through Kong Infinity and Funky Monkey, though my technique still could use work. Cage Crawl was again a bit vexing, but I was doing ok until near the end, when the cage got pretty close to the water and then my face had nowhere to go but under the water. I then started freaking out and pulled myself through as fast as possible while getting water up my nose and down my throat. I can see how this could be a dangerous obstacle - I honestly wonder if anybody's come close to drowning.

On the next obstacle, Just the Tip, I got further than I did at NorCal, making it past the knobs and pegs in the middle. But on the latter half, it was too painful to keep holding onto the wood edge, so I bailed. I actually ended up losing some skin on my palm here. The guy after me completed this obstacle pretty easily, and he said that the trick was to keep the arms hanging loose instead of doing the cat grip that I was doing. In keeping the arms loose, the grip would probably also be relaxed and rely mainly on the tip of the fingers, which explains the name of the obstacle.

Arctic Enema was pretty cold, but I really felt it after getting out. That's when the shock wears off, I guess. And speaking of shocks, Electroshock Therapy was the next obstacle. I tried to carefully weave through the wires but still got hit twice in the back. I crouched to get under some of the wires, and the announcer compared me to a baby bird crouching in a nest and said that somebody should come and put regurgitated food into my mouth. I think this was the same announcer who in 2014 commented about me making sweet love to the mud! At least I didn't crawl through the mud on all fours this time.

Immediately afterwards was the final obstacle, Happy Ending. People were really good about forming human ladders and didn't seem to have the trouble that people were having at NorCal. I was able to get up pretty quickly thanks to some heroes at the bottom. And with that, upon crossing the finish line, my third Tough Mudder was complete.

I had fun, and it was great to see everybody tackling the obstacles and giving it their all. But I'm probably not going to sign up for another one unless somebody asks me to run with them. I don't really enjoy getting dirty, the overhead of getting to the events is a bit much, and the nature of the obstacles lend themselves to completing them with people you know. I do still enjoy the obstacles and the athleticism, and I'd like to try Spartan Race, which is intended to be more individualistic and competitive. But that will have to wait since I have an ankle injury, wrist pain and a GI condition that I'm trying to recover from. My biggest obstacle, apparently, really is myself. But these are hurdles, and hurdles are meant to be conquered.
Positively Possum - Saturday, October 27, 2018
About a month ago, I started noticing animal droppings in the backyard in the gravel bed behind the house. It seemed like an animal had made our yard its latrine, so, trying to discourage this behavior, I cleaned up the poop and sprinkled chili powder on the gravel bed and even put chicken wire on top. This seemed to have a limited effect, as I found more poop there a couple days later, but then I also started finding poop in the other gravel bed on the side of the house as well as in random places around the yard.

I also noticed a small hole under the back fence and a hole under the shed. Every time I filled in these holes, I would find them opened up again the next day. So I reasoned that the animal was living under the shed and going out into the neighbor's yard at night.

Then one night, after hearing a noise outside, I went out with a flashlight and saw a skunk. Or at least what appeared to be a skunk at the time. It was caught on the other side of the house and kept pushing against the gate trying to get out. It did not attempt to climb the fence. This matched what I later read about skunks being good diggers but poor climbers. I didn't feel like getting sprayed, so I went back in the house and let the skunk disappear on its own.

I also read that skunks making their den on your property should be assumed to be raising baby skunks. So I sent a message to the county animal control, but after receiving no reply, I decided to enlist the help of a local company to trap the skunk. The guy came over and set a live trap and threw some food pellets inside, but the next morning, I found the trap sprung but no animal inside. So the guy came back and reset the trap and left a cup of food inside. The next morning, the cup was empty but the trap had not been sprung. It appeared that the animal was getting wise to what was going on.

Realizing that you need to be smarter than an animal in order to trap it, I took it upon myself to set a better trap, especially since the guy became increasingly nonspecific about when he could come over. I covered the bottom of the trap with dried grass and leaves and hung some Mandarin slices (from our tree in front) in a plastic bag and hung it in the rear of the cage. The idea, which I got from a forum post, was to make the animal work harder to get the food and let its guard down in the process. I was actually looking forward to catching something now; it had turned into a game of man vs animal. Well perhaps Mandarins weren't the most appealing bait or the bait looked too hard to reach, because it took four days for the trap to be sprung this time. But this time, I found a possum inside.

I discovered new poop in the gravel bed the same morning when I found the possum, and I did find one picture of possum poop online that resembled the kind that I was finding, so I found it plausible that the animal leaving poop in the yard and living under the shed was a possum all along. Possums are beneficial animals (for instance, they eat slugs, snails and cockroaches), so I didn't want to have it killed, but I didn't want this possum sticking around. California law says that if you do not release trapped animals on site, you're not allowed to relocate them. They have to be euthanized. I was really tempted to drive somewhere at night and release the possum, but I wasn't itching to break the law or have a wild animal in my trunk, so I decided to just have the guy come and take the possum away. It was $200 for the initial visit and $125 to remove the possum. Not cheap, but worth not having to pick up poop in the yard all the time.

The guy offered to set a new trap and I agreed. The new one had some sticky stuff smeared inside that had a strong odor, sure to get an animal's attention. It looked like Nutella but smelled way more pungent. Stuck to the rear wall of the trap were many food flakes; an animal would definitely need to walk in pretty far in order to eat any of it. It took another six days for an animal to be caught, and that animal turned out to be... another possum. But I didn't want to pay another $125 to have it removed, and I hadn't seen any new poop around the yard or evidence of digging underneath the shed, so I figured that this possum was just wandering through, possibly attracted to our yard by the smelly trap. So I decided to let it go and have the guy come back to take the trap away.

Things have remained ok - no more poop showing up. Priscilla notes that our problems began after I started an unenclosed compost pile in the backyard. The fact that I poured out the leftovers of fish porridge (with the fish removed, but still reeking of fish) one day probably exacerbated the problem. I've since stopped throwing food scraps in the backyard and have also been diligent about removing fallen pomegranates from the neighbor's tree that overhangs into our yard, which fall to the ground after squirrels start munching on them. So hopefully this will discourage animals from coming by regularly and making our yard their latrine.

I'm still pretty sure that I saw a skunk that night, though I could believe that it was actually the first possum. At any rate, I haven't seen a skunk since, and it does not appear that there are baby skunks (or baby possums) living under the shed. I don't know if the second possum will come back, having had a traumatic experience here. But if it does return, I would be glad for its visit. I'm just counting on it not getting too comfortable here.
The Bay Area is Getting Crowded - Thursday, October 11, 2018
Over the past several years, I've noticed Bay Area traffic getting worse, stores getting more crowded, and high rise apartments going up along busy streets. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population for Santa Clara County was 1,682,585 in 2000 and 1,781,642 in 2010. It'll be interesting to see what the count is in 2020, but the estimate for 2017 was 1,938,153. That's an 8.8% increase in the last 7 years. In contrast, San Francisco County had an estimated population of only 884,363 in 2017 - less than half of Santa Clara County. Not what I expected.

Here's what traffic looks like on a typical day when I want to leave work:

Traffic map

It takes me about a constant 32 minutes to bike from home to work or vice-versa. During times of heavy traffic, it might take me 37 minutes to drive home. Freeways and expressways turn into parking lots. Working from home is starting to look like a better option.

Perhaps the one silver lining of all this population growth is that our home value has appreciated by 85% since we bought it nearly 5 years ago. Which is not necessarily great now since it means that our property taxes go up by the maximum allowed amount under Prop 13 every year, but I guess we'll be happy the day we decide to sell and move somewhere less crowded.
Tough Mudder 2x - Sunday, October 7, 2018
Warning: minor Tough Mudder spoilers ahead!

Yesterday I ran my second Tough Mudder, this time at the Sonoma Raceway, an hour and 45 minutes from home. I and two others from Pure signed up and were supposed to do it last year, but that event was cancelled due to the Sonoma wildfires. Fortunately, the skies were clear this year for the rescheduled NorCal event.

Our start time was 10:00, but despite pulling into the parking lot an hour early, we ended up going out in the 10:45 wave due to insane wait times, particularly a 45-minute wait to get checked in at Mudder Village. The checkin process was pretty slow and inefficient, and there were not enough helpers. It took another 15-20 minutes to get our bag checked in. At least there were enough porta-potties at the village for there to be no wait there.

Once on the course though, everything was great. There were well-stocked water stations (half with food) every couple miles. The obstacles were excellent and the wait times at each were minimal. And the camaraderie was amazing.

When I did my first TM in 2014, there was only one type of event, which is now called the Full. Now, there's also a Half and a 5k that overlaps with the Full event. It's TM's way of broadening the appeal and reaching those who may not want to do the full distance or set of obstacles (e.g. no Arctic Enema or Electroshock Therapy on the 5k and Half). Our group did the Full (I wouldn't settle for less). There are also harder event types that are held in different locations, but we're not crazy enough to do those, yet.

The format for the Full has changed. It involved doing two laps around: first a 6-mile loop, then a shorter 4-mile loop. Because of this, 4 of the initial obstacles were encountered twice. There were 20 unique obstacles on the Full route.

After an initial jog up and down a hill, the first obstacle was the Kiss of Mud 2.0, where you crawl on your belly under barbed wire through mud. Great way to start things off - with your frontside completely covered in brown!

The Mud Mile 2.0 was a little annoying. You had to slide down into a 6-foot trench filled with muddy water and get help up onto the next section. The way the walls were constructed, you couldn't really get a good grip on the walls yourself. So usually this would involve at least two people helping you from above, below, or both. You had to do around 8 of these. I skinned both my arms pretty good on this obstacle, and it was the sole obstacle our group decided to bypass on lap 2.

Block Ness Monster was the most fun. This involved teamwork but also some basic physics. Most people however did not turn around and grab the block on their way down; it would've allowed more people to get over faster if they did.

Last time, I didn't have much trouble with Cage Crawl, but this time, my head dipped below the water early on and I got water up my nose. I then started getting anxious and ended up swallowing some of the water a couple times (hope it was sanitary). I guess the trick here is to be relaxed and to realize that you have enough room to keep your head above the water without your face rubbing against the cage.

Berlin Walls was easier this time. The three of us were able to get on the step at the bottom and jump up and grab the top of the wall on our own. Last time, I needed help reaching the top. I think the step has been made bigger so that you can have both feet firmly planted on it, which wasn't the case last time.

Happy Ending was by far the obstacle requiring the most teamwork and coordination, and as a result, was the most rewarding. It involves forming a human support structure to allow people to climb up a smooth 40-degree wall. In some videos, you can see ropes or horizontal planks halfway up the wall, which makes it a lot easier to get up. Ours had none of these. So it took a lot of effort to form a chain to get people up, and man were things chaotic. One person would have to stand on a narrow ledge at the base of the wall, then another on his shoulders, then a third on his. A fourth person would be at the bottom supporting the first person's feet, which otherwise were likely to slip and cause the entire human ladder to come crashing down. Finally, the ladder would be long enough for one person at a time to climb up to the reaching arms above. In practice, things were not so orderly. I started out holding a guy's feet, but then they told me to climb up, but the ladder started collapsing before I could get high enough, so then I ended up being part of the ladder for a while. Finally, people gave me the chance to go up again, and when I was standing on top of a 2-person ladder, a guy above who was dangling down, his legs held onto by others, was able to grab my hands to pull me up. Talk about teamwork!

Arctic Enema didn't feel too bad when I first got in, but when I dunked my head under the water was when I really felt the chill. Still, this was pretty manageable.

On Electroshock Therapy, I got shocked in the middle of the back when going through the first or second row of wires. It felt like a rubber band snapping against my skin, but it probably would've been worse if the wire had touched my bare skin. I rolled over the hay bale in the middle and then crawled the rest of the way, so I didn't get shocked again. Next time I'm going to try to force myself to just run through quickly. It seems more mental than anything else.

On Just the Tip, I did fine climbing along the wood edge, but as soon as I tried to grab a round knob halfway through, I didn't have enough grip and bailed. I'd been wearing gloves up to this point, thinking that they would help during the climbing obstacles, but all they did was get muddy and slippery.

So on Funky Monkey and Kong Infinity, I did it without the gloves and got all the way across on both. These were pretty cool - it was nice to see that those obstacles got a big facelift since last time.

Everest 2.0 was the final obstacle. Despite the rounded lip that's been added, most people were able to get up on the first try as they grabbed onto the hands above. I just ran hard towards the wall, and when I felt myself losing speed due to the curve, I made myself run even harder, so I think I may have gotten my hands on the rounded lip, but of course I had nothing to really grab onto, so the people up there pulled me up all the same. Tough Mudder complete!

Special mention to some very awesome people we met on the course. The first was a guy decked out not in athletic wear, but in a suit and tie. He was also wearing a black 25x headband. Respect! We also ran into some guys carrying a large crash pad the size of a twin mattress. They were also doing the Full and would be rewarded with money for charity for getting the thing to the finish line. Really taking that team building to the next level!

At the finish line, I was sad to see that there weren't people crowning Mudders with headbands. I guess it would get too hectic given that each event type has its own headband, but it could still be done. Instead, there was a table with event headbands and all the different Legionnaire headbands that were out for taking on the honor system. There was a staffer there, but she wasn't looking people up on a list. Also, my headband just says "Tough Mudder Full", no longer showing the year. Makes it a little less fun to collect them. The finisher T-shirt (now blue instead of black) does still show the year.

Compared to last time, the showers were not freezing cold and there were changing tents. It was nice to be able to change into fresh clothes immediately after hosing off. I would've liked to change my mud-water-infused underwear, but I didn't have a towel and didn't want to bare it all in the tent I was sharing with several other guys, so I opted to just change my pants and shirt. I changed my socks and shoes when I got back to the car, and having paper towels on hand was very useful to wipe off my feet before putting on fresh socks.

I had a lot of fun and was glad to run with my coworkers. I trained more this time around, but even without that, this event seemed a little easier than the one we did in 2014 (e.g. there's now just one obstacle with electric shocks instead of three). The obstacles are more complex than some of the more basic ones we did before. Tough Mudder definitely seems to have gotten more mainstream and commercial since 2014, but as far as I know, they still rely on volunteers for staffing. Given that the company had over $100 million in revenue in 2016, perhaps it's time to start hiring people to ensure an adequate level of staffing for the larger number of participants it's allowing into its events.

My Tough Mudder adventure will continue next month as I do the SoCal event in Lake Elsinore.
New Motherboard - Friday, October 5, 2018
Lately I've been having stability issues with my desktop computer, ranging from freezes to blue screens, to USB storage devices not connecting properly. Reformatting didn't solve the problem, and the RAM tested as error-free. The power supply tested fine, though I didn't test it under load. I suspected the problem to be with the motherboard but didn't have a reliable way to test it, so I decided to just opt for replacing the motherboard. This would allow me to keep the rest of my components since, although they're five years old, they've been sufficient for my computing needs.

Because I have an Intel CPU, my motherboard socket type (LGA 1155) was fairly out of date, so my options were pretty thin. But I found a Chinese wholesaler on eBay selling used Gigabyte Z77 motherboards for $74, guaranteed to be "100% working", which seemed like a good deal. The motherboard came quickly and sure enough worked perfectly and solved all my stability issues.

The one annoying thing was that the BIOS was initially in Chinese, and I had to hunt around to find the setting to change it to English. Even after that, a couple words are still in Chinese, but it's not a big deal.

I have the OEM version of Windows 7, which I read on multiple forums is tied to one motherboard and won't allow reactivation when switching it out. But I had no problems reactivating and didn't have to call Microsoft support. YMMV, I guess.
2018 Musings - Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Well hello there. In case you haven't noticed, it's 2018. I'm now just writing my first blog entry for the year, which is by far the latest that I've started in any given year.

I might try to say the dearth of blog posts is because some of the experiences I used to blog about I now instead write about on Yelp, but that's not quite the entire picture, is it? Whereas in college I'd write about nearly every class, every encounter and what I'd be doing on holidays, nowadays my writing is limited to infrequent highlights of the year, at best. Granted, some of my earlier posts were just a few words long and resembled a Twitter feed before Twitter was even a thing, but what's changed? Could it be that I've simply grown tired of writing about my life? That the novelty of having an active blog has faded? Or could it be that I'm at the stage in life where people commonly settle into a routine where not much changes from day to day, or even year to year?

"Hey, long time no see! What's new?"

"Oh, well, I'm still at the same company I've been at for the last few years. We did some traveling last year and this year. Still playing drums for church. Not much else."

Is this why people feel like life just flies quickly by and is over before they know it?

I don't want that to be my life. There's more to life than work and even more than the sporadic vacation to an awesome place. What am I passionate about, really?

Well, let's get the yearly highlights out of the way, since they do matter. Last December, Priscilla and I contributed a good chunk of money to help her parents buy a condo close to their church, so now their drive to church is 7 minutes instead of 40. Since her parents are retired and her mom spends a lot of time helping church people, this was a logical step. Her mom spends a lot of time at the condo but her dad prefers staying at the house (I completely sympathize with him), but they're trying to get him to commit to moving to the condo so that they can live there full-time. It'll mean serious downsizing, which will be difficult to say the least.

In June, Priscilla and I visited Chicago. I was awed by the architecture and the human ingenuity behind it. Some highlights of the trip were an architectural river cruise, Navy Pier, Buckingham Fountain, Maggie Daley Park, the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and visiting Skydeck at Willis Tower when there were no lines due to heavy fog.

Then last month, we went to Seattle and visited a couple airport lounges (Priscilla loves using her Priority Pass and American Express Platinum card to get into lounges), the Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place, the Museum of Pop Culture, and the Amazon Go store which is an amazing technical feat. We also spent a whole day with Nathan and Andrea and their very energetic toddler at their church, house and two restaurants. We stayed with them longer than planned, but it was the most rewarding part of our trip.

Five months from now, we'll be visiting Barcelona. We're spending a few minutes a day learning Spanish, hoping to better immerse ourselves in the culture when we visit, and hoping to better remember and utilize the Spanish that we learned in high school. I took three years of Spanish in high school and quickly forgot almost all of it. Sad.

This year, I've taught myself more about cars. It was just a year ago that I knew almost nothing about car maintenance, and cared almost as little about having it done. Once it sunk in that this was not a good long-term approach, I started researching more about what maintenance items needed to be done on our old cars. My cheapness, as well as my mechanic's reluctance to fix everything on my nearly 30-year-old car, made me decide to learn to fix some things myself. YouTube, after all, is a great teacher. On the Taurus, I solved an idling issue by cleaning the IAC, diagnosed and replaced a faulty multi-function switch, replaced the fuel filter, and replaced the valve cover gaskets. The car is not designed to be easy to work on, especially since it has a bulky V6 engine. On the other hand, the Corolla is designed nicely, down to the little things like all the bolt heads being 10mm. I haven't had to do as much work on the Corolla (it's a very reliable car), but I did replace the spiral cable behind the steering wheel (the dealer wanted $700 to replace it; I did it myself using a $12 part from eBay), diagnose and replace a faulty compressor clutch relay, and replace the spark plugs. I never imagined I'd learn so much about vehicle maintenance, but YouTube and Haynes/Chilton repair manuals have gotten me far.

So back to the issue of passion. Where is mine? As much as some people claim to be passionate about their jobs, I can't honestly say that I'm passionate about mine. I have a great job with awesome teammates, and I generally enjoy the work that I do. But at the end of the day, it's just a job that's a means to an end, and not something that I live and breathe. A tow truck driver (whose services I enlisted - see above about not taking good car of my car) once told me, "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." That guy claimed to love his job that much. I don't think that will be me. Work is not what fulfills me.

I guess what I enjoy is learning skills and then putting them into practice. I think that's what kept me interested in working on cars - learning a skill to solve a tangible problem. Given enough time, there are a few things I want to do. I'd like to get better at running, trail running in particular, and be able to easily run an ultramarathon. Running the 30-mile Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail is on my bucket list. I'd like to learn to sail and get an ASA certification; being able to charter a boat from SF to Angel Island or even be 100 miles from shore for a week sounds great. And I'd like to learn to fly a plane and get a private pilot license. But these are goals, not passions.

Honestly, I don't think I've found a real passion yet. Maybe I'm still trying to get in touch with myself, to figure out who the real me is while working on the things I think need adjustment. But one thing's for certain - I want to make sure that (what are hopefully) the middle years of my life are meaningful, a time of growth, and not just gone in the blink of an eye.
Hiking - Sunday, December 31, 2017
In keeping up with my madness, and for her own health, Priscilla has been setting a fitness goal for the last couple years. Last year it was to do 10,000 steps every day. This year it was to do 40 hikes.

I initially thought that 40 hikes would be difficult to do, but we powered through and were always ahead of schedule. Our last hike was last Friday at Big Basin, and I enjoyed it especially because of the waterfalls, which none of the other places we went to had (unless you count Barton Creek Greenbelt which had small ones).

The places we hiked were:
  1. The Dish
  2. The Dish
  3. Picchetti Ranch
  4. The Dish
  5. Monte Bello
  6. The Dish
  7. Los Gatos Creek Trail
  8. Monte Bello
  9. Los Trancos
  10. Castle Rock
  11. Fremont Older
  12. Los Gatos Creek Trail
  13. Mission Peak
  14. The Dish
  15. Calero County Park
  16. Villa Montalvo
  17. Muir Woods
  18. Wahkeena to Multnomah Falls
  19. Stevens Creek County Park
  20. Rancho San Antonio
  21. Cliffs of Moher
  22. Mr Madonna
  23. Purisima Creek
  24. Coyote Lake
  25. Vasona Lake
  26. Joseph D Grant
  27. Monte Bello
  28. Purisima Creek
  29. Redwood Christian Park
  30. Glen Canyon Park and Twin Peaks
  31. Coyote Lake
  32. Coyote Lake
  33. Saratoga Gap and Upper Stevens Creek
  34. Upper Stevens Creek and Long Ridge
  35. Barton Creek Greenbelt
  36. St. Joseph's Hill
  37. Griffith Park
  38. Castle Rock
  39. Topanga State Park
  40. Big Basin

We went to The Dish five times, the most of any place. I don't enjoy that hike as much as other places, but we went there during rainy days (which there were a lot of this year) because it's paved. 7 of the hikes were to fulfill the Pix in Parks Challenge put on by the Santa Clara Department of Parks and Recreation, where the reward was a free shirt. A couple of the hikes were done by Priscilla with other people (not me), but I made up for it because I went to a few places on my own. One of the places was in Ireland, and one of them was in Texas.

Usually on our hikes, we would start together but I would soon go off running on my own, since she likes to go at a relaxed pace while I like to do trail running. I would sometimes run ahead and then run back to tell her which path to take at the next fork. Or if it was a place we were more familiar with, I'd go run a longer route on my own and then try to meet up with her at the end. This allowed us to both get what we felt was a good workout for ourselves, and we only ever lost each other once (at Castle Rock, lesson learned there).

Her goal for 2018 is 10,000 steps again, but I'm sure that we'll still find fun places to go!
Jonathan - Sunday, February 26, 2017
Today was Jonathan's last day playing on the worship team with us, and it was a bittersweet time for me and Priscilla. It was great playing "Jesus Shall Reign" and "O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus" with him today. He has his own unique style (and level of talent) that nobody else at church can replicate. It may very well be that we'll never do those songs at church again.

Jonathan joined the team in either 2009 or 2010. Before that, it was just me and Scott. Over the years, Jonathan and I have played together under every worship leader we've had: Scott, Uncle Raymond, Tim, the other Tim, Joe, Daniel and Brian, though he's had to play less frequently as a couple other pianists joined over the years. I've really admired him for his talent, his humbleness, and his words of godly wisdom over email and on our short-lived RBF worship blog.

I'm a little sad that I never got the chance to know him outside of worship at RBF, but perhaps there's still time for us to get together before he leaves. He is leaving at the end of next month to accept a professorship at my alma mater. We wish him well, and he will be sorely missed.
Saving - Tuesday, February 21, 2017
For about as long as I've known the concept of money, I've always been a saver. I would probably credit my father for instilling in me the value of money, and my paternal grandfather for instilling in me the value of saving that money.

In Christmas of the year I was born, my grandfather sent me a $200 EE savings bond. Holding this bond in my hands right now, it feels like a piece of history. It's printed on cardstock - slightly thicker and heavier than more modern ones. The bond features a picture of John F Kennedy and has several rectangular holes punched through it, for running through what was surely a state-of-the-art computer back then.

The bond is addressed to me with my dad listed as the co-owner, in case future me would stick a fork into an electrical outlet and fry himself. Our names and address appear to have been typed with a typewriter. "Moanalua Branch First Hawaiian Bank" and the date are hand-stamped onto the right side of the bond.

I can picture my grandfather over 30 years ago, when he and my grandmother were living in Honolulu, walking into this bank, filling out a form and paying for this bond with $100 (half the face value) from his checking account, and mailing it to his son 2,500 miles away across the Pacific. Maybe the bond was mailed with a Christmas card, and as he wrote that card, I wonder if he wondered himself what kind of person his grandson (barring any mishaps with electrical outlets) would grow up to be. Did he have aspirations for my career and family? Did he want me to go to good schools, to become an engineer like himself, to marry a good Chinese girl? If so, he would probably be pleased on all accounts with how things turned out. Unfortunately, as he wasn't a Christian himself, he wouldn't have had in mind what is truly most important - learning to live a life glorifying to God.

But my grandfather did teach me the value of saving and of planning for the future. By the next year, he was sending two $500 bonds every year, for my birthday and for Christmas. He started doing the same for my brother after my brother was born. My grandfather kept this up for over a decade before his health started declining rapidly.

He may have intended for the bonds to be used to pay for higher education; college never gets cheaper, after all. But EE bonds reach full maturity in 30 years, several years after a person typically graduates from college. Was he hoping that I would pursue more education after undergrad, or was the money for my older and (hopefully) wiser self to decide what to do with, including redeeming before the maturity date if I thought it prudent? I don't think it was ever made clear to me, and in fact, my dad held onto the bonds for me until I asked for them after I graduated college (he probably just stashed them away and then it was out of sight, out of mind). My parents graciously put me through college, so I didn't have to spend any of that bond money. Now that I'm working, the amount of money I get from maturing bonds, though not insignificant, is not a life-changing amount. But for me to even be in this position of relative security is something I owe to my parents and grandparents. Many others are not as fortunate.

In terms of the value of money, my dad said to me when I was young that "$1 is a lot for a kid". I don't remember the context, but it probably had to do with him giving me some money for discretionary spending at school (e.g. a book fair or something). I guess that idea stuck with me, as I've been pretty frugal my whole life. In grade school, I would enjoy buying the occasional item from the book fair, and in middle school, I went through a phase where I thought it was ok to pay $50 for a deck of Pokemon cards, but by and large, I didn't buy a lot of things.

I was never given an allowance. In grade school, when I wanted a new bike, I had to earn it by doing chores; each completed chore was worth a dollar or two. That was a lot of chores for a bike that cost over $100. My parents trusted me to keep a tally of completed chores and to let them know when I had reached the goal. It was never about them not wanting to spend the money; rather, it was about instilling a work ethic in their children. I think that paid off.

Nowadays I still consider myself to be frugal, but I've learned to spend money on things that really matter - on activities with people, and on quality things that will make my life better. It's still hard for me to be ok with spending $50 on dinner with friends, but if it's a special occasion with people I care about, then I'll do it. Or for me to let Priscilla spend a few thousand dollars on an international trip for us, but I do appreciate the value of experiences.

Someday if we have kids of our own, I hope to be able to provide for their growth and happiness, while instilling in them a strong work ethic. And while I'll teach them the importance of saving, I hope I can also demonstrate the importance of spending money and time intentionally on the things that matter most.
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