Blech back

Sorry it’s been a while, my web site got hacked and I was too lazy to restore it. It turned out to be an insecure version of Gallery, which I wasn’t really using anyways. When I finally sat down to do it, it only took 10 minutes to restore the parts I wanted(this blog).

I’ll post more soon. Although I am annoyed that FB won’t be reading and importing RSS feeds, so I’ll have to figure out a way to cross-post from here to G+, Twitter, FB.

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On 9/11/2001 I lived at my home in Belmont. I was awakened by a call in the morning from my manager at Blue Martini, Michelle. She told me what had happened. I don’t think she used the words terrorist attack, it wasn’t really something that people talked about before then. But she did say I didn’t need to come in to work if I didn’t feel like it.

I did nothing but stayed at home and watch TV all day. The endless replays of the towers falling and  Peter Jennings sitting at his news desk just cemented the same couple of scenes in my mind. There wasn’t much I could do except watch, I felt too distant to do anything. People were already organizing to help and give blood.  I tried to call my brother Tim a few times even though his place in Long Island was pretty far from the towers and he wouldn’t likely be in Manhattan, but couldn’t get a hold of him.

I got on IRC and chatted with my friends about what was going on. We tried to guess how many lives would be lost at the towers. Our estimates were far higher than the actual death toll because there was more time for people to get out than we had expected. It was a dispassionate conversation of rational people who are distantly watching thousands of miles away.

There wasn’t much information about who or why on that day. I remember hoping that any kind of military reaction to the incident wouldn’t be too extreme, but I knew better. I remember the vigils around the world to commemorate the victims and I silently thanked the world for a moment of unity.

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Let there be light

We installed solar panels on the house. It’s a great long term savings, I encourage everyone to look into it if you satisfy the following conditions:

  1. PG&E is your electric company
  2. You spend more than $150/mo in electricity
  3. Your roof can support them and your house has good sunlight

More on these:

1: PG&E

The biggest thing I learned about this whole process is that PG&E’s pricing is way out of line with what it should be. In nearby Santa Clara where people use Silicon Valley Power, the prices are way less. I knew this was the case because of all the data centers in Santa Clara are there because of the power prices, but I hadn’t ever looked at how much of a difference it is. The base rates of SVP are about 1/2 of PG&E. And it gets worse for energy hogs like me. The top of PG&E’s tiered pricing at $.55/kwh is more than 5x the SVP pricing of $.08/kwh. I hate PG&E now. I wish we could switch power companies.

2: Spend $150/mo

I’m not really energy conscious I know. I let my pcs run overnight. I do laundry when I want. I put a lot of stress on the grid. I’m ok with that. What solar does is offset the super high tiered pricing I pay at $.55/kwh. My solar system won’t ever get me to 0 usage or to return credits. I am all about getting value for my investment, and the best value is in just reducing the high tiered pricing. If you spend $150/mo you’re into high tiered pricing and solar systems will be a much better value. If you’re only spending $75-$100/mo it might not be worth it.

3: Good sunlight

Obvious, no explanation needed.

Here’s some of the rough math. My 5.9Kwh system will save me about $170/mo forever and cost me $33k-$12k tax credits = $21k. So the payoff time is somewhere around 11 years. But after that it’s about $2k/year free. The ROI is far better than anything I could do in the market and much lower risk, something like 16%.

Other thoughts:

The tax credits are super-huge. The federal tax credit is 30% of your system cost. So they reduce the payoff time significantly. They expire in 2016 I think, so do it before then.

I am all about practicality and value for my money. I am not a super green person who is going to spend the money to get to 0 emissions(it’d cost a lot more and the payoff time could be like 20 years). I went with a system that is the best bang for the buck. It’s possible to go with more complex, bigger systems to get to 0 cost, battery backed or off-grid, but it’s really not worth it.

Also remember that it adds immediate value to your house. Finance if you must, but avoid leases, leases are deals for suckers because the solar company will want you to sign over the big tax credit to them. If you are extremely cash flow sensitive and can’t afford the $50/mo it’d cost to finance solar panels, maybe a lease could make sense I suppose, but strongly avoid that.

To me, an important indirect value of solar power generation is that it’s a permanent hedge against energy inflation. No one would be happy with 10-15% annual energy price increases, but solar will soften the blow.

The panels are the most expensive parts, but the rest of the system is not cheap either, so to amortize the cost of the rest of the system I went a bit larger than I had to.

I used Renewable Power Solutions and was pleased with them, but I was also considering using SolarCity. Both seemed good. My panels are from SunPower, they are the standard efficiency models, running about 14% efficiency. The high efficiency ones are about 20% efficient, but cost around 2x as much, so they generally aren’t worth it, unless you are space constrained.

PG&E hasn’t approved my system to connect to their grid, but I’ll try to give some updates on it after I have a couple months of power generation.

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Sorry been a while. Let’s talk Leaf.

I picked up my Nissan Leaf yesterday. It has been a moderately painful and confusing process. Nissan first gave me an early April delivery date, and their web site said they’d contact me if they needed to modify the delivery date by 2 weeks or more. They never contacted me, but delayed my delivery date by 1 week 4 times, thanks for that. The level 2 charger hasn’t been installed, but I’m not in a super rush because I think I can wall charge for a while.

Overall it drives well. It drives surprisingly light, despite being 3300 lbs. The ECO mode has kind of slow pickup, but the default drive mode seems pretty close to a normal car. It does seem to decelerate more than a regular gas car when you let up off the gas pedal, but it’s not too bad. The limited range makes you very conscious about battery and range, so I find myself checking range left very frequently. Maybe that will go away with time.

I think it’s not the prettiest car, but the interior is pretty nice and roomier than you might expect. The trunk is tiny though.

The range is a bit disappointing. I was expecting somewhere over 120 miles, but eyeballing the trip computer, I think I’ll be lucky to get 100 miles. I may have to charge at work until I get the level 2 charger installed at home. The Level 2 charger will charge in 8 hours, while the wall charging I’m doing now supposedly takes about 18 hours.

The electronics are the most sophisticated I’ve ever seen in a car(not a surprise because I haven’t bought a car in 5 years, and I don’t keep up on car electronics). Among the nice features: play audio over bluetooth, built in usb-iphone connectivity, backup camera, lots of energy related display modes and configuration options, an iphone app which can set your cars charging schedule and tell you how much battery it has left. The battery telematics features are important because energy pricing can vary so widely, you might want to charge at night or not charge to 100% to preserve battery life.

Cost wise, all the incentives make it worth it. I think I’m going to be able to get a state 5k tax credit, a federal $7.5k tax deduction, a $1k deduction on the charger installation, and the carpool lane sticker. That means a real price about $8k off. I’m expecting mileage to cost me less  than $.05/mile compared to about $.12 for the Prius and $.18 for our Acura TL. The maintenance will be cheaper too due to the simpler design compared to a gas car, but I can’t accurately price it. The bigger savings will be the switch I’m making on my electric bill from regular pricing to Time Of Use pricing, which could easily save me $50/mo by itself. I’m not sure who is eligible for it, but I think everyone should investigate for themselves whether they can get TOU pricing and how much it would save.

Overall I’m pleased, but it’s still very early.

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That Asian Parent Thing

The Amy Chua article has caused something of a stir in the Asian American community. I’ve read a bunch of different viewpoints and don’t really have anything new to add. I think it is mostly true and captures a more extreme view what a lot of me and my Asian peers experienced. I would call my parents on the medium to low pressure scale compared to other Asian American parents but still more than the average white peer, and for that I’m thankful. Yes I had to take more violin than I would’ve volunteered for. Yes I got above average SAT scores(nowhere close to 1600).There was an emphasis on science and math, which eventually got me interested in computers and computer science. I won the math and science award at school. I played pretty good tennis.

I think it did breed in me a pretty strong competitive instinct. In some ways, I think that’s pretty important, because I compete at something all the time even today, though that could be just my male ego. By the time I got to college I was plenty prepared for the academic experience. Though I wasn’t as prepared for the social aspect. I coped and learned as most people do.

From a standpoint of making sure that kids are financially self-sufficient I think the Asian style parenting is very successful at what it does. The biggest thing a parent can provide kids is provide financial stability, and the best way to do that is with either an inheritance or an education, you know teach a man to fish and all.  Obviously some people take it to extremes, but clearly if you measure salaries the average outcome  for an Asian American is very good. It’s pretty rare that I hear about a poor destitute Asian.

On balance, I think there’s nothing wrong with being a little Asian style parenting and I hope to be as successful as my parents were. As a parent I’m going to probably going to split the middle of what my parents would do versus what a typical white parent would do. This article reminds me that it’s hard to be a good at anything if you never push yourself. And it’s important to test your limits every so often, whether it’s physically, mentally, or psychologically. So maybe I’ll push my kids a bit more than I have been. Anyone in the South Bay know a good piano school?

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Alternative Schooling

Sorry for the long absence of posting…

Lucas will be old enough for kindergarten in the fall and we’re trying to decide whether to send him to a traditional school John Muir elementary or the district’s alternative school Christa McAuliffe. Today I took a tour and came away somewhat more positive on the concept than I had been.

I don’t know much about current education theory but it’s clearly somewhat different than what I experienced as a kid. Class sizes are pretty small and there is a lot of parent involvement. Generally speaking, they want kids to enjoy learning and build inquisitive minds and independent thinking skills. They want to build well rounded children with education instead of  just reading, writing, arithmetic and include other things like music and social intelligence.  They emphasize interactivity and developing intellectual curiosity instead of rote learning and process rather than results. On the one hand I generally agree that process is important, on the other hand, for the rest of your life you’ll be evaluated on what you actually achieve  and not how you learn.

The emphasis on interactivity and process manifests itself in several subtle ways. They don’t want desks lined up in rows facing the teacher, but prefer them in small circles facing other kids. They don’t give much homework, and if they do they ensure that it is relevant to things subjects being taught in school. There are a lot of field trips, and parents are expected to help and chaperone them. They spend a lot of time educating parents so that teachers and parents have a consistent way of dealing with children at school and at home.

Most of what I’ve read on alternative schools, charter schools and other non-traditional education is a bit positive, but also mixed. There definitely are some things that work, but fundamentally it’s about peers and parents and teachers encouraging and providing good environment, and that the difference between traditional or alternative is a relatively smaller factor. The teachers did say that kids who are always testing boundaries and pushing the limits tend to be less successful at the McAuliffe program where they are given a lot of freedom.

I think at this point, I’d probably choose this over our traditional program, but I’ll have to tour that too.

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Starcraft 2 review

So now that we’re through the Starcraft 2 release, here’s some of my thoughts(keep in mind that that Starcraft I was my favorite game ever and I spent several thousand hours playing it):

The single player is impressive, maybe even outstanding. It has exceeded my expectations in several areas. Some of the cinematics are amazing. I like the somewhat non-linear flow and the settings and storyline of the various parts of the ship are cool. The thing that really makes the single player outstanding is the level design. Even for an experienced player like myself, the levels are challenging(I played on Hard), and there are innovative level features and mechanics that show thoughtful design. There are a requisite number of simple defend this base or attack this base type of missions, but there are also twists and turns that make you stay on your toes. I like the achievements I’ve seen. I have been busy collecting all kinds of them, single player, multiplayer, vs computer, challenge levels. They provide a nice incentive to continue playing all types of games even though I typically just play multiplayer games. One thing that is odd about the single player is that certain aspects of having a non-linear make saved games a bit weird. For instance, you make a decision on upgrading your units and then they aren’t available later if you start from a certain point, but they may be later.

The multiplayer launch was much smoother than expected. People buying the digital download right at the opening hour had some problems, but it cleared up pretty shortly after that. And there have been no major outages besides that, so kudos to them from a guy who knows how hard it is to maintain uptime and performance in peaky systems.

The multiplayer game is about what I expected given that I’d already sunk a couple hundred hours into the beta. No new surprises. Race balance is good. My personal preferences have changed a bit already. I always play random, and during the beta I performed pretty poorly with Zerg. But my results improved significantly after starting to do a fast expansion instead of teching. I still enjoy the style and units of Terran the most, but I feel like I’m pretty capable as all 3 races and I like the challenge of playing Random. I am currently Gold in 2v2 random(my preferred game), but I feel like I should be Platinum for sure. There’s a small chance I could qualify for Diamond, but I’d be one of the worst in that division for sure.

Critics would say Starcraft II is not innovative and the storyline is overly melodramatic and formulaic. Those are all valid criticisms, but you have to look at it from the standpoint that Starcraft I was unarguably one of the most influential PC games ever created. It’s a bigger financial risk to mess with success than it is to try and break new ground, especially with such a huge Korean gaming industry eagerly anticipating it.

Overall I give the game an A-. An A for style and polish and everything else, except a B+ for originality. I’m very much looking forward to Episode 2 and 3 to get some more units and complete the story.

Oh and here’s my stats:

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Leaf Energy calculations

I’ve been considering getting a Nissan Leaf, but it doesn’t look like it makes financial sense. Just looking at operating costs(never mind the capital cost), the problem is that we routinely exceed our PG&E energy baselines. The baseline price is $.11/KWh, Nissan claims a full charge of about 100 miles @ $.11/KWh would cost about $2.75. I drive maybe 50 mi/day so about $1.30/day. The problem is that we exceed the cheaper pricing tiers of energy and any additional usage often costs the max rate of $.40/KWh. At that rate, a full charge costs over $11, or for my 50mi/day usage that’s $5.20/day. Compared with my Prius which gets about 45mpg at $3/gal roughly $3/day, that’s actually a lot worse. Only when gas is $5+/gal does it actually make sense over $.40/KWh.

Now obviously there’s more to it than just operating costs. Having a zero emissions vehicle and using the carpool lanes are big factors. But for most people, they look first at where they are saving money, and for me it doesn’t. Another option is to significantly reduce my energy consumption to get down to $.11/KWh. Or I could install solar panels on my house which is something I’ve been considering, but that sure is a backwards way to solve the problem and is a huge capital cost.

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Tipping psychology

After eating out tonight, I saw a new type of ploy. The credit card bill slip had the total price $22.50 bill and also presented the following helpful tipping numbers numbers 15% = $3.38. 20% = $4.50.  25% = $5.63. I consider myself a generous tipper with a pretty standard 20%. I don’t know of anyone who ever consistently tips 25%. Now it’s true that they probably don’t expect they anyone to pay 25%, but the elimination of the 10% must help people gravitate toward the middle 20%. It worked on me, I was more conscious to make it closer to 20%, but the ploy made me forget that I’d used a $2.50 off coupon and so I didn’t tip on the full retail amount like I usually do.  I wonder how much of a difference it’s made since they started doing it. I’d wager a wild guess and say it increased tipping by 3%.

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WSOP Event #41 Day 2

Day 2 didn’t go that great, I never really got anything going and I busted out a couple dozen short of the money. The website said I placed 103, the monitors at the tournament said 94 players remained, the actual placement is not that relevant, except that it was out of the money, but kind of close. I made some marginal plays, but I don’t regret them. When you don’t get cards, you have to start making plays and some times people will call you so you need to get lucky.

The first big pot I got into crippled me. I’d been feeling kind of short for a while, but I wasn’t really super short yet. I had AKJ3 in mid position, so I open raise. The blinds are about 600-1200 and I have about 15k in chip, so I raised to about 4k. The player behind me has a lot of chips and has been playing loose called and we see a flop of Q85. I put my stack in and he thinks for a long while and says things like “I have a bad hand” which makes me think I’m ahead, but probably not by much. He finally calls and turns over A735 for one pair and the same low draw. We make a low, so at least I get half 1/4th back. This leaves me with about 8k in chips.

From there I wait out for a while and then find it folded to me when I’m on the button. I have 4322 so try to make a button steal raise by raising to 4k. The same player calls me and we see a flop of QT7 all black. He checks, I check, and the turn is a suited K, he bets enough to put me all in and I fold. He claims he flopped a big hand and wanted me to bet.

Now with no chips and no hands, I just wait. at my lowest point, I have 3100 chips and the blinds are 600-1200. When it’s my big blind, UTG limps, small blind limps and I have QQ94, so I shove it in. Amazingly, it holds scoops 3 ways so I triple up. I bleed some more and sometime later at 800-1600 with about 4.5k in chips I get A832 and raise UTG all in and double up. But I continue to not get hands for a while longer. Eventually I find AsJs9s3c and I open raise for the pot in mid position with half my stack, big blind pushes all in and I call to see I actually have a pretty good lead on his KJT9, but he hits and I’m done.

Overall, I definitely felt like I had an edge over the field. But I had a pretty long run without cards on Day 2. I got lucky just to last that long on Day 2. Even on day 1 my cards weren’t that great. I think I saw AAxx only twice the whole tournament, and never AA2 or AA3. Overall, other people played a bit too weak passive, especially preflop. Every time that it was 3-bets preflop and there was a showdown, the 3-bettor had AAxx. The structure was nice, I felt like all through Day 1, there were plenty of chips and we could play deep stack poker.

I could’ve attempted to farm into the money, but we were still kinda far from it and I was short stacked the whole day. Also I tend to avoid farming because typical tournament payouts are so top heavy that you really want to get to the final table if at all possible, so I made a conscious decision to loosen up and try and make some steals, it just didn’t work out that well.

So I played some side games while I waited for Dave. There’s a new game they are spreading called Big-O. It’s just like pot limit omaha 8/b except you get five cards instead of four. Because I consider myself a very good plo8 player, I played this for a while. The players at this game are pretty bad, so I made back some money to defray the cost of the tournament.

Overall a good trip. I’m happy with how I played, if not the results.

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