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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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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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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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Starcraft 2 Beta Impressions

We’re about two weeks into the Starcraft 2 Beta and here’s my impressions. I used to be a very good, but not expert Starcraft 1 player. I played it for about 3 years. I’m mediocre at Starcraft 2, and pretty disappointed about how I’m playing right now.

Overall: It’s good, no doubt. The graphics are excellent. But it feels like it’s missing something new. In pre-beta builds, they had several different new mechanics that looked even more interesting(like the mothership’s time stop and planet cracker, phoenix overload). I wish they’d put some of those features back in. They’ve gone with a build that looks more like the original than I would like.

Strategic: The new cliff jumping and destructible rocks really change things. It’s much harder to just defend a base from a single choke point, and static defenses are slightly weaker than they used to be. Those two things put together mean that the game is less turtling and more aggression than the original. In addition, the mid-game ground units are pretty weak, so after the early game, it becomes a race to air units. This isn’t good or bad, just different. Overall, the games are noticeably shorter, I think most games are 12 minutes or less. The maps are good, and the map editor will supposedly be excellent.

Balance: It’s in flux of course as they test and tweak, but overall it’s pretty good. There will no doubt have to be some changes, probably even after release, but right now it doesn’t feel too bad. We’ve already had 3 patches and they’ve taken care of several things that I thought weren’t working.

Specifics: I really like Colossi, and in general I like Terrans. I like how they’ve given races slightly more differentiating abilities, like Zerg get a speed bonus on creep, Protoss Warp Gates can summon units anywhere with pylon power, and Terrans can lift off buildings and switch the building add ons between different types of buildings.

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Vacation in San Diego

We spent a few days in San Diego last week for Lucas’ birthday. We visited Legoland and Sea-Life(the aquarium next door) and the San Diego zoo. Overall, Legoland was enjoyable for 3-6 year olds, the rides were innocuous and unexciting. There weren’t quite as many actual Legos as I thought there would be. The time of year and the previous week of hard rain had scared away all the crowds, so we had to wait just once more than 15 minutes for a ride. SeaLife was mediocre, it was clearly just an afterthought added on to Legoland. It was probably only worth 2 hours of entertainment. The world famous San Diego Zoo was impressive, but not quite as impressive as I had imagined. It’s bigger and better than the SF zoo, but not amazingly better. Though we didn’t go out on the Safari adventure, just the main Zoo. We stayed at the Grand Pacific Palisades Resort and had very nice rooms for a very good price, probably a combination of the time of year and the economy. They have nice rooms, a big pool and mini-waterpark for kids. We also had a good experience with food. We enjoyed Gregorios, Karl Strauss, and Bistro West. Overall it was all very nice. I’d definitely go back.

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New car stereo

This weekend we went strawberry picking and I also got a new car stereo for my Prius. Mainly I was looking for better iPhone integration. My 2005 Prius had pretty limited options for that. Mostly I wanted something that would charge my iPhone and play music, other features would be nice to have, but not a requirement. Another factor is that the navigation on my Prius sucks badly, it has a number of annoying traits, bad UI, and bad directions. A friend recommended All Pro Audio in Santa Clara, and the owner Jim Lee is a nice, knowledgeable guy. He recommended two options. If I was just looking for iPhone integration, the Parrot MKi9200 which had all the basics, bluetooth phone, ipod music, small display mounted separately wherever I wanted. If I wanted to add in a navigation system, then he had the Pioneer AVIC-7010 which was a full replacement for the existing car stereo and navigation system but would leave some of the features on the existing display(climate control, trip computer, engine/battery monitors).

I opted for the Pioneer and got it installed overnight. I’m pretty happy with the system so far, but it has a few issues. I have to go back for a second install because they didn’t have the parts do the dashboard finishing and they disconnected the old display features like the climate control system. The unit itself is pretty good, but a couple of the controls I had to look at the manual for. The nav system is pretty good. The ipod controls are good. The Bluetooth phone seems fine but I’ve only used it minimally and I don’t really expect to use it much. Among the less expected features, a USB jack, an auxiliary RCA jack, a mini SD card jack, voice recognition for playing albums, software upgradeability, HD Radio ready. It cost about $1k installed(the Parrot would’ve cost about half that), but I now have the audio flexibility I wanted.

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