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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Review: The Consuming Fire

The Consuming Fire is John Scalzi’s second novel of the interdependency. I don’t know why someone would read this book. The plot is breezy, the characters don’t develop, and there’s really no science in the science fiction, nor is there any working out of the concepts introduced in the first book.

I guess this highlights how important style is. Even when a writer has a lackluster plot, no interesting characters, and no science in his science fiction, an eminently readable style that’s transparent, and at times witty, will still pull you along and get you to finish the book. After finishing the book, however, expect to reflect back upon it and realized that it was like a feast full of empty calories: fun at the time, but ultimately unfulfilling.

Maybe if you’re stuck on an airplane with nothing else to read, this would be something to consider. Otherwise, pass.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Review: Grunt

Grunt is Mary Roach’s book about military science. Or rather, the scientists that are involved in the military. She deliberately avoids the subject of PTSD, since it’s already been covered in lots of other places, but instead focuses on the auxiliary details that you may not have thought about.

For instance, the book opens with a discussion of military uniforms, the different specialty needs of the different units, and how the military decides on them. Some decisions were not mad scientifically, including a camouflage pattern that was decided on as a matter of taste by a general, with the predictable results.

Then there’s an indepth analysis of the invention of stink bombs and the failure (and partial successes) of the effort to find a smell that’s universally abhorent.

There are some sections that I didn’t think were particularly relevant, including one on shark attacks (though she does debunk the myth that menstruating women shouldn’t swim in the open ocean for fear of attracting sharks), and similar investigations on bears.

But overall, the book was informative, well written, and full of fun footnotes, each of which are well worth reading. (The stuff on submarines were all new to me, though the section on sleep science wasn’t)

Recommended as a light airplane read, though for more interesting than most novels  you can find.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Review: When

When is Daniel Pink’s book about timing. A short read, it covers several things you already know, like the timing of your circadian rhythms and the difference between Larks and Owls, as well as how your circadian rhythms change  over your life cycle. The surprising thing about this isn’t so much the well known difference between kids and teenagers, but that despite all the research we have about how important time of day is, schools still largely ignore all that research and set school start times too early, mostly because of parents wanting to drop off their kids before their first meetings at work.

Each chapter in the book has an addendum with “time hacks” on how you can best improve your life using the knowledge you have. One interesting one is the “Nappuchino”. The idea here is that it takes about 25minutes for caffeine to hit your bloodstream, and about 6 minutes for you to go to sleep. So what you do is drink a cup of coffee, set an alarm clock for 30 minutes, and take a nap, and the alarm clock will go off at the optimal time for the coffee to kick in and give you an afternoon boost!

There are chapters on starting long term projects and the mid-life slump. These are less interesting, though apparently one common phenomenon is that that most projects don’t get into gear until halfway to a deadline. Good managers can make use of that phenomenon by setting up a checkpoint/review midway through a project. Another interesting idea is the pre-mortem, where you brainstorm ideas of how the project could fail prior to embarking on the project, and then using that as a checklist of things not to do.

Overall, the book’s short, so even if you only get a few ideas from it, it’s worth the read. Recommended.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Review: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics has a ton of really great reviews. Since it was short, I was excited to read it and checked it out of the library. It takes less than 2 hours to read, but unfortunately isn't all that enlightening. It was basically a series of invited newspaper columns, and the text reflects it. There's a ton  of philosophizing, but not very much physics that's new to you if you're well read on the subject. At least it wasn't a lot of wasted time.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

April 4th: San Simeon to Morro Bay

The morning was overcast, with a 20% chance of rain in the forecast. It looked a little gloomy  on the outset, but we decided to ride anyway! The ride out of San Simeon was rolling, though of course, on the tandem, any hill quickly becomes a chore. The ride was much gentler than the day before, but the traffic was a lot noiser. Being bored, Boen quickly started to play with his brother's bike computer (even though he had his own), annoying his brother until I stopped the bike and made him stop, whereupon he cried the entire way to Cayucos.
At Cayucos, we stopped at the Brown Butter Cookie company, where Bowen and Boen tasted all the cookies on the menu and we bought a small bag of very expensive cookies, and then went next door to the cafe which served an amazingly good lunch.
This time, I was able to keep them riding after lunch, visiting first the Cayucos Pier, and then making it all the way into Morro Bay where we started feeling rain drops.
With rain in the forecast for the next day, and the kids not very enthusiastic about the boring riding ahead to San Luis Obispo, Xiaoqin and I decided to call it an end to the bike tour and drive home from there. We even had time to visit Pinnacles National Park on the way home!

Our tour was over at a very short total mileage of 100 miles, but it left me confident that we could execute our summer tour in Switzerland come June. With plenty of playgrounds with ziplines and lots to do and see, and no option for riding in the van, I'm fairly certain we can make 30 miles a day in good weather. Most importantly, every time I asked Boen if he enjoyed bike touring on this trip he would say yes, which meant that we'd have a good time.

Monday, April 15, 2019

April 3rd: Lucia Lodge to Salmon Creek Falls

We started the day with breakfast and overcast skies, but as we climbed out of Lucia Lodge, the weather improved steadily. The traffic was frequent but not terrible, since construction would batch up the traffic and then we'd get long breaks without it.

Unlike on Old Santa Cruz highway, the drivers on this stretch had rarely seen a cyclist, and many would slow down so the passenger could take a picture of us on the triplet. Even the giant ass trucks carrying huge stones for construction would give us a thumbs up as they passed, granting us lots of room. One car driver even rolled down his window on a long climb and yelled: "Best Dad ever!"

By the time we reached Salmon Creek Falls, however, the kids were ready for a break. The long climb, while somewhat gentle, wasn't interrupted with many places to stop and play, so we took a short hike to the Salmon Creek falls, but after that hike the kids didn't want to keep riding, despite my telling them that this was the last hill before things became easy. Van-supported touring sounds great in theory, but in practice, given the chance to be lazy, even Bowen can get lazy and decide to ride in the van instead of riding on the bike.
Past Big Sur and into San Luis Obispo county, the road suddenly became flat and gentle, and we pulled into the San Simeon Elephant Seals viewing area for a look at the giant creatures.
There, I pulled out my smartphone and discovered to my surprise that hotels were far cheaper than AirBnBs in the area. We ended up picking the Sands Hotel, which had great facilities, including a swimming pool with hot tub, and an extensive outdoor play area which Bowen and Boen enjoyed using.

Dinner was at the Madeline's a French restaurant in downtown Cambria which served rabbit, much to Bowen's chagrin.

Friday, April 12, 2019

April 1-2: Monterey

When I first started planning the trip, I'd planned to be in Monterey for one night, and Big Sur for another, and then hit Lucia Lodge. I figured that Lucia Lodge would be the bottleneck, and so went with that for Tuesday, but then discovered that Big Sur was too expensive. I made the mistake of then going for Monterey for 2 nights thinking that we could ride the Big Sur segment, then get a van ride back to Monterey, and then do the rest the next day. Instead, of course, Bowen decided that he'd rather go play in the sand dunes we saw yesterday!

Given a choice of riding or taking the van, even my intrepid kids preferred the Van, so we drove down to the dunes and spent most of the morning there. Running and jumping on the dunes was surprisingly exhausting, and by 11:30am it was time for lunch. We chose to drive to Trader Joe's, buy some lunch items and sandwiches at Ike's next door, and then travel to Lover's Point for a picnic lunch.
After lunch, we headed over to the famous Cala Lily Valley, which exceeded my expectations. I'd somehow passed by it often in the past, but never stopped. It's well worth the short drive from Monterey and the 30 minutes it takes to explore it.
After that, we even had time to take the kids to the Monterey Aquarium, where we had a season pass. When given a choice, it's much better to go there in the late evening than in the morning, because the crowds would have thinned by then. Nobody pays to go in after about 2:00pm, so only members would saunter in that late.

We finished up with dinner at the Fishwife, which was under new management. While the food was as good as we remembered it in the past, the new staff was a lot more pushy and a lot less tolerant of kids, which is disappointing.

The next day, we started the day by packing everything into the car. The forecast was for rain, and we did indeed feel a few raindrops. I dropped by the Aquarium again in the morning on request from the kids. After that, we had lunch again at Lovers point and drove South to Lucia Lodge, where we checked in, moved our luggage in, and then took a hike at Jade Cove, where apparently you could find real Jade. But I didn't know that at the time, so treated it as a random hike.

While we felt sprinkles all through the hike, it never really rained, leading me to doubt all the forecasts about rain hitting the area the next day. The sunset from the Lodge was nothing short of gorgeous, and I looked forward to riding the next day. "No excuses," I said to the kids.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

March 31st: Aptos to Monterey

The Best Western provided a great breakfast, but after breakfast and packing everything away, we had a problem, which was that Boen refused to get on the bike! My policy about cycling and kids is that you never force a kid on a bike unless there's no other choice (e.g., he's screaming and throwing a temper tantrum at the park and you only have a bike with which to get him home), so I just let him get in the car and started the ride with just Bowen. Bowen vetched a bit but I assured him that sitting in the car was not a good deal compared with riding the bike.
We rode past Sunset State Beach and then came to an intersection where my Fenix 5X told me to turn left (using a preplanned route I had) while the road sign said "Pacific Coast Bike Route" pointed to the right. I asked a passing cyclist, and he said that turning right was the way to go. My wife would later confirm that my planned route would have been much better, since the official Pacific Coast Bike route spent no less than 4 miles on Highway 1. This might have been tolerable on a single bike, but on a slow moving tandem it was very annoying. I was relieved when we pulled into Castroville's Great Artichoke Restaurant, where we had beaten the minivan and ordered an artichoke platter to satisfy Bowen's artichoke cravings.

After lunch, Boen deigned to join us on the triplet, and the bike immediately felt heavier, with the climbs into Marina becoming more challenging. At one point we saw a fox in broad daylight on the other side of the road from the bike path, which was pretty amazing. Since the last time I had done this ride, there was now a bike path all the way from Castroville to Monterey, which made for easy riding. As we approached Monterey, we pulled off onto the side and Bowen and Boen picked wildflowers.
Once in Monterey on the bike path, Xiaoqin met us on her Cheviot, gave us the keys to the hotel, and we rode into the hotel. There, I did laundry, and then we walked out to dinner, picking up Salt Water Taffy on the way.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

March 30th: Lexington Reservoir to Aptos

I considered riding from our home, but I'd already done much of that ride with Bowen during the 2018 winter tour, and with the triplet I expected that the dirt climb would exceed our traction limit and wear us out too early to enjoy the best part of the route, which was the easy climb up Old Santa Cruz Highway.

In addition, you should always make sure that everything fits into the van before you go, so I packed everything into the van which we had rented from Turo. The procedure for the triplet is to remove the rear pedals, the front and middle seat posts/handlebars, and the front wheel. The center console on the new models of the Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler Town and Country are annoyingly not-removable, but by draping the console with a space blanket, we could roll the rear wheel onto the console without leaving any marks. We also managed to get Xiaoqin's Cheviot into one side of the leftover space, leaving the other side available for luggage.

We parked the van at the Lexington school, and then got out and assembled the triplet and then we were off! The climb as expected was great, never exceeding 5-6%, but of course we were in our granny the entire way despite the easy grade. Cyclists would ride past us but despite the constant disclaimer of  "Cool bike!" nobody ever took me up on the offer to trade.

At the intersection with summit road, we turned left, and the rolling terrain to the summit store was much easier than I expected. At the summit store, we bought lunch and ate it on the porch.
The descent from the summit road via Soquel San Jose was my biggest concern. While I'd done many descents on the triplet, this was by far the longest descent with the highest potential speed. The bike was long enough that it flexed sufficiently at speeds above 35mph I would drag the brake a bit just to bring it back down. It never felt dangerous, but any kind of misbehavior from the boys on the back of the bike would wriggle the bike, always a disconcerting feeling.

Near the bottom, we stopped at a poppy field, where Bowen, being a far better older brother than I ever was, would pick flowers and give them to Boen.
At Soquel, we turned a left onto Soquel drive. The climbing here is at times actually steeper than Old Santa Cruz Highway, and felt harder, coming at the end of the ride when we were no longer fresh. Fortunately, it was only a few miles to the Best Western Inn where we checked in, rested a bit, and then proceeded to Seacliff Beach, where the boys proceeded to spend the afternoon playing in the sand and surf.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Index Page: Boen's First Bike Tour

An unexpected confluence of events happened all at once to make it possible for us to take a family Spring break trip. It being too late (and too short) to do any kind of ocean-crossing trip, we decide to do a bike tour. Xiaoqin volunteered to drive the support van, and I wanted to reprise the California coast tour trip (which I had last done so long ago that I don't remember much of it) to Santa Barbara. We rented a van from Turo, and made a few days of reservations just in case it would be hard to find last minute hotels at the places we were traveling to. (It turned out to be unnecessary, but Lucia Lodge in particular has only 8 rooms!)

This is the index page for the ride. We had 2 goals for this tour:
  • To see how the triplet handled under touring conditions
  • To see if Boen could do a bicycle tour and enjoy it
On Cayucos Pier
Day by Day Trip Report

Monday, April 08, 2019

Review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Leather Case (for 9th generation Paperwhite)

I still hadn't found a decent replacement for my wife's Moto Z Play, which is as fabulous a phone as you can imagine, though its 32GB of internal storage is now starting to get cramped. Her old case was getting beat up, so I bought her a new case, and now it felt like a new phone! (The nice big battery in the Moto Z Play means that the phone will still outlast newer phones)

So when I noticed that Amazon was blowing out refurbished custom leather cases for the Paperwhite for under $5 after taxes, I jumped on it, hoping for the same "new Kindle" effect. This case won't fit the new 10th generation Kindle, but of course, Kindles are renowned for battery life, and mine is waterproof to 200 feet, so there's no reason for me to consider an upgrade.

At $40 new, there's no way I would have forked over for one of these, but $5, these are great. It's definitely a more premium case than the OMOTON case I used to have. The magnet feature seems to work more reliably as well. Recommended at this price.