Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Family Adventures

It has been a good year for exploration.

In the extreme cold at the beginning of the year, we wandered around the neighborhood to enjoy the rare occasion of winter wonderland at North Texas. At the height of the hottest summer on record, we discovered Oak Point Park and Nature Reserve for a comfortable bike ride and a  wonderful picnic. We also discovered Hagerman Wildlife Refuge for birding and hiking. We had many fun time with friends - Spring Break at Lake Ouachita, Arkansas for four days with a friend's family: hiking in the woods, paddling in the lake, strolling on the beach, and skipping stones along the shoreline. Even cooking and eating was fun during those days!! It was a blast for all. We went to Berry Picking with five other families. We also went to Lake Ray Roberts (for the nth time!) with many families of Nick’s soccer teammates for an Easter outing, and stayed there for a one night camping.

The 8 day trip to Banff and Jasper National Parks of Canada was the highlight of the year. In Banff and Jasper, everything is close to each other - glaciers, waterfalls, canyons, mountain peaks, glacier lakes, all packed along trans Canada highway 1 and highway 93. We felt we were immersed in the beautiful and elegant environment full of wild life. It was so easy to access trails to mountain peaks, we hiked more than 55 km in the mountains, and gained 2500m in elevation.

2011 has also been a year of exploration in literary and intellectual world.

From how seedless watermelon is grown to how to draw a circle; Form golden snub nosed monkey in China, to the world of butterfly, Nick also explored nature through reading.

From Feynman to UARS and Nutrinos, From Asher Lev to Tiger Mother, we learned modern physics a bit more, we expanded our social perspectives via other culture, other people's experience.

From Triangles to Circles, Nick learned some geometry; From Triangles to Infinite number series, I dug into elementary math along the way. From gravitation in a toy to impact dynamics in washing machine, I utilized my professional expertise to understand the mechanics of objects we use daily.

Be healthy, enjoy nature physically and literarily - that summarizes our 2011 family adventures.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Longest Word - by Nick


Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is the longest word in the dictionary I have found so far. I first heard of it when some of the students in my grade at Tong Xin after-school pronounced it really fast in front of me when I was reading, and I found it really, really annoying. I eventually learned that it is some form of a lung disease caused by breathing in fine dust. I have now learned how to say it too! It has exactly 45 letters, can you believe that?! (go to page 1109 in Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language it is the 23rd entry on the left column).

Technically I found a word online that is 189,819 letters long which is something like methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyl……………………………………That is the chemical name of titin the largest known protein. It is gigantic. There is also another word that is 1909 letters long. It’s the longest published word. Even so, I think pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis is a really cool word because it is the only one among these 3 words that actually in the dictionary. You should learn how to say it fast, just for fun!
P.S. It is pronounced noo-moh-noh-uhl-truh-mi-kruh-skop-ik-sil-i-koh-vol-cae-noh-koh-nee-oh-sis

Note: when I asked Nick what he was writing about for his journal on Sunday, he pronounced this word - I had no idea what he was saying, I thought he was playing a prank on me. When I checked on his journal, I thought that it was interesting that he chose to write about it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tiger Mother - I finally read it

- by Lily

While I was reading my friend's blog on kids education, an idea came to my mind that maybe we should write a book to counter the views of "Tiger Mother". Of course I'm talking about Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", a book on her view of why Chinese way of education is so much superior. At that time I had not read the book, but had heard a lot about it, mainly how extreme her methods of education are and how offensive it is to many Chinese parents.

I figured if we want to counter her view, I'd better read her book first. So I picked up a copy from the library. Much to my surprise, I found the book much more enjoyable than I had imagined. Maybe because I've heard too much, I didn't feel offended by her book, to me the book is more about Amy Chua herself, her views of child education, and her path of educating her daughters. Amy Chua is hot tempered, strong willed, dedicated, determined, and unapologetic for the ideals she champions. It doesn't matter whether her method works (for her older daughter) or not (the younger rebel), she charges on despite disapproval from family members. She is brutally honest about herself, right or wrong she brags them all. She is neurotically competitive, it is rather hilarious to see her charge on everything and boss around everywhere, and even her dog has to be the smartest and the best. I just can't stop laughing at that passage.

To her credit, at the beginning of her book she did emphasize that she's using "Chinese parents" and "westerners" on loose terms; although later in the book she abused the words, even her family members told her to stop labeling everything either "Chinese" or "western". I have to say that she did capture some of the characteristics of the "Chinese" way of education; actually I wouldn't call it "Chinese" way, I've seen many parents of various ethnicities who care about kids education using similar "techniques". I know parents who sign up all sorts of classes for their kids without the consent from the kids. I've heard parents comparing their kids to each other and to other people's kids. A lot of us have "bullied" our kids one way or another out of anger or shouted out empty "threats" when we are out of wits. The only difference is that Amy Chua pushed everything to the extreme and persevered with a vengeance.

I do think she's right about one thing, setting higher goals for the kids does help them achieve more, and pointing out their shortcomings does help them improve faster. There are many ways to do this though, be it strict rules or gentle persuasion. As parents we want to bring the best out of our kids and I think we have the right to demand them to do their best in every way they can. Kids are just kids, immature in many ways, sometimes they need a reminder to do better, and that’s part of our job.

However, the dreams we have for our kids have to be realistic, the goals we set need to match their talents and interests. What Amy Chua didn't give enough credit is her daughters' natural talents. Being able to read alphabet is not something an ordinary 18-month old can do. Both girls' music teachers recognized their unusual talent right away. It is because of her kids' inborn talents that her method yielded quick and early success, which only fueled her engine of determination. I can imagine her method will fail miserably when applied to many other kids, in fact, it didn't even work well for her younger daughter. Another important element that's missing from Amy Chua's "drill" method is to instill a love of learning in kids. She was too busy competing; too busy being number 1 on everything. What is the long term result? Take her as an example, she grew up being the best student in high school, graduated from Harvard, but went to Harvard Law only because she didn't want to go to medical school. She even made it to Harvard Law review, but found herself had no interest in litigation, no interest in any legal issues, those are her own words from the book, although she did find her niche eventually.

All being said, there is no fixed model for kids education. As the famous story goes, Confucius answered the same question from two of his students differently according to their personalities and helped both of them. This is why education is such a hard task, we as parents need to really know about our kids rather than trying to fit them into a mold. It is a lifelong learning experience for all of us.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Movie Night @ Home

We don't watch movies in theaters very often in recent years. But Lily did start a new tradition for our family - movie night at home Friday or Saturday night from time to time. In these nights, we might watch a new DVD movie we bought for the boys, or a borrowed DVD movie from local library. Lily would make popcorn on the night when the movie is for the whole family - sometimes popcorn is the incentive for the boys to move away from video games or online chatting.

When we go to local library, we just check what DVDs are available. We will borrow a DVD if a title of interest to us is available right then; either it is a highly acclaimed "new" movie, an Oscar winner years ago, or seems interesting per back-cover description. It is not uncommon that movie we borrowed turned out to be boring, when this is the case we will just quit watching, doing something else instead.

We have watched so many movies at movie nights, I lost count of what we have watched. I do vividly remember several good movies we enjoyed since this summer.

Popcorn Nights

We usually take the boys to movie theater to watch a few movies during summer vacation time. It was so hot this summer we did not go to movies at all, we watched quite a few movies together, however, at home.

We were thrilled by "Angles and Demons" despite the fact that we knew the end of the story already since we listened the novel on audio before; we learned a bit semi-history in the process. "Mrs. Doubtfire" was so funny and educational at the same time; we laughed so hard, and appreciated the value of a nucleus family more at the same time. There are many forms of family, a nucleus family with father, mother and children is the best for children.

"King's Speech" was a funny, yet serious movie - an interesting story line with profanity-laden language from the king, along with superb acting of the main actor revealing the frustration, self doubt and anguish at himself for stuttering, made us laugh and think. It also showed the ultimate unfairness of monarchic system - that person is placed to a position based on who his parents are, and the order of the birth, not the capability and capacity. It was also a movie of profound educational value to us since public speaking is our weakness.

"2012" was the most recent movie the whole family watched together with popcorn. It is a movie about the end of the world as we know it - so it felt scary and chilling. Two story lines carried the movie. One is related to the discovery of abnormal earth temperature by government geophysicists indicating imminent catastrophe. The other is about a divorced California father taking his two children to vacation at Yellowstone. In the end it showed how they escape the catastrophe, in the process discovering government's secret plan to let few privileged to escape the catastrophe through several secretly built Noah's Arks.

Those are wonderful nights. We enjoyed the popcorn and the movies together, shared our thoughts, likes/dislikes in the process via a brief comment or a sigh, or an exclamation....on a scene, an incident, an action. It is a good vehicle for parents to influence their children's moral standard naturally.

Old Movies

Of course not all movies are appropriate for the whole family to watch together, e.g. R rated movies are not good for the boys yet. Some old movies have too slow a pace, and with a background too far away from the boys' reality so the children don't like them. That is when Lily and I will have our couple time to watch the movie.

We watched two, very old, Oscar winning movies recently - " A Wonderful Life" and "Roman Holiday". The story in the movies develops slowly to the climax at the end. The characters' feelings, emotions are revealed to us gradually .

"A Wonderful Life" has a hilarious start, sometimes seems to be ridiculous. But the turn of the events in the story made me feel heavy at heart midway through. In the end, I could not stop the swell of my tears!

"Roman Holiday" is a movie I knew about before; I either watched it or watched clips or trailers of it. Last week I picked up the movie and recommended it to Lily. Audrey Hepburn was the young princess visiting Italy, and Gregory Pecker was a journalist trying to interview the princess. It is light hearted, delicate, touching and lovely. We enjoyed it on Friday night last week.


The documentaries we borrowed are mostly not watched in the end, be it about travel, or about nature, or about science and technology. "Einstein Revealed" is the last documentary Lily borrowed for the kids to watch.

I started watching the two set DVDs during a week day evening while cooking dinner. I was quickly attracted by the history of the development of relativity. It was entertaining to see the real Einstein in life; it was enlightening to go through his mental tests, "running at the speed of light" related to special relativity, "observing lightening strikes a pole on a moving train" related to time-space relation, or general relativity; it was satisfying that I could understand the solar eclipse validation of general relativity and explain it to the rest of the family in my own words.

My enthusiasm led Lily to make Justin and Nick watch the DVD during a dinner time! An exception in our house.

Movie night at home is a good family activity.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hazards In the Yard

Trimming the two small trees in my front yard the last time this season, I used a hedge trimmer and a ladder in order to trim the tree tops. I was mindful of accidentally cutting the long extension cord during the work. I was really careful: every time I moved the ladder, I made sure I pulled the cord behind me. As I was making a finishing touch trim, I had to raise the trimmer above my head when I was near the top of the ladder, I did not check the cord and as I turned on the trimmer, it went off instantly! The cord was cut - somehow the cord moved to the front of the guard during the process of laying down the trimmer to move the ladder.

This must be the third or fourth time I cut the cord accidentally since I bought the hedge trimmer. Per cord manufactures' warning, I threw away the cord the previous times. This time I was thinking about reconnecting the cut wires and the cord. As Lily and I were about to tie the wires together and use duct tapes to insulate the wires, she noticed that the cord was still plugged to the power outlet! I sweated. She unplugged it, and went on to repair the cord.

There are plenty of hazards in yard work.

Finger Cut

The biggest accident I had in the yard involved the hedge trimmer as well, three years ago. I was working in the yard one Sunday trimming front yard bushes. As I was trimming the overgrown bush branches on the ground, I saw that the trimmer was really close to soak hose. I turned off the trimmer, and my left hand reached for the soak hose to move it away. I reached out too fast unfortunately. The cruising saw on the trimmer cut the flesh side of my ring finger tip - the cut was deep - two thirds of the finger thickness.

It was so quick, I did not feel any pain at all. There was no blood coming out either. The wounded area actually turned pale first. After 10 to 20 seconds, blood started to swell out! I called out to Lily - she used bandage to stop the bleeding and we rushed to emergency room ......

Six stitches, ~ $1000 out of pocket medical expense, three weeks of inconvenience in taking shower ....... lessons learned - wearing gloves, waiting for moving parts stop moving before work around it.

Poison Mists

The chemicals used in the yard for fertilization, weed control is definitely hazardous. We hire professional lawn service to to do fertilization and weed control for us. But I have to spray pesticide from time to time due to the roses in the front yard. Because the beautiful rose is an incubator for a plant disease called rose black. Rose black can cause rose and surrounding plants and trees to wither due to rose black infection.

When spraying pesticide, there will be vapor or pesticide mist in the air, which the worker may inhale. To minimize this hazard, I always wear face mask when spraying pesticide.

Fall and Falling/Flying objects

The only heavy lifting yard work I do is to thin the big trees in my yard.

The number one hazard in this work is fall from high places, either the top of a ladder or middle of the tree when I climb onto a tree to cut branches near the top of the the tree. The number two hazard is the falling tree branches.

Mindful of the falling big tree branches, I have not cut a few big branches I would like to cut. I had a few near misses in this type of work - from falling to hit by tree branches. A friend, who thinned tree during a weekend, hurt himself big time ..... one week stay in the hospital!

Yard Work Safety

Work efficiently is good but safety should be the top priority; slow down for safety

1. Don't rush when using any power tools; when moving up and down ladders.

2. Always wear gloves when work in the yard, especially the hand that does not hold a tool

3. Wear safety glasses when trimming trees and buses to prevent flying objects from damaging eyes

4. Wear face mask when applying fertilizers, spraying pesticide.

5. When checking/repairing electricity powered tools/gadgets/appliances...., turn off power, unplug power cords, and turn off main switch if necessary before proceeding

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Thankful Me

On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my family.

The boys

Raising kids can be tasking but also immensely enriching

Justin's passion for music and art expands our entertainment from going to concerts, to going to ballets and most recently going to musicals - West Side Story. I think we will try opera in the new year. Nick's interest in math leads us to take him to metroplex math circle frequently, which helps to expose him to more interesting math problems. It also rekindles my love of math - evident by the posts on math in this blog.

As Lily tries various ways to expose them to science, nature, and history, I learn a lot along the way! from butterflies to ice age, from Neutrinos to Einstein's relativity. I grow with them, I learn with them.

Most of all, the boys are healthy and strong.

I am thankful.

The biggest conflict between she and I, is, in fact about the education and discipline of the boys. In the end she makes decision based on what is the best for them.

We have been exercising together regularly on the mornings of weekends since last year - be it sunny or foggy (like this Thanksgiving morning), warm or cold (like this morning); we started playing tennis regularly this summer. These are all marvelous couple times.

While picking books, videos for kids, she also picks books for me to read, movies for us to watch. Our frequent movie night at home this year also helps both of us to relax.

I am thankful.

I am pleased that over the years we have developed many common interests: going camping is always an excitement in our home; kayaking is almost a must to everyone when we enjoy outdoors; annual family ski trip is expected and enjoyed by all.

Be together, sharing one life - that is my ideal of a family life, and that is how we live.

I am thankful.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

This Autumn

After the record hot summer at North Texas, the autumn feels really good - the crisp air, the cool temperature, the change of colors and occasional rains.

In this autumn, colors are as splendid as ever, but not as wide spread as previous years; the moon in the week of Veteran's day was especially clear, even in the early evening. It is hard to take good picture of the moon at night. Shown below was a setting Moon on Sunday.

I can still hear birds chirping, but I did not as see as many American Robins or Cardinals as before. Is it the consequence of the extreme heat and lasting drought?

I did see many more pairs of ducks in the pond at Russel Creek Park, though. There are 3 pairs of ducks in this picture, can you see them all?

Of course, what most special this autumn is that Cheetahs - our soccer team - reached championship game for the first time last Saturday.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Family Adventures" Blogging Milestones

Last week "Family Adventures" the blog passed a milestone in readership - 10,000 pageviews.


In addition to my circle of friends, readers around the world find out our blog by chance. I could tell by the blogger stats, some of this type of readers returned again and again - and become regular readers of our blog. Here is the list top 10 regions for the past two years

United States
United Kingdom

France, Philippines and Indonesia were in the top 10 for October. Greece and Georgia are in top 10 for this week. I saw casual readers from countries or regions I have not heard of before

Popular Posts

Interestingly the most popular post in our blog is not about travel, and it is not written by me. It is Nick's journal on "Golden Snob Nosed Monkeys" despite the fact it was posted only this March.

The second most popular post is not about travel either, it is about math - "Interesting facts about triangle". Another math related post "Fermat's last theorem - a primer" is in top 10.
Our household hardware related posts - "Tankless Water Heater" and "Hitch and Bike Rack" are very popular as well.

Here is the 10 most popular posts of our blog.

1. Golden Snub Nosed Monkeys
2. Interesting Facts about Triangles
3. Big Bend; River Rafting in Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon
4. Sagrada Familia
5. Yellow Stone; Water and Mountains
6. Tankless Water Heater
7. Fermat's Last Theorem; A Primer
8. A Trip to China - random observations
9. A trip to China - atypical snap shots
10. Hitch and Bike Rack

Another milestone of the blog is that Lily started blogging occasionally this summer - two book reviews, and one about gardening - hooray!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How to draw a circle - by Nick

Note: last week, the topic at math circle was "geometry construction using ruler and compass". It took some practices for Nick to get used to using compass when he got home from the presentation. The next day he wrote this journal (edited version is posted).

Drawing a circle by hand is usually very hard. Sometimes the drawn circles look like blobs or ovals, but almost never good enough that you are satisfied with. That is why the compass was created. I am not talking about a compass like a device used to determine geographic direction, usually consisting of a magnetic needle or needles horizontally mounted or suspended and free to pivot until aligned with the earth's magnetic field that points north. I am talking about a V-shaped device for drawing circles or circular arcs and for taking measurements, consisting of a pair of rigid, end-hinged legs, one of which is equipped with a pen, pencil, or other writing utensil and the other with a sharp point providing a pivot about which the drawing leg is turned. It is sometimes also called pair of compasses.

To start, you should make the anchor pin come out of the frame the same length as the writing utensil. When draw a circle with a compass you must hold the compass by the top and apply some pressure on the sharp anchor point and twist the top handle of the compass using your thumb, index finger and middle finger, and then gently tilt the compass to turn, you will draw a very neat circle in a second.

Don’t apply too much pressure on the side with the writing utensil or the writing tips may break. When using compass, use one hand to twist the top handle of the compass, no need to twist your body or hand; use the other hand to keep the surface you are drawing on flat and fixed. Make sure not to hold the compass legs to draw otherwise you will change the radius of a circle and make it turn out weird.

Using this instrument you can draw light circles and then go over them in a darker shade. You can easily change the radius of the circles you draw from very small (when the two legs meet) to very large when you push them apart the farthest you can (but make sure you don’t break it). After some practice I can use a compass to draw perfect circles.

In math, you can use straight edge (ruler) and compass only to construct various geometries. Using the compass and ruler you can figure out exactly the midpoint of two points on your own, the tangent to a circle, and etc. A compass is a very useful tool for geometry although some people may not like it and use a computer program to generate circles and geometry, but where’s the fun in that? I really like using a compass and ruler to draw circles and lines and design patterns and I hope you will like it as well. Drawing a circle and making patterns is really fun. If you like math, you can go figure it out on your own or go to GeoGebra and download it on your computer and play around.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The sum of infinite numbers

Two weeks ago, at Metroplex Math Circle presentation "Primes and Composite Numbers", the presenter used a formula for the sum of the squares of numbers from 1 to n in his solution of a problem. I thought that I might be able to derive the formula.

1^2+2^2+ .......+n^2= n*(n+1)*(2n+1)/6
To derive the formula turns out to be not trivial, but to prove it was not hard, using induction. During my attempt to derive the formula, I tried converting the problem into a recursive procedure, into a continuous problem instead of discrete problem so that I could use calculus....., all without success (1). The idea of using continuous function for solving discrete number problem stays with me.

The next day, I encountered another formula for the calculation of Pi

Pi = 4 ( 1/1 - 1/3+1/5-1/7+1/9-1/11+1/13 ......+1/(2n-1) - 1/(2n+1) + ...........)

The irrational Pi can be determined by this infinite series of rational numbers - fractions!!

The sum of infinite numbers

My typical approach to find the sum of infinite numbers is to find a formula for the sum of first n terms of the series, and then take a limit (n--> infinite). For example

1/(1*2) + 1/(2*3)+1/(3*4) + ......+ 1/(n*(n+1))+ ......

Let S be the sum of the infinite series, Sn be the sum of the first n terms

Note that 1/(n*(n+1)) = 1/n - 1/(n+1), so

Sn = 1/1 -1/2+1/2-1/3 +1/3-1/4 + ...1/n -1/(n+1) = 1-1/(n+1)

S= Sn(N--> infinite) = 1

This approach is apparently not suitable for the calculation of the formula for Pi listed above

Taylor Expansion for sum of infinite series

Looking at the formula

Pi = 4 ( 1/1 - 1/3+1/5-1/7+1/9-1/11+1/13 ......+1/(2n-1) - 1/(2n+1) + ...........)

the idea of using continuous function to calculate the discrete came back to me. This formula seems to relate to trigonometric functions, arcsin or arctan. Checking handbook of math, I found this formulation of Taylor expansion of arctan (x) when -1 <= x <=1)

arctan(x) = x- x^3/3+x^5/5-x^7/7 +x^9/9 .....+(-1)^n x^(2n+1)/(2n+1) + .....

Take x=1, the above Taylor expansion yield

Pi = 4 ( 1/1 - 1/3+1/5-1/7+1/9-1/11+1/13 ......+1/(2n-1) - 1/(2n+1) + ...........)

With Taylor Expansion of various functions, one can easily determine many seemly impossible sum of infinite series .

(1) Upon literature search, it turned out that more general solution exists, and the sum of powers (fixed exponent m) is always a polynomial of n of degree m+1. I will find the derivation of it and summarize it in a future post.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fighting for Auto-Insurance Coverage - a story

While filing stacked files on top of our file cabinet into proper place this Sunday, I came across this bulging FedEx envelope - which contained all the correspondence on a disputed auto insurance coverage. It is a story about Lily's fight to protect her rights.

The accident

A Monday morning last November, Lily called me on her way to work - she had an accident! Her car was damaged but she was not hurt. Here is her description of what happened to the other driver's insurance company.

"In the morning of November xx, 2010, around 8;25am, I was driving on "A" street heading south to work. This portion of the road is a 3 lane one-way street. I was in the left lane. As I was going straight on "A" road, about to cross the intersection of "A" street and "B" Boulevard, a car in the center lane, driven by Ms. M, made a left turn in front of me. That car hit the right front of my car. I stopped at the intersection, while she kept driving on "B" after the collision. But she was stopped by a traffic light after her turn. So I had to make a left turn to catch Ms. M. Ms. M refused to provide insurance information so I called police. Police and a Fire Rescue cars arrived at scene. Police report was filed"
At the time, the police asked both drivers drove their cars to a nearby parking lot and questioned both drivers separately. Lily also asked police to check on the traffic signs on the road - left lane where she was can go straight or turn left; center lane has to go straight (as shown in the illustration).

Simply put, the other driver made a left turn from middle lane while Lily was driving straight from left lane.

The claim
It turned out that Ms. M's insurance company is a small company we have never heard of before , and the company was already debunked in Oklahoma. Lily was distressed, and I tried to comfort her - our insurance company will take care of everything.
Our insurance filed claim for us to the other company through a process called subrogation, and also recommended Lily to let their insurance inspector to check her car and then go to fix the car paying our deductible first. She followed these suggestions. What happened next was unexpected

The other driver, Ms. M., changed her story while responding to the insurance company inquiry. She admitted that she made an illegal turn, but she said that’s not where the accident happened, instead she and Lily both turned at the intersection and Lily moved into her lane after the turn and hitting her car. The damages on the car can’t tell whose story is true, as we were told by both insurance companies. We had to wait for police report to clear things up.

The police report was consistent with Lily’s story. This cleared claim with our insurance company. Ms M.’s insurance denied Lily’s claim, ignoring the police report. The reason they gave to Lily was that "There’s no witness therefore they chose to believe their client and denied Lily’s claim" - ignoring the fact that Ms.M changed her story from what she told police at the scene.

Lily called the adjuster of Ms. M's insurance, and she was sympathetic, and asked Lily to send additional information. After Lily sent additional information, basically a written description of the accident, plus police report, she received another letter of denial of liability (March 2011). She called the adjuster's number at the insurance company, and was told the adjuster was not with the company anymore, and a manger took over the case. She was told the decision was final.

Lily called our insurance company about the denial of liability and was told that the money involved was too small to start a legal fight over this denial of liability. Our insurance company would not do anything!! She was outraged with both companies.

Lily could not let the injustice go.

How could people just get away with lying, how come nobody cares about the truth and fairness? Lily filed complaint with Texas Department of Insurance, she wrote a letter to the CEO of Ms. M insurance company, which was found on the company's website. After these she’s hoping to put a closure on this case.

Late April 2011, Lily received a check from the other insurance company unexpectedly. When she informed our insurance company, the agent who handled the case had a hard time believing it.

In May 2001, Texas Department of Insurance replied to Lily's complain, and relayed the other company's decision to us " .....this claim was reopened, and due to the fact that we never received (our) insured driver's written statement (regarding this accident), the Company decided to accept the complainant's version of loss. ......". It was almost exactly six months after the accident when Lily finally had a closure on this case.

Lessons Learned

First thing first, get a witness when you can, it’s worth a million words.

In cases like this, or even more serious litigation, seek help from friends, colleagues and experts to find a way forward.

In the process of arguments, being impassioned is always better than being emotional.

Our country is a country with law and order ; even though justice sometimes requires time and resources to be upheld.

Don't give up easily on justice, fight for it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Random thoughts on electronic gadgets and etc

With the passing of Steve Jobs last week, many people expressed their appreciation, admiration profusely. Most people relate to him via iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTouch .....the gadgets he personified. There is no doubt that he was an exceptionally talented technologist and a superb marketer.

I looked at his impact on the society from a different angle.

Was iPod, iPhone, iPad .... revolutionary?

Was iPhone and etc revolutionary? The answer is NO, technology wise. The iPhone, iPad ... and series are basically repackaging of existing technology. The genius in this series of Apple products is packaging and marketing.

Some commentators placed Steve Jobs historically at the summit of technology along with Edison, Ford. But most were careful, and rightfully so, not to attribute it to his work on the development and marketing of the gadgets, but to his pioneer work in the development of personal computers, with Steve Wozniak.

It is important to note that most literature attribute the inventor of PC to Henry Edward Robert.

The impacts of electronic gadgets and internet

The impact of i-series Apple products, along with other gadgets, and advances in internet on human is historical. They make personal communication, personnel entertainment so much more convenient, which can be achieved essentially any time, any where.

The negative impacts of electronic gadgets and internet are significant as well.

First and foremost is the negative impact on person to person interaction. On one hand it facilitates personal communications, on the other hand, it significantly reduces person to person interaction, especially in the young. Many people text each other more than they talk to each other.

It facilitates distractions from real work - be it being work work, or study for students. It has fostered a generation of young people who can not concentrate on real work, who do not know how to separate leisure from work or study.

Politically, it helps to make the vocal minority louder than ever before.

Is electronic gadget industry GREEN?

One tribute to Steve Jobs was that he demanded perfection in making iPod, iPhone ...instead of using plastic cases for the devices, he insisted on using Aluminum, which made i-series device shiny, slick and fashionable. There is no problem to it if the purpose is to make the devices to last.

From sustainability point of view, the issue with Apple and electronic gadget industry in general is that they encourage people to ditch their perfectly functional gadgets for newer, more fashionable new generation of devices. Unfortunately many young people are addicted to the newest and the gadget industry has its way. Even worse, for those who want to be frugal and fashionable at the same time, they could not hang on to the older devices because there are new functions that are purposely developed not to play on older devices! Worst of all, it is cheaper to buy new gadgets than to repair them. One such practice is highlighted by a headline like this " Apple's pentlobe screws for iPhone take "planed obsolescence to the next level".

Of course it is not just gadget industry, it is the electronic industry, and consumer product industry in general. “E-waste is now the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream because people are upgrading their mobile phones, computers, televisions, audio equipment and printers more frequently than ever before. Mobile phones and computers are causing the biggest problem because they are replaced most often.”

This leads to million tons electronic waste every year. In the process of depleting natural resources, the e-waste also pose threat to the environment and thus potentially harm human life indirectly. In this sense, Apple's i-series devices and their marketing practice helped to amplify this waste.

I am not a fan of electronic gadgets and I resisted purchasing such devices until I saw its practical use for my family. We did not have a cellphone until 2000 and we don't upgrade our cellphones until they are not functional any more. We used our first home computer for nearly 10 years until we had problems with its operating system which Microsoft no long supported. We did not buy any Apple's i-series device until last year - we purchased an iTouch for our teenage son. All functions iTouch provides are available on our second home computer, the convenience it provides, also bring tremendous distractions to him from study and sleep, and headaches to me.

Steve Jobs

His commencement speech at Stanford was replayed many times on network news. It was a great reflection on life. I found its full text at Stanford's website. I read it and I appreciate it more. I excerpt a few paragraphs from it.

"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on." I can not agree more because I have a similar approach to work and life.

He also said: " .... Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." So true!! But the generation iPod, iPhone, iTouch .. fostered is exactly the opposite what he pitched. They follow the crowd, they want the newest gadgets because they are new, in fashion and everyone else has it. I don't blame him for it - it is consumerism that our economy is based on, it is the consumerism that drives all business.

Steve Jobs, an exceptionally talented technologist and a superb marketer, a person followed his own heart in life, rest in peace.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Gravity at Work - "Space Force" - a Toy

"Space Force" was a toy we bought 4 or 5 years ago when we visited Houston Space Center and Science Museum. We placed it on top of the bookshelf along with a model of space station as decoration to our study. From time to time I did wonder that how it could be played - but we lost the box and instruction, so it has stayed on top of the bookshelf all these years.

A weekend several weeks ago, Nick was asked to stay away from computer for an hour to rest his eyes. He wandered around the house, nothing really interested him that morning, so he came back to the study (where the computer is), then he saw the pendulum like toy on top of the bookshelf - he asked me to take it down for him.

How to play

He took the toy to playroom and tried to figure out how to play it. He was quiet and stayed there for an hour or so. Then he declared to me that he knew how to play it.

"You place it on the floor, then place the steel ball at the pinned side of the wires. You push the wires apart slowly and try to make the ball roll as far as possible" . "You see, there are numbers on it:

Mercury -250
Earth 250
Mars 500
Jupiter 1000
Saturn 2000
Pluto 5000

You score points when the ball drop into a hole."

Trying to make the ball roll to the Pluto - the furthest planet and highest score hole, he played it again and again. He was fascinated by it. When he finally figured it out, he asked to have a game with his Mom and easily beat her.

After lunch, he kept playing on. I was curious now - I sat by him, observing him play.

A game of gravity and inertia

The top, or the narrow side of the toy, is lower than the wider side or bottom of the toy, when it is placed horizontally on the floor or a table. When the two wires touching each other at the bottom side the ball will stay at top side.

To make the ball roll to the direction of bottom, one has to push the wires apart - make the ball to fall in between wires, so gravity will make the ball roll and gain speed. If the wires are left apart, eventually the gap (which changes with distance) between them is too large the ball will fall.

The trick: as the ball gaining speed, pushing the wires close, now the ball has to go from low to high, the ball is moving against gravity! No worry, inertia can keep the ball moving forward for a second or so if the speed is high enough. Just as the ball's speed decreases to zero, push the wire open - the gravity will be a favorable force again - pushing the ball toward Pluto!

The competitions

Nick played a few times by himself, and boasted to me that he beat his Mom easily. "Let's play the game against each other" He challenged me. "OK", I said, "But I need to practice a few times". He agreed.

We had a pencil and a piece of paper ready before we start the game. We would each play 10 times, and the one has higher total score win. Nick played first, he got to Pluto once, but he also dropped the ball at Mercury once - negative points. I reached Pluto twice and the rest were all further away from earth. I won the first round.

Nick did not whine, and was in a good mood. After listening to my explanation of the mechanics of the game - gravity, inertia and etc, he asked to have a rematch.

Playing the game requires more than understanding of the mechanics, when one knows the mechanics - by knowledge or by trial and error, it is more of an art - how fast or slow to push the wires apart, when to push the wires to each other, and when to push them apart again. The second time, Nick reached the Pluto 3 times, I got there only once. Nick won the rematch and was very pleased.

This is an educational and fun toy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My name is Asher Lev, a good read

- by Lily

I got introduced to this book by my son, who was reading it for English class. “It’s a really good book, I’m glad we are reading it in class,” He told me one night. Out of curiosity, I picked up a copy from the library and found myself drawn to it.

The story is set in a Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York around 1950s. This is a community with many pious Hasid Jews, who keep Kosher, pray three times a day, believe in the master of Universe, and despise art and science. This is where the main character Asher Lev grew up. Asher’s parents are both devoted Ladover Hasid, especially his father who traveled for the Rabbi around the world to establish Jewish community and schools. But Asher was born with a special talent, painting. The story is about how Asher struggled growing up in such an environment with such a talent, torn between his talent, his family, and his religion.

I don’t understand the Jewish religion, and I don’t know much about art. But I am drawn to this book. Of course, the author, Chaim Potok, was a great writer. His exquisite description of how a boy perceives his world while growing up is very touching. Asher’s uncontrollable habit of drawing and subconscious disclosure of his thoughts through his drawing, Asher’s perception of his parents, the mingled feelings of love, longing, anger, and refusal between them, the wise Rabbi, Asher’s unorthodox teacher who not only taught him how to draw but also how to be a true artist, the book captured all of those moments and is filled with true feelings.

More importantly, the issues the author raised in the book go way beyond any particular religion or a specific talent. I can’t help pondering if my definition of “useful” and “useless” skills is hindering the development of my kids’ “hidden” talent, how do you balance everyone’s need in a family without losing yourself, what is the best way to guide a person through life so he can make the right decisions and be true to himself, wouldn’t the world be much more enjoyable if only we can be more open-minded and appreciate each other just a little more?

I feel compelled to thank my son’s English teacher for introducing to us such a wonderful book, and she told me there is a sequel to the book, “The Gift of Asher”. Right, you know what I’m reading now :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

UARS and Neutrinos

Two pieces of science related news drew my attention this week.

UARS - the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, fell to earth last night or early this morning, but space agency still don't know where it falls yet.

According to USA Today report, the satellite was used to measure ozone and chemical compounds in the ozone layer. The satellite's mission was to last 3 years, but NASA decommissioned it nearly 14 years later. The satellite ran out of fuel and died in 2005. This caused the uncontrollable reentry of the large size space debris, and some uneasiness.

I am curious about how "NASA put the chances that somebody somewhere on Earth would get hurt at 1-in-3,200". I do, however, have a more concrete understanding that the sky beyond our view is full of man-made space junk. Disaster can descend from "heaven".

The bigger news was from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (abbreviation per french), the famed nuclear physics laboratory. CERN announced last Friday that they found out through their experiment that neutrinos runs just a little bit faster than speed of light!! This potentially can be a serious challenge to Einstein's theory of relativity.

I was very interested at the subject and read a little bit more about it.

" A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting subatomic particle, meaning "small neutral one", it is an elementary particle that usually travels close to the speed of light. Neutrinos are similar to the more familiar electrons, with one crucial difference: neutrinos do not carry electric charge. Because neutrinos are electrically neutral, they are not affected by the electromagnetic field which act on electrons. Neutrinos are affected only by the weak sub atomic force of much shorter range than electromagnetism, and are therefore able to pass through great distances within matter without being affected by it. Neutrinos also interact gravitationally with other particles."

Since CERN announced the finding through media hoopla, it seems to me CERN is more interested in media attention than scientific discovery. They should have gone through regular peer review, let outside experts check their work.

Early AP news was "particle might travel faster than light, Einstein could be wrong". After the hoopla, the media was calmer, and now headline read "Challenging Einstein usually a losing venture"!!

Even if the observation was confirmed, it would not invalidate relativity, it would just expose its limitations. This just like Newton mechanics which was pronounced wrong by media when relativity was established. In fact Newton Mechanics is still the very theoretical foundation of our civilization; it just has limitations.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

My Tiny Backyard Garden

- by Lily

Several friends at work have their own vegetable gardens. Sometimes they bring their harvest, cucumbers, pears, or melons to share. Sometimes they bring seedlings to exchange. This year they finally convinced me to take home a purple basil and a tomato seedling.

“Not that I don’t want to have a veggie garden; I need coaching since I’ve never done it.” I warned them. Don’t worry, these are easy plants, just put them on the ground and water them, so they assured me. Well, I do have another logistic problem, space. My hubby would not sacrifice his beautiful lawn for my garden experiment. The only possible place he would allow is the southwest corner of our fenced backyard, where the dirt is mostly from dumps of construction materials - mortars and rocks and not even grass grows well there.

To help the plants, I filled the two pits I dug each with a bag of rich garden soil before I put the seedlings in. And I tried my best to remember watering the plant once a day, of course Allan helped on that end. I also used a Texan’s method of organic gardening per my friends' suggestions: I throw some veggie or fruit peels to my small garden once in a while, to enrich the soil - it is not stinking up yet.

To my delight both plants adapted to their new environment well.

The basil grew tall and wide quickly. Soon I could pick a handful to try out some basil soup. The basil bloomed in August, many shoots of tiny purple flowers. I gathered more leaves to make pesto sauce for pasta, it was quite a success. Basil is annual, right? I panicked. Don’t worry, my friend said, just collect some seeds after the flowers fall and grow some more next year. I collected some seeds. I also “banked” some pesto sauce, saved as frozen cubes that would last me awhile.

My tomato also grew tall, it seemed to thrive under the sunshine. I was forewarned that tomato tree won’t set fruit when the temperature is over 100F; but if it is kept alive then in the fall it’ll bear fruits. I kept watering it and wondered when the record summer heat would subside. One morning in August I found a tiny green fruit hanging on a branch. What a surprise, we were still in the height of summer heat. A couple of weeks later, I found a few more green balls budding. Now I had to watch out for the birds because they peck on red fruits, per my friend's warning. Well, not much I can do there. One day, one of the tomatoes started to turn red. I considered covering it with plastics, but decided against it. The red tomato hung there for almost a week. I guess the birds haven’t discovered my corner yet. So I harvested my very first tomato, small but fresh.

Now I just need a few more tomatoes to make basil tomato soup, all fresh ingredients out of my garden.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Enduring Super Hot North Texas Summer

Finally the super hot summer of 2011 at north Texas was over on labor day, dramatically - in a day's time the high dropped from 105F to 85F!

It is the hottest summer we have had and the second hottest summer in history at north Texas. This summer we had 68 days of temperature above 100F, and with a record 107F temperature for a few days. The only summer that had more 100+F days was 1980, which had 69 days.

One thing to note was that when the weather was approaching historical mark - 59 days of consecutive 100+F days in a year, local TV news stations and their weatherman/woman became giddy, and kind of wishing that we broke the record?! When the streak was broken for one day, some of them along with some foolish viewers were disappointed. Now they were wishing another 100F day to tie the record.

The prolonged heat led to many real problems.

Electricity Shortage and Waste of Solar Energy

It was so hot, air conditioning was more than an luxury, it was a must. There were several reports of people died from extreme heat, and government agencies urged residents to turn on air condition! For most people, the high temperature means that AC is on almost all day long. This in turn caused electricity shortage in the hottest days - and rolling blackout.

The irony was that the super hot summer caused energy shortage, primarily due to air conditioning, it also provided nearly uninterrupted sunshine all summer long - and thus abundant solar energy. In essence, we use the energy in natural gas/coal (which are primary fuel for generation of electricity) to combat solar energy (actually the heat it generated). What a waste!

If we harvest solar energy, even a fraction of it, we would not have electricity shortage. But short term economy leads to many individuals reluctant to invest in solar energy, and critically government/energy industry not to invest in solar energy enough.

Solar energy is, I believe, a economically viable energy source for long term, especially for southwestern and western states where there are more than 200- 300 days of sunshine. This the area leadership and vision is needed, this is where government can play enabling role - education of public on solar energy and available equipment, incentives to use solar energy, and maybe more tax on coal/natural gas produced electricity to pay for the incentives.


If the waste of solar energy was somewhat remote to individual life, the impact of the prolonged drought we had in this summer was visible and personal.

The first concern was with the foundations of the houses because the soil in north Texas is primarily clay, which shrinks when dry, and gives away when saturated with water. I diligently kept the perimeter of my foundation moist via daily soak hose watering, water my lawn twice a week, water the trees in the yard once a week. The foundation holds up well, the trees are thriving, the lawn was OK with patches of browning.

Looking around, I saw dying trees in some yards, fractured mortars for tree/flower beds, I also noticed that some neighbors had big trees around their houses cut down - likely due to significant foundation movement.

Now we have city wide restriction on watering lawns. Temperature has been back to normal since labor day but we have not had any significant rain yet. We look forward to cloudy sky and rain, not sunshine :) at this point of time.

Air conditioner and Garage Door

The second concern was with AC and garage door.

We replaced one aging AC a few years back - the other one broke down during one hot weekend this summer. Fortunately it was only the capacitor that we had to replace.

We also had garage door malfunction during very hot summers. This summer our garage door malfunctioned again - it stuck and would not close, 30 - 40 days into the stretch of consecutive 100+F days. I lubricated rollers and shaft; it alleviated the symptom only for a day. Then I thought that it might be due to garage foundation shift - but all parts have such a visible clearance with each other - no moving parts were hindered. Eventually, recalling past repairs, we checked the gears in the motor - due to extreme heat - the solid lubricant in the gears were melted away! We fixed the garage door problem by applying solid lubricant to the Teflon gears.


For economic, environmental and personal reasons, we adjust our routines to adapt to the prolonged super hot summer.

We raised our AC thermostat a few degrees higher than previous summers, just enough to make it comfortable at home when we were in shorts. This relived the overworked AC a bit, saved hundreds kw of electricity, and maintained the monthly energy cost below the highest we had before.

Lily and I changed our Saturday morning exercise routine from jogging/running to swimming in August. we reduced the intensity and duration for our Sunday jogging.

It was so hot, we did not want to go out to watch movies. Lily came up ideas of movie night at home for the whole family. We watched "Angles and Demons" and "Mrs Doubtfire" - the last two weeks before the school started. That was the best time the family had at home this summer.