Saturday, December 24, 2016

Summit Great Sand Dunes

We first visited Great Sand Dunes National Park five years ago. Chance took us there again this winter and I had a very clear plan this time, that was to make up for what we missed the first time - climb to the summit of the dunefield.

It was a cold clear late Sunday morning, temperature at single digit (F) when we arrived at the park. We watched a video about the great sand dunes at the visitor center and headed toward the dunefield around noon time.

Great Sand Dunes at the edge of San Luis Valley and Snow peaked Alpines 

The best way to hike in the dunefield is to walk along or near the ridges - where the slope is minimum and thus less backward motion for each step. Also small quick steps,  which take advantage of time delayed response of sands to external force,  would minimize the sinking into sands. The sand was much firmer than what we experienced last time due to snow the previous day and very cold temperature, which made the hiking less tiring.

It was still very cold, -9C. The few groups arrived earlier at sand dune parking lot, lingered around in the dried up Mosca river bed. We were the only group marching into the dunefield. In the parking lot and Mosca river, the High Dune is clearly the tallest sand dune in the field. Each of us, applied sunscreen, took a bottle of water and a protein bar, put on skiing-ready coat and started marching toward the high dune. There was no body else in the dunefield ahead of us!
Marching to the Peak

The rest of the group reached the first local peak while I was near high dune by taking shortcut
Initially Justin was leading the way followed by my niece and I. Quickly high altitude and steep slope got to us, we slowed down, taking breath every few steps. We also took the opportunity to enjoy the scenery and take pictures, totally immersed in the moment, between blue sky, brownish sands, white snow and the sound of our footsteps.

As we were approaching the first local peak, two young men got there ahead of us via a different route. One of them turned around, the other continued to high dune.  Since our goal was to reach the high dune, I skipped the first local peak and went straight to high dune via the side of the peak.

I walked along the narrow ridge of high dune gingerly toward the summit,  beautiful scenery in every direction - hikers climbing the curvatures of the sand dunes from east, snow covered Sangre de Cristo mountains to the north and north east, large area of sand dune field  and the expansive San Luis Valley to the south.  The vivid color that snow and blue sky provided made everything so much more beautiful. When the rest of the group was joining me at the summit, I raised my arm to celebrate our success. It was exhilarating to be on top of the "world",

the Ridge of the high Dune and beyond

Justin on the way to High Dune

On top of High Dune, I raised my arms

far field of sand dune from high dune

snow patched sand dune field
End Notes:

1. I tuned on my Garmin GPS tracking to record my trail. It took us about 1 hour 39 minutes for the round trip of 2.62 miles (4.21 km), 1 hour uphill, 40 minutes downhill. My heart beat was about the same as my 5K run.

2. We did indeed reached high dune according to the GPS. The elevation gain was 222m (728ft), which was 24 meters higher than what is stated on national park service website.But high dune is not the tallest dune at the park, Star Dune is according to national park service, which is 1.5 mile west of High Dune.
track of my trail - numbers indicate mile stone marks
3. Two incidents occurred during the visit - a) my glove fell several feet down the ridge of high dune on a steep slope. I sat down and dug in my boots into the sand to prevent mini sand avalanche to retrieve it. b) when we were leaving the sand dune parking lot, my van stuck on a short (~ 20m, 45deg) slope. I decided that the van was too slow when reaching the slope. I backed down the slop, increased the van's  speed to reach the slope. Tires started to slip again in the middle of the slope, so I changed the gear from normal to D2, and then drove on the left hand side of the road where it was less slick. The van slowly overcame the slope!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Camping and Hiking at Palo Duro Canyon - Photo Journal (2)

We slept well despite the cold night  - with double layer quilts and heater. I got up earlier than the rest of the group ~ 6:30 am. I decided to hike the nearby trail by myself to see the sunrise. Local Sunrise time was 7:40 am.
I quickly got on to the GLS trail, seeing the sunlight touching the peaks of mountains, top of the canyons, moving from top downward, and my surroundings got brighter by the minutes.  
The sun rose around 7:40am at the Canyon. It peeked over the top of the canyon as I reached the 0.6Mile marker on the GSL trail. I turned around to go back to the campsite.

While I was enjoying the sunrise, a group of 4 wild turkeys visited our tent site
Lily got up and explore the valley a bit, she reached the river in the valley.
It was a beautiful crispy clear morning. we decided to hike on GSL trail before leaving for Bosque del Apache 
 Blue sky with thin white clouds made the colors brighter, and contrast sharper.We were closer to rocks and cliffs on this trail as well.The scenery on this trail felt different from those on the light house trail.
GSL trial is a multi purpose trail, we shared the trail with three mountain bikers. A couple early risers were returned from round trip hiking on this trail.
We took a quite a few pictures along the way, moving and stopping, but the average speed was about 1.5 miles per hour. We turned around at 1.5 mile marker and returned to trail head in 2 hours
There are quite a few type of wild life in the park, but we did not see many. In addition the the wild turkey visiting our tents, we met this road runner by chance
Palo Duro Canyon is a great place for camping and hiking, We enjoyed the park very much and wished that we could have stayed there one day longer to explore other trails and experience one more pitch dark camp night and starry sky.

Camping and Hiking at Palo Duro Canyon - Photo Journal (1)

After about 6 hour on the road, we arrived at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park around 3:30 pm. Drove along the road into canyon, we reached our camp site Hackberry Camp site. Our site was site #1, right by the road. Fortunately the traffic was pretty light in the park and there was no noise issue
It took a us ~ 15 minutes to set up tents. We were ready to hike on the most famous trail at the park - light house trail
The trail is at the bottom of the canyon. The main scenery is rock formation. Our speed was about the speed of walking on flat road
Rocks of various shape and colors are on all sides of the trail - close and far
Some flavor of Bryce Canyon Hoodoo and Yellow Stone Artist Point?
The last portion of the trail to the "light house rock" is not sanctioned, and pretty hard to hike/climb. We arrived at Light House Rock formation ~ 5pm
Just in time to see the golden lights shinning on the light house rock from the setting Sun
I climbed to a small peak by the light house rock
The Sun was setting
It got dark really quickly. We were prepared for hiking in the dark and cold. We had flash lights, headlights and brought sweaters or heavy jackets with us, The first "star" we saw was actually the planet Venus. We were the last group off the trail to return to the parking lot - in fact park ranger came to check as we were leaving!
We had noodles, sausages, chickens, Croissant, vegetable and fruit for dinner. After the meal, we turned off the camp lights to watch the beautiful starry sky. The Milky Way was clearly overhead. Walking around the camp site allowed us to see the stars from different angles and viewpoints. At some locations, we could clearly see the city light from Amarillo - and of course we did not see many stars in that direction due to light pollution. At our tents, it was dark, cold, quiet and mystically beautiful!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Glimpse of Saudi Arabia

I went to Saudi Arabia, right after Thanksgiving, the past week for a short business trip, visiting the mysterious country and region for the first time.

Gender segregation in public places

Gender segregation is mentioned in media here at US so frequently so I paid some attention to it. There is no such segregation on airplane. In fact on the flight from Dubai to Dammam, a women and her child sat next to me, she wore an Abaya (a loose cloak which covers one from head to toe) though. She is a Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia.  There is no such segregation in stores either, women, wearing Abaya,  can go to any place in the store a male customer can go.

Desert Design - a store at Dharan
I had first hand observations of gender segregation in restaurants and at airport security check.

The first lunch I had with colleagues was at VAPIANO, an Italian restaurant in the Mall of Dharan. It was apparent that male customers eat at the front of the restaurant and female customers eat at the back. But the front part is small, the back part is large, and there is no wall to separate the two parts. We had a large group - 8 persons - so we moved to the back part at a large table, away from female customers and no one protested, but quickly a waiter asked the group to move to a smaller table in the front! In the end it was compromised that we sat at a large table in the center of the back.

I had another lunch in a restaurant at downtown, Five Guys, a burger chain. This restaurant has male and female/family dinning areas separated by a wall, and has different entrance for each area. My expat colleague said if he would have lunch with his wife, he would have to go to the family dinning area wait until his wife arrives.
Dammam King Fahd International Airport
Dammam King Fahd International Airport

Homes and Communities are heavily fortified

I stayed at my company's facility camp and hotel, which was heavily guarded. When we first arrived at the gate, a guard used a mirror to check the under body of the shuttle to see if there was car bomb, then he checked everyone's ID, and finally checked the trunk before letting the shuttle pass.

The road to the gate and the portion shortly passing the gate have speed bumps, some are 5 ~ 6 inch tall. I saw the same at the entrance to Dharan Techno Valley, and the entrance to Saudi Aramco.

Not only business is heavily fortified, homes are too - standalone homes or gated communities. Newly built homes along high way, each has its own brick wall. Gated communities where westerners live are guarded as heavily as business. The two I visited both had guards with machine guns on duty.

barb wired high wall outside my hotel room 

Curious about these security measures, I asked if the crime rate was high. Crime rate at Saudi Arabia is in fact very low due to the punishment according to Islamic laws. They still publicly punish convicted - lashes, cut off hands, decapitate .... none of my western colleagues have been to the events. The security measures are due to 2004 Khobar massacre when 22 people were killed, 25 were injured. The security measures guard  against organized crimes, not random or opportunistic crimes.

Raining Season

November is raining season there. It rained 3 of 5 days when I was there. It usually rained at night and was cloudy during the days. However it rained during the day on my second day there, when we went to Mall of Dharan for lunch. There is no drain anywhere  - highway or local road. There are puddles everywhere when it rains.
rainy day at the mall of Dharan
Terrace of VAPIANO - an Italian restaurant  

 Other Observations

The city is pretty new, the downtown is really impressive but mostly westernized. I was told that there is no public entertainment - no concerts, no movie theaters and only thing in culture center is Islamic religion books. Programs on TV are news and sports.

1/3 of the country's population are foreigners - mostly from southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippine, Sri Lanka  .... On my flights in and out of Dubai, ~ 80% passengers were from this region, they either work in UAE/Dubai, Saudi Arabia ... or change plane at Dubai to go back to their home countries.

Inside of the Mall of Dharan

Outside of the store Desert Design
Despite the relatively new infrastructures, trashes piled along highway, many unfinished buildings especially stand alone homes - it was said that some may stand unfinished for years!

Known for their slow pace of life, it was surprising to see that the drivers are as crazy as one sees in India or China! People drive on both shoulders of high way - so on a two lanes highway, I saw 4 cars driving side by side. A driver would make a right turn from left most lane. Because of the craziness, traffic light will be in green in only one direction at a time! So the waiting time at traffic light is much longer than it is here in States.

In downtown, streets are separated by high fence in the center of road, there is typically no left turn. One has to take U turn to reach establishments on the other side of the street.

Saudi Arabia Culture Center
The King of Saudi Arabia was visiting the city for the opening of Saudi Arabia Culture Center during my stay there.Because of the the visit,  the King's portraits were hanged along all the streets and high ways! The planed grand opening of the center was cancelled due to leak in the just finished Center from the rains. The King was rescheduled to attend the grand opening on Thursday December 1st, fortunately I left the city around midnight on Wednesday - avoiding the traffic nightmare to be caused by the King's motorcade.

The province I visited, Dharan, is an industry center, and much more liberal than the rest of the country. So what I saw is not a full reflection of Saudi Arabia, but that of Dharan, Saudi Arabia.

People I met at stores, in the workplace, at gates and at immigration check points are generally nice, I never felt unsafe at any time during my stay there. Ordinary people live their life just like people anywhere else in the world, with exception of the religion mandated daily prayers.

*Note  - the five stone structure of the Culture Center represent the five pillars of Islam

Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith.
Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day.
Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy.
Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan.
Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Adventures to Palo Duro Canyon and Bosque del Apache

Like last year, we went on a long road trip before Thanksgiving to visit places we wanted to visit for some time - Bosque del Apache National Wild Life Refuge in New Mexico. Since it would be a ~ 11 hours drive, we stopped midway, at Palo Duro Canyon State Park at Texas panhandle.

This trip was an adventure in many ways. Taking routes less traveled opened our eyes, changed our perspectives - miles-long trains, forest of thousands of wind turbines, straight country roads that run 30 - 50 miles into horizon, expansive cotton field, water holes, cattle, irrigation systems ....   and the changing colors of foliage, land, sky, cloud and plants - golden, yellow, green, black, white, blue ....

Palo Duro Canyon has great landscape, amazing trails, it is second only to Big Bend in Texas! 

Tens of thousands of migrating birds and water fowls at Bosque del Apache made us in awe of nature!

We had a few mishaps before and during the trip - my van's battery died the evening before the trip, the elastic cord in a tent pole broke (luckily) right after we took down the tent, and a flat tire in the early morning on our 3rd day of the trip ...  we took all of them in strides, solved each problem as it came .... they made us stress a bit, but did not dampen our spirit or spoil our mood.  I actually learned to fix tents! As far as experiences at the destinations and on the road, this is the best short trip we have ever had. So I share our trip itinerary here.

Day 1, 2 @ Palo Duro Canyon

1. Leave DFW on Saturday morning around 8am
    route 121  ==> 380  ==> 287 ==> FM1151

    note; instead of I-40, we took FM1151 to get to Palo Duro Canyon so that we could enjoy the rural     expansive area on panhandle

2. Arrive at Palo Duro Canyon ~ 3:30pm
    set up tents at camp Hackberry 

3. Hiking on Lighthouse Trail @ 4pm  - to see the famed light house rock formation (~ 6 mile round trip)

    note: a. beautiful scenery, easy hike most of the trip, the last 0.25 mile to the lighthouse is                                 strenuous, may need to be on 4 limbs to climb. It is worth the effort.
             b. return trip would be in dark, bring flashlights

4. Picnic for dinner 7 - 9 pm

5. Walking around the camp under the beautiful starry sky

     note: remember to bring heavy coat for the cold night and morning

6. Hiking @ Sunrise on GSL trail for only 0.6mile - sunrise was ~ 7:47am  - not too early

     note: beautiful scenery, crisp air and amazing sunrise

Turkey visit to our camp

7. Breakfast and Hiking on GSL trail, turn around at 1.5 mile marker

     note: balanced rock and remote view of light house rock

8. Leave for Bosque del Apache  ~11am

Day 3, 4 at Bosque del Apache

1. Arrived at Bosque @ 5:30pm  to see sunset and sandhill cranes and snow geese - flight -in - return to their roost

    note: we were late for the flight in - should be at the roost area before 4:30pm

2. Stay at Best western hotel at Socorro, NM, which is ~ 20 miles north from the refuge

     note: dinner at Bodega Burger

3. See sunrise (day 3) and sandhill cranes and snow geese - flight -out  (6:40am)

4. Auto tour around the wildlife refuge  (12 miles loop but may take 3 - 4 hours to view wildlife)

     note: take short hikes on boardwalk trail, J P Taylor Trail and stops at various locations

5. Hiking longer trails after lunch (cancelled due to flat tire - had to go back to town to replace tires)

     note: lunch at  El Camino Restaurant

6. sunset (day 3) and see sand hill cranes flight -in. (No sunset due to dark clouds in western sky)
note: dinner at Domino Pizza - pizza, chicken wings and salad

7.  Back to Bosque del Apache for sunrise and sandhill cranes and snow geese flight -out  - due to sunny morning forecast

Sand hill cranes fly out at sunise
     note: wonderful crane flight out, and magnificent/massive snow geese in the beautiful sky

8. Drive home via 380 ==> I-20 (again route less traveled to see different places).

NOTE - driving on less traveled roads is great, but the consequence of potential hazards is more severe - there could be nothing within 50 miles, no cell signals either. Be prepared for the adventures!! maintenance of your vehicle, food and water, spare tire ... 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ski Vacations

As our skiing skill improves, ski vacation has become our most favored winter vacation.

I started skiing more than 16 years ago at small hills, Boston Mill and Brandy Wine at northeast Ohio, which were only 5 miles away from our home then. I bought the season pass and the whole package of skiing equipment, ski, boots and poles, the second year I skied after I could ski green trails. To ski was not a vacation then, but more a weekend excursion. I skied every weekend during skiing season!! The whole family would go to skiing with me every three or four weeks because the perk with my season pass was that I could have quite a few free tickets for family or friends each season! The only skiing vacation we had during the early years was a trip to holiday valley ski resort in New York, with another family, which I don't remember much. But the thrill and excitement of skiing, the blue sky and white snow, and the crisply cold fresh air of outdoor in winter made us, me in particular obsessed with skiing.

When we moved to Texas, one of the first things I did was to locate where the closest skiing location was. It turned out that Taos Ski Valley is the best ski resort in driving distance. Our tradition of annual family ski vacation started.

Driving or Flying

Skiing is very expensive, flying to far away ski resort can almost double the expense - airfare plus more expensive lift ticket and ski rental. There are a few ski areas within driving distance to North Texas - Ski Santa Fe, Sandia Peak, Taos and surrounding ski resorts, and Wolf Creek in southern Colorado.

Driving to ski areas has quite a few advantages -  bringing your own equipment conveniently, side trips to visit great places along the way, family bonding, .... and more economical.

We have been to Albuquerque to visit friends from our graduate school time, and many other places for sightseeing, including Santa Fe, Banderlier National Monument, Las Alamos National Lab, Palo Dura Canyon State Park, Petroglyph National Monument and Pecos National Historic Park., Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, Great Sand Dune National Park,  Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge .....

Driving long distance is also twosome time for Lily and I  as Kids were quietly watching a movie or playing computer games, we had time to talk about topics other than kids' education and discipline, such as tax cut, health care reform, politics, ...; we also spent time talking about our work, long term career plannings and expectations, exchange or re-exchange research philosophy, personnel management, team building ... Occasionally the boys actually stopped watching movie, stopped listening to music, to listen our conversations with great interest for extended period of time.

Due to the side trips and sharing of driving responsibilities, the main disadvantage of driving to ski vacation for us is the inclement weather on the road which can make driving hazardous.

After numerous ski trips in driving distance for over 10 years, we started thinking to explore other, much further away ski resorts, we thought about Colorado, Utah, California and Canada. We flew to Denver to ski at Winter Park in 2015 and Keystone during spring break this year.

 Hotel or Vacation House

For single family ski vacation, staying in hotel will be more economical for lodging. In addition to that the beds will be made by house keeper everyday,  the family will have more opportunities to taste local food. For multi family group ski vacation, staying in vacation house may not be too expensive if a few families share the house.

condominium complex - rental home
For the Keystone trip, we went with another family. They love to stay at vacation home and we went along. The home rental was taken care of. It was about 2 miles away from the ski lift and very roomy for two family to stay.
dinning area of the rental home
Since our friend Jean purchased all the necessary food/drink/fruit, we had freshly made hearty breakfast made right at the kitchen every morning. After a full day on the mountain, Lily and Jean would then make dinner for the whole group while chatting about skiing and many other topics. Communal cooking and eating is always fun and pleasant. It will make kids have more fun together after skiing, and parents have more time to chat and get to know each other much better.

We had lunches at the ski resort restaurants 100 yards away from ski lifts - first day at kickapoo tavern for sandwiches and burgers, and second day at spoon cafe.

decoration in the living area
Skis on the wall

Enjoying Skiing

Since we only ski once a year, every time we go to ski, we always start with an easy green trail and gradually increase the difficulty level as we move along the day.

At Keystone, we started with the longest green trail schoolmarm, and then explore the three mountains there via mostly blue trails.We enjoy ski because of the excitement of skiing and curiosity of exploring the mountains.  We  spent three full day to ski. The first two days were exciting, but by the 3rd day, we explored the mountains already and were a bit tired. We would then tried to ski on black trails, moguls a bit, skiing on green or blue trails as breaks.

Lily and I sometimes hike to areas we were unable to ski on, just to get a feel of what it was like to be there, we hiked the peak at Taos and  the peak at wolf creeks. Because of these experiences, I recommended to other who was unable to ski at the top of mountains, to take a gondola rides to there to enjoy the spectacular vistas. One family took the advice - it was awesome for them!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

2016 Presidential Election After thoughts

Why did Trump win?

There are many explanations to why Trump won, and Clinton lost. Of course there were many reasons. People wanted change - Trump is an outsider, Clinton is an insider, Trump spoke his mind, Clinton lied ..... Given all the outrageous comments Trump made in public, all the alleged bad behaviors he has ....he won the general election fair and square!

I thought that there were two main reasons that Trump won - one is widely attributed to - "the forgotten working class", see one interesting report here, the other is the suffocating "political correctness".

Political correctness has gone so extreme that people dare not to speak their minds in public if their opinions, ideas are contrary to that of the liberal media's. People lost their jobs, and even their properties - see the example in former LA Clipper owner Donald Sterling, whose private conversation being taped and led to his downfall.

Nobody dare to speak their minds in public and in some cases in private. One reason that many polls were wrong because many Trump supporters did not want to tell pollsters they would vote for him since he was labeled racist, sexist ...See a good reflection from one journalist on 

Trump was their champion to fight extreme political correctness. 


Democracy means majority rules - in this case, majority in Electoral College. There is no report of irregularities, no protest from Clinton campaign about the election. Trump won fair and square.

There are protests reported in major cities around the countries. Those are sour losers who don't understand what Democracy means.  Losing side should get over with the election, try to win next round, true believers of democracy do, even they voted for Clinton.

Democracy 2

Some commentators, domestic and international, said that Trump's candidacy was a mockery of democratic process. Democracy does not guarantee the best outcome or even a good outcome. It guarantees that majority rules. Trump's candidacy and success in this election actually demonstrated one more time that democracy works!

Peaceful Transition

I was pleased to hear a quick concession from Clinton when election outcome was clear. Her gracious concession speech was moving considering the animosity between she and Trump. She yielded to democracy, not to her political enemy.

I am heartened every time I see the peaceful, gracious transition of power after presidential election: Bush to Clinton, Clinton to Bush, Bush to Obama, and now Obama to Trump.

Obama said to Trump during their first meeting after election: "We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed — because if you succeed, then the country succeeds."

They are true believers of democracy!!

Pain in the Ass

My doctor suggested that I have colonoscopy baseline screening in the past couple years, and I finally decided to take his advice after this year's annual physical.

I had the colonoscopy on a Thursday earlier this year without drama, and everything was as expected.

The drama and pain was before the exam.

In order to have the colonoscopy, one has to be cleansed internally!

No food the day before the exam, only clear liquids for the whole day

Start the cleansing at 3:00 pm

Drink a 10-oz liquid magnesium citrate 

Bowl movement ensued

Drink 1st supprep for colonoscopy from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm per instruction  - total of 16 oz liquid in one hour, and then drink 32 oz water from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Diarrhea ensued especially from 5 to 6, every time after I drank some water

Drink more water or chicken broth  from 6 to 10pm.

More bowel movements followed

Drink 2nd supprep for colonoscopy from 10:00 pm to 11:00 pm per instruction  - total of 16 oz liquid in one hour, and then drink 32 oz water from 11:00 pm to 12:00 am

By this time the  what comes out is pretty much only water with "flak", the watery defection becomes clearer with each ensuing trip to the toilet. In the early morning hours, the last two trips to the bathroom, the defecation was clear dark yellow liquid - like urine. I was cleansed by now,

2 lbs was lost during the period.

After so many trips to the bathroom, the rectum was really irritated - especially after the second supprep.  It is very painful, very annoying, very uncomfortable and you can not do much about it except wait it out  - it is "pain in the ass".

Note - in addition to pain in the ass, the other thing that bothered me was general anesthesia: I was worried any side effect it might have, if I would wake up after sedated seems to be OK....for now.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Election Related Items

2016 Election

The election is 3 days away. Did you vote in early voting? If not, election day is November 8, Tuesday. Remember to cast your vote! We voted during early voting despite the bad choices this election cycle provides. 

Trump cried that the election was rigged. Clinton alleged that FBI meddled with election by disclosing additional investigation into her usage of personal email server for official business .....

We will know if the election itself is rigged or not after the election is over. 

But meddling with election process? 

Did FBI meddle with the election by releasing information about additional investigation into Clinton email gate? If there is cause for this investigation, the voters need to know, especially for those who have not voted, and undecided, then No. From news reports I saw, no Clinton supporters alleged that there was no cause for this investigation, they were outraged because of the timing of the revelation of the investigation.

There is one obvious meddling of the election process - biased media reports on the general election - no major media outlet reports about it because they are guilty. reported that "Poll: Majority of voters believe media biased against Trump". An Chicago Tribune article proclaimed "Of course the media is biased, because most of the audience is, too" But the reporter forgot what he learnt in college about one of the basic principles of journalism,  "Fairness and Impartiality".

I watch TV news, read online newspaper everyday, I observed the bias the whole election cycle, from primary to general election. During primary, the media tried really hard to crown Clinton, even when Sanders was surging. In the general election cycle, the media's bias is more aggressive - my observations are mostly superficial - positive coverage on Clinton even when the news was bad, show Clinton's attack on Trump while summarize Trump's event for him - image without audio .....

The media bias is so severe, a USA Today opinion article declared that "If you want checks and balances, vote Trump."

Voting Statistics Comparison - Asian American vs. Black

Asian Americans make 5.6 percent of the total American population. Black 12.2% of total population. As of 2016, there are 10 representatives of Asian-American descent, there are 46 black representatives. Out of 435 Representatives, Asian representation is 2.3%, half of its population percentage, black representation is 10.5%, close to its population percentage.

Asian-American participation rate in 2012 presidential election was 30%, Black's participation rate was 60%

On a local level, the city where I live has 20% Asian, 7% Black, no Asian American on the 8 member City Council, one Black council member.

The consequence of voting or not voting is significant - see how powerful black people are in American politics,  and that Asian-American's voice is frequently either not heard or ignored!!

Your Vote matters

In a democratic society, elections have impact on all aspects of our lives. On local level, it can be ordinances, bond issues, property taxes, water rate ..... On national level: Laws that impact our life directly (do you know that concealed weapons are allowed at Yellow Stone National Park?); How we live (Health care reform, Social Security Reform....); how TAX dollars are spent (wasteful spending eventually will lead to more TAX), ...... The list can go on and on.

Don't complain that you are not represented in city council, state house, congress or goverments at all levels ... Time to Vote!

Past posts on elections 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is "the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment."
Unfortunately many people don't typically demonstrate the capability of critical thinking.

What is the main obstacle to critical thinking? Mental laziness.

How so?

Most recent example is the Rolling Stone's sensational but false story about University of Virginia "Rape on Campus"  based on fabricated story from the "victim". Despite many holes in the published story, tens of thousands of people marched to protest UVA administration's handling of the case. The reasons for the protesters to march include: those who read the story accepted the story as "fact" without thinking, many more did not even read the story - their outrage was based on reading the headline in the news or just hearsay!!

Either way, they blindly trusted "authorities", in this case "Rolling Stone", more generally it could be news media/network news, government officials, celebrities, technical experts or even what is stated on Wikipedia. They accept what is stated by "authorities" as facts, truth, without thinking, because the "authorities" thought about it already.

How can one be a critical thinker? Have a reasonable dose of doubt, be analytical - understand what, ask why, know how.

In technical world, even if a conclusion was obtained by a reputable source, a good scientist or engineer will not blindly accept the conclusion as truth, they trust the source but verify the conclusion.

Years ago, when I was in graduate school, my professor came up a clever algorithm to perform a very difficult numerical computation. But its implementation somehow only worked for a special case, but not generally. The professor believed that there were bugs in the his computer program. His first student worked on it for half a year without fixing the problem. He asked me to look into it.

I reviewed his algorithm, re derived all formulas in the algorithm in half day. I found a mistake in his formulas. The program was fixed the next day!!

From half year to half day - that was the difference critical thinking made!

Lack of critical thinking in technical world can lead to wasted time and wasted resource. Lack of critical thinking in societal issues could allow falseness be treated as truth, impact our lives.

Most people have the capability of critical thinking. Please apply your critical thinking capability daily!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Tracking Fitness Exercise

It was a beautiful, sunny, cool and crisp Saturday morning last week. Migrating birds flying in southeast direction is another indication of change of season. Instead of our usual weekends' morning walk around the community, we decided to run to the local library and walk back.
migrating birds flying south 
We exited the community and ran east along Hedgecox road, turned at Independence parkway, continued to run to reach the library, which was about 1.5 miles away from our house. Instead of walking to return along the same route, we continued into the neighborhood behind the library.

It was a quiet morning, we did not see anybody in the street or on the sidewalk until we got to the pond behind the library - a man was walking his dogs, a lady was jogging along the pond, a raft of ducks in the pond and a grey heron was standing by the pond which flew to other side of the pond as we ran by.

Since I turned on the tracking app on my phone, I knew how much time and how long I ran, I decided to continue running until I reached 2 mile distance. It turned out that  the loop we ran/walk was just short of 3 miles when we stood in front our house, so I continued to walk a lap around the block. In the end I ran/walked 3.33 miles in 47 minutes, with average speed  at 4.2 mph.

our route this morning
Tracking my exercise is another thing Lily has been encourage me to do. Just like TED talk, I resisted the idea initially. I thought that all I needed to know was approximately how long I walked/ran, and how much time I spent on it, no need to be precise....and previously my iPhone consumed a lot of power while a tracking app was turned on.

When I changed cell pone recently to S7, she helped to install the app S Health, which consumes little power and uses only GPS for tracking. I started using the app all day. I tracked my lunch time walk around campus at work - I knew that it took me 20 minutes for an 1 mile walk - and the app of course is more accurate, but my estimation is within 5% of the app. Even so it was still great to get an bird's eye view of my track, and exact time spent, calorie burned....

Looking at that morning's record, she encouraged me to try 5k! I will give it a try. 

The next day I mapped a 3 mile track within our community, which is nearly the same length as the previous day's , and my estimation was again very close to the GPS calculation.

Tracking exercise is not critical to our fitness, but it does help to keep us on target quantitatively and the data may motivate us to reach the target. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Fixing Air Conditioner in my Van

I am not a car guy, I don't even change oils for my cars, but I fixed my van's AC problem!

What happened?

Last week it was our turn to drive for carpool to early morning marching band practices. On Wednesday morning, while waiting for the last boy to arrive, I noticed that the AC vents at driver side blew warm air even though I did not turn AC on.

That afternoon happened to be hot. When I started the van to go home, I turned on AC for cooling. I felt the blow of warm air from driver side vents again! It was hot, so I gave AC a few minutes to really work. The air got hotter as I drove. It was so hot that I had to open van's windows.

 I checked the air from passenger side vents, it was cool  as it was supposed to be. Apparently AC was working, something else was not. My snap judgement was 1) hoses leaked, 2) some valves malfunctioned, 3) on board computer malfunction.

Find root cause

I drove to the car service shop near my house and talked to the service adviser about the issue. I described to him what happened, withholding my own diagnosis, and asked him about the potential reasons. He gave me a check list answers to cover everything. So I told him my own diagnosis to try to narrow down the potential reasons, and emphasized that passenger side vents blew normal cold air, and driver side vent blew erroneous hot air. He double checked my van's make/model, and told me that the van has a separate valve for each side of the vents, it was likely that the valve control hot air intake on driver side stuck in open position.

I turned on and off the van a couple times already, it was not likely to be a on-board computer issue. I am pretty sure that the stuck valve was the root cause. I made a reservation for Saturday to fix the AC.

My Fix

I thought about the situation a bit after I parked the car in the garage, still sitting on the driver's seat:

How do I fix the stuck valve problem physically? I need to wiggle it back and forth.
How do I wiggle the valve without opening the hood? I change AC temperature on the dash board.

I changed the temperature up and down by 10 degrees, not seemed to work. I adjusted temperature setting to both extremes a few times ..... and then set it to cold, the cold air started to blow from driver side vents. I fixed the AC problem without getting my hands dirty!

Be observant, be curious and connecting dots to seek solutions. "Be observant" leads to identification of problems, "Be curious" helps to find root cause of the problems, "Connecting dots" will give you a good solution in short time.  This is my default approach to all aspects of life, be it technical or non-technical. This time I used it to fix the van's AC problem.

Of course these all happened subconsciously - I dissected the process to write this post -:) because it was a very satisfying experience!

The only guilt I had was that I forgot to cancel my reservation to fix the AC at the car service.

Note  - other similar examples in this blog include  fixing Kenmore Washing Machine Lid Switch, Setting Thermostat for Central AC in a Two Story House.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

TED Talk

Lily has been a big fan of TED talk for sometime. She recommended it to me for a number of times. But I was not quite as interested in it as she was. One reason was that,  especially for topics on life, I thought I know what they talk about already.

Recently I had an awakening - I want to read more on various topics, to listen to others' perspectives, even on topics I have a strong opinion or I am very good at. I try to achieve the goal that I will complete reading or listening even if I am opposed to the author's position, or the speaker's opinion, as long as I am interested in the subject.

TED talk, which is typically 10 ~ 15 minutes long, is a good place start this exercise. I signed on to receive daily alert from In the past two weeks I listened to about 10 talks,  Through some of these talks I was exposed to some new ideas and concepts: what is blockchain, why artificial intelligence could be a threat to humankind, the top factor that determine a start-up's success. I have my own opinions on many of the subjects - but upon listening to the whole talks, I found that looking at the same thing from a different perspective could be very interesting and enlightening, some facts on the subjects could be very fascinating and informative - how to make vote fun again was a timely topic; technology has not changed love - a no brainer to me, but the speaker gave some interesting data to back it up; harnessing nature's power via biomimics is a common subject in academic research, but put it on a commercial scale is totally another thing; the career advice on focus on development of business acumen ....

What impressed me the most among those talks I listened to are the following three:

Dare to disagree

It is not only about dare to disagree, it is also about the capacity to accept and welcome disagreement so that we can think deeper, look wider.

Why you should talk to a stranger

I was quite suspicious of the speaker's motive at the beginning, but in the end I was convinced that we should "embrace those fleeting but profoundly beautiful moments of genuine connection" occasionally.

What enduring love looks like

This is another one I thought that I could have skipped at the beginning because I thought that the speakers were off topic. However the first half set-up made the ending very powerful and convincing.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Technology Site Visits

I got a rare chance to have site visits to AT & T IoT* foundry, Oncor micro grid test facility and Da Vinci school on Friday, August 26. I went to the shuttle pickup place near Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson about 15 minutes ahead of time.

water fountain in from of Eisemann Center
Our first stop is AT & T IoT foundry.  The foundry director Craig hosted us. He led us first to their idea lab, which had many Lego pieces and a few printed circuit boards on a long table which led to many good questions and answers. I was particularly interested in how they generate ideas, and their process of producing market relevant innovations. We stayed in the idea lab for quite some time.

He then showed us a couple projects on how IoT is implemented in real world. One example Craig showed us was to integrate sensors onto corn seed containers. The sensors are used to monitor temperature inside the container, and detect if there is leak during transportation. The driver can monitor the tens of cases of corn seeds in his truck, and driver's monitor is wirelessly connected to a central station. A case of corn seeds is worth ~ $30K. For 10 dollar or so, the client can protect their precious asset - it is a good investment.

IoT is essentially a distributed, wire or wirelessly connected sensor network. The foundry's work is, in a nutshell, integrate existing or customized sensors into commercial products without any change to the products. The sensor carrier has to be cleverly designed to fit into product without interfering the products functions. The carriers could have very complex geometry and thus 3D printing is a very good tool for producing the prototypes in a "fast fail" process.

The foundry's main function is to solve customer IoT problems for free, especially those that clients have no idea on how to do it! Even though the development is free, AT & T got the chance to sell new products, and more importantly to make the clients use AT &T network for their IoT. It is the same as that AT & T gives out free phones to make customers use their network services - as a retired TI business manager on the trip pointed out to me.

AT & T IoT foundry idea lab
3D printing is an important tool for fast prototyping
Containers for Corn Seeds - sensors are installed on it
Our second stop was at Oncor Micro-grid test site. Oncor's chief technology officer Michael hosted us. The overview of Oncor's technology at their immersion room had a glitch - the video system did not cooperate. But the visit to the micro-grid control room was quite exciting - we were greeted by an engineer via 3D hologram! Michael explained to us how the micro-grid works - integration of different energy sources, including wind and solar power. Battery power storage plays an important role in the micro-grid. Battery technology is an area I am interested in - and thus asked several pointed questions among others.

Microgrid control board
The da Vinci School is a preschool with a focus on science education. What drew us there is that it is an exemplary place of green building.  School founding director Mary Ann led us to tour the whole school, talking about various topics at various stops, from green building materials to natural lighting, from generation of wind and solar power on site to conservation of energy, from ceiling to windows to floor.

I am a believer that we should be as "green" as possible. I asked her many questions during the tour. At the very beginning I asked her about how they dealt with original trees at the school construction site, true to the spirit of green, they kept a couple trees at the center court, moved the rest trees to perimeters - no trees were chopped during the construction of the school. At one point I asked her about how much it costed her organization to build the school, and how she raised the money, which led her to tell us her interesting life story and her perseverance to make her dream science focused green school a reality. When we stepped out of the front door of the school leaving, I asked her the question I had when we arrived at the school seeing the wind turbine in front of the school , why the wind turbine was different from most wind turbine I see in wind farms. She had the answer ready - it is the type of wind turbine designed specifically for urban area where wind direction changes constantly.

Our site visits started at 8 am and ended around 7pm. It was a very long day, but the visits were exciting, engaging, stimulating ......

the wind turbine at Da Vinci School
cut-out on the wall to show and tell

* IoT - internet of things