Friday, December 29, 2017

Ski Vacation at Copper Mountain - Escape to Denver

Christmas eve, Saturday December 24th was sunny and clear the whole day, a gorgeous day for skiing due to the full day snow on December 23rd. However the forecast was that there would be another winter storm coming to the Rockies next day - our day of leaving the resort and fly back home. Considering the wimpy Nissan Versa we rented, and the potential being stranded at Copper mountain, we decided to leave copper mountain on the evening of Christmas eve, about 20 hours ahead of schedule.

We got up early on Christmas eve and went to the slopes early in the morning and enjoyed the beautiful day and great skiing condition until 3:30pm. We cooked another big meal for the last dinner at Copper Mountain. Both families were fed and ready to leave by 6pm.

It was dark already, the wimpy Nissan Versa's defrost function did not work well, which made it hard to see the icy, snow covered service road. I drove cautiously slow (~ 40mph). Fortunately I-70 was not busy at the time, and the road condition was OK. We got to Golden, Colorado, a small city west to Denver, at the outer skirt of Rockies without drama, safely and at expected time!

Our flight home on Christmas day was at 7:30pm. Despite sleep in, we still had plenty time to kill before taking off, so we went to Colorado State Capital and surrounding area for self guided walking tours. 

It was a very cold day, temperature was at teens with a persistent northern breeze, otherwise it was a beautiful day. We noticed that there was a large gathering in front of the state capital and a long line of people along coalfax road, That turned out to be the annual charitable event - Christmas at the Park. Volunteers gave out blankets, sleeping bags, winter coats and hot meals  to about 500 homeless people according a lady in volunteer bib

Passing the state capital ground, we walked west to the Civic Center Park, there was Voorhies memorial to the north, Denver city council building to the west, Denver Art Museum and Denver library to the south. We looked around and took pictures for about 30 - 40 minutes. We then drove to Larimer Square and Confluence Park for another walking tour. 

It was a very cold day and restaurants were hard find for lunch, but comparing possibly stranded in Copper Mountain with 12 inch snow, we all agreed that leaving copper mountain early was a brilliant decision. 

Colorado Capital Hill
church with a green top


Zodiac sculpture at Civic Center park

Art piece in front of Denver Art Museum
Denver Art Museum

looking west toward cloud covered Rockies

Denver International Airport (DIA)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Ski Vacation at Copper Mountain - Dollar Car Rental/Nissan Versa

The Ski trip to Copper Mountain was not all good - we actually had literally nightmare situation with Dollar Car Rental/Nissan Versa on our way to the ski resort.

Paying big bucks for the ski-in/ski-out condo, we tried to minimize the cost for the trip through other ways: booked flight for Wednesday departure and Monday return, rent a mid-size sedan from the cheapest rental company - Dollar rental. This by itself should not be a problem - we did this type of travel arrangement many times before.

Our misfortune on the road started with Dollar Car Rental at Denver International Airport (DIA). When we got there, we waited for 10  minutes and were served by a guy who arrived to work just then, He spoke in a mono tone, had a blank face, and mechanically carried out his duty. First sign of trouble - low morale at this place.

He told us that we could pick any car in the mid-size car row. There were only Nissan Versas available with one suspiciously looking VW. All cars have tape marking on the trunk doors and on doors of left rear passenger doors. We picked one Nissan versa - as I drove away, I noticed that seat belt light was on despite that everyone in the car buckled up already - warning light malfunction. I changed to another car, and drove out of the lot, and quickly I noticed that the car was very slow to accelerate to highway speed (~ 60mph). Second sign of trouble - bad maintenance.

After a dinner stop, we drove onto the mountain section of I-70, as I drove up a small slope, I noticed that the maximum speed I got was 40mph  despite pedal to the metal - something was wrong. I drove off  I-70 and stopped along highway 40 at the front of a store Mountain threads. It was around 8pm. We called Dollar Rental roadside assistance. The agent decided that Nissan Versa had a transmission failure, collected all information, my driver license #, our location, rental car contract #, etc,  offered to send a replacement car as soon as possible - but estimated delivery time was about 2.5 hours since he had to  communicate with AAA first and would get back to us about the details of the delivery. Forty five minutes passed, he did not  call us back to provide promised information. Lily called the helpline and this time it was a lady, she started to collect all basic information again, when challenged, she told us that the first agent told her that his call with us was disconnected and he did not get the information (LIAR!!).  The second agent, she set things up with AAA and gave us AAA's contact number. Due to Dollar Rental roadside assistance program's obvious incompetency, we told her specifically that Dollar Rental at Denver Airport needs to have the replacement car ready before the AAA tow truck arrives.

Another hours passed, Lily called AAA, and was told the truck was not dispatched yet because they were told they could wait for 90 minutes. Upon hearing our situation, AAA  agent dispatched the truck which would arrive at the Dollar rental at Denver airport in about an hour. We called Dollar roadside assistance again to make sure that Dollar Car rental has the replacement car ready - we were assured that the car was ready already.

In about another hour, we called AAA again, we were told the truck arrived at the DIA Dollar already but no one can sign off for the replacement car. Lily was furious and called Dollar roadside assistance again - was told that they could not locate the branch manager and thus could not have the replacement car signed off!! - and told to be patient and the replacement car would be delivered - but when, for how long?

At around 11:45pm we were told that the replacement car was loaded onto the tow truck and would take another 40 minutes or so for the truck to arrive at our location.

The AAA tow truck arrived around 12:40am, the AAA driver was very proficient and empathetic. He delivered the replacement car, another Nissan/Versa to us. We finally got back onto the road again at 1am !! We got to the ski resort at 2am!!

5 hours in the cold Colorado night waiting for the Dollar rental roadside assistance, with pending winter storm coming, poor customer service and incompetent staff at Dollar Car rental, wimpy Nissan/Versa including the replacement made this literally a nightmare.


1)The consolations to us were that the pending storm did not materialize,  everyone of the family was calm and patient with the situation, no bickering. We actually took time to look at the starry sky.

2) Dollar car rental at DIA earned a 1 star on yelp - so our experience with the office was not a one-off situation.

3) Nissan Versa is a wimpy car. Don't drive it in mountains and in fact not in the city either. Many people had bad experience with the car including Lily's colleagues.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Ski Vacation at Copper Mountain - Indoors

This Copper Mountain ski trip was truly a ski vacation: we traveled with a few other families, stayed at a ski-in/ski-out condo, shared our unit with one family. The American Eagle lift was right outside our windows and we could get early to the lift without getting up too early. We cooked delicious dinner at the condo every night - shrimp, beef,  BBQ chicken, pork rib, salmon, .....  mostly by the two mothers Jean and Lily. Justin cooked steak for one night! Two families 8 people enjoyed dinners and shared skiing experience at the table every night.
Denver International Airport - transfer station
View from the condo
Condo's living area
After dinner the kids went to another condominium to meet the other part of the big group - playing cards, having outdoor hot tub, and of course playing games on cell phones. Lily and I ventured into the village one night to enjoy the Christmas lights at the center village. Our photos from the night-walk attracted more people to join us next night.

Copper Mountain Center Village
Christmas Lights at the pond

taking a break from skiing
At the end of the third day all the children came to the condo for a rest and they all stayed for dinner. Lily made a slow-cooked beef stew, we quickly added a BBQ chicken wing to the menu to feed the added mouths!

The ski-in/ski-out condo was expensive to rent but it seemed worth it.

In addition to cooking, convenience, we could get to the lift quickly without stress, we could take break at lunch time in the condo, and most importantly we could ski right to the door of the building entrance at the end of the day! All happened at leisure pace - a luxury!!

having fun indoor 
dinner buffet
the dinner party - looking at the window you see the adult party
Christmas Even at Copper Mountain

Ski Vacation at Copper Mountain - Skiing

Copper Mountain is our fourth destination in Colorado for our winter ski vacations. We have been to Wolf Creek multiple times, and went to Winter Park and Keystone once each before.

There were multiple reasons for us to ski Copper Mountain, the main one is that it has a huge preseason lift ticket sales - $169 for 4 days without blackout dates. Many of Nicholas' friends go skiing there before Christmas. So we went there on December 20th with some of them. This also allowed Justin to ski with us. 

Copper Mountain is a typical Colorado ski resort, wide trails, good vertical drop, snow capped mountains all around. A unique feature of the ski resort is that it has a well separated green, blue and black trails. The main lift Super bee serves mostly black trails, American Eagle serves blue trails primarily with a few black trails, and American Flyer serves mostly Green trails with some blue trails.

Since Justin skis on Black trails most of the time and skis very fast, he bought a ski helmet. As in the past, Justin mostly skied by himself, Nicholas skied with his friends. During one of Justin Black Trail runs, he fell hard, the helmet must have protected him from serious injury but he experienced some pain in the neck.

Lily and I skied by ourselves. Each day we started with American Eagle lift right outside our condo with a few runs on blue trails, and then moved to Super Bee for a long blue trail combos of Andy's encore and Skid road from top to bottom, and then we would ski on Oh No (a more difficult blue) and Rosi (a short black trail). When our legs were tired in the afternoon, before closing, we would go to American flyers for a few carefree and fast runs on long green trail combos (High point+carefree or CopperTone+carefree).

But there were a few interesting happenings.

On the third day there, due to heavy snow the previous night, there were a few new trails opened with deep unpacked powder snow. Nicholas and friends went to newly opened Fairplay trail and he recommended it to us. Lily, Justin and I went there together. Just about 20 yards into the trail, I lost one ski and fell into 2ft+ deep snow. I could not locate the lost ski in the deep snow even with help from Lily and Justin, I had to call Ski Patrol for help and he found the ski uphill from where I fell!!

Lily's skiing skill has improved tremendously over the years and she is at least at my level and maybe better. One time she was skiing ahead of me, and at the start of a deep slope, she looked back to check on me and fell. I took a few pictures of her when she was on the snow. She was a good sport, smiled at the camera, got up and skied away.

Rumor had it that Japan national team was training at Copper Mountain's half pipe. We could not do half pipe, but we did go to the top of the half pipe to observe and enjoyed watching snowboarders' practice.

The weather was pretty cooperating - it was sunny in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon and snowed at night - except the third day - which snowed almost the whole day. Of course that made the ski condition for our 4th and final day there excellent.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Foliage in front of my house

After the cold front that came at the end of October during the colony half marathon and green dragon 5 milers, the temperature swung back and forth several times from below average to 10+F above average. The large swings in temperature made the foliage this year not as good as before.

However last 10 days during our routine morning runs, we noticed some bright foliage here and there. Last Sunday afternoon, it was Sunny with a few white clouds in the sky. I walked out of the front door around noon time to capture the foliage on my street. 

One tree on my front yard lost almost all its leaves, the view of it let one feels like to be in winter, but the tree on side of the house just started to turn red; looking across the street, one  tree was in its full blown splendid autumn color spectrum – from light green to yellow to bright brown to red to dark brown.

Looking down the street to the east, two small trees by the curb were turning from red to bright brown, further down the road, two colorful trees, one bright yellow, the other dark red, stood in stark contrast to each other.

The most impressive of all on this street was this one big tree with full canopy of bright yellow leaves at a neighbor’s yard. I walked over to take a closer look.  As I got closer, the owners of the house happened to come out right then, apparently attracted by the bright yellow color of the tree, taking pictures of their own trees.   

What a beautiful "Autumn" day!!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Flushing Tankless Heater

The tankless water heater installed in my house on December 28, 2009 has been working perfectly. It however needs an annual flush to maintain its efficiency. The first flush was performed by the installer on January 3rd, 2010, cost $200.

I bought a descaler kit, which cost $150,  to flush the tankless heater myself. One time use paid off the cost of the kit. The only cost later on is only the vinegar solution used to flush the tankless heater.

The instruction for descaling is clear and easy to follow. The only thing I had to figure out was which was which on isolation valves and service valves. It is a two-step flush, first use vinegar solution to flush the tankless through re-circulation of the solution for 30-45 minutes and then use clear water to flush the tankless again for 3-5 minutes. The second step was troublesome when using a bucket to collect water - we had to empty it frequently, carrying the bucket from attic to second floor bathroom. 

Last year I finally decided to improve the second step flush by using a 75 ft long hose to connect the service valve outlet to the bathroom tub, eliminating the need to empty bucket frequently.

This morning I decided to flush the tankless for the 8th time, the 7th time by myself. I thought that it would take me 45 minutes to complete the job. But one misstep a the beginning got me into trouble.

Instead of following the instruction line by line, I quickly scanned the instruction, and  hooked up the system by memory. Instead of re-circulation first, my hookup led to the 2nd step flush. I quickly realized the mistake and corrected it.

But the re-circulation could not be established after correction! Was it that the pump malfunctioned or that it did not powerful enough? I did a few debugging. First I checked if the pump works or not, by disconnecting the other end of the hose connected to the pump from service valve - the water could be pumped correctly. I then shut off the service valve, turn on hot water isolation valve, turn on hot water service valve, water could come out no problem. All the components were working. But when I hooked up the system again step by step per instruction, the pump was running, but there was no water coming out of  the re-circulation outlet - hot water service valve. 

I asked Lily to come to the attic to check my installation step by step and I reinstalled the descaler kit with her reading the instruction line-by-line. I still could not make the re-circulation happen! My tentative conclusion was that the pump malfunctioned - not enough power.

Before I quit, I did a restart. I uninstalled the kit, returned the tankless heater to operating condition. I then followed the instruction step by step, when the pump was plugged to electricity, the descaler system was working!


What happened that made the kit not working before the retsart? Another observation was that despite the shut-off of the isolation valves for both hot water and cold water , the fluid level in the bucket crept up gradually. The increase in the fluid level in the bucket should not happen because the only source of fluid was from the bucket!! Why did it happen?

Looking at the internal structure of the tankless and because of the erroneous first installation, I believe that the re-circulation is established by Siphoning.  My erroneous first hookup essentially emptied the pipe in the tankless - see illustration above.  When I corrected my installation, there was no water in the pipe inside the tankless any more, the pump's power by itself could not overcome the  hydrostatic pressure from the height of the water in the pipe. That's why despite the pump working very hard, there was no water coming out of the re-circulation outlet.

When I restarted the process, I first refilled the pipe inside. With correct installation, the siphon could happen and the kit worked as designed. 

I still could not fully explain why the fluid in the bucket continuously increase during re-circulation. It seemed very likely to be related to water stored in accessory pipes connected to the main pipe where water is heated because the instruction stated that the bucket can only be half full ( to prevent the spill over from the excess water?)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Pandora's Lab

This is a book about how some science  that went wrong.

I read  an excerpt of this book on transfat  in National Geographic, and I wanted to read the full book.

The book presented 7 case histories in science that led to disastrous outcome: Heroine and Pain Killer, Trans fat, Nitrogen Fixation , Eugenics, Labotomy, DDT and Vitamin.

Can one imagine now that there was a period in time in our recent history heroin was hailed as wonder medicine? U.S. has spent trillion dollars to fight the drug trafficking , rehab addiction to heroin and related drug.

Trans fat was at one time recommended by U.S. government to replace butter, but it tuned out to be worse than butter, caused more cardiovascular disease related death.

Then there are fake science in labotomy, Eugenics, high dosage consumption of Vitamin.

On the other hand, the elimination of DDT led to the epidemic of malaria and death of million people. Overuse of Nitrogen based fertilizer helps to feed the world but could lead to distinction of human species !

How could those happen? Did no one see the problems before they led to disasters? Of course there were.

A common thread in all these stories is the media biased hype and relentless push by activists. Before a full picture was formed, media/activists promoted only one side of the story. Dissent, negative observations, opposing views were drowned.

Sound familiar?

The Harvey Weinstein scandal led to an avalanche of allegations of sexual assaults/harassment. This is a good thing  - victims now have the courage to speak out. But allegation is not the fact, we can not throw "innocent until proven guilty" principle away. Apparently there are people using this wave of allegations of sexual harassment for revenge, political gain ...  Remember the Rolling Stone scandalous article " A rape on Campus"?  The "victim", who is the real villain,  made up the story to get back to her unobtainable love object.

Back to science and technology, now in technology world, passwordless internet is all the rage. Promotion to develop technology to use finger print, iris,  facial recognition to identify a person uniquely and unambiguously despite serious potential fatal consequences.  Finger print is the first to be shown not reliable ; here is the link to a funny but scary story about the risk of using finger print to protect your phone.  What about iris, the novel Angels & Demons y author Dan Brown provided a scenario that criminal could cut one's eye out for access.

The real lessons learned from the Pandora's lab are: look at the full pictures, don't rush to conclusion/judgement, and use critical/independent thinking!!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Colony Half Marathon and Green Dragon 5 milers

The big day for local running community was here, October 28th, 2017, The Colony Half Marathon and Green Dragon 5 milers. It would be a clear but cold day due to a strong cold front moving to North Texas the previous day.

We arrived at the Sparks Park at Colony by Lake Lewisville ~ 7:15am for the race; Lily for half Marathon, and I for the 5 milers.  It was still dark and freezing cold (36F). I wore long running pants and long under shirt with gloves. Lily decided to wear shorts with added underwear.

For the race, my target was to complete the 5 miles in 50 minutes ( my average pace), and stretch goal was to reach 48 minute completion (a personal best), Lily's goal was to complete the half Marathon within 2 hours.

picture together before the race started
Before the race, a high school student sang the national anthem, a volunteer carried the national flag by her side on the stage. People stood with a hand by the chest while she sang and cheered loudly as she completed the anthem.
national anthem
The half marathon started ahead of the 5 milers at 8:06 am after a 6 minute delay due to the power outage to the inflated starting gate. The 5 milers started 10 minutes later. There were a lot more runners for the half marathon than for the 5 milers.

The first 5 miles of the both races used exactly the same route, in the neighborhood by the park. The half marathon added 8 miles by lake Lewisville. 

The half marathon trail

Half Marathon started
I started the run at a relatively fast pace, 5:30m/km, but after 1 mile or so I started to feel discomfort in my right knee area, and slowed down substantially in my 2nd and 3 rd mile, many runners in the 5 miler group, young and old, slim and plump, passed me. During this tough section,  I was pleasantly surprised to hear the cheers from 3 cheerleader teams lined at different sections of the 5 mile route. They did cheer me up!! And  I stopped to take a picture of them.

As the discomfort eased, I picked up speed and started to pass runners, in fact many of the runners were walking then. I actually ran as fast for the last kilometer as my first,. I finished the 5 miles in 50 minutes!  55 minutes later Lily crossed the finish line in 1 hour 55 minutes. She achieved new personal records in 1 mile, 5km, 10km and half marathon

It was a beautiful day, and a great experience for our first long distance race. 

local middle school cheerleaders cheering for the runners
Lily crossing the finish line

picture together after the race
a corner of lake Lewisville


1. A colleague of mine lives by Lewisville lake along lake shore trail, he actually erected a sign to cheer me up!!

2. There were many Chinese-American participated the race - my estimated number  20 ~ 30, this compared with one in 2016 race (by reading online running record)

3. Lily found out that my official time was 1:06 minute - 16 minutes slower than my recorded time. It seems that when the inflated gate was down, I passed the chip reader (the black strip on the ground). Our guess was that my chip was read at that time, 6 minutes ahead of half marathon start time, 16 minutes ahead 5 miler start time!!