Take a Hike

Another early morning this morning, but a much different feeling as I probably had around 11 hours of sleep. It was a great feeling, the cobwebs were gone, the fog was gone. We had another McDonald’s breakfast (nothing else open at 5 AM and nothing like Filet-O-Fish at that hour) and then JC went back to the hotel while I explored the area. My goal was to make my way up the hill to the park I saw on the map.

Breakfast at McDonald's
Macaroni in soup, available at your local HK McDonald’s

I wanted the most direct route and I figured that footpaths and stairways would not appear on Google Maps, so I headed in what I thought was the best direction. A steep street (Kai Yuen Street, 繼園街) with a stair-step sidewalk looked promising, but after I made my way up I found only culs-de-sac and dead ends (<– is that redundant?).

Not a Through Street
Not a through street

Having learned my lesson, I backtracked and consulted Google Maps for the best guaranteed route. It was basically one giant switchback (Pak Fuk Road, 百福道) with no direct path. Of course, being the man that I am, I didn’t follow the map. I saw a flight of stairs heading into the trees and took it, and it turned out to be a private staircase leading up to a private residential estate with a mini koi pond.

Koi Palace
No, I’m not here to feed you.

Once back on the switchback I noticed a bunch of really nice housing estates. I looked closer to see if I could peek inside, but most of them had their shades drawn. There was one with a globe on the bay window ledge, another with anime posters displayed for the world to see. I imagined myself living in one of those units someday. It probably wouldn’t be hard with a two-income household.

The complexes got nicer as I got higher, and then I realized I was in a fancy area of town known as Braemar Hill (寶馬山). It’s interesting how one part of town is really gritty, and a few minutes up the street is a luxury residential neighborhood. I encountered quite a few seniors out for their morning walks. I thought about Hong Kong a few decades ago and how these seniors had contributed their bit to society and now get to enjoy retirement.

Looking Down from Braemar Hill
Looking down from Braemar Hill

Finally, I reached another dead end, and the park I was looking for was right next to it. There were more seniors doing their daily routine in the playground area. Further down, I saw a path leading into a wooded area, but I had been walking for a long time and the sun was rising higher, so I decided to head back.

There is more to explore in and around the park. Something to look forward to in the coming days.

Choi Sai Woo Park

Good Morning

The first leg of our journey is complete. We are back in Hong Kong after spending 11 weeks in San Francisco. The trip was uneventful; the most exciting thing that happened was when I spilled whisky all over my behind. Otherwise, so far it has been pretty routine. We came in, ordered some takeout, and then went to sleep. Like clockwork, I’m once again up at 2 AM on my first night here.

Chinese Egg Noodles with Beef Tendon
My first meal in HK: Chinese Egg Noodles with Beef Tendon

My heart felt heavy as I said goodbye to my family, for the past weeks have been the first time in many years that we have actually lived together. For me, it was a little bit like going back in time. Sleeping in my room and hearing my mother and sister heading out to work in the morning, bickering with my sister over little things, hearing the sound of my mother playing video games, it wasn’t much different from when I used to live at home. Of course, it was also the first time that my wife lived with my family. I will leave it to the reader to imagine what the pleasure of living with the in-laws is like.

Despite the few natural conflicts that arose from being in such close proximity for so long, I will always remember this period fondly.

Floppy Disk Nostalgia

The past few months have been an ongoing exercise to rid myself of worldly possessions. I have thrown out, given away, or sold many objects that I once held dear. From my fish and aquarium, to hard drives I’ve collected over the years, to my car, anything that is not compatible with my future plans is fair game.

I once wrote that one purpose of this website was to write things down to help me reinforce what I learned about computers. At this stage of my life, I am writing things down to help me remember and cherish those objects that had brought me enjoyment. Although I would love to keep everything, the problem with doing so is that they take up space, and I do not touch, look at, or think about them for years on end. Then, every so often, I might pull out a box from under my bed, get really excited about its contents for a while, and then stuff everything back down there again for another few years.

If I am to move to a place like Hong Kong or any other place (including San Francisco) where living space is at a premium, then I had better find a different way to get my nostalgia and sentiment fix. One way I have found is to photograph and catalog nostalgic items, and then post the results on my website. Viewing photos and descriptions online rekindles the same feelings as pulling out that box, and is much easier. I can browse the nostalgia category or search on a keyword and instantly transport myself back to the good old days without having to crawl under my bed and pull out dusty old boxes. Of course, there will always be one or two objects that hold particular sentimental value to me, and these objects will be off limits to the garbage can.

Today, I will be transporting myself back to my early days of personal computing with my old friend, the five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy disk.

My favorite floppy disk has always been the 5.25-incher. To me, the term “floppy disk” will always refer to this size, probably because this was the first type that I encountered. (I could never understand how the 3.5-inch, with its hard shell, could be considered floppy. Rigid would be more like it.) The earliest memory of a floppy disk I have is from playing Pac-Man at a neighbor’s house in the early 1980s. It’s all a blur now, but the act of taking the floppy out of its sleeve, sliding it into the drive, and then rotating the lever to close the drive is something that I will always remember. Perhaps it is the sense of anticipation when preparing to load a game, or perhaps it is the rhythmic whirring and robotic sound of the drive as the floppy is being accessed. There’s just something special about the whole process.

After Pac-Man, it wouldn’t be until 1989 that I encountered floppies again. In middle school, we used Apple IIe computers to learn BASIC and LogoWriter, saving our programs on floppies. It was the first time I ever kept my own floppies. I treasured and protected them, write-protected them with the little black stickers, kept them in their own hard case and took the case with me everywhere, and took the “never touch media” warning printed on the sleeves to heart. I was a little pudgy middle-school kid carrying around a gray plastic 5.25-inch floppy case all over the place while other kids were listening to New Kids on the Block and starting to discover that the opposite sex wasn’t so disgusting after all. No wonder I got picked on all the time!

In 1991, when it came time for my family to purchase our own computer, I badly wanted an Apple IIe, but my mother and aunt had a different idea. We purchased a PC instead of an Apple, and I hated it. It came with two different types of floppy drive, a 5.25-inch and a 3.5-inch, and it would not read Apple disks. It was fun copying files from floppy drive to floppy drive, though. The activity lights on both would light up, one drive would click as it read data, and the other would clack as it wrote data. On every boot-up, the 5.25” drive would do a seek, the 3.5” drive would do a seek, and then the PC speaker would beep. It became a boot-up musical ritual that I would sing along to every time I turned on the computer. I quickly forgot about the Apple II.

In the beginning, we still mostly used 5.25” disks. The 3.5-inchers were smaller and more convenient, more durable, and could store more data, but they were still relatively expensive, similar to how BD-Rs today are more expensive than DVD-Rs. To save money, we even figured out how to increase the capacity of a 5.25” floppy by cutting a notch so that the reverse side could be written to. Alas, as with all newly introduced computer components, after a while the price of 3.5-inch disks fell and they became massively adopted, sending the 5.25s into extinction.

A few days ago I sent the rest of my own 5.25” disks into extinction. I copied the data off of them, photographed them, and then took them to a shredder service that specializes in recycling computer components. As I watched the worker grab my 20-year-old floppies and throw them into the shredder, a feeling of sadness came over me. It pained me to see my old floppy disks being torn apart into hundreds of little pieces. My mind flashed back to those days in the early 90s when I had first written data to those disks, when I was growing up and honing my computer skills on that old DOS 3.3 386 with two floppy drives that seeked on every boot-up. Childhood. Adolescence. Floppy disks. I will always cherish and look at those days with floppy disk nostalgia.

Further reading:
http://www.computernostalgia.net/articles/HistoryoftheFloppyDisk.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floppy_disk

Museum:

10 Tricks for a Fabulous Workday

Here’s another article linked to by LinkedIn Today, from Inc.com:

10 Tricks for a Fabulous Workday

Staying positive is not something I excel at so I’m always looking for ways to help me in that regard. This article has a lot of good tips, but what stands out to me are numbers 7, 8, and 9: avoiding negative people, don’t work long hours, and wind down and relax.

Even now, after having not worked for 3 months, I have a difficult time winding down and relaxing. I always feel like I have to do something or else I’m wasting time. Back when I was working, if I didn’t put in long hours, I felt like I was lazy and unproductive, which probably and ultimately led to my getting burned out and leaving work. The “hangover of resentment” in number 9 sounds very familiar.

As for avoiding negative people, what do you do if the negative people are family? When I was in Hong Kong in May, I brought a book with me called the Ten-Day MBA by Steven Silbiger, and one of the sections (page 389, the Ten-Minute Leadership Coach) cited family background and upbringing as factors that influence how people behave. For example, if you came from an overly negative family, then you would likely tend to be negative as well. I thought that a lot of the examples applied to me, so I tried to pay closer attention to this section. One of the more important lessons gleaned was that “positive thoughts create positive feelings.”

It doesn’t always work, but when I am around negative people that I cannot avoid, I try to respond to their negativity with positivity. For example, I respond to “the bus is never going to be here” with “it will be here, just a few more minutes” or “this food tastes horrible” with “it’s actually pretty good”. Admittedly, some of the responses seem ridiculous, but it really did work. I felt better responding in that manner and a positive response is also a good way to “cut off” the negative direction of the conversation.

Of course, for me the hardest part is consciously remembering to be positive. Well, that’s why I’m writing it down here, right? To help reinforce the things I learn, to remember to be positive!

Saying Goodbye to Two Old Friends

I recently had to say goodbye to a couple of old friends. This post is dedicated to them.


I bought my first car in September of 2008. I’ll never forget the date, September 13, 2008, about a month before my birthday. Prior to this date, my mind was fixed in that I only spent money on the bare essentials, in that frugality was top priority. Having been a part-time college student living at home, this made sense. But I was no longer that student, and was working full-time and living on my own. I had to tell myself that it was OK to spend some money on something that would make me happy.

My First Car, 2009 Acura TSX
My first car.

The TSX made me happy, and then some. It became a hobby for me: learning about cars, how each subsystem of a car works, what I could do to squeeze out more performance, what I could do to keep it in top shape. I bought lightweight wheels to improve aesthetics as well as acceleration, bought high performance tires to improve grip, bought springs to lower the car’s center of gravity and improve handling. I learned about ways to keep the paint looking like it had just rolled off of the assembly line. I took pride in knowing more about my car than the average person, and keeping my car in better condition than the average person. When it came time to turn in the car at lease end, I decided to lease another and transfer the parts to it.

My Second Car, 2011 Acura TSX
My second car.

A year after leasing my second TSX, I am no longer working and I am planning to travel and move overseas. Keeping the car no longer makes sense. The reality of the situation weighs on my mind, and I am unable to sleep. I get out of bed and go down to the garage to take my car out for a drive, to spend some final quality time with it. I try to take in the things that I had taken for granted up until this point, things like the smell of the leather every time I step into the car, things like the growl of the engine when I hit VTEC, and things like the car just looking so damn good.

Going for a Drive
Going for a drive at 4 in the morning.

It is 4 AM; the morning’s fog and mist adds to my contemplative mood. I drive my car around the beautiful city of San Francisco, knowing that soon I will not have the car, and that soon I will no longer be in this city where I grew up. I drive around the entire town, recalling images from yesteryear, from taking the MUNI to school every morning to eating out with my friends for the first time in Chinatown, intermixing those memories with the feelings I get when stomping on the accelerator pedal in first gear. At 4 in the morning, it is as if the streets are mine to do with as I please. I can even step out and take photos while the engine is still running. I take the photos not knowing that this would be the final night we spend together.

Entering Chinatown
Getting ready to enter Chinatown around 4 AM, while a rare vehicle passes through the intersection.
Golden Gate
A bit later on, the sun has come up but it is a foggy day.
Inside the Car
Enjoying my car for the last evening.

On the last day, I am nervous because I do not know how much the dealer will give me for my car. I sit in the lounge and try to watch the Olympics, I pace back and forth between the new cars on the showroom floor. Finally, my salesperson gives me the number, and I let out a sigh of relief. My efforts to keep the car in top condition have not been in vain. But when I turn around and take one last look at my beloved car, I find that I loved it more than I realized. I did not expect saying goodbye to be so difficult. This was the car that I drove every day to work, that I painstakingly maintained, that I raved to all my friends about, a part of my life, a part of my identity. Why would I not expect saying goodbye to be difficult?

Knowing that I was now carless, my salesperson offered me a ride to the BART station. As we pulled out of the dealer lot, I said goodbye to my car without regret, satisfied and comforted knowing that we had spent that last night together.

Goodbye, Old Friend
Goodbye, old friend.

It was an early July afternoon on a warm, sunny day. I was sitting on the porch of my in-laws’ house with Brutus, the family dog, a Boxer. I would throw the frisbee across the yard, he would chase after it, chew on it for a while, and then bring it back. After a few rounds, I’d draw some water from the tap into his bowl, and he’d lap it up thirstily. Then, he would push his head into my leg, lean his whole body on me and sit on my foot, shedding his dog hair all over my pants.

He did this every time I came to visit. It was very endearing, sort of like a child grabbing your hand and putting his in yours because he wants you to hold it. It was like he was telling me, “hey, good to see you again, let me show you that you’re part of my pack”.

On this day I was part of his pack for a long time. We watched many cars drive by, and many of the drivers would smile at us, probably thinking that Brutus was my dog. The fact is, I have never owned a dog, and probably never will. I cannot tolerate dog hair all over my clothes, my home, or my car. Normally, I don’t even play with Brutus for that long because I can’t wait to go wash my hands. On this day, for some reason, I wanted to spend more time and enjoy the afternoon with him.

It was two weeks before I visited my in-laws again. Normally, Brutus would perk up when he detected our approach and run over to greet us, but now he only barely glanced at us. When he finally did get up, we saw that he was severely emaciated, and drooling all over. We were told that he hadn’t eaten in over seven days. After taking him to the vet, x-rays revealed that he had a blockage of the esophagus which could have been something he swallowed, or cancer. We had to take him to a specialist to find out.

At the specialist’s office, we learned that we had few options. Because of the period of time that had elapsed, even if it was a foreign object in his esophagus the amount of inflammation would have made it difficult to remove surgically and, even if removed, scar tissue would form and once again create a blockage. The cancer prognosis was equally discouraging. It was a risky procedure for a healthy dog, let alone a severely emaciated one, and we could tell from the doctor’s expression that the outlook was not good. In the end, we knew what we had to do for our friend.

We spent a few final moments with Brutus. Ever since he got sick, he had been lethargic and could barely walk, but somehow he managed to walk over to me and push his head into my leg one last time. Did he know that the end was near? Was he giving us permission to end his life?

The doctor came back in with a catheter in Brutus’ hind leg. We laid him down on the doggy bed and petted him softly and gave the doctor our permission to proceed. He solemnly gave the first injection. Brutus let out a sigh. We kept petting him, trying to make him as comfortable as possible. The doctor slowly gave the second injection, and then the third. A few moments later, Brutus was gone.

I had never seen death like this before. It seemed to happen quickly; one moment Brutus was here, and the next he wasn’t. His body still felt warm, he still had the dog smell, and when I petted him it felt no different than before. We wrapped him up in a blanket and took him home, where we buried him in the same yard where we had played frisbee just a couple of weeks ago.

Now, I understand why dogs are referred to as man’s best friend. I was not his owner, yet Brutus still treated me like his best friend, even at the end. He was the closest thing I’ve had to owning a dog. True loyalty and true affection that is easy to see, with no pretense or ulterior motive embodied in a furry four-legged beast, I will never forget my good friend Brutus, and I will be forever grateful that I was able to spend that last warm, sunny afternoon with him. RIP Brutus.

Brutus
Brutus Maximus, 2006-2012

Sunday Streets

So I was doing my daily walk/run and I happened upon Sunday Streets happening here in the beautiful city of San Francisco. I figured I’d just walk through it on my way home, when I heard the distinct sound of a Zydeco band. I recently discovered Zydeco while watching SF Government TV on late night TV and really got a kick out of the beats and the accordion, and especially the washboard. The group performing on the show was Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic.

Imagine my excitement when I saw that this was the band playing! What were the chances that I’d see this band that I recently discovered? Wow. That really made my day. It’s a completely different experience watching live versus watching on television. Awesome!

Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic