Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter break: Julian, CA, the desert of Anza Borrego and San Diego

Impressions from our road trip to Julian, CA (home to great apple pies), the amazing desert of Anza Borrego and a visit to San Diego (old town, the San Diego zoo, aircraft carrier Midway).

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Film Club

A few years ago, I read the Film Club, a book by David Gilmour (amazon): the true story about David Gilmour's decision to let his 15-year-old son drop out of high school on the condition that the boy agrees to watch three films a week with him. In the months thereafter I caught up on a long list of great movies I had not watched yet.

In recent weeks our Netflix queue has been primarily 80's and early 90's movies to watch together with the kids. (I can assure you nobody dropped out of school.) It's interesting how much faster movies have gotten in recent years: more action per minute, more effects and explosions per movie. It drives our kids a little crazy when we watch older movies. Either the movie plot is really slow and boring to them, or the suspense is drawing them in and it's killing them. My son often runs out of the living room as the grinding suspense is eating him alive.

Ferris Bueller, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future 1,2 and 3, The Truman Show and on and on. We're also watching the MacGyver.

Tonight on the menu: Romancing the Stone.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Alviso Refuge

Pack32 cub scouts spent this Saturday morning at the Alviso Refuge. Through an informative program the guides at the refuge explained about the endangered California Clapper Rail, the Salt Marsh Harvest mouse and pickle weed. It was an interesting and fun morning. Who knew the near Alviso, in the middle of the marshland, you will also find the ghost town of Drawbridge. A couple of impressions:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Awaiting Apple TV

As I visited MicroCenter for a pair of earphones, I made a detour through the TV aisle. Wow! Flat panels have taken a dive in price. I am not talking about the HD LED magnificent flat panels. Rather the simple flat panel TVs which previously would run close to a $1000, and now are only a fistful of dollars.

In my living room, I still have a CRT, next to my VHS player. Sadly, I am not kidding about that. The CRT I got for a couple of beers from a friend. Because it lacks some of the input/outputs, I route the Wii, Digital TV and DVD signal through the VHS player. I am not proud of it, but we just don't watch much television. And the little we do is typically a DVD from Netflix or streaming Netflix from the Wii. It is however next on the replacement list, but I am planning to wait. I am holding out for the Apple TV All Unicorn Channel.

It has to be simpler than the Sony receiver a colleague recently posted for sale. 
The previous picture not withstanding, the problem with TV is not the hook up. It is the type of content and what you pay for. I recently took a look at the AT&T Uverse TV offering. What struck me is that part of their business model is still rent you a set-top box. If you wanted the wireless set-top box, so you can hook up your TV without much running of cable in your house, it is $7/month. No thank you. 

The future of TV is likely an easy to set up screen, which streams your content (Netflix, Hulu, Youtube) on-demand with rates for "I want it as soon as it comes up" and "free if you have patience". At the same time your iPad glued to your hand knows what's streaming and can show you relevant information. If it is a baseball game it shows you stats. If it is the Tour de France, a map of where they are in France. All with a sideline of related adds. And if I wanted to comment on the show on Facebook or Twitter, it is right there with the hash-tag of the show. It will not be about the actual TV-set, not about selling the devices as a service, but about related applications on our handheld device and cellphone. 

Now, Apple, in the interim, just ship me a great TV, can you?  

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Recycle - take two

After another trip with stinky bottles, cans and plastic bottles to the recycling yard, I am rethinking this effort. What's really only relevant are the clear plastic bottles, the aluminum beer and soda cans, and the beer bottles. Wine bottles do not count for $ (the majority of our glass - sorry wifey), nor does any other plastic container or can. My latest haul to the recycler only brought in $4.36 for the kids: $1.5 in class 1 PET segregated and $2.84 in co-mingled CRV glass at $0.066/lbs. So rather than separate things out, it will all just go into our big recycling bin for San Jose waste management to haul.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Mission Peak

After writing about the mountains we conquer at work, I decided to wake up early on the 4th of July and climb Mission Peak in Fremont, about 20 minutes from our house. The path starts almost at sea level and takes you to 2517ft or 767m for a magnificent view of the Bay Area. You can see from San Jose, to Mountain View, to Mt Tamalpais. I was also great to watch a few of the old timer planes fly over for the 4th of July parades. The trail is pretty much up hill all the time with very few flat parts. There is almost no shade cover, thus lather up with sunscreen. Some of my friends prefer to start the hike at 5:30am, or late in the evening. Bring plenty (a camel pack full) of water and some replenishments and this is not your average stroll in the hills. After 1.5 hours uphill I made to the top.

Along the way, I did run into some in-shape lean meat cows, and a rattlesnake, which is very common up here. Round trip: 3:45hrs.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Coyote Hills

You can just about anywhere find a park, stream, trail or hike with the name Coyote in it. This Coyote Hills regional park is in Fremont, near the bay: 2 hills stick out surrounded by marsh lands. It was the perfect place to go visit with the Cub Scouts Pack 32 for a hike. Who knew such a nice scenery is only 30 minutes away by car.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spring project 2012: planter box

We're planning a couple of home improvement projects around the house this summer. The deck is every couple of years on the list, but not this year. This spring I decided to build a nice planter box. The soil around our house it hard clay. In summer you need a pick to get through it. The year we tried to plant radishes, we got some small deformed radishes trying to bulk up.

For about $250 on new materials (copper pressured treated wood ok for an organic garden, soaker hoses, large screws for outdoor), some material I still had laying around and quiet a bit of new soil, I built a 9ft x 5ft planter box using some tips from Sunset magazine.

We planted tomatoes, various peppers, squash, onions, beans, celery, basil, corn, lettuce and chard. Some must be surviving I hope. To be continued in a few months when we can start enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Recycle young man, Recycle!

On this Saturday morning, I loaded one station wagon trunk full of recyclables with

  • One garbage bag full of aluminum cans
  • Two garbage bags full of plastic bottles
  • One 20 gallon tub overflowing with glass wine and beer bottles. 

to Schnitzer Steel, the local recycling center. Among the hippy recycler, the boy scout earning his recycling badge, and the dumpster diving homeless guy I tippy toed between the glass fragments and handed in my green gold. Or so I thought.

The 6 lbs of PET products resulted in $6. The 43 lbs of glass bottles will be ground into glass particles worth only $4.52. Most valuable were the aluminum cans, at $1.57/lbs (without coupon that is): 3.4lbs worth $5.34. Total tally for a trip to the recycling center: $15.88.

That is before income taxes! Indeed, this income may be taxable. Although if you bought the bottles and paid CRV originally, it doesn't make much sense to consider this income.

It also doesn't make much sense to grind the glass bottles, where as they could be sanitized and reused.

There is one chuckle in all this: since the kids get all the recycle money, they are glad to poor me another glass of wine or open up a beer. Preferably a strong Belgian beer, as the beer bottles are larger and heavier. Cheers!

Some interesting recycling statistics from the little house in the valley and the BBC on Belgium's rubbish solution.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cut out the dental in$urance middleman

 I've written about my experiences with dentists in the US before. Dental care is big business in the US and competition must be fierce, as demonstrated by my recent visit.

My regular dentist is gentle fellow, wearing Hawaiian shirts and listening to KFOG. And he does great work. However, his schedule must leave him plenty of time to catch a few waves in the morning. Appointments are typically mid day and not on Monday or Friday.

With my busy schedule, I decided to try out a new dentist just around the corner from my home. I always see the lights on, several people in the chairs, even after 6pm and in the weekend. I got an appointment at 6:30pm for a cleaning. After the mandatory X-rays, a second set of regular pictures with a mouth camera were taken before they started scraping away any plaque. All was professional and went great. Since it was my first visit, they also explained how they handle my dental insurance (Delta Dental). This was a big surprise to me.

First of all, the dentist is out-of-network. (Why did I not check this?) But do not worry, the coverage is the same as in-network. Huh? Why even distinguish if the co-payment and coverage % are the same? But it gets better.

Because they do not want to deal with Delta Dental and all the paperwork, they will bill the insurance. However the insurance will send the cheque to me. All I have to do is to bring the cheque in. Easy, right? Let's get to the details:

  • No co-payment: although normally I have to pay a co-payment for in-network dentists, I do not have to pay this dentist any co-payment. 
  • Don't worry about the difference between what the dentist charges and what is the normally negotiated between the insurance and the dentist. If the dentist charges $2400 and the insurance considers a procedure should only cost $2000 and covers it at 100%, just bring the cheque for $2000. If the insurance only covers it at 80%, do not worry. Just bring in the cheque sent to me by the insurance and we're even. 
  • If the insurance denies the coverage, there is no cost to me at all. Just bring in the denial of coverage letter. The rational is that they will verity my coverage prior to the procedure and if a mistake is made, it is on them. 

It sounds all too good to be true. However, they have been in business for over 20 years, have a great deal of business with between 5-8 dentists on staff, and cosmetic dental surgeons visiting once of twice a week.

I figure their business model is all about volume. They don't deal with the insurance and save on the insurance fees and paperwork. Pass some of the savings on to the customers to make sure you have lots of clients to keep the big staff of dentists fully occupied. They basically take out the insurance middleman.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Pescadero, CA

Too far South for the San Francisco crowd who will make it to Pacifica or perhaps to Half Moon Bay. Too far North for the San Jose crowd making the drive over Highway 17 to Santa Cruz. A little south of Half Moon Bay, in the middle between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, you find San Gregorio and Pescadero. It does take a little more than an hour via a highly windy Highway 84 and La Honda to reach Pescadero.

While officially Pescadero is a few miles in-land, the Pescadero Beach State Park is California coast at its best: not a lot of people, rugged coastline and beatiful rolling hills. It is also a great place to find treasures on the beach with the kids. The landscape is overall not unlike the landscape near Point Reyes, perhaps with steeper coastal hills.

Lunch stop in Pescadero has to include Norm's market. This little supermarket serves excellent warm artichoke bread with homemade garlic butter to be devouwered in 10 minutes at the picnic tables in the back.

Before heading to the beach, check out the goat farm on North street. Excellent goat cheese and a fun detour for the kids.

There are several state parks nearby. Pescadero State Beach was a big hit, for its combination of sandy beach, rocks and tide pools.

On the way back, warming up near the wood fire within the San Gregorio General Store is a nice place to have a drink before heading back over the mountains towards Woodside and the Bay Area.

On outliners

I've been on the look out for a powerful outliner tool for a while. At work I use primarily the outline mode of Microsoft Word, and it does it decent job. Although it lacks search and tagging capability. OneNote appears to be great, but is only available on Windows only systems (I use a Mac). For my to-do list I build a system around I'll try to document this in another post. As for outliners, every so often I return to Evernote to check if they added a true outliner feature, but I walk away disappointed that it is more about the images and videos, than about providing the true outliner capability. I've been experimenting recently with as an outliner tool.  So far, I've been impressed about its snappiness, and copy/paste functionality. I started to keep track of a list of items I like in a good outliner:

(note: the copy/paste feature from Workflowy ain't perfect yet)

  • Outline are not the same as lists or a to-do list. Trying to do both results in a liger.
    • Outliners allow you to take organized notes, including larger text blocks, drawings or pictures.
    • To-do lists have more context
      • Priority
      • Location
        • e.g., @work, @home, @web
        • GPS: e.g., @TraderJoes, @Lowes
      • Items belong to Projects
      • You can organize items using tags, resulting in Smartlists
      • State: nextAction; waiting (following the GTD workflow)
      • Notifications/Alerts
        • Mobile device
        • Instant Message
        • Calendar integration
  • Outliners support many levels of Indentation
    • Supporting Folding (a must)
  • Notes should be easily converted to email
    • Send from the outliner
    • Or support easy Copy/Paste
  • Outliners allow for easy importing notes
    • From Microsoft Word documents
    • From email (forward email to a specific email address)
    • Copy/past text as note details.
  • Outliners shall support exporting notes
    • Microsoft Word (Outline mode)
  • Provide support for Online/Offline access
  • Organization of notes
    • Folders
    • Tags == context
      • SmartLists
  • Search
    • by date
    • by tag
    • by topic or keyword
  • Collaboration and access control
  • Formatting
    • bold/italic
    • color
Created with

Safari West

One of the differences between Belgium and California is that nature can get pretty wild here. You rarely hear about a family making a wrong turn in Belgium and ending up stranded for days in the wilderness, sometimes even with deadly consequences. Belgium is on the bottom of the list of most dangerous animals in the world. Though I wouldn't want to cross paths with a the wild boar (video) unless I was accompanied by Obelix. From bobcats, mountain lions, rattle snakes and tarantulas, to some of the animals in our backyard, you often enough get reminded that California's wild isn't very far away.

Last week, we made a trip to an even wilder part of nature: Safari West. This is a park near Santa Rosa and Calistoga, where you can experience an African Safari. Although not cheap, the visit was definitely worth it.

Standing eye to eye, without a fence, with a Cape Buffalo (photo), one of the most dangerous animals in the world, is an incredible and scary feeling.