How Clean Is Your Drinking Water Supply?

Portland, Ore., dumped 38 million gallons of drinking water because of a urinating teenager.

That teenager’s pee added about 0.01 PPM (part-per-million) of pollution to the water supply. That more than 200 times less than the allowable amount in drinking water. Oregon official admitted that they sometimes found dead animals in the reservoir but that never triggered the dump. Because, “no one want to drink pees.”

We drink pees all the time. Earth’s water is a close system. Every drops of water has a contamination from some animal pees sometime. For the Oregonian reservoirs, they get bird poops probably every day. Their sources also collected animal pees on their ways to the reservoirs. Modern water treatment facilities can rid pretty much all those pollutants and deliver safe drinking water to households. Minimally, they must be compliant to the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act and various local regulations.

A normal person uses about 100 gallons a day and most of them for flushing the toilets. 38 million gallons will serve about a third of the Portland population for a day.

The water in the reservoirs was naturally collected and has not been treated. So it is essentially free. If the officials are reasonably smart, they will dump the water on a tributary that will lead the water back to other reservoirs. Even if they really dump it to the wild, there is really no harm done. All water on earth are recycled, there will be no loss of water in the system.

Yep, much ado about nothing. Except for annoying Californians who are parching from a historical drought.

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Discovery Park

I can only hear my own foot steps. The soft and soaked dirt squealed on my every steps. The sounds were delightful to this lone walker. I knew the physics of the sounds, but cannot help thinking the trail is trying to talk to me.

Loop Trail is a 2.8 miles easy hike, but my goal is West Point Lighthouse. I parked at the north parking lot, got on Loop Trail, and branched onto Hidden Valley Trail. From there I passed the West Point Water Treatment plant and found the beach.

Like other parks in Seattle, the trails were well maintained, well marked, and easy to navigate. There were loners like me, couples, families with small children, joggers, and dogs. The trees were tall, mosses green, water trickling, and dirt soft. I passed by people chatting in all kinds of languages, some I recognized and most don’t. I was at peace with myself, working up a light sweat.

Next time, I will try the South Beach Trail, heard the view is better.

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Foundation Trilogy

I cannot believe that I never read Foundation Trilogy. I have been an Asimov fan forever and read many of his works. Well, they were indeed master pieces.

For historical references, Asimov originally wrote the Foundation Trilogy as “Foundation“, “Foundation and Empire“, and lastly, “Second Foundation.” He then wrote two prequels and one sequels to complete a 6-book series. If you wish to read them in the time-line of the event, you should begin with “Prelude to Foundation.”

Psychohistory applies high mathematics to sociology. Hari Sheldon was the best psychohistorian and was able to predict the future of any society with very high degree of accuracy. He foresaw the fall of the First Empire and established two Foundations to take over in a thousand years.

Really? What kind of math can predict the future of a galaxy a thousand years into the future? What kind of brilliance? Mind you, the subject to the plan, the population and the leaders of the Foundation, knew only the existence of the plan and not the plan itself. The premise is then Hari Sheldon seeded the Foundations and, with his brilliant math, set things in motion for the next one thousand years without the need to reveal the plan to those in Foundation.

I did not believe. The third book to figure out how he did it. I won’t ruin that for you.

The entire trilogy is a must-read for all SciFi readers.

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How to Lock SmartCar with Disconnected Battery

SmartCar has a curious design. There is no way to lock the car without using electricity. The key is a standard remote control one that can be used to lock, unlock, or open the trunk gate. Like all other cars, you can insert the key into the hole and unlock the car without pressing the button. But the reverse is not true. There is only one way to lock the car: get out, close the car, and press the button.

This is no a problem unless you, like me, is car-sitting for a friend. After a prolong inactivity, the battery drained. This is kind of annoying. The solution is simple: disconnect the battery. But I then cannot lock the car.

Finally, I figured it out.

  1. Uncover the passenger side carpet. Loosened one screw from the battery. Keep it connected. Close the passenger side door.
  2. Enter the car from driver’s side.
  3. Leave the door open. This is important. It does not work otherwise.
  4. Insert the key, turn the car on, but don’t start the engine
  5. Press the button on the dashboard that look like a closed padlock. It should start flashing.
  6. Remove the car key. The doors should lock as you do so.
  7. Disconnect the battery. Yes, reach over, yank the cable.
  8. Exit the car. Close the door.

Why is this one called “SmartCar?” I have no idea what those German engineers were thinking. Wouldn’t it be much easier to lock it with a simple turn of the key, like every other cars?

Posted in Witness to my life | 1 Comment

Taipei’s Sunflowers

March 29th, 2014

One of the best features of this hotel is the jogging path. It is close to the “Freedom Square” (used to be known as Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Park). I enjoy the run around the perimeter and come back for a nice 3-mile (5km) circuit. I geared up and went, only to smash right into the mob.

Twelfth days ago, about 1500 college students stormed into and occupied the congress, right next to the hotel. They demanded complete revocation of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (兩岸服務貿易協議). I jogged around the peaceful crowd. There were speeches, singing, and chanting. There were also discipline-enforcers, medical station, stages with jumbo-tron screen and concert-quality AV equipment, t-shirt booth, foods distribution, and “refreshment stations” for people to take showers. They called themselves the “Sunflowers” and were very well organized for the long haul. My casual exercise became a tour that also included barricaded government buildings and many TV mobile units. The palpable emotions were ready to explode and some seemed eager to kindle.

Around 7pm came a thunderstorm of poring rain and gusty wind. It passed quickly, but drenched everyone. I thought of those protesters and wonder how would this dampen their spirit.

March 30th, 2014

Both sides put out propaganda, PR blitz, and various tactics to present a strong support base. The media was ridiculously biased and offered no value in furthering the understanding of this matter. From my chatting up with those kids, the opposition came in four main points:

  • Protectionism: many fear that they wouldn’t be economically competitive against China. This seemed to be the smallest faction, since most in Taiwan understood it is about global competitiveness and not about China. On the other hand, there are always groups that will experience hardship and they don’t like it.
  • Dirty Political Procedure: the government kept people in the dark, passed the agreement in an extremely under-handed way, and abused its majority position in the congress. This angered many righteous students.
  • Party rivalry: Taiwan’s political landscape is nearly 50-50 split between two parties. The opposition side smelled blood and was all too glad to see the whole thing escalated.
  • Threat to sovereignty: China’s agenda was blatant — money for your independence. Yes, the price was lucrative. But is the sovereignty for sale? Even the mentioning of this topic angered many.

Calling President Ma a traitor is probably not justified. If, however, he truly believed the agreement’s merits, he failed miserably in communicating them. When pressed, many admitted that they did not really know much about the agreement itself and took up position based on media sound-bites. On this front, the government’s PR campaign lost by a landslide.

March 31st, 2014

The emotion crested during the protest that lasted well past mid-night. My morning jog met many tired kids sleeping on the covered side-walks. Their number dwindled and those stayed seemed tired and spent. No one knows how will this ends. Everyone wishes no more people get hurt.

Posted in Peek into my mind, Witness to my life | 1 Comment

Lasagna, an Adverture

Kids, and many, knew that I love watching cooking shows. They also knew that I am a theorist, not a experimentalist, of culinary arts. For that matter, I am not even a good enough critic. Heavy smoking during my youthful years irreversibly damaged my taste buds.

Why did I, then, attempt to make Lasagna? Something reserved exclusively for restaurants and experienced cooks?

Kids gave me the birthday present of American Test Kitchen and expected something delicious, from me I read the Lasagna recipe three times, cross-checked with allrecipes.com, made sure that I understood the concept, and picked the time when I am guaranteed to be the only victim of the outcome to experiment. Oh, they gave me the book slightly over a decade ago.

Lasagna has three parts: the sauce, the cheese, and the noodles. Clearly the key challenge is the sauce, therefore I chose the most traditional one: meat sauce.

Kid said it is a 3-hour process, so I shopped in the morning and began cooking at 2:30pm for a 6pm dinner time. I chose Wife’s Le Cleuset, trying to get every possible edges that existed. I kept on sampling the sauce until it tasted like a standard meaty pizza. Hey, if the noodles and cheeses are OK, I might have something edible.

At 5pm, the oven, at 375°F, received my dinner. Forty minutes later, I took out the Lasagna and let it cool for 10 more minutes. Then I dived in!

It did not taste half bad! I would even let other people try this.

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An Episode…

March 11th, 2014

Woke up early, it’s a sunny day in Seattle. Dealt with email, luggage was packed last night, I headed for the airport. Wife has been in California for the past two weeks. Yay! I was about to see her.

Checked in, passed security, and arrived at the gate 10 minutes before the incoming plane landed. Good timing, I thought and waited.

Wife came out from the gate, we hugged and kissed. She gave me some snacks that she bought from California. We chatted as we walked away from the gate. Bags hung on all four shoulders.

One more hug and kiss, she walked past the sign that said, “You must exit past this sign.” We waved at each other. I went to my gate, just in time to board the plane, and left for Texas.

This episode was titled, “Encounter at the Airport.”

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Starbucked

picture courtesy of MIT

Professor Samuel Cate Prescott, (picture from MIT) published the “Report of an Investigation of Coffee” in 1927 and definitively described how to brew the perfect cup of coffee in 3 simple steps:

  • Use one tablespoon of freshly ground coffee for every eight ounces of water.
  • Force these grounds through water that is a few degrees short of boiling, inside a glass or earthenware container.
  • Never reheat coffee, and never reused the grounds.

With the method perfected, the only matter left for discussion is the selection of the beans. Fortunately for us consumers we can simply go down to the supermarket or our favorite coffee house and pick up a bag.

Or, we can go to our favorite coffee house and order a cup. These days, it is almost guaranteed to be brewed correctly. Largely thanks to Starbucks.

The story of Starbucks began with Alfred Peet who opened Peet’s Coffee at Berkley in 1966. Then in 1971, Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker founded Starbucks with Peet’s coaching and supply of beans. In 1982, they hired Howard Schultz who later became the VP of marketing.

In 1984, Starbucks acquired Peet’s coffee. Two years later, Howard Schultz left and opened Il Giornale that specialized in Italian styled coffee drinks. Two years later, Il Giornale acquired Starbucks. But the original owners retained Peet’s as an independent company again.

Here we have two different philosophies at war: selling coffee beans to home brewers or selling caffeinated drinks at stores to consumers directly. Alfred Peet and the original Starbucks owners were the former and Howard Schultz latter. We do not need to choose, we can buy beans and brew coffee at home or order a cappuccino from the store. The price differential, however, is huge.

This book, Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture by Taylor Clark, is really about coffee than the company. He practiced what he wrote: in the coffee industry, Starbucks is King Midas. If you managed to get touched, you get golds. A coffee house next door to Starbucks usually enjoys a much better sales than the one farther away. When Mr. Clark chose to write a book about coffee, naturally he devoted many of the pages on Starbucks.

Mr. Clark offered some very practical advices us coffee drinkers should heed:

  • When at Starbucks, buy a milked drink. That’s what they do best. Cappuccino is really a drink that cannot go wrong anywhere. If asked, order it “dry” (less milk, more foam).
  • If you are certain about the high quality of the coffee house, order espresso.
  • Buy Coffea arabica beans and not Robusta for home brewing (If you buy whole beans, you are pretty much OK.) Choose a dark, but not extra dark roast (French roast is too dark).
  • Don’t buy pre-ground coffee in the can.

Oh, by the way, coffee is addictive, but harmless. To cleanse yourself from this dependency, you need about a week. In that week, prepare to take medicine for your headache and be drowsy all the time.

But why would anyone do that?

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Dear Terry

Dear Terry,

You said that you had lost passion for your job and had been thinking of quitting. In various meetings, you would lose your concentration and drift away. You are not learning much and don’t care to figure out the minutiae.

Our conversation today was a sharp contrast from a year ago when you interviewed for this job with me. You were full of excitement to build a career. You even took some classes to learn the ropes and the jargon.

Imagine 10 years from now, you are successful beyond amazement. What are the odds that whatever you are doing then is something you already know now? Well, if you already know it, you would already being doing it. Since you are already amazingly smart and passionate. They clearly are not the only factors for success. You will need at least two more things: luck and tenacity.

Tenacity is the phase that is no longer fun, interesting, or instantaneously rewarding. It is the trough of the dark valley, the hot sun on your back, the fatigue of your muscles, the gasping of your lungs. If you stop, they go away and it feels so good. But what you are going toward will also vaporize. Tenacity is the decade before the over-night success.

Terry, think forward 10 years. You don’t even know what that “amazingly successful” thing is that you want to do, let alone getting yourself prepared to do it well. What is worth having in your life will get harder and harder to obtain. If you don’t get ready, you simply won’t reach them.

Wish you the best on your next venture. Hope to see you in 10 years.

Sincerely,

Posted in Management Thoughts, Peek into my mind | 1 Comment

Rancho San Antonio

January 25th, 2014

This is probably the favorite hiking destination for those in Silicon Valley. It is also where Kid chooses to run up to the vista point on Saturdays, that weekend with her old Dad. Start at the trail at the lower parking lot, follow the Lower Meadow Trail to the Deer Hollow Farm (1.3 miles). From there, find the Upper Meadow Trail up to the vista point (0.8 miles), with way too many hope breaking switch-backs. I was breathless at the end and could hear my heart pounding above the safe range for my age.

The view was spectacular up there: the southern tip of San Francisco Bay, pretty much the whole of Silicon Valley, and all the way to the east bay. Experience expected the soreness to come and did not disappoint.

Near the upper parking lot is a small field for battery-powered model airplanes. Used to those gasoline-powered ones, I was surprised at their quietness and agility. Pilots, on the ground, demonstrated mesmerizing, stunning maneuvers. These Styrofoam planes can start flying minutes after opening the box — and crash to pieces in minutes at inexperienced hands.

Better get my Advil ready before I go to bed. Sigh, old age.

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