Time to Hunt

I enjoyed “Point of Impact” which was the base for the movie Shooter. So I read the next one in the series: Black Light. It was OK and I grew a bit tired of Bob Lee Swagger. As I had a trip coming, I picked up this one to kill the air time.

Why was the book talk about Donny Fenn so much? I double checked to make sure that I was reading the right book. Was Stephen Hunter creating a side plot? I dug hard to remember the details from Point of Impact and Black Light. I prowled on and was well rewarded. Wow! That made the plot span several decades. This is quite epic.

This book brought depth to Bob Lee Swagger, no longer just the best sniper who solved all problems by shooting. I now want to read the next one: The 47th Samurai, at least it has an interesting title.

Wait, there are 8 books ahead of that in my queue. Oh well, that’s OK. The book is not going anywhere.

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Cholesterol: from Health.gov

From Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines
Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol, consistent with the conclusions of the AHA/ACC report.2 35 Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.

Interprete: eating cholesterol-rich foods won’t increase your blood cholesterol.

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Boeing Factory Tour

Some of us are fascinated by big machines, big factories, complicated manufacturing lines, etc. We wanted to see this huge factory of air-planes. Others are aviation aficionados, they want to experience Boeing. The rest wouldn’t mind just doing a standard tourist spot. These make Boeing factory tour a destination. After 6 years, I finally found an excuse to go. It is definitely worth going once.

The tour takes about 90 minutes. It is best to book it online: cheaper and more reliable in getting a slot. Arrive at least 15 minutes early. The tour does not allow any bags, cell phones, or cameras. Leave bags in the car and use the free locker for your phones or cameras, since you may use them before or after the tour.

I found the tour at 10am or so perfect. Afterward, we drove to Mukilteo for lunch and came back to the city leisurely. It can also be a perfect stop-over for a longer trip to Whidbey Island. Obviously that plan require a stay-over somewhere.

It could be better to do this on weekdays. The company does not have a huge backorder on their 747 line these days. There was hardly any activities on the floor on that Saturday for me.

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Not Quite a Robber Baron

Empty Mansions claimed to be a mystery book for extravagant houses, meticulous maintained, yet unoccupied by their owner for decades. The enormous amount of money wasted on them is mind-boggling. Why is that? Who’s behind all these?

No. It is really a history book about W.A. Clark and his youngest daughter, Huguette.

Who? That’s what I was thinking. Never heard of any Huguette Clark, or W.A. for that matter. This is the cleverness of Bill Dedman. He knew that nobody heard of them and used the houses as the hook. It worked.

W.A. Clark accumulated wealth that rivaled American’s richest: J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, etc. He was the king of copper mining and moved on to establish an enterprise so huge that, in today’s money, he will be #3 in Forbes’ rich people list (behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet). Yet hardly anyone ever heard of him. He pretty much vanished from the history book.

Think about it. Which billionaires from 100 years ago that you actually can name? There are really two kinds: those who built an enterprise that bears his name and still in operation; and those who established an institute that has become world-renowned. Of course you knew about J.P. Morgan, his banks are still standing quite tall. You knew about Rockefeller for the musical center in New York. Stanford will be remembered for the university, also Carnegie-Mellon.

But does that matter? Is leaving a legacy or being remembered by the history book really important? If one’s legacy is really the most important thing (as we human beings always want immortality), would accumulating wealth the best way to achieve that? Or this legacy thing is what one will pursue only after having accumulated wealth?

The best part of the book is the epilouge on the relationship between wealth and happiness. Yes, Mr. Dedman said, money cannot buy you happiness. But it can sure remove most of the unpleasantness from your life. Ms. Huguette Clark lived a very fulfilled and long life. Do not feel sad for her.

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Poker Night

Never done before, I hosted a poker night for about 10 people. First thing was to secure the foods and drinks. Done. Then got to find a venue. Done. Next needed a bit planning.

I decided to do Texas Hold Them, tournament style, in two tables.

The first few hands were timid. New players were learning the game and were clumsy with their betting. In about 30 minutes, we doubled the blinds and soon about half of the players were eliminated. We consolidated the winners into a new table. Gather the losers to a different table, re-issue chips to them, and have them started another round. The winner of the “loser table” received a prize that was 20% of the total purse.

The real battle was on the winner’s table. They had the chip count and the skills to fight. We double the blinds every 15 minutes or so. Soon the table winnowed to three players. People got excited. “ALL IN!” was shouted and encouraged by the crowd. Gasps and hands-throwing (“Un-believable!”) were every hand. In about an hour, the winner emerged and received 50% of the purse. The runner up got 30%. (There was no buy-in, the winner got cash prizes.)

Playing with inexperienced people make the game unpredictable. On one hand, I got the “bullets” (two aces) and went aggressively with my betting. Normal players would have folded with “nothing” hole cards. This player stuck with me and won the hand with a small three-of-a-kind. I was eliminated soon after.

I learned that chips management is a critical part to make the game fun. A bit planning and research go a long way. On the table are “cheat sheets” of hand ranking and chip values. That helped the inexperienced ones greatly and everyone enjoyed the game, the foods and drinks, and, of course, each other’s company.

I might do it more frequently.

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Dad and I

I was always kind of proud when people said I look like him, since big brother was always said to look like Mom. When we found a picture of him when he was actually my current age, I realized that he was much better looking.

We both are strong drinkers and like to read. My career progression matched Dad, in similar ages. We were both techno-bureaucrats that gradually “climb the ladder” to relatively senior positions. Dad reached his peak around his mid-fifties and I probably too. Only after I have grown up I realized how senior a position Dad held. He had a corner office with sofa and coffee table and an admin outside. He oversaw an operation of several hundred people. Overall, Dad did quite well when he retired at 64, probably would have been better than me.

Why do people, myself in particular, obsessed about their parents? Why do men spend that much time thinking of their fathers? Do we all think that we will follow their footsteps, in health, personality, career, decision making, and life style? Is this genetic that we cling on our parents, emotionally? I just cannot help thinking of Dad since he died. Most of my thinking were on how much similar or dissimilar that I am with him. Why can’t I think of anything else?

Strangely, I am less sad than I thought I would have been. I choked up a bit when someone asked and I replied, “He just passed away.” What I felt is a sense of emptiness — the cliché that something is missing in my heart. I realized that I rarely seek Dad’s advices or guidance. Instead, I have been fulfilling his expectations of me: college, marriage, family, work ethics, etc. Those expectations faded aways as I clearly have established myself. Since then, we were really more like friends than father-and-son.

And his hearty laughters will now only echo in my memory.

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Return to Monterey

Sitting at a window table of Fish Hopper, a touristy restaurant, I watched a little girl teasing the waves. She was playfully giggling, with Daddy protecting her. Of course, both of them got happily soaked to the knees, with many photos taken by Mommy, safely on dry land. Hey, wasn’t that me and Kids? Geez, when was the last time that I came to Monterey? 20 years ago?

Cannery Row was largely the same, so was the amazing Aquarium that we obviously visited again, this time without kids. This was more a trip down memory lane: “Look that’s the same kelp forest.” “But the Sun Fish was long gone.”

We strolled down the coastal trail at a leisurely pace. After being away from the bay area for 10 years, we appreciate the mild climate a lot more than when we were here for 20-some years. The ocean seemed kind and lazy and the breeze cool and comforting. The sun is always there and sky always blue. Sigh.. This is Monterey Bay.

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Nuclear Energy: Waste Disposal Problem

Fred mildly disagreed with my position on nuclear energy. I admit that I was too “SciFi” in my blog. The point was that all nuclear energy problems are self-imposed and merely cost functions. Nuclear waste, theoretically, can be reused to generate more nuclear energy. But they can also be used as highly destructive weapons. For fear of the misuse, we self-regulate ourselves to forbid the better solutions. Given that, the rest is basically about cost.

I happened to meet someone who has been studying nuclear waste disposal for several decades. He told me the current method is to put the spent rod in a cylinder filled with self-sealing material and bury it several hundred meters under-ground at a geo-stable site. International treaties have forbidden deep-sea disposal methods. There has also been a ban on “nuclear waste export”, supposedly stopping rich countries from using poor ones as their cheap dump sites.

“Why can’t we just shoot them to the sun?” I asked naively. “There are two problems,” he answered. “If the rocket explodes mid-air, it simply becomes a nuclear bomb. Secondly, it costs more to shoot them out than burying them deep.” We then, intoxicated by strong drinks, engaged in a long conversation on how to deliver nuclear waste into space safely, and cheaply. (“What if we float the waste up in a giant balloon, then ignite the rocket to finish the second leg of the journey?” “Hmm, someone could shoot it down.”)

The disposal methodology is an over-constrained problem and therefore has no good solution. We need to come back and relax the original constraints and allow the reuse of nuclear waste. If that can be done successfully, there will be no toxic waste that comes out of those plants. Cheap energy, no environmental impact, everyone’s happy.

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To Tip or not to Tip…

When presented with the bill in a recent dining event, I was surprised to see a “20% service charge” as part of it. “What’s this?”, I asked the waiter.

“It’s the service charge.” “Like the tips?” “Yes, we split them among all service staff.” I am kind of annoyed. Mandatory tips is not American except for special occasions such as large group.

Clearly, after the Seattle minimal wage hike, from about $10 to $15, customers stopped giving tips. Those service staff, supposedly, got a 50% raise. “After all the deductions, I got less than old minimal wages,” said the waiter. What I gathered is that the service staff actually experienced a reduction of income after the minimal wage hike. I cannot fathom this was the objective for the socialist city councilwoman.

Since the tips are included in the bill, I left no extra. This is pretty much the same as in many Asian countries. You paid exactly what’s billed, no more, no less. As I left the restaurant, I couldn’t help thinking that waiter is probably earning about the same income as before the minimal wage hike.

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Pirating Music

When I lived in China in the early 2000s, there was this ritual to visit the DVD stores that cater nearly exclusively to the expat community. They were like DVD rental places with an extremely excellent collection. Prominently featured were the new releases, sometimes titles that were still in theaters. Each disc was about 8 RMBs (about a dollar then) and customers carried them out in bags.

My favorites were the TV series: Friends, 24, Grey’s Anatomy, etc. They sold the entire season’s episode in 8 to 12 discs. I would binge watche the whole season: no waiting, no commercials, no sleep.

We, the expats, had no choice. These were the only way we could watch those titles. Hollywood refused to release them in China.

I would buy music CDs from the same stores. Unlike DVDs, I could never tell if they were bootlegged or not (I had my suspicions, but no proof.) Music CDs were of the exact quality, in terms of appearance, packaging, inserts, etc., as real copyrighted ones. It is possible, albeit highly unlikely, that they were legit. I was quite convinced that no one in the world could, by inspection, be certain. If they were bootlegs, they did it perfectly.

Like everyone else, I would put the CD into my computer and rip the songs into MP3s and listen via my iPod. The disc would be thrown into a box and pretty much forgotten.

As I read How the Music Got Free by Stephen Witt, I reflected on my experience and realized that I was part of a much bigger MP3 revolution. I blogged about the RIAA law suits, witnessed the rise and fall of Napster, and used Oink. I was there when BitTorrent took over the world (there was a parallel FTP project, quickly taken over by the Torrent protocol). I saw the DVD stores going out of business, not because of legality, but because customers stopped buying physical media. Instead, they downloaded.

Kids stopped buying CDs long ago. They streamed, on their cell phones or laptop. They rarely pay for music (but do occasionally from iTunes store). 99% of their internet activities (games, music, video, social media, chatting) are free. Advertisement now sustains the media industry, or whatever is left of it.

And I was part of the generation that witnessed the transition.

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