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Back when I was in public school, I always thought summers were pretty long! Then I went to University with their 4 month “summers” (sometimes Coop) and those were even longer. Well as an adult with kids in school, 2 months is definitely no longer long. I can’t believe we’re halfway through summer already.

We started off July with a trip to Rochester to make good use of our membership at the Strong museum. Then it was off to camp for the kids. Each boy was in a different camp every week so that’s 8 camps in the month! I also ended up in Korea for a week for work.

It was hot everywhere. Above 30°C in Korea, Rochester and Canada. We had a couple of cooler days in the month, but it has been a pretty hot summer around the world. We cooled off by going skating (skating camp for a week) and with our weekly lessons on Saturday. It’s strange and awkward to go from shorts to jackets.

So far this year, we’ve used the “front yard of our house” (e.g., the street) much more than the backyard. The kids are at an age where they want to ride bikes and run around, which doesn’t work well in our backyard. Fortunately, the shadows from our block cover most of the street in the late afternoon and evenings, so even with the hot temperatures, they are able to run around there.

June was another awkward month where lots of random things happened. This is mainly because the school year is ending and schedules are no longer static. What’s worse is that Jovian and Apollo’s schools end at different times, with Jovian ending around the middle of the month, and Apollo’s going to the end. Jovian is also switching schools so he had a graduation ceremony.

Classes & programs were also ending, or have ended already – there was yet another graduation ceremony for Chinese school (everyone graduated to the next level), so the weekends were also not structured. We did make it out to a Jr. Jays Blue Jays game one Saturday, before the summer weekends get filled up.

Summer started this month, but right at the turnover, the weather was pretty cool. The weather heated up at the end of the month though, and its pretty much unbearable. I didn’t travel this month but we all made a trip out to Ottawa for a couple of days for Hermione’s graduation. I also started playing a new game (Disney Heroes) as the ones that I was playing (STT and Hearthstone) were getting stale.

After a long month in April, May started out pretty calm. I didn’t have work travel (for the most part) so the first weeks was spent at home. For Victoria Day, we headed out to a family vacation to SoCal, staying at the Legoland Resort (and visiting Legoland) for a few days, then up to Los Angeles for Disney and some children’s museums. It turned out that the entire trip was basically one long theme park/museum visit so the kids sure loved it!

Katana grew up a lot during that trip, I guess she had one of her Wonder Weeks. She now knows how to say a couple of words to refer to different things (her feet, brothers, food, etc) in addition to the usual nodding and shaking of her head. She’s also finally out of her infant car seat (we left our infant stuff behind on vacation) – so she’s officially a toddler now!

SoCal was surprisingly cold (sweaters almost every day), but when we came back, Toronto turned surprisingly hot! Summer seemed to have hit while we were gone. I had to make a short trip down to NY to close out the month.

There was a lot of travel this month. It actually started in March with a trip to the west coast. Then, the first week of April, I flew down to Dallas for a few days. After that, we were planning to head over to Rochester for a long weekend (work had a politically correct “Good Friday” holiday in the middle of the month, 2 weeks after the actual thing), but didn’t end up going as the boys had a Chinese art competition that weekend. But the next week, I was off to Korea for a week and then the last week in April, I was in NYC for a couple of days. Essentially this month turned into a rotation of travel and laundry. Plus some activities on the weekend.

A lot happened in the news. The Leafs made the playoffs, went down 3-1, tied it up but lost to Boston in the 7th game. The Raptors made it through their first round series. The Royals had another baby boy, and Toronto had a van attack that made headlines around the world. Although, the impact was much more local since it happened right in our neighborhood. And of this was just in the last week of the month!

In the middle of the month we had an ice storm followed by freezing rain. This caused ice to stay on the ground for a week and caused havoc on the roads (the city didn’t clear it, citing concerns that the melt will overwhelm the storm drains and cause flooding – I guess because it would block the drains). A lot of drivers had already switched out their winter tires so it was a bit hairy. Other than that, the weather has been rainy and warmer.

Another year, another bunch of trips:

  • Toronto, ON, Canada
  • Las Vegas, NV, USA
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Dallas, TX, USA
  • Sunnyvale, CA, USA
  • Boston, MA, USA
  • Rochester, NY, USA
  • Manhattan, NY, USA
  • Osaka, Japan
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • San Francisco, CA, USA
  • Erie, PA, USA
  • Grove City, PA, USA

Here’s the full list: 2006 (10), 2007 (8), 2008 (13), 2009 (10), 2010 (15), 2011 (18), 2012 (8), 2013 (10), 2014 (5), 2015 (14), 2016 (11),

I started November with a quick trip to Dallas. Dallas is a difficult destination to get to from Toronto because there’s only a couple of non-stop flights each day, and most of them don’t really fit with working hours – meaning I have to spend an extra day or night there. In any case, it was a pure work trip where I was just at the hotel or the office. That was good because it was 30°C+ there (new November record for them).

After that, the main thing on my mind was trying to get organized for Christmas seeing as December is usually full with events. We also planned to go to the US during American Thanksgiving to take advantage of Black Friday, so we had to plan that as well. We ended up driving to Pittsburgh to visit the Children’s Museum and Carnegie Science Center (both free due to reciprocal admission). We did stop for some shopping but didn’t really do a lot or take advantage of Black Friday deals.

The weather has been surprisingly cold for November. There was some snow and the kids had to wear snowpants to school for a couple of days. Aside from that, it was the usual classes and what not during the month.

October was a very busy but exciting month. As you might recall, I ended September with a trip to Korea for work. When October started, I flew out again along with the rest of our family to Japan for vacation. This meant that I had a ping pong trip where I was in Asia, back home for two days, then in Asia again (well I didn’t plan it that way, but when we booked vacation I didn’t know I had to goto Korea yet).

Our trip to Japan was our big family vacation for this year. Fortunately we didn’t have to take our vacation in the summer this year, and could choose a more convenient time to go. We decided to go and celebrate Apollo’s birthday abroad in addition to our vacation – and ended up at Disneyland on the actual day (we had planned to go a day earlier, but rain forced us to delay it). We also did lots of Japan-y stuff that you might expect, and introduced all 3 kids to the culture (previously, only Apollo had been there).

After we came back. I had a few more days, and then flew out to San Francisco for a conference. Counting from September, I was basically away from home for 4 weeks. After that trip, I finally had some time at home but it wasn’t very calm because we basically had to catch up and plan for everything that we couldn’t do while we were traveling. Most importantly, Hallowe’en was quickly approaching.

We missed one weekend which had a lot of Hallowe’en stuff, and was only able to do some things on the last weekend of October. We wanted to go to Camp Spooky at Wonderland, but the day we planned to go ended up being rained out, and we went to Brick Or Treat at Legoland instead (wasn’t overly decorated for Hallowe’en). That meant our Wonderland seasons pass expired with a whimper (we didn’t use it past August) but we ended up buying a Legoland pass for the next year. At the end of the month, we had five memberships going on at the same time – that seems like a bit too much!

I started January with a lot of travelling. First, I went to Las Vegas to attend CES for the first time! That was exciting, but I only ended up breezing through the trade floor once, and didn’t attend any of the talks at all – it was all work meetings! Plus I was originally planning to go for 4 days to have time for the conference and maybe go to some buffets or shows, but I had to readjust my travel schedule and was only there for 1 night…because…

My trip to Korea that was original scheduled for last December was rescheduled for the week immediately after CES. So I cut short my stay, returned home for the weekend, and flew out again on Monday for the week. This was my first time in Korea in the winter, and it’s pretty boring. I had some time on my last day to go around but it started snowing a little, my running shoes were slippery, and I didn’t want the trip to the airport to be stuck in traffic; so I didn’t do much.

After that, January passed by quickly and was pretty calm. The weather warmed up significantly in January – no real snowfall and temperatures above freezing most days. There was more rain than snow in the month.

This year I travelled to a bunch of different places for work, and did a bunch of road trips. Next year, I suspect the trips will be fewer:

  • Toronto, ON, Canada
  • Las Vegas, NV, USA
  • Grand Canyon Village, AZ, USA
  • Mountain View, CA, USA
  • Orlando, FL, USA
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Rochester, NY, USA
  • Scranton, PA, USA
  • Langhorne, PA, USA
  • Dallas, TX, USA
  • Manhattan, NY, USA

Here’s the full list: 2006 (10), 2007 (8), 2008 (13), 2009 (10), 2010 (15), 2011 (18), 2012 (8), 2013 (10), 2014 (5), 2015 (14),

I had a really long birthDAY as I was in Korea for the week on business. My flight back was later in the day on my birthday, and because of the International Date Line, I arrived back in Toronto a few minutes before my flight departed – so my birthday ended up being about 36 hours! Seoul was really hot and humid so I didn’t do too much. Walking around side caused my arms to get all wet from the humidity and staying inside was a bit too cold (they like to set their ACs to 18°C).

Other than that, we did our usual August stuff, which was to start going to farms and orchards to pick fruit and vegetables. Both kids are now in daycare/summer camp so they have their own activities during the weekday. We used this month as a practice/transition month so that the kids are used to waking up early (and sleeping a little earlier) as well as being away from their parents for most of the day. Luckily, the transition seems to have gone pretty well.

The weather has been hot (basically everywhere in the world) so we didn’t spend too much time outdoors – unfortunately that means we didn’t use our backyard either. The summer Olympics in Rio occurred and there were no disasters so I didn’t pay a lot of attention. Hearthstone released a new adventure so I played that for a bit, but mostly concentrated on Star Trek Timelines in terms of game-playing.

We started off July on vacation. This year, I had Friday (Canada Day) and Monday (Independence Day) off so we went on a road trip for kid activities. We passed through Rochester to visit the Strong Museum again, Easton PA to goto the Crayola Experience and finally to Langhore PA to visit Sesame Place. The goal of the trip was to goto Sesame Place, which is like Disneyland for Sesame Street. We spent a full day there, which was sufficient to do all the non-water park stuff. If we wanted to do waterpark stuff, I think we could’ve stayed another day.

I had one work trip this month and it was to Dallas of all places. There’s a pretty big office there (~1000 people) and it was my first time visiting that office, Dallas or Texas. I only went for ~2 days but to be honest there wasn’t a lot of stuff to do there anyways. The weather was exceedingly hot (when I landed at 10PM it was still 32°C and daytime high was at 38-39°C – car thermostat hit 100°F) so I basically just went from car to office/hotel. I also went a week+bit after the shooting/killing of 5 Dallas police officers but didn’t notice a lot of effect from that (flags were half-staff). I ended up driving past the building where the shooter was cornered (still blocked off) and past the Kennedy sites (book depository and grassy knoll).

July was too hot to spend a lot of time outside, that means no parks or backyard play for the kids. In the middle of the month, Apollo started his summer camp so he didn’t get too antsy (plus at the beginning of the month there were a lot of new toys from our trips and Jovian’s birthday).

My flight down to Dallas didn’t have VOD on the chair in front of me (AA wanted you to use your own device) but my AC flight back did, so I waited until my return flight to watch Batman vs Superman. I wanted to see it but didn’t have high expectations with it being a DC film – Marvel (except the Spider-man franchise) is the gold standard even though I enjoyed the Nolan Batman trilogy. I also heard that the movie was a bit heavy-handed in the whole “Control of the Gods” theme.

I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the film a great deal – it’s at least four out of five stars. I think it was because the film was so dark. In Marvel films, the world is in despair but there is still hope and colour. In BvS, it’s like they took the feel of Gotham and applied it to the entire movie. The dystopia is inevitable so why don’t we begin acting like it.

I don’t have a good example but I also felt the plot gave the feeling of a mature world (like Ultimates vs Avengers). It was no-nonsense and trim. The fights and action were fast and crisp, just like superheroes would handle things. I didn’t feel the concept of the Gods were overblown – let’s be clear, the movie was about the three gods of the DC universe. I found Batman’s actions fitting because he is supposed to be paranoid! Luthor is supposed to scheme, Superman is supposed to do what is right, and well I guess we will see what WW does in the future (she’s more like Catwoman at the beginning than WW). I’m also glad they didn’t overemphasize Batman’s brooding or Superman’s boy scout personality.

This was an efficient and entertaining movie and I hope the future Justice League movies will be similar as I’d rather watch these than the Avengers.

We didn’t go travelling over Christmas but we made a trip in January to make up for it. Typically people try to avoid the cold so we did something similar and headed out to Las Vegas. We also decided to loop out to the Grand Canyon as well while we were there, which unfortunately was just as cold (if not more) than Toronto.

Even though the Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, I was a bit skeptical that it would live up to its reputation – I was not impressed looking at the photos of it. However, I thought it might be one of those things that you had to witness in person to have your breath taken away. Now, after visiting it, I can conclusively say that it was underwhelming (we went for both sunset and sunrise). Part of it might be because it was cold, but it just felt like you were standing in front of a picture. It might be better if you were able to hike down into the canyon, but that was impossible in the winter (or with kids). We rented a car and drove around the majority of the South Rim so it was not like we just went to a bad lookout point.

We also spent some time in Las Vegas, and while I’ve seen a lot of kids there (I had a long stopover there in Nov 2014), there isn’t actually too much that kids can do. Basically it’s like they spent the entire time running around a large mall and/or eating. We ended up seeing one show which was suitable for young kids (Popovich Comedy Pet Theatre) and gorged on a couple of buffets. The pools were closed for the season, otherwise they might have had some fun there.

Lastly we made a side trip out to Hoover Dam. I thought this would be cool, because it was man-made and huge. It’s kind of strange to visit though, because unless you take one of the tours, you’re basically standing on the dam and you can’t see much. I did find out how to get on the bridge where the highway is located, and you have a nice view down (assuming you can see over the handrail).

Now, here at the end of 2015; it felt as though this year was noticeable longer than previous years. Instead of having high memory peaks like years past (i.e. kids birth) along with long lull/waiting times (i.e., waiting for kids to born), there were a variety of activities that resulted in more positive and memorable moments.

This year I still spent a significant amount of time building personal Android apps, but I don’t have a lot to show for it. The Android marketplace is too saturated now and it’s too difficult to make something great and popular. It’s not the time, but the user acquisition and differentiating your product from everything else that is out there that is tough. I no longer have the patience or the enthusiasm to build a polished product that I’m happy with, and try and make it successful. Because of that, I ended up making a couple of things that ended up on Google Play (Always Taeyeon, Simmering), and some that never made it public (Android port of the card game Love Letter, Hearthstone collection tracker, a location sharing app).

It was a good travel year for us. In 2014, we didn’t travel much because Jovian was born in the middle of the year (so couldn’t travel before or after). However he was 6 months by the time 2015 started, so we he was fully able to travel with us. Our “one year old” trip with Jovian was to Spain & Portugal and it was different adventure than we normally do as we drove around instead of taking public transit. After that, we had a couple of short (at least overnight) trips here and there in North America, some by plane and some by car. In the end, I’m quite happy with my Places I Stayed recap for 2015. The one thing we didn’t do was travel during the Christmas break, due to work commitments, but we plan to do some more traveling in January to make up for that.

On the other hand, travel for work was lower in 2015 than it was in 2014. I’ve been working remotely for almost 3 years now so there’s not much need for me to show up at my NY office anymore. It’s almost 6 months between trips there now (which is a bit excessive, that might be a bit closer next year). Another reason is that I’ve been traveling to our Silicon Valley office in place of some of the NY trips, but again that is less frequent than it could be. Due to the lack of work travel, I wasn’t able to attain my SPG Gold status for next year (I’ve had it for 2 years in a row). This year, I also started collecting Marriott reward points. The impetus was because I ended up staying at Marriott’s when I went to California, and I ended up collecting more because I started using a credit card that rewarded Marriott points. Starwood and Marriott combined this year so it might be moot (they haven’t combined their rewards programs yet though).

I’m still desperately trying to use my phone as my camera. I know a lot of people do it, but I just can’t make the switch. I started out the year using my Nexus 5’s camera, but it was just too horrible (slow, can’t focus). I tried using the Note4’s camera but I found it performed poorly in low light and the file size was way too huge. By the end of the year, I’ve been using my One Plus Two’s camera which is slightly better than Nexus 5 in a lot of respects, but also slightly worse (file size too large, hangs if phone is locked). Above all, I still haven’t found a good burst mode app (although haven’t been trying hard) so I still have to carry around the dSLR.

I did take a lot of photos this year (most in past 4 years), although that might be because we went on a couple of vacations. I have more photos of Jovian than Apollo this year, which I attribute to Jovian still being in the midst of growing up. There were often times this year where I felt that taking a photo is meaningless if no person (read: kids) are in it. I don’t take photos for a hobby anymore (never going to be an Instagram celebrity) so scenic shots are no longer valuable to me. At the same time, it’s frustrating to have to carry around a SLR while chasing kids.

I didn’t have a lot of techlust this year. I still don’t have an Android watch (actually no new watches for me this year) and my Fitbit is a couple of generations old by now. I kind of do want the coolest new gadgets, but at the same time I’m already surrounded by too many phones, tablets, and other electronic gear so what’s one more? Having a great phone (and data plan) is still very important, but it’s impossible to find the perfect phone anymore, even if you’re willing to pay flagship prices.

The kids are growing up. Apollo is fluent in Cantonese (as well as you could expect a little boy to be) and his English is slowly catching up. Although he’s only 3, he feels like he could be a kindergarten-er or early primary school kid. I have no frame of reference as to what kids at those ages should know, so it’s difficult for me to place Apollo at a certain age. It’s because he still needs parental supervision and guidance, but he can do (or learn to do) a lot of things by himself (obviously bigger kids have more experience and practice). I still envision Jovian as being a baby, but he’s now almost as old as Apollo was when Jovian was born. He can do a lot of things by himself (like eat, walk in the mall), and understand other human beings; but my benchmark (i.e., Apollo) keeps advancing so it feels like he is still a baby.

Jovian is old enough that he can interact with Apollo, asking for help or just playing (and negotiating or fighting). This is a bit of a conundrum for me because I’m not sure how to treat them as siblings. With Apollo, it was easier because I was an only child; but I’m not sure what goes through Apollo or Jovian’s head when they have to interact with their sibling and parents.

There was a continuing shift this year where our group of friends shifted. As our young kids get older (i.e., no longer babies), there’s less desire to spend time with our kid-less friends because conversation topics are just too different. We spent much more time with Apollo’s friends’ parents and did activities with them – common interests and conversation topics are much higher there. It’s not a surprise, but this year is where it’s much more noticeable. However, we had numerous friends with end-of-the-year babies so that might change next year. Just like a few years ago when everyone was getting married, it’s time for my cohort to have kids.

Looking back, I think the key memories from this year will be 1) being there in Jovian’s 12-18 month old “cuteness” phase, 2) being able to drive around Portugal and Spain on our summer vacation and 3) having the freedom to take the kids around if we wanted to do different activities (not just travel). I’ll miss the flexibility that we have while both kids are young and not in school – we weren’t beholden to a strict schedule. I think next year will be a transition year similar to our schedule starting this past September; but in 2017 Apollo will be in JK so I expect there will be a lot less freedom.

Surprisingly, I stayed in a lot of different places this year.

  • Toronto, ON, Canada
  • Manhattan, NY, USA
  • Niagara Falls, NY, USA
  • Sunnyvale, CA, USA
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Albufeira, Portugal
  • Seville, Andalusia, Spain
  • Jaén, Andalusia, Spain
  • Alarcón, Cuenca, Spain
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Richmond, BC, Canada
  • Rochester, NY, USA
  • Arlington, VA, USA
  • National Harbor, MD, USA

Here’s the full list: 2006 (10), 2007 (8), 2008 (13), 2009 (10), 2010 (15), 2011 (18), 2012 (8), 2013 (10), 2014 (5)

We tried to front load as much of our Christmas shopping as possible in November. Two reasons for this, the first being that I expect we would be busy with random holiday events during December and I would rather not have to think about when/where to buy Christmas presents. The second reason was that we didn’t play to do Black Friday shopping this year so we didn’t get an opportunity to spend focused time buying for people. I think we did pretty well in this task, even if we didn’t buy presents for everyone on our list, we at least figured out what they would be getting so December should be filled with surgical online or B&M shopping.

Instead of going on our usual Grove City trip over American Thanksgiving (we went the last 2 years), we decided to head over to Washington DC with the kids. This was our first time flying over this holiday and I guess we were kind of lucky because we were going to/from Canada. There were still a lot of flight delays and people though.

The trip itself was partially good and partially not so fun. We went to a bunch of the museums, and spent a night at a resort at the National Harbor where it was all decorated for Christmas. That was a bit odd because the day before, we were out without coats walking in the National Mall. Overall it was a nice break with the kids.

Toronto had a mini “Indian Summer” this month as well, with temperatures in the teens for a couple of days. Otherwise, Mother Nature has been gearing up for winter with a couple of snow falls (no accumulation) and temperatures around freezing. It might not look like Christmas here but it’s starting to feel like it.

I started out in July by working on Canada Day but then flying out to Vancouver for the Independence day long weekend. I have family in Vancouver, and others flying in from Calgary and HK so it was sort of a family reunion. I didn’t end up taking as many pictures as I should have (I end up taking a lot more pictures on my own vacation), and we didn’t really do vacation-y stuff either. However, we had four full days with everyone as we flew back on a red-eye on Sunday.

The next week, work decided that I had to go to Korea for meetings so there was a few days of scrambling around. Then, just as suddenly, my trip got cancelled. To be honest, it’s for the better. The last 2 months have been an endless cycle of packing and unpacking between travelling for pleasure and travelling for work. At the same time we’re still building out our deck and had some visitors in town.

Luckily the second half of the month was much calmer and we were able to get back into a routine. The deck is almost done and we started thinking about patio furniture – unfortunately we seemed to have missed the clearance sales as they happen just before Canada Day. The weather started getting too hot to go outside anyways as Toronto was hit by 2 heat waves at the end of the month with temperatures in the mid thirties after humidex.

Toronto hosted the Pan Am games this month but there wasn’t a lot of impact to us. We saw some of the events on TV and benefited from having more HOV lanes around the city (although the main stretch of 401 that we would use did not have them). Canada seemed to win an inordinate amount of medals though. I’m not sure if it’s because of home-field advantage/enthusiasm or because we deployed our best athletes but the other countries only brought ones who could fit it into their schedule.

After watching Gone Girl on my flight back from SF, I had enough time for one more movie. Unfortunately the selection of recent movies on Air Canada was poor this month and I ended up picking Kingsmen: The Secret Service. As I don’t watch TV/pay attention to movies, I didn’t really know what this movie was about – nor did I know that it was based on a comic book.

It turns out that this movie is somewhat of a satire of Bond/Spy movies. But not in an Austin Powers type of way, so I enjoyed the parts that were a parody much better. I’m sure the plot will be dated in 5 or 10 years, but it was entertaining for me right now.

As the movie does not take itself too seriously, there is also a lot of liberty in the plot. As long as you approach it as a fun movie that will kill 2 hours, then I think you’ll enjoy it. I give this one 3 out of 5 stars.

This month, I think I was away from home more than I was here. The first 2 weeks were travelling in Europe with the kids. It took a lot of planning but it went pretty well. We visited some interesting stuff and nothing disasterous happened. Portugal was pretty nice, Spain I didn’t enjoy as much though.

Jovian turned one years old this month. He grew a lot (both physically and in our minds) while we were in Europe and he feels like a toddler now, and not a baby. We didn’t do a party but had a dinner with family. He also practiced his cake eating skills.

After coming back from Europe for a few days and catching up on things (i.e., laundry), I flew out to Silicon Valley for a week for work. Nothing exciting to report there as it was just work and no opportunity for play. And while it’s not part of June, we’re also flying out for a family reunion in the beginning of July so I’ve been flying and travelling a lot in the last few weeks.

I started paying more attention to hockey near the end of the month as well. The NHL awards happened, immediately followed by the draft. There was a lot of trade speculation surrounding the Leafs so that kept my attention. We had a nice pick too but it’ll be a couple of years before we see how that plays out.

I watched Gone Girl because it received Oscar press and indeed it is a pretty good movie; but, I have mixed feelings about it. It started off as a mystery movie and I was actually a bit shocked that it had such good press because the dialog in the flashback scene was over the top/too smooth. However the movie got better and better as it progressed (and the issues I had with the dialog finally made sense).

I wouldn’t say that the plot twists are crazy (like Sixth Sense), but there were many layers to this film that starts to mess with your understanding of the world that the characters reside in. In a way, it’s like Inception. It is an interesting look at society, and aside from the media angle, something I would want to read or watch more about. The ending is so jarring and unconventional that it almost begs for a sequel, although I bet a sequel wouldn’t really satisfy the audience.

This movie wasn’t as much of a mind warper as Inception or Memento, but it was the best movie I’ve seen in awhile. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

I’ve never used Airbnb until my recent trip to Spain, but decided to try it once to see what the hype was about. I booked an (entire) apartment in Seville for 2 nights, and while there was nothing wrong about the experience, using Airbnb just doesn’t seem suited for me.

The first thing that put me off is that it is kind of difficult to “check in”. Unlike a hotel, there is no desk so you have to call someone and have them meet you to pick up the key. Meaning you need a working cell phone and you might need to wait. That just complicates or delays things.

Second, you’re in someone’s home which may or may not have the amenities you expect. Sometimes there’s more stuff than a hotel, sometimes there’s less. It’s actually probably going to be a little bit of both. You can assume or you can ask, but there’s a lot you could potentially ask about.

I can see myself using Airbnb again if I wanted a one-of-a-kind experience that a hotel couldn’t offer, or if I’m traveling with a large group. And I can see how some people may enjoy the more personalized and host-driven experience that a spartan chain hotel; but I think for me I would prefer using hotels rather than Airbnb.

I hardly blogged this month and I guess my reason is because I was busy with a lot of vacation planning for the summer. We didn’t have a vacation last year because Jovian was being born, and the year before that, we took Apollo to Asia. This year, we’re going to take both kids with us to Europe and it’s logistically difficult since this is the first time for us to try this sort of undertaking. Looking back, travelling with just one baby must have been a breeze! We’re heading over next month so we’ll see what happens.

We had one week of really hot (summer weather) but the rest of the month was fairly moderate Spring weather. I didn’t have Victoria Day holiday this month because I was working on a US schedule, but I had Memorial Day (the week after off). We didn’t go anywhere special, just a short day trip down to Niagara Falls. It was surprisingly busy, I guess a lot of Americans came over to take advantage of the 1:1.20 exchange rate.

We also have been planning to fix our backyard (i.e., remove grass and make it usable). That has been proving to be a challenge as we couldn’t decided between patio stones and decking. We finally embarked on the decking project at the end of this month though, so hopefully we can enjoy our backyard this summer! One side effect of this is that our backyard is mostly covered in dirt right now, so I’ve only had to cut the grass ones (hopefully that’s all for this year).

Now that we have young children, we don’t do nearly as much vacation planning as we used to (as in, we don’t take as many vacations; not that we fly by the seat of our pants). But when we do vacation planning, the approach is different. I guess you could call it maturity or maybe it’s just an evolution.

  1. Tag-a-longers: When you’re young and not independent yet (i.e., teenagers), you just follow along whever your parents or guide takes you.
  2. Beginning Travelers: Then you have some money and can decide where to go. You hit the guidebooks and visit the “Top 10” sites of where ever you’re going.
  3. Lonely Planet phase: After you realize that tourist attractions are a bit of a farce (ok some are grand). You just want to wander and absorb the atmosphere. Try and avoid the tourist trap restaurants and seek out the authentic culture of the locale.
  4. Pack in as much in as possible: Turns out that places aren’t that different, or at least you can’t spend enough time in a place to discover its intricacies. So let’s just try and see as many different cities as we can. Shotgun approach will find something interesting! Hopefully.

And now, we’re in the next phase where we’ve seen most of the major travel destinations (Paris, Tokyo, etc), the remaining are too difficult/dangerous with kids, we’re not ready to do yet (i.e., Disney), or just not that interested in (Caribbean). The current philosophy is experience-based – what’s something cool or great that we can do and plan a vacation around that. It might even be something from your bucket list.

The experience forms the general structure, but it’s probably a couple of hours/full day type thing. It’s not an entire vacation, so to fill the rest we try and balance between must-see tourist attractions and finding things to do that are unique or distinctive about the region. The latter is the hard part because it’s not a matter of reading Lonely Planet; it has to be something that captures our imagination as well. That actually takes longer as it requires more research and planning to pull that off.

But I guess if you don’t travel as much anymore, it’s worth it!

Last week, I was in Silicon Valley for work. Our offices there moved from San Jose to a new building in Mountain View and it was my first time at that location – the building/campus is pretty nice! However, the general lifestyle is still the same so that was rather boring. One day, I decided to drive around after work but after the sun went down (i.e., 8pm) there wasn’t a lot I could do/see because the area doesn’t believe in street lights.

I wasn’t happy with that so I went back to the hotel to see what else I could do after work. Looking at the map, I was surprised that Santa Cruz was actually quite close! The next day, I was able to make it out of work early (5:30) and made the drive down. Even with San Jose rush hour traffic, I was able to get there in about 1h20m.

Once you get out of the San Jose area, there’s a really interesting drive up and down over mountains, trees on both sides, lots of S-turns throughout, and a relatively high speed (50+ mph speed limit). I don’t think you can actually go at the posted speed limit for some parts. It was almost worth it to go just for that drive!

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Santa Cruz as I had to make it back to my hotel that night. I checked out a beach, walked along the wharf and had dinner there. Foursquare didn’t have a strong opinion so I chose Stagnaro Brothers which seemed ok.

There weren’t a lot of tourists there at that time, but I had some difficulty finding parking. There was a lot of metered parking, which was $1.50/hr. I didn’t know how long I was going to be there and didn’t have that much change. You could also pay online, but after I downloaded the app, signed up for an account and attached my PayPal account – it turns out that at that location I could only pay by Visa/Mastercard…!!! Instead of doing that I decided to drive around some more. Most of the parking was paid under that scheme, but I found a large lot near the Boardwalk where you get a ticket and pay after. Luckily, after dinner when I was leaving, it seemed like they were offering free parking so I didn’t have to pay at all!

Unlike The Imitation Game, I had wanted to see Big Hero 6 for a long time – ever since I heard that the visuals were a combination of San Francisco and Tokyo. But I was hesitant to see it on my flight because I had a copy at home that I hadn’t watched yet – so should I bother watching it on a small screen? I decided that I might as well since my copy at home has been unwatched for awhile.

Aside from the little nugget above, I didn’t know much about the film. But it was interesting right off the bat – the premise is there is a prepubescent hotshot who has his eyes opened about how cool tech is being researched at a nearby technical school (cartoon equivalent of Berkley or Stanford). I liked how Disney basically wove in Silicon Valley (but being a cartoon, they could make up a lot of technology).

Following that is your basic superhero group story, fighting against a super villain. One good thing is that because there’s no backstory/fandom, they could build a group from scratch (it doesn’t help them avoid clichés though). Given that the movie is for kids or pre-teens, I’m not too bothered about that.

I’m going to give Big Hero 6 5 stars out of 5! That might be a little overrated but I’m fine with it. It’s a kids movie so I don’t expect a lot aside from it being fun – and it was. There were actually quite a number of funny parts that appeal to adults/comic book nerds and having a cool mash up city definitely helps its score here.