Helix Community Science Center, Los Altos, CA

Helix by Exploratorium is a children’s science center located on State Street in Los Altos, CA. In the Bay Area, larger science museums provide more of an all-day experience. In contrast, Helix is a place for local kids to spend an hour or two in an educational environment.

Helix Community Science Center

The center is a two-story facility with hands-on exhibits placed throughout the space. The retail space occupies much of the downstairs, and is a welcome space to find some thoughtful birthday gifts for children.

Helix Retail Store

In the magnet exhibit, learners will learn and players will play. Even younger children can interact with the exhibits without having the master the finer points of magnetism. Just having fun is okay.


Adults can experiment with the spinning table and try to place the perfect object that it will remain spinning in place as the surface rotates.


The center is not large, but is probably just the right size for young elementary school children. Enough to keep their attention, but not too large that their patience will be tested.


Hiller Aviation Museum

I’ve driven past Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, CA many times. This afternoon, I finally set foot in the museum and was really impressed with the exhibits.

Hiller Aviation Museum

In the lobby, a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane floats above your head.

Wright Brothers

In the cavernous exhibit hall, you can see an impressive collection of helicopters and airplanes, ranging from the historic to the experimental. The exhibits are well-curated with accompanying explanatory videos.


Plan on taking about two hours to visit the museum.


Mission Peak Regional Preserve

I climbed up to Mission Peak in the Mission Peak Regional Preserve, which is located at the end of a suburban street in Fremont, California. I arrived shortly before 8 a.m. on a weekend and the parking lot was full. In fact, the entire street leading to the preserve was full.

Mission Peak

First off, this was not a hike. From my parking space two blocks away, I had a steady climb up to the entrance of the park. And, as I headed up to the peak, it was an unrelenting uphill march. Not a stretch of flat land where I could relax and catch my breath. I usually get my 10,000 steps in a day so I am not completely out of shape. But, walking up a steady incline is a different beast than walking on level ground, as all the still sore muscles continue to remind me. A bit hazy in the morning, but I did enjoy an aerial view of Fremont.


I couldn’t see Mission Peak until the last 20 minutes of the climb. The entire time, I was just focused on the next turn in the trail. Didn’t take long before the people further down the trail looked like little ants.

Mission Peak

Eventually, you’ll make one more turn and Mission Peak will be right in front.

Mission Peak

Then you wait in line to take a photo with the marker.


D-Day Tours

Next week, Normandy will celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day. I was in Normandy last December and signed up for a tour of Normandy with Christophe Gosselin of Normandy Heritage Tours.

My adventure started at the Paris Saint Lazare station. I am glad that I arrived early at the station because I needed every single minute to retrieve my tickets from the machine. With my print-out in hand, I walked up to the ticket machine and entered my information, only to be told that my tickets could not be located. That’s when I began my mad search for a staffed ticket office. I walked through the entire station and was redirected to the correct platform and another machine that displayed the same symptoms.

In addition to the confirmation code, the machine also asked for my name. The reservation listed First-Name Last-Name, so I tried that and it didn’t work. I reversed the order and tried Last-Name First-Name and that didn’t work either. As a last resort, I tried Last-Name only and that worked. The machine promptly printed my tickets and I was off to the platform. The machine should have simply asked for a family name or surname, and I would have be spared from all this angst.

Upon arriving in Bayeux, we walked to the Hotel Reine Mathilde. The hotel was centrally located within walking distance to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum, Bayeux Cathedral, and nearby shops and restaurants.

Hotel Reine Mathilde

The next morning, we met up with Christophe in the hotel lobby. His van comfortably transported us on a private tour of Normandy. If you have time, you may consider a two-day tour. Normandy is such a large area that one-day may not feel enough. It all depends on your level of interest in World War II and historical events.

Sainte Mere Eglise

Our first stop was Sainte-Mère-Église, which Google Maps tells me is 55.9 km (39 min) away from Bayeux. On the exterior of the church, you can see a paratrooper with his parachute caught in the tower. Inside the church, we admired the stained glass windows which honored the paratroopers who helped liberate the city.

Next, we drove along the hedgerows and stopped briefly at the Batteries d’Azeville et de Crisbecq. Then, we proceeded to Utah Beach.


The Utah Beach D-Day Museum was closed during our visit. However, there are monuments and artifacts outside that you can see. Even if the museum was open, I’m not sure that we could have spent too much time there since our schedule was quite tight. From there, we drove to the church at Angoville Au Plain, where medics Robert Wright and Kenneth Moore treated soldiers from both sides of the war.

On D-Day, U.S. Army Rangers had scaled the cliffs to capture Pointe du Hoc. The site itself is quite impressive with massive craters still in place marking the allied bombardment of Pointe du Hoc.


Also, look at the bulk of this casement.


Our last destination was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. These men and women gave their lives so that we could be free.

Normandy American Cemetery

Let It Go in Chinese

If your child has already watched Frozen several times and has already memorized the lyrics to Let It Go, here’s a challenge. Learn the song in Chinese. Disney has a Cantonese, Mandarin and Taiwanese Mandarin version.

I like 随它吧 by Bella Yao the best of all the Chinese versions.


Free Wi-Fi v. Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE

I’m sitting in the bleachers at a local ice skating rink on a Saturday morning wondering how fast the free Wi-Fi is. Speedtest.net reports the download speed as 1.25 Mbps and 0.35 Mbps as the upload speed. My experience is that the connection is perfect for reading text, but struggles with video.

Fortunately, I also have a Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE. In the belly of a concrete ice rink, Speedtest.net reports the download speed as 2.30 Mbps and the upload speed as 1.36 Mbps. That’s more than twice as good since the connection isn’t being shared. 😉


Obviously, the Verizon Jetpack 4G LTE experiences a bit of variance in performance depending on the location. At home, Speedtest.net reports a download speed of 4.41 Mbps and an upload speed of 0.56 Mbps. Strange that the download speed is faster than at the ice rink, but the upload speed is slower.

April 11, 2014 – At the gymnastics center, the download speed is a swift 11.49 Mbps and the upload speed is 0.87 Mbps. Quite a bit of variance.


TurboTax Business

I think every Mac user must have a love-hate relationship with Intuit. I still don’t understand why Intuit had dumped Quicken for Quicken Lite a/k/a Quicken Essentials for Mac. Ugh. But, I’m glad that I jumped on iBank instead of waiting around for the long-rumored Quicken Deluxe for Mac. I’m sure it is still just around the corner.

Despite the rocky relationship, I still turn to Intuit for its tax software. The regular TurboTax, which works on a Mac, and TurboTax Business [Download], which I have to run in VMWare/Windows. It’s always cheaper to pick up a copy from Amazon instead of getting it direct from Intuit.


Musée des Arts Forains

On January 1st, I was in Paris. The only problem was that almost all the regular tourist attractions were closed. Fortunately, a few searches on Google along the lines of Paris open new year suggested the Musée des Arts Forains. Despite visiting their website and viewing their numerous photos, I still could not figure out the place. With nothing to lose, our group headed to the Paris Metro for a day of exploration.

Traveling in a foreign country is a challenge. For those unwilling to pay exorbitant data roaming fees, overseas travel is like a time warp back to the 1980s. I don’t mind traveling on intuition and paper maps, but not everyone is comfortable with those arrangements.

The Musée des Arts Forains website linked to Les Pavillons de Bercy website, with English directions. But, the bane of all travelers is uncertainty. Why show both the metro stop for Bercy and Cour St Emilion? I really want to memorize just one stop. Cour St Emilion is the closest station.

From the station, we had no problem finding the Musée des Arts Forains. We still had to walk 5-10 minutes to reach the entrance, but plenty of signs showed us the way.

Once inside, we had to pay for admission. We then received a ticket each, which was good for one ride. Additional ride tickets are available for purchase.

One ride we tried was the foot-powered carousel, which consisted of bikes attached together on a circular track. As everyone pedals together, we circled around faster and faster.

Bike Carousel

Most rides were in the nature of merry-go-rounds. This attraction looks like a giant swing. I couldn’t tell if it was there just for viewing purposes or the ride was not open at the time.


Besides rides, we were entertained by magicians, musicians, and other performers throughout the day.


Outside, the decorations were very much in the holiday spirit, with reindeers and Christmas trees. For food, we purchased tickets at the ticket booth, which we then redeemed at the food booths. I only remember cotton candy, hot dogs (merguez) and drinks, as well as vin chaud (for adults looking to warm up).


EyeTV 250 Plus and Winegard FlatWave Amped

I’ve been looking at an EyeTV for a long time. Almost too long. A few weeks ago, a family member inquired about recording a television program for later viewing. I did not have a post-VCR solution for that. When I returned to the ElGato website, I couldn’t find any of their relevant products. Nothing from Amazon as well. Looks like Tivo will be following this path as well.

I rarely watch TV or record any programs. After all, it’s been years since the living room has seen a VCR, so I didn’t want to commit to a Tivo with its monthly fee. Fortunately, I found a new ElGato EyeTV 250 Plus from Other World Computing. Looks like a few others had the same idea since they are now out of stock.

The EyeTV 250 Plus is quite impressive since I was able to pull a few more channels from my external antenna than the television. KQEH (Channel 54), which has a few more channels of programming than KQED (Channel 9), was cutting in and out on the television, but clear on the EyeTV. (This prompted me to terminate all the unused coaxial ports in the house. KQEH now works, but I’m not sure if that was causation or correlation.) Unfortunately, I have a coaxial port in the living room, but not the office. So, I picked up a Winegard FlatWave Amped internal antenna from Costco. I affixed it to the window and scanned for channels again. It picked up even more than via the external antenna, but mostly international and shopping channels.

I am very impressed by the combination. Had I known they worked so well together, I would have made the leap a lot earlier.

Feb 5, 2014: I was wondering why the Winter Olympics did not show up in the program guide. Then, I noticed that NBC 11 (KNTV) was missing. I had problems receiving this channel on the regular TV as well.

So, I went about testing various mounting locations. I could not get a signal for NBC 11 from any of the windows, regardless of orientation. When I mounted the antenna on the wall, it worked. Note that the height of the antenna matters too. The antenna is placed close to the ceiling. While NBC 11 shows up in the program guide, the Signal Quality sometimes drops, even when there is no change in Signal Strength.


AT&T DSL to Sonic.net

I’ve been with AT&T DSL for several years at the 6.0Mbps tier, which wasn’t bad at first. However, now that software is distributed almost entirely by Internet, I just got tired of the waiting. I could have switched to AT&T U-verse, which offers downstream speeds up to 45 Mbps, but I hate the introductory pricing with the one-year commitment.

Instead, I went with Sonic.net and their Fusion service for $39.95 per month, which is not an introductory price, but also not an upfront price either because of the convoluted taxes.

Rental Modem Router Combo $6.40
Fusion Service $39.95
Federal Subscriber Line Charge Fee $6.50
Property Tax Allotment Surcharge $0.26
Voice Regulatory Recovery Surcharge $0.52
Federal Universal Service Fund Fee $1.69
FCC Interstate Telecom Service Provider Fee $0.04
FCC Telecommunications Relay Service Fund $0.00
Property Tax Allotment Surcharge $0.00
Voie Regulatory Recovery Surcharge $0.00
California Lifeline Telephone Service Surcharge $0.19
California Deaf and Disabled Telecom Program Surcharge $0.03
California High Cost Fund-A Surcharge $0.03
California High Cost Fund-B Surcharge $0.05
California Teleconnect Fund Surcharge $0.10
California Advanced Services Fund Surcharge $0.03
California 911 Emergency Surcharge $0.08
California Public Utility Commission User Fee $0.03
Palo Alto Utility Users Tax $0.82
Total $56.82

From browsing various forums, I already knew about the modem fee. So, in addition to the $46.35 service + rental fee, I was dinged for $10.47 (or 22.6%) in fees, surcharges and taxes. The number of fees, surcharges and taxes is almost comical. Imagine dining at a restaurant and ordering a $25 steak, but being billed for a seating surcharge, utensil service fee, dining table allotment, and lighting surcharge.

Anyways, the transition was surprisingly smooth, which has never happened before. My download speeds have roughly doubled from 5.09 Mbps to 10.70 Mbps, according to speediest.net.