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.

Swing

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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iPhoto Missing EXIF Data After Crash

Lately, iPhoto has been crashing quite a bit on me. Usually, it occurs after I had imported some photos and was browsing from photo to photo. The bad news is that the photos would disappear from iPhoto, which led me to this tip to Repair/Rebuild the Database.

That usually worked to restore the lost photos, but the last crash was particularly troublesome. I was able to restore the photos, but all the EXIF data was lost.

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To restore the EXIF data, I had to locate the original photos:

File > Reveal in Finder > Original File.

I couldn’t drag-and-drop these back into the iPhoto. Instead, I had to duplicate them, then import (File > Import to Library) them back into iPhoto. Now, the photos with EXIF data have been restored.

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

I have long been a fan of books by Grace Lin. Her children books feature a Chinese theme and include delightful illustrations. I’ve checked out all her picture books from the library and read them to my children.

Now that my children are school age, we have moved on to her novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Set in China, the novel tells the story of a young girl named Minli and her adventures as she seeks to change the fortune of her family. The chapters pass by quickly in this page turner. There was a constant element of suspense that compelled us to keep reading even when we already knew it was pass time to go to sleep. But, what is summer for if not to let the schedule slide a bit.

When the Mountain Meets the Moon is a great summer reading book.

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Bay Area Discovery Museum

Located across the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Area Discovery Museum offers an engaging experience for young children. During our visit, the museum offered a Framed: Step Into Art exhibit.

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Basically, the exhibit displays a work of art with the usual description of the artist and the work. However, the exhibit also brought the art to life with an accompanying activity based on the art work.

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The museums exhibits are distributed through a lot of small buildings, with each having a theme. This building had a wave exhibit, which for most kids, meant an opportunity to play with water.

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We did not explore the interactive playground on account of the summer rain.

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The mini Golden Gate Bridge is interesting in concept, but there really wasn’t anything to do other than attach plastic panels to it with rivets.

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During a break in the rain, we did explore this structure which is great for a game of hide-and-seek. You have to explore Lookout Cove to find this since it’s a bit hidden at the far end of the playground.

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I loved the frog instruments. Roll the wooden stick along the frog’s back to make a croaking sound.

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Finally, we tracked down the source of all the bubbles.

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There is also an art studio where the kids can paint, draw and do other crafts. It’s a great place to take young kids for a few hours.

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Online Pinyin Zhuyin Converter

I haven’t touched ㄅㄆㄇㄈ since the 70s. While I can recite all the zhuyin phonetics, I can only read them with extreme difficulty. Writing is a lost cause.

However, I’m great at pinyin.

Our local Chinese school instructs children in traditional Chinese characters and zhuyin phonetics. I was using BoPoMo Help, an iOS app with Zhuyin/pinyin conversion tables until I discovered ChineseTools.eu. The design is a bit random but when the kid cannot figure out how to write a word in zhuyin, I use the pinyin to zhuyin converter. It works for words and phrases.

Input:
wo xi huan shang zhong wen xue xiao

Output:
ㄨㄛ˙ㄒㄧ˙ㄏㄨㄢ˙ㄕㄤ˙ㄓㄨㄥ˙ㄨㄣ˙ㄒㄩㄝ˙ㄒㄧㄠ˙

That’s good enough for me. I can figure out the correct tones on my own.

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Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

The Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo is a great San Francisco Bay Area destination for children. Located in Palo Alto, the museum offers fun and education exhibits targeted towards its young visitors.

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The exhibits at the museum do change. The current one is focused on bugs, which showcases various insects.

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Outside, you can see the various live animals in their collection. The large pond is home to Roxy, an embden goose, as well as assorted ducks, turtles and rabbits.

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The bobcats appear more cute than menacing.

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If you are lucky, you’ll see Sequoia the bald eagle or Boeing the red-tailed hawk. They were with their trainers on the day I visited. Not sure where these majestic birds hang out regularly.

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Green Onion Pancake Recipe

This is my way of making green onion pancakes or 葱油饼. It is not the traditional way.

1. Boil a cup of water.

2. Measure 10 oz. of all purpose flour and pour into a food processor.

I don’t use anything special. Just the industrial size bag of flour from Costco. I’ve tried countless green onion pancake recipes, and never without success. The pancakes would always end up hard like a cracker, so I abandoned the printed proportions and made the dough by sight and touch. Better, but inconsistent. After reading The Science of Good Cooking by Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen, which explained how measuring flour by volume was imprecise, I switched over to measuring flour by weight. My dough is now consistently soft.

3. Measure 6.25 oz. of boiling water, slowly pour it into the food processor as it is running, and let it run for a few minutes after the dough has come together.

I place a liquid measuring cup on the kitchen scale, zero it, and then ladle the boiling water into the measuring cup. The pyrex measuring cup makes it easy to pour the water into the food processor. After the dough comes together, I let the food processor run for about two minutes. The end product looks something like this:

green onion pancake dough

Note: 6.25 oz is about right for the 25 lb bag of Costco flour. I recently switched to the smaller 2-10 lb bags of organic unbleached all purpose flour (also from Costco). I had to add a touch more water–6 3/8 oz–or else the dough ended up a bit dryer.

4. Remove the dough and knead it a few time. Cover the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes.

In a small rimmed baking sheet, I add a bit of flour. I use a rimmed baking sheet just to keep the flour from getting everywhere. I also dust my hands with flour and remove the dough from the food processor. On the baking sheet, I knead the dough a few times until it is in the shape of a ball. Use just enough flour to keep it from sticking. I then line a large bowl with a sheet of parchment paper, drop the dough ball inside, and cover with plastic wrap.

resting dough

5. Chop the green onions and clean up the food processor.

Now is a good time to clean up the food processor before the remnant dough dries out. Also, chop about 2-3 stalks of green onion.

6. After 20 minutes, cut a wedge of dough. Heat up a flat bottom pan on low heat.

I had a sharp scraper that came with the food processor. I cut a wedge that is 1/6th of the dough ball so that I end up with six green onion pancakes. Now is a good time to heat up a pan. I cook my pancakes on low heat. So some oil and let the pan slowly warm up.

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7. Roll the wedge into a ball, and then use your thumbs to press a dimple into the dough.

Again, I dust my hands with flour, grab the wedge and shape it into a ball. I use my thumb to press down the center of the dough, while turning it around to make the center even. This is the non-traditional part. Every other recipe will tell you to roll out the dough, spread the green onion/sesame oil/salt mixture, and roll up the dough into a log. Then, coil it like a snail shell before flattening it again with a rolling pin. I’ve always had problems with the green onions bursting out and blackening during the cooking process so I do it my way.

dimple

8. Fill the dimple with chopped green onions.

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9. Close up the dough.

Hopefully, this part will not be too confusing. The best way to describe this is like if I were making a bun/bao. I pull up the opposite sides of the dough until the green onion is covered, pinch the top together, and give it a twist.

round

9. Add a pinch of kosher salt and gently roll out the pancake.

Try to keep the green onions inside the pancake.

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10. Cook the pancake.

Hopefully, the pan is hot by now. I might 1-2T of oil into the pan. I just want enough so that the pancake is in contact with the oil so that it will cook evenly. I cook the pancake in a covered pan for a few minutes. It all depends on the heat of the pan. Once the pancake is cooked on one side (I go by looks), I might add some more oil back in the pan as I am flipping it over to cook the second side. Hopefully, the end product will look like this:

green-onion-pancake
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How to Make Naan

It all started at Howie’s Artisan Pizza. I really loved their pizza crust. After buying a dough ball from them, I discovered how dough should feel in the hand: soft and malleable. In other words, I was not using enough water in my recipes. With this insight, I was finally able to crank out green onion pancakes (葱油饼) fairly consistently by relying on my eyes and sense of touch, instead of the measuring cup. Now, on to the naan.

I started with Mark Bittman’s naan recipe from How to Cook Everything.

2 tsp instant yeast
2 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp yogurt
1 Tbsp sugar
4 C all-purpose flour
1 egg
2 tsp salt

I’ve made this a few times. Bittman has a specific order for mixing some of the ingredients (i.e., yeast, milk, yogurt and sugar), but I was even more minimalist by adding all the ingredients (except for the water) together in the food processor with no ill effect.

With 葱油饼, naan or pizza dough, getting the right amount of water is crucial. Too little and the dough is hard. Too much and the dough is wet and sticky. Better to get it right on the first try, than to tinker around and try to fix your mistakes. So, with the food processor running, stream the water slowly into the food processor until the dough comes together into a ball. The first time I tried this, I used warm water (like with 葱油饼) and the dough rose nicely. The second time, I tried making the dough in the morning with room temperature water and leaving the dough in the refrigerator all day to let it rise, as Bittman suggested. I’m not sure that the dough rose at all in the second instance, but the naan was just as delicious.

Instead of an oiled bowl, I usually just place the dough in a bowl lined with parchment paper.

After the dough has risen (or not), I slice a wedge of dough and shape it. For that piece, I think I added some chopped green onions.

Here’s where I depart from Bittman. I have had no luck making the naan in an oven, even with a baking stone. The end result always ends up too dry. So, I tried it in a covered frying pan (just like with 葱油饼) with a touch of oil.

A touch of butter at the end is optional. Maybe this is not authentic naan, but naan “with Chinese characteristics.” Regardless, the end result was pretty close.

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