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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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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iOS 6 Maps

For better or worse, iOS 6 brings a new Maps app. The 3D button offers a cool three-dimensional view of nearby buildings. The feature is much more impressive when browsing around the City. The 3D effect is practically unnoticeable in burbs of Mountain View.

I see two big changes in the new Maps app. First, the Maps app finally offers voice navigation. Initially, I was looking for some setting or button to enable this feature. There is none. Instead, just search for directions and voice navigation kicks on automatically. I tested it on the way home this afternoon and it was able to re-route as I took a U-turn to avoid traffic.

I already have the Navigon app, however I like the Maps app much better already. The strength of the Maps app is that it announces street names so there is no doubt which exit you should be taking or which street you should be turning on. Navigon has led me astray more than once because its directions were confusing. Navigon doesn’t announce exits or street names. It just tells you to bear left, bear right, turn left, turn right, etc., which is perfectly fine in a city with a grid layout. When that is not the case, Navigon is exposed. However, in remote locations, Navigon with its preloaded maps is incomparable. When you don’t have a 3G/4G connection, the Maps app isn’t going to help.

The other big change is the traffic data. Even with the traffic layer enabled, I am not seeing any data. The Maps app did indicate the 101 was red earlier this afternoon. In contrast, looking up Google Maps in Safari gives you the traffic data that the Maps app is missing.

So, I will probably use the Maps app, unless I’m headed to a remote area with no internet connectivity.

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Eshom Campground, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

While trying to find a campground at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park on short notice, I came across Eshom Campground, which had a camp site open for reservations. On Google Maps, the campground appears a short drive from Grant Grove. But, in this case, appearances can be deceiving.

On the ReserveAmerica website, the location of the camp was given in GPS coordinates, which I had dutifully entered into the NAVIGON iPhone app before departure. I had fully expected to lose cell phone and possibly data connectivity in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and thought that I had a back-up in NAVIGON.

So, from Grant Grove, I was presented with two options. ReserveAmerica told me to back track along 180, then take 245 before turning onto Whitaker Forest Drive, which leads to the campground. On the map, this was the roundabout route. On the map, Forest Route 14S75 seems to provide the most direct route. However, (1) it is a dirt road, (2) the path suddenly turns extremely bumpy about half way down, and (3) NAVIGON got confused along the way and kept asking me to make a U-turn along a single path. So, the ReserveAmerica route is the sure thing, while the dirt road option is for the more adventurous, particularly since there is no signage along the way to indicate that you are headed to Eshom Campground.

I was in camp site #16, which was next to an open field. Although there were tall trees surrounding the camp site, I found enough of a clearing to take some night photos.

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MacBook Pro SSD Upgrade

I have a MacBook Pro. A 17-inch, Mid 2009 model. I have been staring at the MacBook Pro with Retina Display for some time now. But once it is configured with 16GB of memory and 768GB of flash storage, the price climbs to $3,499, and that model is not in stock…yet.

However, I did not have time to wait because the drive inside my vintage MacBook Pro has been feeling stuffed. All it took was a session with a borrowed Nikon LS-4000 to scan whatever negatives I still had on hand to deliver me to perilous ground. 10GB, 5GB, 1GB and then the warnings start popping up about the need for space on the system disk.

Fortunately, Other World Computing had a 960GB SSD available. Now, the MacBook Pro has room to breathe again with more space than the maxed out Retina Display model.

All it took was 2:42 hours to transfer close to 480GB of data from the old SSD to the new one via Firewire 800, thanks to SuperDuper!

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Sweetwood Group Camp at Half Moon Bay State Beach

We went camping a few weeks ago at the Sweetwood Group Camp site in Half Moon Bay State Beach. Reserve America rated Sweetwood as primitive, which certain gave me some pause. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. As it turned out, we were far from being consigned to the Stone Age at this camp site.

Sweetwood Group Camp offers a fire pit, picnic benches, running water, and toilets (of the non-flush variety). These amenities are more than adequate for a short weekend outing. The camp site is far from remote, so if you require anything, a number of stores and restaurants are but a short drive away.

At night, the stars are visible. However, even though I was along the relatively undeveloped coast, there was quite a bit of light pollution. If you want to take photos of the night sky, the best plan would be to check the weather in advance so that you will know if the overhead skies will be clear or cloudy.

During the day, you will see all types of wildflowers.

I also loved the pelicans roaming along the coast in search for fish.

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This American Life: Americans in China

Was listening to the Americans in China podcast. Includes the requisite discussion on search engines and censorship.

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