Dear Js,

Another year has gone by. We’re all another year older.

We received a letter from our realtor this Christmas. She is Jewish and she sends us a letter about her family every year. That reminded me that I haven’t written to you in a whole year. I should at least write you once this year.

Anyway, this year, her letter made me think, “I can definitely say we had a more interesting year than them.” Mama asked, “Why?”

For starters, I almost lost one finger.

It was Labor Day and you two were having your piano class. I decided to take the chance to go riding while you kids were busy. I had seen a trail someone posted online and was I was curious to try it. It didn’t look that bad. I didn’t even think I needed to bring any water or food. I thought I’d be back in less than 1 hour. 3 hours later, I accidentally climbed a 2600 ft mountain.

I realized my mistake halfway through but by that time I was already committed so I went all the way. I think it wasn’t too bad but what made it suck was not having water or food. Or my phone. I didn’t make it all the way to the top on my bike. I ran out of gas (and willpower) and had to get off my bike near the top and walk the rest of the way up. But it was tough without water/food. I was drained. I had to take a few steps, rest for a minute, and repeat. It was slow and painful. I started thinking of all kinds of things. Some insects started buzzing around my head and I tried not to be annoyed by them by imagining that they were cheering for me. But most of all I reminded myself to be very careful so I could make it safely back home to you guys.

Thankfully, I made it home that day. And that was not when I almost lost one finger. I just made everyone (including myself) worried because I went out without a phone and it took a few hours longer than I expected.

My finger accident happened the next day. On the downhill part of my last ride, there were long stretches that overheated my brakes. I haven’t had such steep and long stretchs of continuous braking like that before. Not only did my brakes overheat, they vibrated with a terrible shriek that shook the whole bike. But worst of all, I lost braking power and that made me fear that I would not be able to stop and end up flying off the side of the mountain. Not good thing when I have no food, water, or phone. So the next day I was determined to fix up my bike for future rides that stress my bike like that (and especially my brakes).
After washing the bike and servicing the fork, I inspected the brakes. The brakes seem fine. But the rotors were warped. I tried my best to bend them back into shape on the bike. They worked better but still rubbed against the pads. I took them off the wheel and tried to true them on the workbench. Put them back on, still rubbed in some segments. I went back and forth like this for an hour or so. (Keep in mind this was after I had already worked on my bike for over an hour on other things.) I was getting frustrated. I kept spinning the wheel, grabbing the brake lever, adjusting the brakes and trying again. Nothing seemed to be working. Sometimes, when I fixed one part, another part would go bad. So I spun the wheel again, tried to adjust the brake position…

… and the wheel stopped spinning. I felt a pinch and my left index finger was stuck in the wheel. I tugged and my finger was still stuck. I had to rotate the wheel the other way to free my finger. It was pinched between a hole in the rotor and the fork. I looked at it. There was a crack across my fingernail. It didn’t look too bad. I touched it to check, blood oozed out of the crack. I grabbed a paper towel and held the crack close. I thought it was a good idea to stop the bleeding first.

While I held my finger, various scenarios played out in my head: Which band-aid should I use? I had duct tape close by. Was this something that needed medical attention? What do I do next?

A few minutes later, I lifted the paper towel and checked the crack again. It looked okay. But something didn’t look quite right. I looked at the flesh on the other side of the finger. It looked kinda floppy. Not the firm fingerprint pad I remember. I looked at it from the side. With the nail cracked, it looked like the tip was just hanging by the flesh. Also looked floppier than I liked.

I decided to peek into the crack in my nail. Big mistake. I saw something white and hard under the nail. That was cracked too. OH *@#&$! I closed the crack. I did not like what I saw. What was that? Was that m bone? Oh no. This did not look good. This did not look like something I could wrap up with a band-aid. Just then, your mom walked through the garage door. (A coincidence we still don’t understand today.) She had come back from dropping you kids off at a play date and had come to ask me something.

I pointer to my finger and said, “I think I need to go to the hospital.” Then my body felt heavy and I passed out.

I woke up in the kitchen. I remember seeing the trash can and thinking, I just need to sit down for a little. I passed out again.

I woke up by the front door, had no hope of putting on my shoes, so I slipped on some flip flops and walked to the car. The sunlight was too bright. It made me want to close my eyes and sit down.

I woke up next to the car door. It was open and I just had to get into the car. I was trying to tell your mom that her moving me around was making me nauseous and that I just needed some time. But I couldn’t quite form my sentences. I wanted to say, “Relax, calm down. I just need some time.” But she was understandably desparate and so I got into the car as gracefully as I imagined a normal human would.

In the car, my vision “whited-out”. I couldn’t focus and everything was glowing white. I felt conscious but in a drunken daze. Mama drove us to urgent care but I felt I wasn’t critical so I think I tried to reassure her I was okay but she had just seen me pass out multiple times. I found out later that she was screaming at me and slapping me while I was out but I was unresponsive. A few minutes later, my vision was back to 100% and I felt 100% myself again. I felt stable and strong and at no risk of passing out again.

What happened was the spinning rotor sliced through my fingernail and fractured off the tip of my finger. When I told the story to my coworkers I said, “The wheel was spinning. I put my finger too close. And then the wheel stopped spinning.” One coworker said, “You’re lucky the wheel stopped spinning.” I didn’t think of it at first but he was right.


It’s December now, a few months after the accident. I still feel some stitches inside and my nail is only at 60%. But I can do almost everything perfectly. I didn’t lose any feeling or mobility. I can still play the piano. The only thing I’m missing is not having a nail. You don’t realize how important your nail is for doing many things. Especially precise or fine things. But also for some strength grabbing things. Without the nail, when you try to grab something hard, the flesh on the tip of your finger just smushes back. The nail adds structure and strength.

The Christmas break gave me a chance to revisit the writing analyzer idea I had. The inspiration came from an unexpected source. I abandoned the project earlier because I was disappointed with the results I was getting. But last month, I was in my car listening to a marketing/copywriting podcast like I normally do on my commutes. My ears perked up when the guest mentioned that he teaches a “Voice Guide” system to writers. This is so a writing team can reproduce the “Voice” of the company or personality they write for. That sounded familiar. I felt an urge to email him. It felt like we were interested in solving the same problem. Except he comes from the sales/copywriting angle while I come from the software angle. I think software engineers and sales copywriters can make a good team. Similar to how software engineers and designers/artists make a good team.

So I sent him a cold email out of the blue. But with my usual process of course. First, I whipped up a demo/prototype based on my understanding of the problem and my interpretation of what his Voice Guide does. Yes, this is a little effort on my part (which could be a total waste of time), but it’s usually worth the risk. This is because you should always think of what value you can give someone when approaching cold. “What’s in it for them?” I made sure add personalizations for my intended audience. I used language he used in the podcast. I used his own writing as the “sample”. I named it “Robo Rubric” because he used the word ‘Rubric’ a couple of times. With this “gift” in hand, the cold email is easier because you’re offering something of value instead of being an annoying leech.

Here the email I sent:

Hi [interesting person]!

I just caught your podcast with (a little late, I know). I enjoyed hearing about how you geek out about analyzing copy with . Because I love geeking out too 🙂

It refreshed an old idea I had about making software to auto-analyze a piece of copy, like a “robo rubric” or “voice guide analyzer”.

So, I whipped up this example to see what you think — could this be something valuable?

[link to my demo/prototype]

Of course, there’s nothing advanced there like your Words/Tone/Frequency voice guides. But I wanted to show how it could be wrapped up into a software system that auto-analyzes your clients’ copy.

Anyway, let me know if this is interesting to you. I’m not a copywriter, just a nerdy Silicon Valley software engineer who likes listening to Copywriting podcasts in the car.

Then, less than a day later, I received a reply!

Aaron,

Thanks for reaching out. This is pretty cool. Y’ know, [interesting person’s colleague] and I have toying with the idea of creating a tool that combines all the ones we recommend our course. This has got some of the core elements to it. Do you have plans on fleshing it out further to include more?

[interesting person]

Remember this important key: “You can get anything you want in life, if you first help other people get what they want.”

And that started a series of emails where we went back and forth. First he was trying to figure out what the deal us with me. Then I asked if there was a market that would pay for this software. Then they offered to pay me to build something like this for them. Then we agreed to team up and build it together.

Which sounded good to me! Because even though I have gotten better at selling, it is still more difficult to me than building software. My dream is to have copywriter/salesperson friends I can build a product with and then leverage their selling expertise to sell it. That way we can focus on our strengths and we’re more effective and efficient together.

Anyway, back to the writing analyzer. Remember how I said I scrapped the old project because it didn’t work? Well, at first I started by using some very basic metrics to analyze the writing. Simple things like word count, sentence count, punctuation count. Basically just counting things, which are super easy to write code for. I was scared to try anything sophisticated like I did the last time.

But I very quickly built all the features my new copywriting pal suggested. And being on Christmas break, I had no work to do all day. So I got itchy. On my last day of work, I printed out a research paper from Google called, “Attention is all you need.” It was about a new convolutional neural network structure that improved “text transforming” work like translating one language into another. This was interesting stuff, but it took me a few days to figure out how to map it to my problem. A lot of these kinds of work are good at taking one sentence and generating a different sentence (e.g. predicting the next sentence, or translating one sentence to another.) But I’m not really interested in a sentence generator. I wanted to figure out how to tell how closely a sentence matched a specific author’s writing style.

That research paper led me to a project called “text2text”. Which led me to a new model called BERT. I’m no machine learning expert, but I had enough experience to know what I hated about machine learning. What I hate the most (and what I despised from my last writing analyzer project) is the training part of machine learning. It is super expensive and slow and it takes some black magic and lots of time to tweak, try things and iterate to get the neural network working right. It can be days to weeks before you know if something you did paid off. And most of the time it doesn’t pay off.

So what got my attention with BERT wasn’t that it gave better results than anyhing I tried before. Most importantly, it drastically cuts down training time. I had to take days to train my RNN before for crappy results. But the new BERT model lets you start from a ‘base’ model. This model has been pre-trained on the entire Wikipedia corpus on powerful machines for days to weeks. You then take this ‘base’ model and fine-tune it for your specific application. And best of all, this fine-tuning step only takes minutes! I think this is the biggest breakthrough. Now I could really try my ideas and find out if they work in minutes. And for now I’m taking advantage of Google’s free Colab service for free training.

I tried a couple of things, but the one that currently works best is fine-tuning the BERT model to do binary text classification. I found an example to train on IMDB reviews to predict if a review is positive or negative. I changed it to train on an author’s writing to predict if a sentence is by the author or not.

And surprisingly, it sort of works!

But then came the next problem. Machine Learning is a big hammer. And it is expensive to run complex machine learning models. In fact, servers powerful enough to run machine learning are the most expensive to rent online. So I hacked together something to run on a server I was already paying for. But that was slow. It could only process 1.5 sentences per second. (I wanted to send about 10-20 sentences per document, and 5-10 seconds to get a response feels slow.) I tried to run it on my PC. It was even slower. Mama’s PC is the most powerful in the house, so I tried hers next. It took a little extra effort because hers runs Windows, and Windows is not good for software work like this. But after fiddling with WSL and compiling Tensorflow for her CPU, it could do about 6 sentences per second. That will have to do for now. Downside is now visitors from all over the world will be making requests to our home PC on our home internet. If demand picks up, I’ll have to revisit this and see if I can come up with a better alternative. Maybe it’ll be time to upgrade my PC and pop in a decent GPU.

It blew my copywriter pal’s mind. But he said he was busy (probably with New Year promotions) and he will get back to me after he’s done with his deadlines. We’ll see where this goes next? Considering how easy and fast it is to train a new model for each author, I’m thinking one new thing we could sell is a “writing modeling” service. If anyone can give us enough writing samples of an author, we can build a model of the author’s style. Then we can check all future writing to report how close it matches the reference model.

Fall Camping
J it was just you and me this year. j wasn’t interested in joining and mama doesn’t like the cold. So it was just us boys again at the scout campout. I enjoyed hanging out with you. When we got to the campsite, I was impressed how helpful you tried to be. You helped unload the car. You helped pick the spot for our tent. You helped me put the tent up. And when our temporary home was set up, you took a good look and saw that it was good. Then you pitched your red folding chair outside the tent and cracked open a book under the shade.

The first time we went camping with the scouts you were reserved and quiet. But this time you were outgoing and had a great time with the other kids. It was happy to see. It also helps that a few kids are your schoolmates and you know a few others for a while now. At night, it was mad fun as usual. Smores, campfire, running around with flashlights. You had a small accident getting stabbed by a hot smore at by the campfire, but it was fine. Later though, all the parents relaxed by the fire while you kids were off playing. Then some strange sounds caught my attention. They were not laughs but sounded like they could be shouting. I looked around and no other adult seemed concerned. But couldn’t help myself so I went to check with my flashlight.

As I got closer, I heard some words shouted that should not be in a kids vocabulary. In the distance, I saw one kid holding a paddle over his head and another kid on the ground. The kid started swinging the paddle. I picked up my pace and shined my light at the paddle kid’s face. Cops do it so maybe it does something. It made paddle kid stop and shine his flashlight at me. I turned my light up to max and aimed it at his eyes. I learned somewhere that one way to diffuse a situation was to try to change the context. It shocks people out of their rage trance. I think it might have been Derren Brown. Yup it is. Here’s the story:

“Brown recalled an incident when he was approached by a suspicious character spoiling for a fight on his way home at 3am in the morning. “I said to him, ‘The wall outside my house isn’t 4ft high’ and he was suddenly confused.” The idea of the psychological tactic, he added, is a bit like “pulling the rug out from somebody”. “He started breaking down in tears because all of that adrenaline and aggression had to go somewhere. So he did the adrenaline dump. They use it in martial arts where they get people to relax before you hit them to make the blow more powerful.” The key, he said, to being prepared is to remember a random line or a song lyric you can use – and the more out of context it is, the better.

I didn’t say anything clever like that. Just hoped the flashlight was enough. Then I said as calmly as I could, “Please give me the paddle.” Surprisingly, he gave it to me without a fight. He said a few emotional words later about who did what and whose fault it was. But I tried to stay calm and slow and didn’t take any sides or respond. I wasn’t there to punish anyone (nor did I care — they were not my kids.) I just wanted to make sure everyone was safe. I asked the kid on the ground if he was alright, he was crying but he seemed in one piece. I only regret not asking paddle kid if he was alright too. Ther parents finally came, so I left with the paddle. The fight was expected but I didn’t expect those kinds of cuss words from paddle kid, especially since he’s only 8. I told mama this later and we both wondered where would he learn something like that. That’s like R-rated movie language.

Friday runs with mama (sometimes). We’ve started to try to run on Friday mornings after school drop off. It was working for a while. But when it got cold our plans went out the window. Week after week, it was one thing or another that cancelled our run.

Walkathon
j: you walked with mom but your feet got tired. You stopped for lunch while we kept walking.
J: last year, we did only 1 more lap than the year before. 31 I believe (and 30 the year before). I joked about how you said only did 1 more even though you originally wanted to do 50. Well, this year you were determined. It took us about 5 hours, but you did it. 51, in fact. Because the person counting your laps missed a tick on your t-shirt. I could barely walk after all that because the walkathon was on Saturday and your mom and I went running the Friday before that. (We started our Friday runs, remember?).
It’s my knees and feet that hurt when I run. I think my problems all originate from my back. And probably from sitting all day and most of the week. That leads to tight tendons or whatever connective fibers there are around my knees and hips. This changes the way I run, and if I run to avoid the tightness, it leads to pain (inflammation) somewhere in my knees. If I keep a good running form, I can sort of keep the pain away. But once I get tired or sloppy, the pain sneaks in and gets worse little by little. It’s worse when I’m weak. It’s as if the support from my muscles gives way and bad things happen. So in short, what I’ve found that help are good form, strength and flexibility.

Power massager. I got it after limping around for a week after my first run with mama. The body can handle hard work if its used to it. But try anything new and the body breaks down, then scrambles to rebuild it. And what I haven’t been working were my calves and feet — they get almost no use mountain biking. Well this miracle pneumatic hammering device really helped me pummel away all my stiff spots. It broke up years of old scar tissue. It fixed my stiff back injury. It loosened the stiff parts around my knee. It freed up my hips. I’ve never felt this great in years. I was smashing spots with lacrosse balls and rolling with foam before. But this is like an automatic lacrosse ball x 100 per second. You can really laser in on a spot and break it up. I liked it so much I brought it to Australia for my mom. When my brother tried it, he bought one for himself.

Halloween J was Pikachu. j was Entrapta. Mama worked hard to paper mache your pumpkins. J’s was a pokeball and j’s was Entrapta’s pet Emily. j, weird seeing you with straight hair. Your natural hair matches your personality perfectly.

Nibs the nibbler
j: your brother had an idea of making this for you. I helped, but he honestly came up with the idea all by himself. He drew it to show me what it looked like, we went into the garage the day before Christmas eve and we made it. You peeked at what we were doing in the garage on Christmas eve but J tried his hardest to keep a straight face and the secret. In the end it looked really good. And J was really happy that he made something that made you happy.

New watches for everyone. Since I got a watch and mama got a watch for her birthday, I thought it’s time you kids got a watch too. Red one for J and purple for j. Got them in time for our Australia trip. It’s now January 2020 and j you’ve already lost your watch at school. You said you put it in your pocket when you went to play. It fell out and you didn’t notice.

We made a photo album for mama’s birthday this year. It’s called “Mama hugs”.

Evenings with Mama Finished Nine Parchments and Overcooked. Then finished Nine Parchments in Hardcore mode. (This is where it’s total game over if you die.) We want to play another game together but we haven’t found anything we liked. We tried Diablo III but it put us to sleep.
We’ve moved on to watching Netflix together (e.g. a show called Lucifer). And she’s started to play her old Final Fantasy game again.
But then the things we had to watch/do together dried up. So I’ve just been playing Smash Ultimate. Although we did enjoy an interesting Korean movie the other night called Parasite. That opened the door to many indie movies we haven’t seen.

Christmas gifts. J: Pokemon Sword game. j: Kirby Star Allies game. Shared: Mario Maker. Hand warmers for mama and abu. Piano sheet music for me. And a whole bunch of other stuff that made me think it’s ridiculous how many gifts you kids get.

Twitchy progress. I decided to start adding some programming in your life J because you’re old enough now. But it turns out j is more interested than you are. I guess j you love building things and your imagination is not limited by reality, so you have all these ideas for what you can do. But J seems more afraid to make mistakes or not know what to do.
But after getting used to it a little, J said, “This is actually really fun, Dad.”

Here’s what we taught Twitchy this Christmas break:
keyboard movement, bluetooth
buzzer (mama helped figure out how to amplify a signal with a transistor)
ultrasonic sensor
voice (Twitchy can say text with audio)

Then j you started making Twitchy say your “silly sentences” one after another and that ticked mama off so no more silly sentences for Twitchy.

Head:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcTBRAQ-Y24

Keyboard control:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz_yYdnv3qM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5vACTio7lY

Construction of Twitchy:

Foraging adventures
We bought our first California fishing license in April for our foraging adventures. I was inspired after reading Kirk Lombard’s Sea Forager book. And I was inspired to read that book after watching local foragers sharing their experience on YouTube.

It takes a good bit of research to hunt down the secret foraging spots, then learn about catching what you want to catch, then the rules for catching them legally. After going through most of the book, I decided that the easiest thing to start with was Mussels. So next, we looked up the tide charts to find a good weekend with negative tides.

Since my last letter, we’ve had a few new adventures after the mussels. We now call the mussel spot Mussel Rocks. And we always go to the Pescadero bakery after.

Elkhorn Slough gaper clams. We hiked down a path by the bridge near the Kayak shops. The path went along the river. As the path got close to the river, I spotted a squirt of water about 3 or 4 feet high. I said, “Did you see that!?” I saw another one. And then another. Then j said, “Yeah!” and mama saw one two. But J did not see one. I said they’re here! There are clams! I tried to get as close as I could to the spurts. My feet sank to my ankles. You two tried to follow behind me but J stopped as soon as it got muddy. Mama was farthest behind and did not want anything to do with it. I had to decide to go deeper and get dirty, or abandon the idea. I said, “I’m ok getting dirty.” j said, “Me too.” J frowned. Mama said, “I’m not. And you’re cleaning them after.” A few more squirts shot up about 10 feet from me. GAAAAAH. I walked back to firm ground and said, “We’ll get them NEXT TIME.” At least we figured out where they were. We just had to be better prepared to get dirty. We went north to a sandy beach to try to find another kind of clam.

Caught our first Crab. We caught our first Crab at Pigeon Point (I think). We walked and searched for a long time and j and I spotted a sleeping crab under some big rocks. First it tried to run from us. Then it backed itself into a crack in the wall. Which impressed me because it was an excellent defense. It anchored itself in the crack with its back legs and it guarded the opening with its claws. I don’t remember what happened next, but somehow the crab left the safety of the crack. I found a long rock nearby and after a few tries I managed to flip it onto its back. j said, “NOOOOO don’t hurt it!” I said I can’t hurt it, it has a tough shell. I don’t know what made me think of flipping it… I didn’t see a video that taught me to do that or anything. I guess my caveman instincts told me it was a good idea. While it was on its back, it was easy to grab its 2 back legs and pinch the back of its shell. And voila! I felt like a master crab hunter. The crab did not look happy being picked up.

It was the first time you kids got to see a crab up close. It was a male crab. I made you 2 touch the shell to show you how tough its armor is. J said, “it’s so cool.” For some reason you guys decided to name it Snippy. And then when you learned that we wanted to eat it, you both screamed. J said you can eat any other crab, but not this one. j said, I will eat it as long as I am not the one cooking it. In the end, we put Snippy back and said goodbye.

It’s hard to find good spots because fisherman are secretive. Understandable, because I wouldn’t want irresponsible people to trash my favorite spot. Only share spots with people you trust to be responsible fishermen and foragers. Because I would like these spots to remain forever, so the places we go are places you can take future children and grandchildren too.

Which is why it’s been hard to figure out where this mystery clam spot is:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fVvkYEBuiY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thG9OeNcVFI
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK3JjsTlQQU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ju4yudTvtP8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOG3OeNUNXc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38xA8yBgxNc

I keep seeing it in videos, but haven’t managed to figure it out. UPDATE: sometimes the best way to get information is to just ask! But the tricky thing was, as I mentioned earlier, fishermen are highly protective of good spots. So I had to ask nicely. A phrase I remember from John Carlton is that “great salespeople live better lives.” Grandpa was a salesperson. I try to learn to be a better salesperson.

One of the puzzles every salesperson has to solve is how to open. How to start a conversation when the door is shut. How to get invited in when you are an untrusted stranger. Well, here’s how I “asked nicely” and managed to get a fisherman/forager who doesn’t know me to share one of their guarded secrets – one of their favorite spots.

Subject: thank you for steamer clam shabu video!

Hi K, I just found your steamer clam shabu video: [link]

Thank you for all the work you do on your channel! It’s very educational for me and my family.

I live in the bay area too and my family has been trying to learn more about sustainable foraging after reading Kirk Lombard’s Sea Forager book. We’ve had success with mussels, uni and even crab, but not clams. The last time we tried for clams was at Elkhorn Slough. We saw some spurts from horseneck clams and my heart raced but my wife and kids (6 and 8 years old) were not keen on wading into knee-deep mud for them. So, sadly, we abandoned the spot without no clams 🙁

Do you mind sharing where that steamer clam spot is? It looks like a friendly place to take a 6 and 8-yr old kid. I am trying to teach them about foraging sustainably (love your message in your video). We promise to respect the spot and the ecosystem there. We only get to go out and forage a handful of times a year (when the tides align with weekends and the school calendar), so there is no danger of us overfishing or impacting the population at all. And we’ll fill our holes and only take what we’ll eat rather than maxing out the limit. We also have a fishing license.

Anyway, I totally understand if you decide not to share this wonderful spot. But my wife and kids are hoping that you would… and we would forever appreciate you if you did! In any case, thanks for your channel and keep up the good work!

Aaron

https://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipPyecPjlYFFo-_nKcjt3PjCWbXgeV_yZcmkYCEo

P.S. just wanted to share this pic when we caught our first crab. My kids made the mistake of giving it a name. And so, we were forbidden to eat Mr Snippy and we had to let him go 🙂

My comments: first, the subject line. All lowercase, informal, sounds like something a fan would say. The bottom line is: I want something but I have nothing to offer in return. But I can always give my thanks. It’s free to give but I meant it. The goal of the headline is just to get read. Or in this case, to get the email opened. This is something innocent-looking. And most people don’t get thanked enough everyday, so unless this person is drowning in fanmail, a normal person would want to open this mail to get more good words.

Next, I started the email by continuing from the subject line. But then I quickly switched to me me me. Which is usually bad because your writing should contain more ‘You’ words than ‘Me’ words. And usually you want to focus on your reader instead of yourself. But I had nothing to work with, so this was a long shot. So I tried to paint a picture… to transform myself from a stranger to a family of 4 who are learning how to forage. Not greedy raiders but a dad trying to teach his kids how to forage sustainably — which was in line with his philosophy. I made a guess that my reader valued education (he is working on his PhD) and that he might empathize with my situation because he goes foraging with his partner and they might already have thoughts of starting a family one day.

I sent the email and tried to forget about it. Because I expected it to not get opened or read. Or if it somehow got read, he might decide not to waste any time or energy replying. But 1 day later, here’s what he wrote…

Aaron,

I never really give up spots, but your email seems in line with the spirit of sustainable foraging, and made me and D laugh about naming the crab. Please do not photo or video there as it has really blown up recently after a few others made it very public. Go to the back of _____ Bay between the harbor at _____ Point and the dirt pullout where the trail south of the _____ Campground hits the bay. Steamers are in the gravel/sand mix, but there has been at least 75% decrease in yield in the last year after word got out. Ya’ll can probably find a few dozen if you are persistent. Just remember that with the new calendar year you need new licenses and all diggers will need their own fixed gauge (which they sell at ______ and _____ Point). Good luck!

K

School garden
Here are pictures on the garden mama took over. Look at the improvement after 1 month. Later, the scouts also pitched in to build some cover to protect the plants from squirrels. And mama’s been getting helpful guidance from a Master Gardener. It looks more amazing today in January 2020. We’ve even gotten a couple of harvests!

Sep

Oct

Other personal projects
My Dragon coding game is now on Hour of Code! It’s a non-profit that compiles educational games for students. I made some changes to my game and worked with them to get it added to their list. And every year, there’s apparently something called Computer Science Education week from Dec 9-15. This is where volunteers around the world lead groups to help students work on computer science activities. I only found out about it because I woke up one morning to a hundred new signups for my game. Seems like some students decided to use my game as their activity. Anyway, now my game is listed on Hour of Code and it’s become a new source of students.

I was working on another thing I called Birthday Profit System. The idea is that everyone has birthdays so it’s an evergreen marketing promotion you can run on every customer’s birthday. Something to bring them back to the business to buy more. The System is to automate everything there is to do with birthday promotions. Like tracking birthdays, sending emails, dispatching orders, servicing customers. I think it could be profitable — and something that you could sell to any business. But to be honest, it’s a little dry and I struggle a little to get motivated to work on it.

That’s why I was glad the Writing Analyzer project came up, because that’s more interesting. You know, copywriting, working with marketers, A.I. And it’s always easier to be motivated when you’re working with someone. That’s why buddy systems work. A buddy keeps you honest, whether you’re trying to stick with a training program… or just have company to suffer through something tough together.

Australia
We visited uncle J, your cousin A and grandma in Melbourne about a month before Christmas. The weather there was crazy. It is what they call ‘summer’, but it was not what I think of as summer. Melbourne has a strange thing where you could have 4 different weathers the day. It could be freezing in the morning, rain at noon and be hot in the evening. You never know if you need a jacket or an umbrella.

I got sick a few days after I arrived. I’m sure the weather didn’t help. Had a sore throat that turned into a fever and then a cough that took forever to leave. I hadn’t been sick for a few years. Mama had trouble with #2. She usually struggles when traveling to new place. But this time I don’t blame her. It was tight staying there with so many people. We had to sleep on the couch. There was little privacy and the bathroom door had no lock. It was just a sliding door. If you stretched, you could just barely hold it shut with your finger while still sitting on the toilet.

One of the coolest things we experienced in the trip was in the Healesville Sanctuary. It’s a place where animals roamed around freely. There might be many dangerous animals in Australia but the marsupials are some of the cutest animals in the whole world. Where else can you find animals like the Bilby, Pigmy Possum, Wombat and Tasmanian Devil. And the popular Kangaroos and Koalas. It was raining when we visited. A caretaker told us that we’re lucky because that meant there were more animals out and about. Because the rain clouds kept it dark. The animals were active instead of hiding or sleeping.

In one area, we stopped to admire a group of kangaroos taking shelter under a hut. Then for no apparent reason, they bolted out from the shelter… through all of us! They were zipping this way and that between us and around us. I froze and did not know what to do about the kangaroo stampede. If you kids were in danger, my brain was not present enough to have done anything about it. It was stunned by these massive blocks of muscle bouncing through us on two legs. And as I looked closer at one kangaroo’s face as it passed, it made me notice how expressionless they are. We’re used to dogs, which have evolved expressive faces to communicate with us. But kangaroos don’t need any of that. They just have a blank stare into the distance as they hop from one place to another. The same blank stare predators or prey have when they are killing or being killed.

One thing you kids enjoyed a lot about Melbourne that we don’t really have in California is their awesome parks. US parks have evolved to become really safe (and boring) to avoid potential injuries. And the potential lawsuits that come after such injuries. There is no such concern in Australia. All their playgrounds offer endless options for fun, danger and injury. Kids in Australia are protected only by common sense, and Australian kids lacking very quickly learn valuable life lessons through pain and possible dismemberment. At one playground, we saw a toddler complain he was thirsty and his parents had no water. So they gave him beer. Not sure how that is related but it all made sense after that.

You two had a fun time with your cousin. I didn’t think you 3 would play that much considering how much younger she was. I guess it was interesting to interact with a little human. And you two enjoyed “teaching” her things that make you laugh. But you often commented how it made you understand how hard it can be taking care of a little kid. She kept trying to get into trouble and you two had your hands full keeping her safe. She liked both of you but especially you j. She asked for her ‘jie jie’ every day we were there. From the moment she wakes up in the morning.

It was good to be back. The house smelled like it did when we first bought it. That’s what it always smells like when we come back after not being there for a while. I caught up on chores. Cut the grass, put away the pool cover. Mama and Abu got the Christmas tree. I put up the lights (then cleaned the gutters while I was there because they were too nasty). And we decorated. Out came Mr inflatable Santa out front.

Nice to have some privacy again. Simple things like our own bed and a bathroom door with locks. We picked Kimi up from doggie care. She did not eat for one week, pooping blood. Came back all bones and acting weird. Didn’t do things she normally does like greet us at door, jump on table, look for food in kitchen or jump on couch. Just curled up in her doggie bed that we gave her for her stay there. But she filled back out in a day. And was back to her scavenging, jumping-on-couch self in a week. She even stole a whole box of Abu’s cookies when no one was looking. She left no trace and it made us wonder for a few days where those cookies went.

Father’s day bike ride

Upgraded Hoo Koo E Koo to slightly modern geometry. Replaced old-style integrated quill handlebars with standalone stem, short headset and wider bars. And standard maintenance like new brake cables, removed front shifter and new tires.

But earlier that year, you 2 and mama surprised me with a Father’s day bike ride at Wilder Ranch coast trail! We devised a fun towing contraption using dog leashes. One end of the leash was attached to our adult bike and the other end was attached to your handlebars via old rubber bike tube. It worked surprisingly well and all the onlookers we passed were jealous. But it wasn’t our endurance that ended our day… it was because j’s butt started hurting and you just didn’t want to sit on your bike any more. So I strapped your bike to my backpack and rode back with J while mama carried j and walked back to the car.

Getting better at Smash Ultimate
Been practicing smash almost daily. I make it a point to always do some work (on my projects) before playing each night of course.
It has improved my reflexes and metal acuity. I was really slow and sluggish mentally when I started, but now I feel sharper and and have faster reflexes. I feel that this improvement has carried on to other things too. Like I feel like I have more mental agility when mountain biking and reading the terrain at speed. It feels like it even helps piano sight-reading, if you believe it or not. I read that reflexes are reflexes, and it doesn’t matter where you get your reflex practice from. Your brain/spine get better and everything benefits.

And check it out! I managed to unlock “Elite Smash” the other day with Pikachu. This was by pure luck though. I definitely far from being good enough to get here without this lucky thing that happened. I’ve been playing with the personal rule to “always rematch” my opponent, even if I keep losing. This means my GSP ranking/score could drop from 6 million down to 1 million if I keep losing to one person that I can’t figure out how to fight. But that day, I faced a Ryu player. Ryu vs Pikachu is a bad matchup for Ryu. In our first battle, I made a ‘bow’ gesture once the match started. And this Ryu player just ran off stage and killed himself. So I did the same to make it even 2-2 again. But he ran of again and made it 1-2. So I ran of to even it 1-1. Then he started to fight me. But once I started getting an advantage, he ran off the stage again. After the battle, I thought he wouldn’t want to play me again, since it was clear he didn’t want to fight me by running off stage. But I clicked ‘Rematch’ anyway, since I was on my ‘always rematch’ rule. And surprisingly, he accepted! This same pattern happened for another 10 matches or so. He would run off-stage twice, and we’d fight on our last stock. But since he kept losing, my GSP kept rising. Eventually, he stopped rematching. But I was still not in Elite Smash. It took another 2 battles with 2 different players to get there. Again, I was lucky there because it was against a Ganondorf and Captain Falcon. Both advantageous matchups for Pikachu and I just happened to guess correctly in many engagements.

J – some of our co-op games together:

And some of my games with Pikachu and Lucina:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7Bymtw6yR0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3f6fRnH0Og
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1900u7Y6OYk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLUgxya_3o8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xfSip-wEjU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kt6bvx3RukE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMpAxI7EvgM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvF77ue-2Vk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fBKmnwGZDs

Video games you like:
J: Smash, Nine Parchments, Pokemon Sword
j: Snipperclips, Kirby Star Allies
J+j: Unravel, Super Mario Maker, Kirby Star Allies, Heave Ho

There’s a mountain in our backyard that I ride in the evenings after tucking you into bed called Heintz.
It’s a mostly smooth loop of hard and loose dirt. The dirt turns to clay in some parts when wet. It involves a couple hundred feet of climbing up and riding back down.
I’ve been riding it 2-3 times a week to “put gas in the tank”. That’s how I look at it. Whenever I do it, I curse at how it hurts each time and wonder why I do this. But it makes me stronger. Whenever I slack off, my fitness quickly declines. Just not riding it for even a week or two is enough to lose a few months of progress.
I got a new watch called the Garmin Instinct to help track my bike rides better. It’s interesting to see the history of my performance. Sometimes I feel weak and slow but my time is fast. Sometimes I feel fast abut my time is slow. That’s the beauty of data – it shows you the truth independent of how you feel.
Here’s a chart of my progress this year:

I was slow when I started, but you can see that I got fitter and faster with more practice. The dip in September is when I got back on my bike after my finger accident. And the dip in December is after I got back from being lazy and sick in Australia. The trail also runs slower in December because of the rain and cold. That disasterous time in early December was when I slipped a few times climbing, didn’t have enough gas to make it all the way uphill and had to walk, and when I lost my front wheel cornering downhill and crashed.
But you can see what I meant by looking at the data — how just slacking off for a week or two and my times slip back to where I was a few months back.

Pushing beyond the pain. When it gets easy, step on the gas. Stay in the pain zone, even though instinct is to let off and recover.

One of the things I wanted to get better at this year was my manuals. That’s where you coast on your rear wheel only without pedaling. Then toward the end of the year, I saw a video about wheelies and decided to add that to my practice too. I practice on a steepish hill. I practice my wheelies going up (because gravity acts like a constant braking force that I can pedal against, and the hill makes it take less effort to lift the front wheel). And I practice my manuals going down.

After about half an hour of this, I felt something interesting a couple of times. In those times, I felt what I heard people refer to as the “balance point”. I thought I knew the balance point, because it is the point after which the bike flies in the air and you fall on your butt. And I have fallen on my butt enough times.

But this time felt different. All the previous times I visited the magical place called the “balance point”, it felt vague and I didn’t have much control. The handlebars felt light and my hands felt disconnected from my feet. This time, when I was there, I felt like I could steer and my hands and my feet formed a solid triangle (and the rear wheel was at the bottom corner of this triangle). It felt like I could steer this triangle. And I did a few times! It was a big breakthrough for me.

I discovered it because I kept looping out when trying to lift the front wheel. Like it would lift too fast and I had no control of it. That day, it reminded me of another time I had to struggle with looping out — when I was climbing Heintz. At some steep portions of Heintz, if I pedalled hard while pulling back on the bars, the front wheel would lift. I learned to balance my weight over the front wheel to keep it down. But the best trick I discovered was to pull backwards and down on the handlebars when pedaling. As if you’re pulling the handlebars toward the back wheel. This lets you apply tension on the bars and bike but connect the front and back wheels, instead of just pulling back on the bars and lifting only the front wheels. When I did this “trick’, the front wheel barely lifted, I could pedal with more force and even when the front wheel lifted, it was slow and controlled.

So I decided to try this with my manuals in the opposite direction — going downhill! And guess what, that was it. By applying force on the bars in the direction of my rear wheel, all of a sudden it felt like I was riding a scooter. Like there was a solid metal pole connecting the bars and the rear wheel. It made the bike less twitchy, because the vector of my force changed the leverage. If the vector was “handlebar back toward my shoulder”, the force is great — like opening a door normally by standing in front of it. If the vector was “handlebar back toward the rear wheel”, the force is less — like opening a door by standing near the hinge, and pulling the doorknob toward the hinge. The door opens slower and it takes more force to make small movements.

Just this simple change in the direction of where I pulled the handlebars made the bike more stable, and manuals more managable. I still have trouble finding the balance point. But once I did, as long as I focused on this “trick”, I could manual quite a bit longer. Maybe about 5-10 seconds? Definitely not more than 10 seconds though.

Car clear coat coming off, looks bad.

Terror management theory. I learned of this theory in Psychology called TMT. It proposes that we humans have a very unique problem among all living creatures on Earth. We are too smart. We are the only creatures smart enough to realize that we’re going to die. This causes a conflict, because we have evolved to be really concerned about protecting ourselves and not dying. The problem is death is inevitable. Worse, it is unpredictable. So this makes our self-preservation instinct freak out constantly because there is nothing we can do to stop this thing that threatens to kill us. This conflict produces terror. And the theory is that this terror motivates people to do various things to deal with it.

For example, people might embrace religions, so they can defeat death with the promise of Heaven and immortality. People might start having thoughts about doing something “bigger than themselves” or “leave a lasting contribution to society”. I’ve noticed myself saying, I want to “leave the world a better place than I found it.” That’s a scout motto. Artist want to produce works of art or music or writings that live long after they’re gone. The idea is that people might find comfort in symbols or ideas that have lasting meaning and value, to counter our fragile biological reality.

I remember that the first time this terror hit me the hardest was when you 2 were born. The second time it hit me was when my dad died. I suspect this is what eventually blossoms into Mid Life Crisis. I guess being so close to the process of life and death has given me a looming fear of my mortality. Or “terror”, as they call it. When you 2 were born it made me care about something more than just myself. I worked harder, wanted to make more money, wanted to do something bigger. That’s about when I started doing things like writing these letters. Heck, if you read back to the first of these letters here, you’ll see that I said I was trying to leave behind words I hoped were valuable after I was gone. Now I get sad every day when I look at you two and when I look at the pictures I take. I mean, I’m happy because I love you, but sad because you two look different every day. I’m reminded of the time that keeps has passed by, the good times we shared, the moments I’ve forgotten and the children you used to be. And how new days replace old days and how all of this will one day be in the past. And I will be old and one day my time will come.

Now I don’t mean to make you sad with all this talk, so I need to give you a different perspective of this that’s more positive. Like with anything, there is always beauty on the other side of sadness. J we had a talk about this the other day after Abu left, because goodbyes made you think of death. And you worried that “I could lose everything at any moment.” Don’t blame you, it’s logical. And what I said to you was that if we lived forever, we wouldn’t appreciate the time we have. It’s because we understand our time is short that it forces to feel. It’s because we feel sad that it makes the happy times happier. Just like how everything tastes and feels better when you’ve earned it after a hard workout or exercise or competition. Or how you appreciate the warm sun after a cold rain. It makes you treasure the times you had.

It also lights a fire under you and makes you want to do things. It makes you worry about wasting time. But sadly, it’s hard because not everyone feels this way. Not everyone has been afflicted by this Terror (yet) in their lives. For example, I want to do so many things with you 2 and teach you so many things, but most of the time you’re not interested. In my mind, my time is slowly slipping away and along with it… my chances to do these things with you. But to kids, you have all the time in the world. Just like I thought when I was younger. Hopefully as you get older, you learn to take more chances. Say yes to new adventures. Be humble. We’re all in this together as humans. We each try to do our part to advance our species a little bit more each generation. Life beyond Earth will be interesting. But as you look to the stars, don’t forget that there’ll always be a farther star to set your sights on. So don’t forget to also look inward. You already have everything without chasing stars. But sometimes you do have to chase a few stars to realize that you already had everything all along.

New developments
J walks to school alone because you don’t want to be late.
j has trouble doing anything these days but hasn’t been late to school. But I mean, sometimes it takes you 1 hour to start showering, 1 hour to start homework, 1 hour to start doing piano. Instead of doing what you are supposed to do, you mostly slide on the floor and groan and talk about or do anything except what you’re supposed to do. Then 1 hour later you cry.

I’m a US citizen now! I used my US passport for first time one week after mama’s birthday. I went to Beijing for work. J stayed at friends laser tag birthday party. Just got a half hug like I was dropping you off at school. j wanted to send me off at airport with mama and skipped laser tag. I hate to see you cry. I hate leaving the family.

j I introduced you to solitaire and you like it! J does not care for it.

J can transpose songs on the fly. And talk and play at the same time. Your kid brains are weird and amazing. Some things adults find easy are hard for you, but somethings adults find hard are easy for you.

May 29 2019 j lost first tooth at school nibbling a biscuit.
And you lost your front tooth on the last day of school before the Christmas break. You were trying hard to get it to fall out in class because you get a prize if you do. It was almost there but it didn’t fall out. Mama asked the teacher nicely and the teacher gave you your prize. Your tooth fell out later that day, at night.

Teeth restored
My implant is finally done. After a year with a hole in my teeth and 2 failed implant attempts, the 3rd one worked. The cost hurt my pockets though. I would like to get a new mountain bike some day, but I keep getting “mountain bike sized” expenses. Such as: dental implant, finger accident, Australia trip, property tax, income tax, grandma’s new condo payment, grandma’s green card application, car maintenance…

Deodorant
I guess that time has come J. Mama bought deodorant for you. You’ve fixed your stinky feet problem. But now’s another grown up hygeine thing. You’re lucky mama spends a lot of time with you. Because my parents didn’t notice and I only got deodorant after being made fun of by my good friends. That’s what friends are for.

Beast Academy every Saturday morning. Like how I had Sunday School at church growing up. Now you kids have Math instead.
It starts at 10.15 and ends at 12-ish. They have a nice classroom for parents to hang out while waiting. This is where I am writing this letter to you right now 🙂 It’s also been a good place for me to work on my projects. Because unlike my typical night sessions, I’m full of energy and focus in the morning. And, it’s harder for me to procrastinate here in public. So I get quite a bit of good work done every Saturday. I look forward to Saturday mornings now.

J is enjoying the homeworks because that means he gets to do screen time later. j on the other hand, at first you were guessing a lot and struggling. But after some practice, you’ve become more confident in your math and more up for challenging questions. You used to give up early and say, “I’m confused!” I guess that could be very easily many kids’ turning point. Some kids give up and that might be why they decide, “I’m not good at math.” And other kids struggle with

J practicing Hedwig’s theme
A song you’ve been working on is Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter. You were frustrated at your slow progress. Then you got frustrated that your fingers weren’t doing what you wanted them to. Then you started crying at the keyboard. We weren’t sure why you were crying because you had been sounding better each time you played. So we had a chat. It was the first song you had to really work on. And you weren’t used to the idea that you might not be able to play it completely for a while. We explained that it could take months. “Months?!” Yup, and we know that song was not that hard for you, because you can at least read the notes. And even though you stumbled through it, you could make it through all 4 pages. Some songs are so hard you can’t even start playing. You have to sit down with a pencil to figure out the notes.
So after the chat, I promised you that every time you sit down at the piano, it will feel a little bit easier. But the key is to be patient. And to let your brain struggle with the problem. Be patient that you may not find the answer right away, and just be satisfied with letting your brain struggle. Because once you struggle, your brain goes to work. Then, even after you walk away or do something else, your brain keeps working. It’s making new connections and changing and growing, completely automatically. Even when you sleep. And the next time you revisit your problem, you’ll have an upgraded brain that is a little more powerful than it was before.
You thanked us later for helping and said you loved us. You are more mature than most adults are. I gave you some chocolate for your hard work. You worked hard to complete a playthrough of the song.
The next day, you practiced with a little more patience and determination. And you said it felt a little bit easier than yesterday. You’ve come to like the arpeggio at the end. It’s just 3 notes repeated over and over. But sounds good when you link them all and glide through them.

A week later, you recognized the song I was trying to play. It was the Final Fantasy Prelude from mama’s favorite game. Mama said that intro song always gives her the tingle to play. And you just made a new character in her game and enjoyed playing a little. RPGs are the most fun the first time you play them. You get transported to a whole new world and you get to be someone else.
I said, “You could play this song too.” I remembered we’ve talked about arpeggios. And this is one of the songs that sound much more complicated than it actually is.
You didn’t believe me at first but I showed you that it was just 4 notes played over and over at different octaves. You tried it. On the 2nd pattern, you paused and said, “Whooooa man that sounds soo goood!” while nodding your head.

Pinewood Derby
We found out about the derby 2 days before weight in. We rushed our construction and you helped drill and chisel and saw. Here’s our 2020 entry:

The Arrow

You got 3rd place this year. You cheered when the 1st place kid won. You were a good sport. Later, you said to me, “I guess this shows we know what we’re doing.” I gave you a hug and congratulated you. It’s cool how your brain works. That’s a good attitude to have. Not too concerned about winning or losing but about learning and getting better.

j Gymnastics. You have classes every Tuesday and Thursday, the same time as J’s BJJ. And you work hard. You look like a goofball but I can tell you’re getting stronger. There are some muscles on those bones! And apparently you’re flexible too. You can rope climb with no legs to the ceiling and do unassisted push ups.

j trying out dance class
Your ballet evaluation said you’d benefit from dance. And you loooove to dance, so you’ll be trying out a dance class to see if you like it this Friday. And you did! I think it’s great that you found two things that you like and fit your personality/interests. I told you I wished that you could do BJJ too, because I think it’s important for everyone (especially women). But you said you already have gymnastics and now dance and you’re fully booked. It’s true. So it might be up to teacher Dumpling and assistant teacher little Dumpling to help train you a little. Oh! I just got a new gi. After my chats with J’s instructor of the last year, I’ve decided to get one. Hopefully finally one that fits me well. My body size/shape hasn’t really changed for about 10-20 years, so this gi should last me for a while. I pulled the trigger thinking that I’m only going to get older. Why not do all these things while I still can.

BJJ preparing for competition J I’ve joined you for the first time to help you train for your upcoming competition. It feels good to be in a gi and back on the mat again. And it’s nice to get to train with you. Even though I’m much worse now and slower and weaker. Part of me wants to get back into it but another part of me is not sure. Anyway, I try to remind myself to focus on your training and not make it about me. You said you hope I would start training again though. Not sure why because adult class is different from kids’ class. I guess you want me to go to competitions with you.
https://youtu.be/NCSyArHgI-g
https://youtu.be/AARjXZdJ-QU

Your teacher gave stripes to 3 other kids one day. You felt bad. He pulled me aside later and said he wants to give you your next belt after your next competition. But he didn’t want you to know yet. He just wanted to reassure me that you’re on track. I told mama and we have to keep it a secret until after your competition this Sunday.

Rainbow loom
j You got it for Christmas as a gift from Uncle. Since then, you’ve been busy making bracelets for everyone. You have been wearing a wristful of bracelets with all the bracelets you have made. Some of which you plan to give away but haven’t yet. And every few hours another bracelet gets added to your wrist. There were some designs you struggled with until late at night. The designs were tough and even harder because of your tired brain and fingers and it was tough doing them late at night. You cried but you refused to give up. We tried to help but you screamed NO! We said it would be better to take a break and try again tomorrow but you said NO! You kept raging everytime you tried a move but failed. In the end you agreed that it would be better if you tried to calm down first. You made a balloon face and held your breath. I said it usually works better if you take slow deep breaths instead of holding your breath. Eventually you calmed down enough to finish. You were proud at yourself for finishing and we were too. But mama reminded you that it was not nice how you treated us when we were trying to help.

New Year’s resolutions
J: 1) don’t annoy j as much. 2) less video games. 3) do all homework and do more than just the bare minimum. 4) listen to mom because even though I don’t always like it, mama’s usually right.
j: shower early and without complaining.

Earthquake in Puerto Rico
We are convincing Abu to stay longer because the earthquakes have been going on for days. We can’t let her go back to that. It just keeps going. And it turns out we can’t stop Abu when she’s made up her mind. She delayed her flight by 1 week but she decided she’s going back. We don’t understand. And they don’t understand what’s happening with the earthquakes too… or what it means when they go on for so long like this. The whole country is freaking out, like they usually do when there’s a hurricane. Stocking up supplies, long lines at gas stations. A power plant providing 40% of the country’s power went offline indefinitely. US sent geologists to try to figure it out. Mama’s dad is also freaking out more than usual. He claims that their top geologist — who is usually open and honest — has become unusually reserved. We would love to have him come over here but he still has not gotten over his fear of flying. He has never been on planes.

Fires in Australia
Entire Australia on fire. PM ignored it, left for vacation. Volunteer firefighters. Hate PM. PM visited firefighters to shake their hand for a publicity photo, firefighter refused to shake his hand and walked away. Various countries are sending firefighters to help. About 1 billion animals may have been killed by the fires.

Curious convos
J: In the last week you’ve been looking at the moon often. One day you gushed about how cool space is and how awesome it would be to go to space. You said you wished you could go to the moon. I said “Why? There’s nothing there but dirt.” You said “YEAH BUT how cool would it be to leave our planet and land on another place in space. I mean… can you imagine it?” You shook your hands for emphasis.
j you weren’t that interested. But when you thought about it more you thought it would be cool to jump really high. But then you were sad when I said you were more likely to go than I am. “Why?” Because they might not figure things out in my lifetime. And also when technology is new, it won’t be available to everyone. Just like planes.

Abu left on Jan 21. J: “J it’s hard to say goodbye. I want to die before everyone because it’s so hard.” j you made her cry because you didn’t want her to go and you pleaded for her to stay. She never cries.

“Ping!”
j you took your Beast Academy test. You were happy with how you did. You said, “I had one hard problem. I thought about it hard, then PING.”
“Ping? is that the sound your brain makes when you get it?”
“PING!”
“Good thing you practiced, so you were not lost.”
“Yeah, if you didn’t practice you’ll feel like things are highhhhh up in outer space and you can’t reach them. But if you do, it’s like you’re building a rocket you can use to fly to them easily.”

J: “Beans is a good name for a cat”

From uncle after Australia trip: “It was such a fun, warm and loving time having able to spend theses two weeks as a family. The house feels too empty without the laughter and giggles from all of you. I enjoyed teaching J light his first match, build and start his first fire with it. It was great spending time with j with the nips nips of Bilby and we had a nice routine of making teas first thing each morning. Thanks M for holding the family together when E was sick and Kor it was good catching up with you sharing the things we love. Really enjoyed making Christmas ornaments with all of you and celebrating Christmas early. Have a safe flight and we should see each other more often. Xoxo Uncle dumpling.”
From auntie: “Thanks for visiting guys! Was a pleasure having you around and I just wish I hadn’t fallen sick and we missed the carols. But thank you j and J for accompanying me when I literally felt like dying and making me laugh. Have a safe flight back and come back anytime!”

J (out of breath in Australian playground): “The problem with parks is that there are so many places to run.”
Me: “You can walk you know.”
J: “but if you want to get there quicker…”

J (at another Australian playground): “I like this place. It even has cake. It has trampolines and cake! What else do you want?”

This week in pictures

RC cars (upgraded to use two/6.4V 18650 Li-On instead of four/4.8V Ni-Cd batteries)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxtBamg_BOA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oks4T_Y-UsY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJtxbARZQbU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90NKVfd5ZGY

Pinewood Derby
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxQMgIsNAnE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOrc6mN2qNg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15ktb89t8kE

Twitchy programming
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcTBRAQ-Y24
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz_yYdnv3qM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5vACTio7lY

Christmas
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKwu6xb6R5U
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2PzuL68Ibg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2fA7Z41Es8

Lavender Farm Melbourne
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSs6WZTulvo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ldsif9jggvE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE164P__Pbo

Melbourne
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5h4d82nMZEY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Md2zMrHHwGg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2zfG2eH9ww
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxCQqFku_6g
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8Z9grl8c2U
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUmi_5GxpZA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8ftkkgEAvs
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDlqwWNRxa0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO7zOZ913C4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reoXlRbOU08
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDh4e1xc-R0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHV8pAh4Yi4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9tZUyQTpE8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0Il27LA_9g
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEMuuvEjpzQ

BJJ competition
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1oFY0n6vno
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2s-3EWapqdE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9DF3ClYVmc

Walkathon 50th lap
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gVOg4gJhi0

Gymnastics fair
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2eEp202oRs
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-ZSgfS9CEg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG4LnzgRE7U
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WE6z6tbSn4s

View from Beijing office window
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOulqL7P9aM

Veteran mussel foragers
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATPSbx5pAMI

Interesting things
The Sherp all terrain vehicle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrjjV6nGh0g
How to draw like Kim Jung Gi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmqFbgKWoao
Martykhana autonomous drifting Delorean https://youtu.be/3x3SqeSdrAE

Love,
Dumpling