Dear Js,

It was my birthday. You surprised me, or tried to anyway. J told you, “Don’t tell daddy about our secret.” j: “Okay, I won’t tell daddy about the cheesecake.” J: “NO!!! Don’t tell daddy about the cheesecake!!! If you EVER do that again… I will…” so and so and such and such. You were angry at her and I got annoyed. I said, “Look I don’t care. I’m happy you did something for me and I will enjoy it anyway. Now cut it out.”

You wrote a card for me. Oh shit I haven’t opened it yet. I said I was going to save it for later when you gave it to me right after work. OK, it says Happy Birthday in your own writing, with your name and my name. Filled the whole card with just those four words. You’re still learning how about how to use space when writing.

What causes divorce. I once thought it’s the sort of thing that happens to other families, not ours. But now I know it can happen to anyone. Even our family. It’s the juicy thing people like to gossip about or gasp at in tabloids. But I don’t think it’s really about “irreconcilable differences.” I don’t know who popularized that phrase.

I think it happens when one person thinks it’s not worth it anymore. When that person thinks life could be much better without all this.

That’s what happened on night, when mama and I were lying in bed. We were staring at the ceiling in the dark, after another bruising day with you two. We don’t usually spend time together like that anymore. (Which might be a red flag.) Typically near the end of the day, as one of us has the kids, the other showers, rides the exercise bike, or when mama is putting you to bed, I sneak off to the garage. Most nights, after you go to bed, we do our own separate things. It’s been going on like this for a while now. Some nights when I come back into the house, mama’s already asleep. Some other nights, I join her in bed and catch up on an episode or two of House of Cards. At least we still sleep in the same bed, right?

Well that night we were particularly honest with each other. She made a comment about how difficult you two were that day. I said Yup, kids are assholes. She said she loves you but I said maybe I’m not supposed to be a dad. She said “You don’t have to… Well if you want you can be like one of the Silicon Valley dads.” She was referring to the many of them who work long hours and come back home after the kids are asleep. Or those who hire 24/7 nannies (they even do bedtime), and even on weekends.

I said the trouble with kids is that it’s one of the decisions you can’t undo. And no matter what, it’s not your fault, because I made you. And now I’m stuck with you, no matter how I feel about it. I could be an asshole and “leave for cigarettes” and never come back. But I don’t think that’s me. And now that you’re here I just have to force myself to accept the reality that I’m a prisoner. Even if it gets depressing. Prisoner of Love? Prisoner of the product of Sex?

Mama said, “Maybe there’s something we can do, so you have more time.” But I know there’s nothing we can do. I’ve thought it over. Even if I have time, I won’t have the energy. With all the tantrums and screaming and feelings and wanting me to be a dad, there’s already not enough time — as long as I still want to see you kids. No, there’s nothing we can do. This is reality. Denying reality only leads to sadness.

And that’s why I build stupid little shit around the house. Because that’s all I can do right now. Every time I have tried to build anything more complicated, it just leads to frustration and sadness. Like jumping into the ocean and trying to swim with an anchor tied to my waist, while waves slap me up my nose every few minutes, reminding me what a stupid idea it was. It’s frustrating when I’m trying to concentrate, juggling 20 things in my head to try to find a solution to a problem… and then you monkeys don’t stop screaming. Like a few minutes ago, J you were shouting, “GHOSTBUSTUERS!” non stop for 5 minutes. Now you’ve moved on to shouting “OW! OW! OW!” while jumping on your bed. This has gone on for another 5 minutes. I felt like running in there and yelling, “SHUT UP!” But instead I’m the one to blame for the stupid idea. You want to do work while kids around? PFfft. You should know better. Dumbass. So I closed all my code windows and I’m back to doing something less demanading, like writing this letter to you.

I can’t do much more without more time… at least not by living a double life or working a full-time job and moonlighting. (I don’t know if it’s true, but in the time before the Internet, apparently 30% of US households subscribed to some sort of “success” education, and about the same percentage engaged in some sort of “moonlighting” activity like part-time selling, tupperware-parties, etc.) Anyway, the only way I’d have more time is if I sacrificed the little time I spend with you, or replaced my full-time job with a full-time activity that was somehow more lucrative AND important (which would likely consume more time.)

I told a friend that kids are like terrorists — time terrorists. They hold you — your time — hostage. Every minute, they threaten to detonate a bomb that vaporizes your time. Like the other night we were all in bed, ready to go to sleep. After 30 minutes of fidgeting, j, you say, “I’m hungry.” Mama said we’re done with dinner time; you cried. Boom. 1-2 hours more to get food out and feed you, then put you back to sleep. By the time we clean up and shower, it’s past midnight and you go FUCKKKKKK! Forget all the things you fantasized about catching up on after the kids went to bed. Now there’s only time to sleep, or you take sleep debt to stay awake longer and hate yourself the next morning because you kids wake up the same time every day.

Anyway, I said to mama that the only way I can do anything significant is by spending 100% of my best daytime hours working on useful things. But I can’t do anything risky, because I’m the sole breadwinner. Since I don’t want to sacrifice more time, and I can’t accept an income drop… each time I dissect this the conclusion is: I will have to wait.

And meanwhile, build things, keep busy, keep my tools sharp and my brain moist… even if it’s by building stupid things. Mama said little things can often lead to bigger things. I agreed. That’s something I say myself. She said, “Maybe we can give you more time to work on them.” But I don’t even care about the stupid shit I make. They’re just things to do. Like putting together a puzzle, watering the plants or walking the dog. I’m not going to sacrifice faily time to focus on building more stupid shit, to invest in the small chance that it could lead to something. It’d be different if I cared about it, but I don’t. And for things I do care about, I need serious time to do serious things.
And build stupid things. All I have time for are stupid little things.

Then she says see this is why she worries that I’ll leave. She says she wants to work, just in case. I said if you want to do that — just in case — go ahead, I can’t stop you. She said she wants to give the best for you kids. I said you will. We all do. Maybe it won’t be in this house, but no matter what, parents always find a way, and whatever the kids have will be all they know. That probably did not help ease her worries about me leaving. I was honest. I admitted that it’s something I wonder about from time to time.

I said, “Fucking kids. And this fucking dog.” I kicked Kimi off the bed. She was probably asleep under the covers; she landed on the floor like a heap of sticks, confused. Mama scolded me, “What did she do?” I said that’s for all the times she did something. She said, “If you resent then so much why not work more and not come home. Why be half-present?” I said, “If you think being half present doesn’t make a difference, I’ll stop coming home. What do you think? Does it make a difference?” She was silent for a bit, but said of course it makes a difference. I said, “Of course it makes a difference…”

Since that chat that night, mama has left me to sleep alone while she slept in your room with you two. I guess she concluded that what I needed from her was space. Not sure if that’s true. I didn’t ask for it. We’ve stopped our short-lived routine of watching Breaking Bad and House of Cards together after you go to bed. I’ve instead banished myself to the garage. Where it’s cold as f. And I keep stirring. Building. Reading. Like a garage Bruce Lee, training for a fight that may never come.

I’m trying to learn to let go. Ignore more things. Close my eyes more. Let things happen — I don’t have to maintain the order. Let things break. Slow down.
It’s a daily struggle, having to be realistic with what can and cannot be, and to be present instead.

Yesterday I came home and j you rushed me at the door. I dropped my things around me. I usually worried about putting them away… keys in basket, lunchbox to kitchen, bag away, etc. But that day I was sad. You pushed a book into my hand and sat on my lap and said, “Can you read?” And so I did. I was tired and sad but, whatever, I read. I hated reading it. But every now and then you’d look at me and smile and that made me smile too. You made me read it over and over. I was too sad to refuse so I kept reading. Usually when I come home I’d go say hi to everyone. And then it’d be a circus. But this time it was nice. Just sitting by the front door, the 2 of us. J was somewhere else, he didn’t run to welcome me home but that’s okay. I liked that quiet moment we had. Then j you got up and left. I ate dinner from cold containers that were about to go back to the fridge, while standing by the counter. J, I noticed you lying on the kitchen floor. I ignored you and hoped you’d go away. But I guess you wanted to listen to the story playing on mama’s laptop, and be near me without being near me. So I sat down with you and scooped you up. You told me about the girls at school who laughed at you and told you that “That’s not for boys.” But you said that it wasn’t true. I never found out what it was, but we had a chat about how different families are different. But that you’ll always be with people who love you in this family. And in our family we don’t give a shit about what’s for girls or boys. It was a nice moment.

I don’t know what it means to be a dad. Maybe it’s all to do with getting stuck with a force you can’t get away from. Like running from a train. And eventually I trip and get run over. Because you’ll never be good enough. And because of that you’ll never run out of reasons to quit. But like anything, if you can stick around just a little bit longer, you get to enjoy it when things get better. Never mind that they’ll get bad again, don’t let that cheat you of the good times.

In the mean time, we tend to buy things to distract ourselves. To distract you kids. Sure it can be a problem, but it’s such an easy quick fix. It gives us a break. It takes the pressure of your insatiable curious energy off us for a little. Like buy an activity book to keep you busy. Buy a dragon float so you’ll have something exciting for the pool for a couple of evenings. I constantly have parts and widgets shipped to me from China for tinkering. Like a PIR motion detector, AC/DC converter, relays, microcontrollers, …

Bah, so here look what I made recently for our house…

Sprinkler system update

It’s a wire spaghetti and a possible fire hazard… but hey it works!

I made friends with one neighbor. Mr K. I first ran into him while he was working on his RV. Since then I’ve been secretly avoiding him because every time we start talking, we can get stuck for over an hour. Now I prefer to email him. Anyway he’s excited about my silly little home projects and I’m always excited to hear about his. He does many things but right now he remodels houses and he seems to be good with landscaping. And I’m not sure if he was serious but I think he said he used to be in the Marine Corp.

I sent him a letter as I was finishing up the software for my sprinkler system:

Did you notice the TORRENTIAL rain we got the other day? 🙂
Sorry I’ve been quiet. I’ve been wrestling with the software on those little microcontroller chips I showed you. It would have been easier if I got more expensive/fancy chips. Instead, I’m stubbornly trying to make it work with the cheap ones — so I need to make the software do the heavy lifting to make the unreliable, error-prone things reliable. Just lots of stupid little things, you know… like…

What if the thing loses internet while the sprinkler is on? Does it stay stuck on overnight and flood the yard?
What happens if it fails to sync its clock?
And earlier in the week it was crashing regularly, just like how any program does. But finally it looks like it’s stable. The latest program I have loaded has been solid for days, keeping time, keeping a steady connection with the internet.

I’ve also been working on the “app” to control the system from your phone. I’m almost there, just gotta hook up the buttons in the app to the chip. Then, after I trust my chip enough, hook it up to the sprinklers.

I’ll come grab you when I have the manual ON/OFF button working. I.e., tap on my phone to turn my front lawn sprinkler on, tap to turn it off. Almost there!

Sorry for the long email! I guess I can write almost as much as you can talk, right? 😉

How have you been?

After I showed him the working system, I decided to make a scaled-down version of it. Basically, an internet-controlled switch:

Because, his idea was to make smarter sprinklers. Not octopus-wires controlled centrally from the garage like mine, but distributed so you can plug-n-play drop them anywhere in your garden. When I work the details out in my head, it sounds awfully painful to build. Many moving parts, many unknowns, many parts that don’t quite work with each other. So that’s why I thought I’m just gonna build my standard controller first. Just to get a feel for things and find parts that I feel solid about. But now that that’s done, I’m interested in Mr K’s idea. But I’m too lazy to drive the project. So I came up with a plan. I figured that I held the software piece of the puzzle. He could hack together the rest of the package. So I thought what if I could give him a universal software cog that he could play with? That’s why netswitch. Because the basic piece of any smart system is a switch. I’m hoping that by giving him this netswitch, he has a concrete idea of what you need to power the unit, how it can connect with other things, how big the parts are, etc. Then he can start jerry-rigging it together with whatever parts he has lying around. Then hopefully one day he’ll come over say “Look what I made!” and then we’ll be ready to take the next step.

Preparing for vacation. I have decided on the primary goal for all my home automation projects. You need a goal, because otherwise you can get lost spending too much time/money automating everything. I decided my goal is peace of mind. I.e., if we leave the home for up to a month, we have piece of mind that it will be safe and nothing breaks or dies. Simple enough, right? That’s why I was rushing with the sprinklers. Our Malaysia trip is soon, and I don’t have much time to build, test and fix. I just provisioned two $9 smartphones for use as IP cameras. They were cheap because they were sold as prepaid phones, assuming they’d make money from you when you buy minutes. But jokes on them! The phones have WiFi and I don’t care about making calls. Now they are hooked up to my home hub and can detect motion, record footage and email me alerts. I wish I had more time to test the systems so I can feel surer about them. (E.g., the backyard camera overheated today, and I needed to give it a shield from the sun.) But they will have to do for now.

God? I was raised Catholic and my parents are still devout Catholics. I’m not one any more. But all the making stuff made me think of God. What if God is just like me, buliding shit in his “garden”? Even as an atheist, I can accept that it’s plausible that we’re the product of intelligent design. But I think it’s unlikely that God is a watchmaker. That’s not how bulk beings would make complex creations like Life and humans. Complex things are made with systems that make complex things simple. So it’s more likely that they orchestrated a system, then set of the Big Bang to start everything in motion. I imagine them rejoicing that IT WORKED! (for once!) I imagine them sitting back and admiring their work, reluctant to touch things for fear they might screw something up. I imagine them tinkering and making tweaks here and there. But who knows how many Big Bangs the Gods made. Who knows how many failed. To us, our existence bubble seems like an eternity, but to God it could be just the product of one “weekend project”. Then I imagine what else occupied God during the workweek. At God’s level, you probably have bigger concerns than the feelings of puny humans who happened to pop in and out of existence in a blip of time. Kinda like how little I care about ants, or electrons that zip around the many wires in my backyard… while I’m busy fixing the WiFi driver on my microcontroller so it can fetch a sprinkler schedule from the server… while I try to escape from my kids in the garage and ignore more complicated problems at work.

Yeaaa… so I can imagine that a “God” made us. But I can’t imagine a supreme being giving a shit. That means there’s probably no heaven or hell. So yes, you might say that this doesn’t change anything, because our creator is still a mystery. But this — at least to me — reduces the chance that God is listening to your prayers, or is a “Personal God.” But it’s so tempting to believe. It feels so pointless and empty otherwise, doesn’t it? After all, that’s why humans invented God — to fill the painful void, isn’t it?

Halloween. J, you were a Scorpion. You visited Auntie L’s husband’s office again. They have a big Halloween family thing every year and one of the things everyone does is put a bowl of candy out by their office. One bowl had a robot hand that would try to grab you as you reached into the bowl. j when you saw it move you didn’t stop. You snatched the candy you wanted then said to mama, “The hand surprised me, but I GOT IT.” Mama said you were pale and afraid, but you didn’t cry. You were proud of your triumph over the bowl hand. Then you went to one cube where a guy offered you a bowl and said “Take one.” You looked into the bowl and you were not impressed. You pointed to the candy bag in the back. He said, “No baby, not the bag. Take one from the bowl. Here.” You pointed at the bag and said, “But I like yellow…” He said, “ok, ok, ok…” and you smiled.

8 bots for the price of 4. There was a strange series of events that led to me getting more than I paid for. But I’m a thief because I said nothing. Here’s what happened…

I bought a couple of line-following robots called Ozobots. There was a deal where they came in packs of 2. I got 2 packs of 2 = 4 bots total. When they arrived I gave each of you one. Then you did something interesting. You would periodically pick yours up and put it to your ear. After the 4th time I realized that you were ID-ing yours by sound. See there were no distinguishing differences between yours and j’s, since they are mass-produced. So you used sound to ID yours vs hers, like it was the perfectly normal thing to do. Like if you bought two cars of the same model, and you telling which one is yours by leaning over the hood and listening to the engine. You said yours went “wrrrrr” and hers went “weeeeee”. Every now and then you’d pick yours up and put it to your ear to make sure it was still yours. I gave you a sticker and said dude cut it out, just use this.

The next day, I discovered that yours went “wrrrrr” because it had a bad motor. Eventually one wheel stopped turning.

So I wrote to the seller to try to ask for a replacement. I explained that I had bought 4, but 3 were fine. I just wanted to return one. First, they said sorry, no stock. We can give a partial refund and I keep the item, or wait to do RMA for full refund. I said I don’t want a refund. I liked them and wanted to keep them. I explained that I also promised them as birthday presents for some of your friends.

They replied, “I understand your concern regarding your order. I’ve checked and see that replacement will take at least 7-8 business days, if you’d not like to wait then refunding is an option.”

I said, “I am willing to wait. Could you please send me replacements? Thank you!”

What was interesting was that each reply the company sent me was signed by a different representative. This was unusual. Usually they assign cases to individuals. But I guess the problem with that is one case can languish while waiting for the assigned agent to reply. So, to speed up response time, they have employed a free-for-all system where any agent can reply to the top case. Great for response time, but as you will see soon, also great for misunderstandings.

Next agent replied: “Sorry to hear you never received this item. There are replacements available so I have submitted a new order and you will receive updated tracking soon. We greatly appreciate your patience. – Nate”

But I did receive the item. I knew what happened. He was referring to the first ticket I opened, where my shipment got stuck for over a month. But that got resolved and I eventually received it. My new case was about the defective unit. But Nate thought my problem was it was still lost in transit. I could have corrected him, but I waited instead.

5 days later… “Hi Nate, I still haven’t received any tracking info after your email 5 days ago. Is my order okay?”

A different agent replied, “Sorry you haven’t received your order. Please contact FedEx to initiate a driver follow-up/trace. They will research the delivery and contact you with more information. We would ask that you be the one to make this call because they will ask specific questions about the delivery location. In the meantime, please check with your neighbors and/or complex office (if applicable) to ensure that they have not received the package in error. – Vishu”

NO VISHU! Bring back Nate! I wrote back, “Sorry, that was not what I was asking about. I already received the order, but the product was defective. Nate said he was going to send me replacements. What I was asking for is, what is the NEW tracking number for the replacements?” As you can see, I felt guilty keeping up the ruse, so I re-stated that I did receive my stuff — I just wanted replacements. I further quoted Nate: “Nate told me earlier that: ‘There are replacements available so I have submitted a new order and you will receive updated tracking soon. We greatly appreciate your patience.’

Because of that, they sent the case to Nate, who replied, “Hello, Sorry for the delay. Your order is currently in transit. Please see the updated link https://www.fedex.com/XXXXX. It is in transit and should arrive Wednesday. – Nate”

And that’s how we got 8 line-following robots for the price of 4. Well 7, since 1 was defective. We gave away many to your friends for their birthday.

Curious convos

J: Why do the boys have straight hair and girls have curly hair?
Me: Genes. My family has straight hair, mama’s family has curly hair. When children are born, they get a mix of genes from their parents and grandparents and ancestors. What you get depends on what mix you have…
J: I noticed that j is a little whiter. Where did j’s white come from?
Mama: My great grandma had black hair and blue eyes and fair skin.

J, I gave you an email account and you have started emailing me. Sometimes you email me paragraphs you copy from a book:
J: “Hi are dinosaur skeletons the oldest fossil bones from prehistoric monsters? No not even close The oldest giant skeletons come from the devonian Period 370 million years Ago that’s long long before there were any dinos!”
Me to Mama: “J is typing his books to me.”
Mama: “I know, I was trying to get him to eat lunch and he was ‘too busy working typing that for daddy’. This J!”

Other times, the emails look like:
J to mama: “Hi mom do you know acanthostega? I love you”

Or:
J to me: “Hi! Lets play. Do you still love me if I’m calling j names? To daddy from J”

Or:
Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:
mama@gmail.com
J tried to send email to mama@gmail.com:
“Hi mommy I love you”

j: When I grow up I’m going to be a boy and have a penis.
Mama: Sorry baby, you are a girl. Girls don’t have penis.
j: My vulva is going to grow in a penis.”
Mama: No, it won’t.
At Target I took J to look at toys, while j strolled by the boxers/briefs section.
j (singing): “Penis penis penis, penis penis penis”

I’ve been losing my temper more frequently with you monkeys lately. You have been hitting each other often. I want to hit you but your mom and I decided not to do that. Even though that was how I was raised. So the only thing I have is my voice. When you cross the line, the images that flash in my head are my parents raising their hand, or my dad removing his belt or throwing me across the floor. I feel the same urge to slap the snot out of you, but I slap you with my words instead. When we’re both done sulking one day, I said to you, “We’ll never hit you.” That was difficult for me to say, because now it made it harder to go back on it. It meant that I was committed now. “We don’t hit each other because we’re family. You and your sister are family. Don’t hit your family.” What’s helpful is I can only say things like this because I have never hit you. And if lose it one day, it will be much harder to make the case against hitting.

J: I dreamed there was a gorilla in class.
Mama: Was there was a banana at snack time?
J: Yeaaaaaaaaaaa

New developments

Empathy.
J: You know mama, sometimes when I see you sad, I feel sad too.
Mama hugged you and explained that it was called empathy and what that means.
J: You know, sometimes I don’t only feel that way for you, but for some of my friends too.
Mama: “That’s good J!” She was proud of you.

On the other hand, j has no trouble with that. She runs to hug you whenever you’re sad. One time she stopped playing and shouted, “My brother is crying!” and ran to you.

Mama has taken up knitting. She is working on a scarf.

j found false black widow in tub. Mama captured it in cup to investigate further. We found that its bite causes the same symptoms as a black widow’s. It hurts, but not life-threatening. When we came back it had made a web hammock in the middle of the cup. A few hours later I found another one and put it in with the first one. The first one wrapped it in web. The second one tried to escape. First one kept wrapping it until the second one gave up. Then the first one ate it.

Copying big brother.
J: I want mango yogurt!
j: I want mango yogurt!
You’re becoming good friends. But it’s a weird relationship. Maybe because you left many friends at our old home, you only have each other.


j you’re talking a lot more in your sleep. You’re starting to recount your day. Most of the times it’s what J did to you. You also love walking out to the garden barefoot. You open the door and run to play like it’s the most natural thing to do. Walk right out, pick up chalk, pick up PVC pipe, kick a ball, …

We’re trying to help you learn to go potty. It’s been a war. Mama and I take turns sitting with you in the bathroom for hours. You just hold your pee and scream. Then as soon as you’re not on the potty, you pee where you shouldn’t and make a mess. There were many accidents.

You’re getting better at Bing. During the first week mama had to sit inside the classroom or you’d cry. Now mama is able to move out into the observation room. Some days, she’s been able to sneak away to run some errands. You’re starting to have a lot of fun at Bing, and you’ve made a few friends to play with. But teachers say that we have to work with you on your screaming. You are screaming and crying to get what you want. So we’re putting our foot down on that B.S. at home. Not gonna stand for any more of your bullying.

Meanwhile, mama has joined a monthly “mom’s night out” Karaoke with other moms at your pre-school. That means that every month, I have you two by myself and mama gets a little break. She comes back around midnight or later, and she comes back happy. She has gone twice now.

This week in pictures

Spitachio swing

Drawing book does a pretty good job teaching drawing

Fishie song

Bedtime monkeys

Auntie L, our old neighbor visited


Bear at class

Turtle back game

“I’m busy eating”

Trick or treat

To crocodile creek

Journey to the whale

Puzzle

Happy birthday to me

ozobot

This is our Christmas tree this year. We'll resume our usual tree tradition next year

This is our Christmas tree this year. We’ll resume our usual tree tradition next year

Reindeer is back though

Reindeer is back though

Children's conference

Children’s conference

Pooped after school

Pooped after school

Breakfast monster

Breakfast monster

We love our new garden

We love our new garden

Mama bought you PVC pipes for building. You monkeys use it for hitting each other

Mama bought you PVC pipes for building. You monkeys use it for hitting each other

J likes to run laps around the pool

J likes to run laps around the pool

Our neighbor Auntie L and little A came to visit

Our neighbor Auntie L and little A came to visit

Here we are testing the fisheye lens I got for our home-made security cameras

Here we are testing the fisheye lens I got for our home-made security cameras

Ooooo

Ooooo

Group pic!

Group pic!

You grabbed it and took pictures

You grabbed it and took pictures

Kimi obliges

Kimi obliges

It rained. You were looking at what you call "the river".

It rained. (El Nino.) You were looking at what you call “the river”.

Hahaha mama took this picture for Titi

Hahaha mama took this picture for Titi

Mama found this used table for working/eating. I put felt under the legs so you monkeys won't scratch the floor

Mama found this used table for working/eating. I put felt under the legs so you monkeys won’t scratch the floor

j riding frog

j riding frog

This is one of the places you go to with mama on Fridays, while J is at school

This is one of the places you go to with mama on Fridays, while J is at school

Girls' outing

Girls’ outing

Pictures from your two's class

Pictures from your two’s class

Another pic from your teachers

Another pic from your teachers

You were scorpion and kitten this year

You were scorpion and kitten this year

Side view of scorpion costume. Mama sewed it together. I helped make the tail stingy

Side view of scorpion costume. Mama sewed it together. I helped make the tail stingy

j didn't last very long trick or treating

j didn’t last very long trick or treating

You walked until your feet stopped working. Here you are examining your bounty

You walked until your feet stopped working. Here you are examining your bounty

Chalk drawings

Chalk drawings

Playing sweetly, seconds before j drew on J's head and made him cry

Playing sweetly, seconds before j drew on J’s head and made him cry

Friend's birthday

Friend’s birthday

Kabra

Kabra

Joyriding

Joyriding

This is the workbench I set up. The workbench was already there, I put the solid top from my old L-shaped desk on it.  That way, I have a nice, clean, smooth surface for my sort of work

This is the workbench I set up. The workbench was already there, I put the solid top from my old L-shaped desk on it. That way, I have a nice, clean, smooth surface for my sort of work

Today, it is a guitar hospital

Today, it is a guitar hospital

My guitar cracked when I brought it to America with me by plane. I brought it back on the 2nd or 3rd trip home. It was nice to have my old friend again, but I was very sad that it cracked. Years later, I was tired of feeling sad every time I picked her up, so I decided to fix it.

My guitar cracked when I brought it to America with me by plane. I brought it back on the 2nd or 3rd trip home. It was nice to have my old friend again, but I was very sad that it cracked. Years later, I was tired of feeling sad every time I picked her up, so I decided to fix it.

Turtle surfing

Turtle surfing

Riding with mama

Riding with mama

Kimi loves the garden

Kimi loves the garden

So does j

So does j

This is our new library. You brought Hello Kitty

This is our new library. You brought Hello Kitty

Sleep WINS

Sleep WINS

Circle Kittens in the garden

Circle Kittens in the garden

We visited the Elementary School playground today. It's been a while since we did. J and I made you a woodchip moutain so you could reach the bar

We visited the Elementary School playground today. It’s been a while since we did. J and I made you a woodchip moutain so you could reach the bar

Three monkeys

Three monkeys

It was a good chance to get you back on the bike. Usually you get tired of it quickly but this time you rode all the way there and back

It was a good chance to get you back on the bike. Usually you get tired of it quickly but this time you rode all the way there and back

You'll be ready for a pedal bike soon

You’ll be ready for a pedal bike soon

The latest book I’m reading is Iacocca’s autobiography. I just started, so no opinions yet.

Here we are reading together on the couch. You're reading James and the Giant Peach.

Here we are reading together on the couch. You’re reading James and the Giant Peach.

My old green couch followed us here, now in the family room next to the kitchen. Still super comfy and great for reading

My old green couch followed us here, now in the family room next to the kitchen. Still super comfy and great for reading

Interesting things

Jumping spider robot fires trailing web for soft landing. Cardboard car. Your skin is covered in invisible stripes. Black hole eats sun. The Wim Hof method for enduring extreme colds naked. How not to use a fire extinguisher. Old Spice ads made with 100% practical effects. Henry David Thoreau, hypocrite, liar, human. Pranks and hoaxes that save lives and change the world.

Overheard at an online forum, about children:
“Having a toddler is like being on a permanent escort mission: A low AI character tries to follow you around, and if you’re not careful enough, they’ll find a way to kill themselves.”
“First they’re a status condition, then a static item (tamagachi?), then a low AI escort mission, then co-op, then DOTA multiplayer, then text based adventure, and finally facebook mini-game.”

Quote of the month: “People are more interested in how they appear to and are thought of by other people, than personal benefit.” Something to remember when selling a product or service.


It’s getting cold in California. El Nino brought rain and cold. The garage is freezing. But I still come out here to escape.

At the new house, my commute is shorter. I get to wake up a little later, and spend a little more time with you monkeys in the morning. When you ask me to read a book, I can say yes. Want to build a fort? I can say yes. Want me to draw a Stegosaurus for you to cut out? I can say yes. I also get to reserve a little bit more energy each day, because I don’t have to burn it fighting traffic jams.

Lost tongues. Once upon a time, I used to be able to speak Malay fluently. It’s not unusual, everyone who studies in Malaysia becomes fluent in Malay through compulsory lessons. I remembered it because a friend asked me, “Do you remember what it’s like to speak Malay? Or Cantonese? A vague, long forgotten memory of yourself speaking it in another lifetime. Once upon a time you spoke it and you heard it everyday for years. Then one day you don’t remember it anymore and what it felt like to speak another language. You feel frustrated because you were pretty decent at it and you just haven’t practiced in so long.. It used to be inherent and now it’s just a struggle.”

I replied, “Yes, I remember. I don’t remember being fluent in it. I just remember that I somehow knew it — it was imbued into me even when I made no attempt to keep it. And somehow when I needed to call upon it, it was there and ready, and I could say what I wanted to say. But now it’s gone. I don’t use it, and more importantly, I don’t hear it. I am convinced that if I heard it spoken every day, I wouldn’t have ‘lost it.’ And the scary part is I’m going back to KL in one month. I don’t know what is where anymore, I have a foreign wife, mixed kids who sound like Americans, and I can’t even speak the languages to prove to people that I’m local. Because I’m not anymore. For the first time in my life, I’m going to be visiting Malaysia as a tourist, or an outsider.”

I’m stressed because I’m a little scared. It doesn’t feel like home anymore. It’s a strange thing to say, because when I first arrived here it was cold and foreign and Malaysia was the home I missed.

Anyway, I have a stack of newsletters and books that I’ve been trying to catch up with. Buying and moving into the new house derailed my routine. I’ll probably take them back with me to Malaysia, try to squirrel some time to catch up. I’m not looking forward to it. Our schedule is already packed because of my parents’ plans to parade you — my kids — to everyone, every day. There’s no doubt, this is not a vacation.

I received a picture from an old friend. She sends me pictures every now and then, to share good news. I helped her launch her non-profit a few years ago.

This is a picture of a girl who was almost left to die at a Ukrainian hospital. That’s not unusual, there are many girls like her. My friend met her at a place where children are left to die; in the countryside where they don’t bother anyone. She was bedridden and she ate through a tube in her nose. Then, out of the blue, yesterday, she sent me a picture.

Princess M

The picture was titled, “Princess M.” A family in America has adopted her. She was sitting. And her tube was gone.

And another overdue good news from our dance teacher uncle JRD. 1.5 years after I gave him his online biz, he’s moving out to his own place for the first time in his life. He’ll be sharing a house with other dancers. His rent is $1K a month. He’s been consistently making $2K a month online. I guess after almost TWO years, he finally decided that the income was dependable enough to commit to rent. His girlfriend of a billion years didn’t move in with him though. He says she’s happy at her place. But at least his new place will be closer to her, as well as the Bay Area dance scenes.

Love,

Dad

P.S. Next letter will probably be from Malaysia! Or maybe after, seeing how every day gives me some reason or other to hate you monkeys and not feel like writing.

P.P.S. Mama’s having a blast decorating our house for Christmas. We have more space to decorate so she’s pulled everything we have out of all the boxes. We won’t be here but she’s decorating anyway. She’s happy, you kids are having fun. I’m sad we won’t get to spend Christmas here. I much prefer a quiet Christmas with our family in our nice new home than the madness that awaits us in Malaysia. But sigh being an adult means making sacrifices.

P.P.P.S. F-yeah! I feel great for finally finishing this letter, because it was so difficult to write lately.