Sleepless in Athens

I am having some difficulty to sleep over the past two days, possibly because of my dad's death. There is this strange feeling that creeps up when I am lying on the bed that just makes me space out but not fall asleep. It is not exactly sadness, like what I've experienced when my grandma died (which is the saddest event in my life so far). The feeling is more like some kind of emptiness and loneliness.


Dad passed away

Dad just passed away after a two-year long battle with his liver cancer. Although we all see this coming for a very long time, it's still difficult to deal with the feelings.

Looking at the bright side, we are fortunate enough to be able to visit him twice and to spend some time with him when his health is still not too bad. We should be grateful for that.


Good things come in pairs

Ann told me to pick something that is motorcycle-related for my Christmas and here's what I got:

  • Oxtar Matrix 2 Gore-Tex Boots

  • Sidi Coolmax Monza Socks

  • FirstGear Mesh Sport Gloves

Initially I couldn't decide between Oxtar Matrix 2 and TCS Evo RX Boots, since the Oxtar will be better for my commute and the TCX will be better for weekend fun rides. Ann was really nice and told me to get both (the price on newenough.com was really good). In the end I figured that's too much and decided to go with the Oxtar.

The new boots are very comfortable and look really nice. They arrived just in time to replace my old ones (Tour Master Response, worn out after about a year of daily use). Hopefully this new pair will last longer.


Alyssa "23-teeth" Kuo

Alyssa has another molar came out today and she couldn't be happier about that.


Annoying commercials

"This holiday season, what do you give to people who have everything?"

How about NOTHING? You idiots!

Those stupid radio commercials really get to me, particularly when I am struggling with my physical therapy.


A ride around town

This afternoon I met with a fellow Ninja 250 rider Brad (purestfeeling) in Athens and went for a ride in the area.

We first went north to Jefferson, back to Athens, then south to Watkinsville, and back to Athens again. The ride was very enjoyable although the weather was not so nice. The temperature was about 40F and wind was 20mph+ with 30mph+ of gust. At the end of our 2hr ride, my fingers were really cold. Fortunately a hot shower quickly fixed that.

Taking the little Ninja through the back roads was really a lot of fun, much more enjoyable than blasting along the interstates. This ride reminds me what I really like about this bike and provides some relieve to my itching for another bike.


Horrible uncle David

Alyssa and Vivian were playing the "baby game" with their baby dolls again today. When they invited "uncle" David to visit the babies, David instantly grabs the baby dolls and throws them all the way across the room so that he can sit on the occupied high chair. We all have a good laugh when we see this. Hopefully he will learn not to do this when he becomes a "real" uncle.

Alyssa "22-teeth" Kuo

Alyssa has another permanent tooth came out today, this time a central incisor in the bottom. The problem was that all her baby teeth are still in place so the new tooth is coming out behind the baby ones. Don't really look forward to the dental appointment next week.


Alyssa's violin recital

Alyssa had her end of the year recital today. Because David is still struggling with the jet lag, I took the girls to the recital while Ann stayed at home. The girls dressed up really nicely. Too bad that David and Ann couldn't come, otherwise we'd have a really picture for greeting cards.

Initially I was worried that Alyssa would have trouble with jet lag too, surprisingly she did quite well.

We stopped by briefly at Dave's house for the Promislow/Hall lab party afterwards. But at that time the girls were too tired so we only stayed for about 5 minutes.


Nice to be back to home

After a very very long trip, we finally made it back to Athens from Taiwan. It's REALLY good to be home.

This trip to Taiwan is really exhausting, both physically and mentally. On one hand I am really glad that we made this trip and somehow accomplished something. For one the kids are really happy to see their grandparents and vice versa. On the other hand there are also some very strong emotions that I found really difficult to deal with.


Advancement in communication technology

Not satisfied with calling her friends on the phone, Alyssa started email her friends this week. I mean, they are a bunch of 5-year old kids. I wonder what this generation will do by the time they turn 20.


GRR meet in Taiwan

I had a very unusual GRR meet today, which should be titled "A Taiwanese who is living in US visits an American who is living in Taiwan".

Bokonon is a very active member in our Ninja 250 club. In fact, most of the amazing FAQ is from his hard work. He is living with his wife in Taiwan now so I took the chance to meet up with him and had a very enjoyable GRR meet.

He is kind enough to come all the way from Linko to Hsinchu City to meet up with me. We had lunch in a Subway restaurant (guess you can find all major US fast food chains here now) that is close to the train station (visible in the background). In order to comply with the GRR rule that we must have a Ninja 250 in the meet picture, I took a photo of my bike to the meet. Hopefully John will let us get away with this. :)

We had a good chat about motorcycles and life in US/Taiwan. I look forward to meeting with him again sometime.


The sound of music

In order for Alyssa to keep up with her violin practice, we brought her violin back to Taiwan with us this time. She is very excited to have her grandma to practice with her. It is a real beautiful view (and sound) seeing them playing together.

My daughter wants to be a bun

Alyssa told us that she wants to be a 饅頭 today. The reason is that Vivian is our 小蛋蛋 and David is our 阿肉. Together, they can be their grandpa's favorite breakfast, 饅頭肉排蛋.


Vivian the great escape artist

We spent our first night in Taiwan in Ann's parents' house. Because there wasn't enough beds in the house, I have Vivian with me while Ann took care of David and Alyssa.

Because of the jet lag and everything, Vivian had a difficult time sleeping so I held her in my arms and let her chose a stuffed animal before going to bed. When I woke up in the morning, I found the stuffed animal in my arms while Vivian has her head against the foot board in the corner. I really wonder how she did it.

Blogging from Taiwan

After a 28+ hours trip, we finally made it back to Taiwan. The trip with three little kids was exhausting but not as bad as we expected. Tomorrow we'll drive from Hsin-Chu to Tainan to see my father, hope this will go well.


What a productive day

I submitted two manuscripts this afternoon and that gets all my dissertation chapters out of the door. I feel so happy about getting this done before my big trip back to Taiwan.


A budding blogger

This evening Alyssa kept coming to ask me about how to spell some words, and before I know it, she finished writing a note to her friends about our trip to Taiwan, that she will find some presents for them, and we will be back soon. My kids never fail to surprise me about how fast they are learning things. At this rate, Alyssa could start her own blog pretty soon.


Unlicensed and uninsured contractor

Our fridge broke down a couple days ago and our life has been kind of miserable because of that. The only good thing is that it is still covered by the 1-year warranty so hopefully we won't have to pay for the repair. However, the warranty seems to be the cheapo kind and I have to play the role of an unlicensed and uninsured contractor to fix the fridge by myself while their customer service representative teach me how to do things on the phone.
Two days ago, after a interesting series of "telediagnosis" (no, not the high-tech kind), they decided that the problem was caused by a fan motor failure. So they sent me a replacement motor and ask me to install the new motor. Unfortunately that didn't solve the problem so it looks like this is going to take a couple more days. I wonder if I should just bite the bullet and pay for a better and faster service. Will find out about this tomorrow.


Busy time

So we are going back to Taiwan in less than 10 days, and our to-do list of things that need to be done before we go just keeps growing. Some are expected, and many more are unexpected.

The good thing is that the main concern, my proposal for a NSF postdoc fellowship, is almost done so I will definitely get it in with time to spare. I still have two manuscripts that need revision before I can send them off. Maybe I'll have to bring some serious work on the trip after all.

Things at home are not going so well. Our not-even-one-year-old-yet fridge just stopped working and it'll take at least a couple days to get it fixed. In the mean time our quality of life is greatly impacted, but that doesn't seemed to be covered by any warranty. The car may need a new battery otherwise we face the possibility of a dead battery when we get back, which is a situation that I definitely want to avoid. Nina has been seen by the vet and has all her vaccinations up to date, but she is not happy about not getting enough attention and is becoming more and more annoying (hence getting less and less attention, *sigh*).


Okay, I am getting old after all

After days of procrastination, I finally have my knee checked by a doctor. As it turned out, I actually cracked my knee cap so it's much more serious than I've thought. Time to watch my calcium and Vitamin D intake I guess.


Getting ready to chew

David is going through a growth spurt for his teeth over the past few weeks. He even has a molar now! We are joking that maybe he knows about our trip to Taiwan and is getting ready for all the delicious food there.


Trick or treat at the library

Our public library has the annual trick or treat tonight. We always enjoy this event because the kids get to dress up (and see other kids too). What's even better is that they give kids all kinds of small and fun toys, instead of the candies that we don't allow the kids to eat. Unfortunately I couldn't go this year because of my knee injury, so Ann took all three kids there by herself this evening.

The librarian who got the nod for best costume is Mr. Broccoli this year.

Actually I'm still too young

Upon further reflection on my recent stupid injuries, I realized that the real cause was that I'm still too young, rather than too old. First of all, if I was a bit older (either mentally or physically), I probably won't be playing those silly games with the girls. Secondly, although I no longer want to win everything at any cost, I still want to win a lot of things. When I was explaining to the girls that I was hurt so bad because I fell when running really fast, Vivian asked me a question that hit the key point: "Daddy, why do you want to run really fast?" And finally, I still can run really fast. According to the formula E = (m * v^2)/2, tripping over some unknown objects can have serious consequences when one is running at a fast speed.

Anyway, my knee is good enough to carry me back to office today. As expected, everyone (except Jessie) asked me if I had a bike-related accident. I told everyone that the real story was far more embarrassing than that, and people with kids seem to be able to understand. Jessie asked me if I injured myself while having fun or just doing something silly, and my answer to that was "I was doing something silly to have fun at that time".


It sucks to be old

Even when you are only a bit over 30. Because when compared to a 3 year-old, you are very very very old.

Yesterday I was playing with Alyssa and Vivian and fell down while running. I have seen this happened to them countless times now, and all they have to do is stand up, brush the dirt off, and maybe cry for a minute or two, then they are good to go again. But for me, I sustained a bad knee injury, serious scrapes on palms/fingers/knees/left shoulder, and couldn't stand up for about 5 mins. Granted, I ran much faster and weigh much more than the girls, but this still sucks.

It's been more than 24 hours now and I still can't walk. My right knee is all swollen and hurts pretty bad. Ann said this is my worst injury for the past 13+ years, and I can't remember being hurt this bad before either. All these for a silly running game, *sigh*.


David's 15-month checkup

David had his 15-month checkup today. Now he weighs 24lb 7oz (11.1kg @ 50 percentile) and is 33.5" tall (85cm @ 90 percentile). Way to go big guy!


Great news all the way around

This title is from Jessie's response to my email about two things happened last week.

First, I got an offer of postdoc position from the place that I really wanted to go. So that means I'll have a "semi-real" job next year, which is a great step toward a "real" job sometime in the future.

Second, dad had a successful surgery to take out the tumors in his backbone. The doctors also found that his liver function is better than expected, so some treatments should help to slow down the deterioration. Guess we'll see him in an okay condition when we go back to Taiwan next month.


Dinner with the Ninja250 gang

A bunch of members from the Ninja250 club went to Road Atlanta to see the WERA Grand National Finals this weekend. I didn't get a chance to join them and watch the race but managed to join them for dinner after the race on Sunday. This pic was taken outside the El Sombrero in Oakwood, GA.


Alyssa's violin recital

Alyssa had another violin recital today. We are really happy that she decided to choose songs that she knows well and then have a great performance.

If you are happy

clap your hands!


The tech-savvy generation

After seeing me talking with Ann on the phone last week, Alyssa asked when will she have her own phone. She said that she will need her own phone to call her friends, and to counter my point that she actually sees her friends at school everyday, she pointed out that she hasn't talked to Gregory (one of her best friends) for a very long time now since he moved to another school.

So I told her that none of her friends have their own phone, and in fact, she will have to call their home phone even if she can get one of her own. Given this situation, why doesn't she use our home phone to call her friends at home?

She was extremely excited about the idea and today I even got a chance to teach her how to look up the number using the phone book. So she called Gregory and had a very silly conversation with him. Vivian got a turn too and I have no idea what they were talking about. Alyssa was having so much fun with this and insisted that she had to call Ella too, just so that "she knows that I called Gregory". And again, they all had uncontrollable silly laughs.

Watch all these happening, David grab the other phone from Ann's hand and had the most "serious" ever conversation with his grandma.

I wonder when they will start to use emails.

Grandma is an armadillo

"Grandma" in Taiwanese is pronounced as "A-Ma". This evening Vivian somehow made the connection and decided that her grandma Aina is an "armadillo".


Did I mention that I'm a theoretician?

Received the formal acceptance letter from the Journal of Theoretical Biology today regarding my paper with Vanessa and Daniel. Guess that means I am entitled to pretend I am an evolutionary theoretician from now on, isn't that cool?


Evolutionary bioinformatics is for lazy scientists

A while ago I attended a talk by Scott William Roy, in which he classified bioinformaticians as parasitic organisms. I think that's a pretty funny joke.

Today while listening to a talk by Eric Haag at our department seminar, it suddenly occurred to me that evolutionary bioinformatics is great for lazy scientists. Basically the experiments have been done by nature (the "evolutionary" part), and better yet, the data have been collected by other people (the "bioinfo" part). All we have to do is to play with the data on computers. Doesn't that sound easy enough?

Who are these people?

Q: Who is CP Cheng?
Vivian: Grandpa!

Q: Who is Aina Hung?
Vivian: The person who buys chocolates!


Valves and carbs

After we are done with Hugh's bike last week, it is time to adjust the valves on my Ninja250 this weekend. Hugh kindly offered to come down to Athens with all the tools to help me do that in our house. Without hesitation, I shamelessly asked for all the help I can get.

To make things go faster, I took the bike apart the day before Hugh came. The fuel tank is so huge and oddly shaped, I had a hard time finding a place to store it. I ended up had a lot of fun with it. Here is a joke from my trial and error when finding a place for it:

Dad, can I have that fuel tank?

I want to build a super trike!

That's too big, I am going to get rid of it.

I actually tried to put it on the trike first. David's facial expression was really interesting when he saw it. After tried a couple different places, I finally settled with the recycle bin. It is fairly stable, plus the color is a good match.

Alyssa and Vivian watched me to take the bike apart and they were both surprised to see that their dad is capable of doing such things. Alyssa is always wondering about how things work so I spent a little bit of time explaining to them how motorcycle works, things like here's the fuel tank, gas flow from here to the engine, engine burns gas and turns the gears, gears drive the chain, and chain drives the rear wheel. I hope this is a good experience for them and wish I had experience like that when I grew up. While my dad spent a lot of time taking care of his cars, I've never seen him working on the cars himself and the whole mechanics thing is just a big mystery for me. Sometime I still wonder how I developed interests in these sort of things given my childhood experience (study, study, and study....).

Hugh got to our house around 10 on Sunday morning. I was kind of embarrassed when I found out that we don't even have any coffee in the house for our guest, maybe we should stock up on coffee next time. Ann took the kids to the Memorial Park while we were working on the bike. Here is a picture of us and two under-age mechanics before they go:

Since we had just done the same job on Hugh's Ninja250 last week, we both thought that the second time should go very smooth. To our surprise, it actually took longer to adjust the valves on mine. But anyway, we eventually got everything right (hopefully) and even have the carb sync'ed before lunch. Here's a picture before we went out for lunch, it serves as the evidence that we didn't screw up:

We took West Lake Dr to get to McAlister's and it was a very good ride. The weather was very nice today so we sat outside to enjoy the delicious sandwiches. I am very happy to have such a good friend to share my hobbies and hope we can go for another ride soon.


Good news and bad news

After nearly three months of waiting, the editorial decisions for two of my manuscripts came back today within 12 minutes of each other during the lunch time. I was pretty shocked when I got back from lunch.

The first one was very good. Essentially I only need to correct a couple typos and fix two figures. Which makes me really happy.

However, the second one was really disheartening. We had very high hope for this one but had great difficulty to even get it send out for review. The first couple submissions came back as "it's good and interesting, but probably not here (i.e., please go away)". Finally the manuscript went out for reviews, but the results were quite negative (at least in my view, Jessie doesn't think it was too bad). Anyway, probably will need to think about what to do next in the next couple days.

Well, at least I am not alone in this endless frustration.


Ant, Ant, Go Away (and don't come back)

Over the past few days there were some ants coming into our kitchen through the window. There were not too many of them so we were not really concerned, but this evening they seemed to decided that they probably should send in more workers to find something interesting. So we put out the ant baits in the hope that this will solve the problem. Surprisingly, the ants just walked past the bait, without going inside or even stopping by, and decided it is time to call for a full retreat.

Watching all this happened within a couple of minutes, Vivian made the comment "maybe they know that the bait will kill them so they flee back to home". Oh well, whatever works is good.

A bad day

Today is a bad day for us.

First we went to the dentist's office and found out all our appointments were canceled by mistake and we'll have to reschedule again. Being so busy recently, I don't remember what my schedule will be and have to call them when I get back to my computer. Who knows when we can find a time to squeeze in again?

Then Ann went to pick up David's prescription and couldn't get it. The pharmacy has the prescription ready for us, just as they promised. However, because the insurance company's computer was down, they can't give it to us unless we are willing to pay it in full by ourself. I almost choked when I hear that some skin cream for rash would cost $37, which is totally ridiculous. So Ann came home empty-handed and we will need to make a trip tomorrow after the insurance company fixes their computer.

After we all got home, we received the new passport for Alyssa. Originally we were happy that something finally went right today. We paid an arm and a leg to have the passport expedited, worrying that we might not get it in time for our trip back to Taiwan. The passport came earlier than they promised, but the date of birth on it was WRONG! I ended up have to call the passport service, figure out that we have to fill out another form, send it back again, and pray it will come back in time.

The day was so bad that we decided to stay home after dinner and skip our evening walk. Then we hear from Ann's mom that one of the construction workers fell down from the second floor of their new home. Oh what a day!


Getting way too comfortable

Apparently Nina REALLY likes her bed. Now she regularly sleeps like this at home:


Grocery shopping spree

We have to prepare snacks for Alyssa and Vivian's class at school next week, and that means feeding 51 kids + 4 teachers every morning, which is a quite daunting task for us. So this Saturday we went to the Buford Highway Farmers' Market in Atlanta to get all the fruits we need. The shopping carts there is at least twice as big as the regular ones in Walmart. When we were there in the past we always used less than half of the space and this is the first time we think that we might need two carts. Anyway we manage to stuff everything into one cart and it was really an amazing view.

This morning we went to the local Walmart to get the rest of things we need (crackers, cheese, etc) and it's the same thing all over again. Not that they are paying attention to what we buy but I was really curious about what the cashier was thinking when she saw us with three little kids and a shopping cart full of snacks.

Work on your bikes party with Hugh

It is hard to believe that I already put more than 3k miles on my bike in less than a year and it is about time to check the valves. I thought about doing it myself but was not quite sure if I can do this or not. After all, I'll have to take the bike and engine apart to get to the valves. Fortunately, Hugh from the Ninja250 club offered to show me how this is done on his bike. So today I rode up to Toccoa to visit Hugh and work on our bikes together.

I took SR106/SR145 to get to Toccoa. The weather and road is quite nice and I enjoyed the ride a lot. I missed a turn on my way there but fortunately didn't get lost. When I finally got to Hugh's house I am only about 15 mins late.

On my way there I saw the sign of Cromer's Mill Bridge. I know that's one of the few covered bridges in Georgia and would worth a stop to take some pictures. However, I didn't try to find it because the sign didn't say how far away the bridge is and I don't want to be late. Only after getting home I found out that it's probably less than 5 mins away from the sign. Maybe I'll try to go there the next time I visit Hugh.

Hugh already got the fairing and fuel tank off when I got there so we dived right in to the engine top end. As Hugh put it, valve adjustment is easy once you've done it a couple time. Actually I think it is even easier if you are just watching other people doing it. I read through the shop manual and the FAQ from the Ninja250 club a couple times but couldn't quite understand the whole process. But as Hugh demonstrates the procedure to me everything I read starts to make a lot of sense. Too bad that I've to wait for my bike to cool down before I can check the valves, so I couldn't just have mine done at the same time and have to do it another time. Hugh was very kind that he agree to ride down to Athens sometimes with the valve adjustment tool and help me do mine. Hope we can find a time to do that soon.

After we are done with Hugh's bike, he helped me to change the coolant on mine. I guess the previous owner(s) have never changed the coolant but luckily the old stuff that came out didn't look too bad. We even washed my bike a bit, which I have never done before. My attitude toward bike washing is "an hour spent on washing bike is an hour wasted, I would rather go riding any time". But this time we have to clean the spilled coolant anyway so it is nice to see the bike is all clean and shiny.


My squeaky little mouse

Vivian has an imaginary friend that is a little mouse who lives in her tummy. This little mouse is very useful for our communication because Vivian can tell us what she thinks about things that she didn't want to talk about directly (the little mouse thinks...). So Ann and I are all good friends to this little mouse and sometimes we'd call her a little mouse too.

This afternoon when we were driving back from Atlanta we were hoping that David can take a nap on the way home. However, Vivian was too excited about all the things we get for them from the supermarket she just couldn't calm down and that makes it difficult for David to fall asleep. When Ann and I finally got her to calm down and stop talking, an amazing thing just happened: she starts to have hiccups!

We really don't know what to say to her (how can you blame a kid for hiccup and ask her to stop?), fortunately David had no problem with that and just fell asleep.

Although she is already 3 and 1/2 years old, Vivian never cease to amaze me. She just has gazillions of ways to be cute that I can't even imagine what'd be the next.

What's for lunch today

This happened on our way to the China Town in Atlanta to have lunch.


Musical highchairs

After David showed first sign of interest in his sisters' highchairs, his urge to get on them becomes stronger and stronger over time as his mobility improves. Now whenever we sit down for a meal, David would get down of his own chair, climb up from behind Alyssa or Vivian, and try to squeeze himself in.

Since it will take quite some time to make one highchair for him, I came up with the idea of promoting all kids one rank higher last week. So now David has Vivian's chair, Vivian has Alyssa's chair, and Alyssa get to have a "grown-up" dining chair. Everyone is pretty happy with this arrangement.

David is getting so good at climbing up and down the highchair I made that at mealtime he'd go to the dishwasher, pick out a plate for himself, and climb up the highchair while holding on the plate.


Where are my high school friends?

Ann's friends from high school are organizing a reunion, which reminds me that I was out of contact with my high school friends for a very long time now. With the help of Google, I managed to track down one email (OMG! He's a real doctor now!). Will see if I can find more.

Also discovered that Wikipedia has an entry about Tainan Second Senior High School BUT NOT Tainan First Senior High School!! This is almost criminal, will need to get it right ASAP.



Today I signed up an account on Rapleaf. Their idea about people should take care of their online reputation sounds interesting, although I am not sure if it will turn out to be useful.

Anyway, this should be a fun experiment.

Alyssa "21-teeth" Kuo

Alyssa has her first molar came out at the bottom of her left side today. She was very excited and declared that she is now Alyssa "21-teeth" Kuo.


Talking about good memories

Alyssa was being silly before going to bed today. She made up a long story about how mommy's tummy has all kinds of places to go and how she took Vivian and David everywhere back when they still lived inside (including a McDonald's!).

After Alyssa's done, I asked Vivian what did she do after Alyssa was born. She quickly replied that she was playing tag games with David all the time. Because she is the winner, she get to be born first and become the "big sister".

Disposable phone

David is very into talking on the phone and throwing things away lately. Today he made the connection between his two favorite activities. After talking with his grandma on the phone, he just hang up the phone and throw it into the trash can.

My reaction was like: "hey little dude, I know phones are cheap these days, but they are not THAT CHEAP yet!" :)


The not-so-big chicken in Gainesville, GA

After seeing my ride to the Big Chicken in Atlanta, Hugh suggested that we do a Chicken themed ride around Georgia to find some more chicken related landmarks. So this afternoon we meet up in Gainesville, the Chicken Capital of the World, to have our picture taken with the chicken statue there. Hugh managed to get his Bandit up to the side of the statue for our photo op.

After that we made a quick stop at a 20' tall Giant Rabbit in the Rabbittown before heading home.

On the way back I spotted this eagle statue near the intersection of US-129 and I-85.

The weather is very nice and cool this afternoon. I rode a total of 106 miles today and had a really great time. After I got home Ann suggested that maybe I can try to visit all the Bull Dawgs in Athens for my next quest. That sounds like a great idea and should be a great memory after we move to other place.

I think this whole quest thing is a great idea. It gave me a better excuse and motivation to ride and I also started to see things differently. For example, I've been to Gainesville a couple times before but never make the mental link between it and the local poultry industry. On this trip I paid more attention to the business along US129 and really start to appreciate the scale of the local poultry industry. Last night I read a little bit about the local history and found it very interesting. Who would have thought that a city can make it illegal to eat chicken with forks?

Bicycle ride today

After taking a long break from our regular bicycle ride, we went out to the Sandy Creek Nature Center for a family ride this morning. Alyssa is practicing her balancing all th way so I guess she'll be ready to take off the training wheels soon. It is amazing that Vivian can have the strength to ride with us all the way without stopping.

I have David riding on my back this time and he fell asleep once again, just like he did every time we took him out for a ride there. We had a very happy Sunday morning.


Someone call the police

This happened over the breakfast this morning.

Alyssa: Dad, you are invited to my wedding.
Me: Really? Do I need to bring any gift for you?
Alyssa: Yeah, it's up to you.
Me: How about I bring you a pacifier and you can suck on it while walking down the aisle?
Alyssa: NOOOOO DADDY! I'm going to call the police.

We were cleaning out David's baby stuff last month. When Alyssa and Vivian saw the pacifiers they each asked to get one. Ann and I found this really amusing. None of our kids would take pacifier when they were babies but now the two girls are 3 and 5 years old and they started to take pacifier to pretend that they are babies.

Who? Me? Sarcastic?

Ann told me that my sense of humor is becoming more more sarcastic. I guess it doesn't help that I enjoyed Bill Bryson, the Daily Show, and the Onion.

Running for my life

We went out for a walk today after dinner and Alyssa suggested we play tag game together. To my surprise, it is almost impossible for me to out run the both of them now. It is really amazing how fast they grow, particularly Alyssa. Not only she was fast, she knows how to command the slower Vivian to corner me. I can still escape from Vivian's side now but I doubt how long that will last. Running speed aside they both can maintain a high heart rate for a very long time. Every 10 minutes or so I've to slow down and let them catch me, but they showed no sign of slowing down after more than 30 minutes of intense running.


A very dark week

My mood over the past few days was very dark. In the beginning of the week I got the news that my dad's health is deteriorating fast due to his liver cancer. Although I've seen this coming for quite some time now, it is still a huge shock when I actually hear it.

So the whole week I've this strange feeling of sadness that I've never experienced before. Sometimes I'm just like usual but in a minute I'll have some very dark thoughts. It is also very difficult to concentrate on things. I feel dizzy most of the time. It took a couple days for the shock to wear off and I am starting to feel better now, mostly because my rational part is come back to control.

On a brighter note, I did finish another round of revision for my third chapter. The manuscript is one step closer to submission.


Mini-Monimo or Mini-Momomo?

Vivian is taking a music class at UGA's Community Music School. She really enjoys this chance to sing and dance. Today I asked if she remembers the name of her music class and she just couldn't remember what it is. So I teased her if she's taking Mini-Monimo or Mini-Momomo and she suddenly remembered what it was. She got very serious and shouted "IT IS MINI-MOZART! You silly daddy!"


Extreme open science

Michael Barton, a fellow bioinformatics grad student, is taking the open science movement to a surprising level that puts ongoing work on the web. I think this is bold and interesting and would like to see how it will go.

Pinata is a big hit

After seeing the big kids at school cracked one open, Alyssa has been asking to get a pinata so that she can try too. I found this instruction on the web and was kind of surprised that it is very easy to make one at home (I hate those Styrofoam ones they are selling in supermarkets). So I told the girls that I can teach them to make their own pinata and they totally gone nuts.

It took a total of three days for us to finish. We made the shell on the first day and then waited overnight for it to dry. They had too much fun with that and just couldn't stop. So when I told them the shell is thick enough they started to put the newspaper on their legs.

The second day we put the decorative paper on the outside with glue and have to wait again. The third day we took the balloon out and the girls stuffed the pinata with some goodies from Japan.

Today is the fourth day and they couldn't wait to crack it open (they originally said they will wait until the weekend so they have a couple days to hang the pinata in their room).

We took the pinata out in the back yard and hang it on the tree.

Alyssa tried first but she still don't know how to control the bat, so I crack it for her. The view is quite spectacular when the pinata exploded, it was colored paper and chocolates everywhere. When I hanged Vivian's up David also wants to have a turn and I've to hold him up to try.

They all had a great time today after dinner and certainly enjoyed all the chocolates.


The Big Chicken and the really big rock in Atlanta

The Ninja 250 Club is starting the Ninja 250 Quest to encourage the members to ride to somewhere that is "special, unique, wacky, or otherwise out of the ordinary" in September. I thought that sounds like fun and decided to do just that this weekend. I did a little bit of search to find out about the remarkable/quirky landmark in the area and decided to include two destinations for my Sunday afternoon ride, the Big Chicken and the Stone Mountain.

I made a ride announcement in the forum and got response from several other members to join me for the ride. Don't know what happened but none of the people showed up, so the planned group ride became a solo ride. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the ride a lot.

The Big Chicken is an interesting structure, although it doesn't look like that it is actually 56-foot high.

It was more tricky to find a spot to take a good picture of Stone Mountain. The only good spot I found was at the roadside of US78, but I feel it was too dangerous to stop there. Atlanta drivers are really crazy, most of the people are doing 25mph+ over the speed limit on the highways. I didn't want to be late for dinner at home so I gave up on finding a suitable spot for a picture, so I guess that has to wait for the next ride.

Overall I had a fun ride today to visit these two landmarks in Atlanta. This is the longest ride I took (about 161 miles round trip) since I rode to Toccoa to meet with Hugh (LDBandit) back in June for the KawiDavis Memorial Ride. At the end of the ride, I am pleasantly surprised to find my Ninja250 averaged a record high of 76.9 MPG for the trip.


Monster brooms

We took the kids to the local Barnes and Nobles almost every Saturday for their story time. They always have a craft session and some yummy milk shakes (from the Starbucks in the store) after the story session. Sometimes they even have one of the staff in costume of the characters from the story, so the kids really enjoy this weekly event.

This week's story is about a boy who uses a broom to fight off a monster in his house, and the story teller leads the kids to make a broom out of cardboard papers and straws. All three kids love this new craft (I made one for David too). After we get home Alyssa and Vivian used their "monster broom" to scare off the squirrels in our yard whenever they come down to steal from the bird feeder. They even took the brooms on our evening walk in our community and keeps beating up some imaginary monsters all along the way.

Twins two years apart

I took Alyssa and Vivian out for shopping today. At one of our stops the cashier asked if the two girls are twins. When I told her that their birthdays are two years apart, her reaction was "Really? They looked identical other than one is a little bit shorter than the other." She said some very nice things about how cute they are and gave each of them a small bag of cookies. The girls were thrilled.


Scientists as humans

Edward Larson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science historian, gave an excellent talk at the Genetics seminar today about Haldane, Fisher, Wright, and the emergence of population genetics.

I found that the stories about outstanding scientists are always fascinating, maybe simply because they are extraordinary people. But because they are such legendary figures in science, it is easy for people (even we as scientists ourselves) to forget that they didn't start out as such giants, science wasn't everything of their life, and they may have quirky personalities.


Manipuri Dances of India

The Department of Dance at UGA had a Manipuri Dance performance by Jhaveri Sisters' group this evening and we took all three kids there. The performance is very good and we really enjoyed it. The costumes are really amazing and the style is like nothing that I've seen before.

One interesting thing that I noticed was that Alyssa was imitating the hand gestures of the dancers while she watches. I am not sure if she was doing this consciously or not, but she looked like she was really concentrated in watching the performance. No wonder kids are great learners.

And it's not just Alyssa. In one of the dances the dancer was doing some hand gestures to express that she is picking flowers, and David also picked that up and started to practice grabbing things in the air. So dance really is a powerful and universal language that everyone understands.


Callaway Gardens

We went to the Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia for a short trip today. The main event that inspired us to go is their annual Hot Air Balloon Festival. We took Alyssa to a hot air balloon festival back in Iowa once and she often talks about that. Naturally this makes Vivian really curious about the hot air balloons so we decided to give her a chance too.

When we arrived in the afternoon just in time for the birds of prey show. We saw a Red Shouldered Hawk and a Great Horned Owl. The show was very interesting and we enjoyed it a lot.

We found this interesting wingspan chart next to their amphitheater. I'm about as big as a bald eagle and the girls are about as big as a falcon.

After the show Ann took the kids to their butterfly exhibition. I was too tired from the long drive so I took a nap in the car. The girls are very excited to see a butterfly came out of its pupa.

Unfortunately, the main event of the day and the reason why we went there, the hot air balloon launch, was canceled due to the weather. The kids were kind of disappointed but we cheered them up by taking them to the beach next to the launch site. All three of them had a ton of fun with water and sand there. David was so eager to jump into the water after his sisters that I had a very difficult time holding him back.


Finishing day

Today I got a chance to put on the finish for David's arm chair and the shelves that I made for Ann. It feels so great to finish something.

Alyssa and Vivian helped a little bit with sanding before I put on the finish. They are so eager to help that I've to send them to sand the garden tool rack before they over-sand the shelves.

The shelves and arm chair all looked great after this final step. However, David and Vivian already doodled on the arm chair so those "arts" are sealed under the finish now.


Soft skills are hard

And hard skills are (relatively) easy.

I read this post in Bioinformatic Zen that discussed the development of "hard skills" (programming and other stuff) and "soft skills" (dealing with failure, self-discipline, etc). It is a very interesting post and I really couldn't agree more with it.

In my experience, the "bio" part is much more difficult that the "informatics" part for us bioinformaticians, even for people who came from a biology background. Things that can be measured and dealt with a logic way are relatively much easier, such as learning a programming language or developing a software package. For things that cannot be dealt with a pure logic fashion, such as what constitutes an interesting and important project or what does one do when a paper is rejected, no one can really teach you and you just have to bang your head against the wall until you somehow magically learn the lesson (if ever).

A surprise realization about myself

I had a long chat with my brother earlier this week, which is extremely rare between us. It was just a casual chat and we didn't really talk about anything specifically. One thing we talked about is that he's trying to find a way to organize all the digital photos that accumulated over the years.

So we really didn't talk about anything serious but when I reflect about our conversation I suddenly have a surprise realization about myself. I am a pretty self-confident person, at least much so compared to my brother.

When we were in school, both of us are kind of super-overachievers compared to our peers. I thought that we both have pretty high self esteem (if not arrogance) when we grow up. Over the years, particularly with my recent struggle with finishing my PhD, I started to have a lot of self doubt. I guess that's pretty normal for scientists in general, as we often don't know what we are doing exactly (based on Einstein's definition of "research activities") and just have to constantly assessing everything. Sometimes these self doubts lead to a decrease of self confidence for me. I don't know much about my brother's life but I'd guess that he is doing pretty well and should have a better self image than I do.

However, when we chat about his quest to "the best" solution to his problem, I realized that there's something fundamentally different between us. I don't really believe in the existence of a best solution to a problem, much less that someone would have this answer for me. I'd think that the best solution to my problem, if it exists, can only be created by me. In other words, I may be an arrogant bastard. So to deal with the digital photos, my brother is eagerly checking out all available software packages and trying to find "the best" one (has to be powerful, flexible, etc). In contrast, I don't think any of those would beat what I can do with some perl scripts that I wrote. As I think more about this, I realized that we are chasing very different things in our life and have very different world views. I have always suspected that we are very different persons and now I started to realize how exactly we are different. I thought this is very interesting.


Virtual epidemiology

This article from the Economist talks about how epidemiologists are thinking about to use online games as a tool to study the spread of diseases.

I think this is really cool and it also reminds me my countless hours spent on online games back in college. It's great that someone can come up with ideas to get something useful out of these wasted productivities.

Out of mind, not the body

I read this article in the Economist about the discovery of the brain region that is responsible for creating the "out-of-body" experience and how now these experiences
can be induced on volunteers in the lab. I think this is really cool because I've always been very curious about these "out-of-body" experience when I learn meditation. So basically these studies are suggesting that if you can control the brain (through meditation or other means), you will be able to create these experience at will.

Now we just need some scientific explanations for those out-of-body experience that people travel to places that they have never been to before but can accurately describe all the details upon return to body.

Graduate school reception

The graduate school held a reception today for the graduate students that received some award or fellowship from them this year. Dean and the invited speaker both gave a very good speech about how we should be grateful for what we have received to get to where we are at now and how we should think about giving back and make a difference. It is a very good opportunity for me to reflect on some things in my life.

Also I got a chance to chat with other graduate students from several different departments. It was very interesting to learn some really cool studies in the fields that I know nothing about.

One more interesting thing is that I found the evolutionary biology program at UGA was ranked 10th in the US. Now that's a pleasant surprise.

A silly conversation

Vivian: See Alyssa, I have legs.
Alyssa: Yeah, me too.
Vivian: And David has legs too.
Alyssa: Yeah I know, but his legs are chubby.
Vivian: Yeah, and his whole body is chubby too.
Alyssa: You are right, he is a chubby boy.


Kids as ourselves

Sometime ago I started to have this feeling that Alyssa is more like me and Vivian is more like Ann. These feelings often makes me unconsciously see the kids as myself or Ann and affect my interactions with them. Maybe it is not "fair" to treat them differently because my feelings like these. But come to think of it, is it really possible to be "fair"?

They are different individuals, have different personalities, and are of different ages. All the factors make it impossible to deal with them in exactly the same way. Maybe the "fairness" can be measured in how much I love them, but the problem is that I simply love them in different ways and it is impossible to measure love. My mom always likes to say how she is being "fair" about my brother and I. Now that I am a father of three I don't think that makes much sense.

When I go to pick up Vivian at school, I often have the feeling that I'm going to take Ann out for a date and I have this unexplainable happiness and excitement. In contrast, when Alyssa is back from school and eager to show me what she has learned I share her pride as if I have learned something great myself. I am more aware of these projections of image now but I still can't stop doing that (not that I wanted to). Anyway, I think this is kind of interesting. I don't have a strong feeling like these about David yet, it'll be interesting to find out what he'll be like when he grows up. Right now he's just a very happy boy that is capable of being silly at a very young age.

We are being watched

Sometimes after kids went to bed Ann and I will want to watch some DVDs just to relax a bit. David is still little and wakes up a couple times a night so Ann always brings the baby monitor downstairs to make sure that he's ok.

The funny thing is that sometime we'll hear David cry. If Ann stands up and takes a step toward the stairs, he'll stop immediately. However, if Ann decides not to go up to check on him, he'll start to cry again. As soon as Ann turns around he'll stop again. This has happened many times now, we are joking that maybe David has a "mommy monitor" set up somewhere in our basement so he always knows what we are up to.

Two little (and one old) upholsterers

Alyssa and Vivian helped me to replace the cover of Nina's bed.

Two years ago when we first got Nina I made a bed for her. It was a very simple design that composed of a piece of carpet stapled to a wooden frame made from 2x4s. She loves it a lot but always makes it very dirty (how surprising!). Over the years I replaced the carpet part a couple times but it has been a while since the last time I did that. So I had a very simple solution to deal with the problem, just keep the bed in our screened porch. Out of sight, out of mind.

Now that Nina is spending a lot of time in the house I think it maybe worth to move the bed back in the house. Alyssa and Vivian are both eager to help with the task so I made this a collaborative project after dinner today. I'm very surprised to find that Alyssa has gotten very well with the tools that she can help me remove the old carpet all by herself. I have Vivian helped me to staple a piece of fabric that left over from Ann's curtain project. Nina is not quite sure about this change in material but I hope she will learn to like it.


Board book surfing

David came up with a new idea to increase his crawling speed today. It started as an accident when he put his hands on a board book while crawling. Because the board book is slick on our hardwood floor, he can crawl without moving his hands. This makes his crawling somewhat faster and requires less effort. Pretty soon he worked out how to do it purposely and was very proud of himself to move around in this surf-like fashion.

Treasure box by mail part 2

Our little pirates are very lucky recently. Not to be outdone by Ann's uncle in Japan, Ann's parents sent the kids an even bigger collection of goodies from Taiwan. When we got the package today the kids are so excited they are totally out of control. They are indeed spoiled rotten by their grandparents.


New shelves for Ann

I finally finished the assembly of the shelves that I made for Ann today. Last year when I was doing a lot of woodworking projects, assembly usually is the relatively easy part that can be done right after cutting. This year I am so busy with all other things (both at work and at home), it has been more than a month after I have all the parts cut before I find an evening to do the assembly. I still need to find time to put the finish on, and I have not idea when will be the next time that I can get to my workshop again.

Pow Wow at Fort Yargo State Park

This morning we went to the Fort Yargo State Park to see their 2nd annual Intertribal Pow Wow. It is a very interesting event, although we only get to see one dance and a couple songs. We got there early in the morning and found out that they plan to start the main program after lunch, possibly because there are few people there on Sunday morning. The upside of this is that it is very comfortable and low-stress to just walk around, see the booths, and talk the the people there. This is my first time to see so many Native Americans and actually talk to them. All the people we met are extremely friendly. I'm surprised to find out that Native Americans are very soft-spoken, this is totally different from the "tough warrior" type that we usually see in movies.

Alyssa and Vivian both get a buffalo tooth that later Ann made a necklace for them. They are very happy about getting this and had a lot of fun brushing it using their old toothbrush. After seeing the performance we took a short walk in the park and had a very good visit there.

The hunt for new watches

It has been a week since Vivian started her school. So far she seemed to be adapting very well. She really enjoyed learning all the new things at school (and enjoy the snack time too).

We decided to get both girls a watch so that they can learn a better concept of time and know what to expect at school. They both have an analog type that we got for them last year but that's still difficult for Vivian. So this time we decided to get them a digital one. To my surprise, this task turned out to be much more complicated than we expected. We want to find something that's not too expensive, not too big, not too fancy, does not have princess or other cartoon characters on it. I thought these are not unreasonable criteria but finding something that's acceptable to all of us turned out to be tricky. Alyssa is old enough now that she wants to have the Dora or princess one and Vivian just followed her sister's lead. Ann and I couldn't tolerate those toy-like things because they are so ugly (to us) and probably will stop working soon. We both feel like buying things like that is a waste of money, even though those cartoon watches are really cheap compared to the ones we liked better. Anyway I think this is a good lesson for kids to learn and I am very glad that Alyssa and Vivian happily accepted our explanations of why we want them to choose from the ones that we picked out from the shelf.


Rich kids part 2.5

Five days after Alyssa made her decision, Vivian, our little zoo keeper, decided to get a duck with her allowance this month.

Now that's a new species added to the collection.


Three steps towards the ball

For the first time today, I saw David walked for 3 steps all by himself to get to the ball that he dropped. Maybe he is going to start walking soon.


Edible bills

I like to read articles in Wikipedia, there are always some things that are interesting to know.

Today I learned that konjac was once used in making paper bills in Japan back in late 1800s to prevent counterfeiting. I wonder how this works. But they have to stop doing that because rats would eat the bills. Not a very good way to make it biodegradable.


Learning violins by karaoke

It never occurred to me that one can use karaoke to learn violins. But as usual, Alyssa can always come up with new ideas to surprise us.

Alyssa has been learning violin since January this year. She was doing very well and seemed to enjoy it a lot. This semester she got a scholarship that paid for all her private lessons and we are all very proud of her. As a reward for all her hard work, we decided to buy her a CD player so she can listen to the Suzuki CD in her room whenever she wants (this is what they recommended in the Suzuki Method). So we went to the store and tried to pick out a CD player for her. Alyssa quickly noticed the CD karaoke machine that's right next to the regular CD boom boxes. Intrigued by the microphone in the picture, she asked us what that is. After we explained it to her, she asked if she can get that instead. Since the price is about the same, we decided to let her get the karaoke machine.

So we went home and I taught her how to use it, gave her a Suzuki violin CD, and send her back to her room where she can have some fun. Then we heard that she was singing the violin notes "A-A-E-E-1-1-E" (twinkle-twinkle-little-star") to the background violin music. This seems like a good way for her to memorize all the notes of a song, but I've to say that this is definitely not a "normal" way for kids to learn violins.

Rich kids part 2

Alyssa decided to use her allowance to get a dog doll from Home Place this month. The stuffed animal costs $11.77, good that she still have some money left from last month to pay for the extra $1.77.

Vivian still couldn't decide what she want and will save her allowance for now. We are very happy that she can learn the idea of saving and not to buy something just because her sister did. I think this is pretty difficult and I'm amazed that Vivian can learn this lesson at 3 without much difficulty.


Earthquake or tsunami?

The elevator in our building has an "Earthquake" button on the operating panel inside. Since we moved into this new building last year that button has been an endless source of jokes. Everyone speculates what'll happen if we press it but we haven't gotten a brave soul to try that yet.

This morning someone put a sticker on the button and changed it to a "Tsunami" button. Looks like more jokes are on the way.

Speaking of the elevator I've to rant a little bit about it here. Our building is the newest one on campus and everything is state-of-art. However, the elevator is not working about two days a week, one for "preventative maintenance" and the other time is simply "unscheduled breakdown". I thought the elevators are a proven technology and can be made more reliable than that. Yet even space shuttles have better reliability than our elevator. Maybe I should stop complaining here, at least it haven't exploded yet.


If there's only 24 hours left

I had a strange dream last night, in which I was dead at the beginning and then was sent back to life and told that I only have 24 hours for this "second chance". This of course makes me think very hard about what I really wanted to do with these 24 hours. Pretty soon I came to the conclusion that I just want to hang out with Ann and the kids but have no specific things that I wanted to do. So we just have some fun together, not sure what we did exactly but something like a walk in a park and some play time at a playground. The 24 hours were up in the end of my dream. I have a very sad feeling about that I've to leave my family when I woke up. But as I think more about this, I find that I should be pretty happy. Basically I am very satisfied with my current life and there really isn't something that I feel "I've to do this before I die". The only thing that comes close to this criterion but not really in my control is that I'd want to spend some time with my grandchildren, hopefully from all my three kids.

I guess I am thinking about these things unconsciously because the recent passing of Ann's grandpa, and this resulted in this dream. It also reminded me a Japanese movie that I watched last year, 黄泉がえり (Yomigaeri) . The story line is that hundreds of people are brought back to life in a small town. These people just appeared out of no where in the state when they died. They were given this second chance by a mysterious force from a meteor and know that they would disappear again in a couple days. The movie follows the story of several people (all somewhat related in the end of course) and they all went back to their family and friends to spend time with their loved ones. It may not be a "great" movie in terms of production or other criteria people often use to judge a movie but I do enjoy it a lot.

First day of the school

Today is the first day of the fall semester at both UGA and Athens Montessori, and Vivian was away from us for the first time of her life. She had a very good start at school today and seemed to be enjoying being a "big girl". She was very very happy when I picked up at the playground. Alyssa's class went back to their room early today so we stopped by to say goodbye before we headed home.

Alyssa is also very happy about getting back to school. Staying at home for the whole summer is becoming boring for her, some school works to keep her busy is good for everyone.


Vivian's orientation day

Vivian is going to start her school at Athens Montessori School tomorrow. I took her to the school this after to meet with her teachers and had a little orientation.

Ann and I were both kind of worried because Vivian is the shy-and-quiet type. Much to my surprise, Vivian behaved almost like Alyssa (very out-going and self-confident) the moment she walked into the room and everything just went very well afterwards. Even the teachers were surprised to see a little girl acting like that.

Looks like we had a good start, hope tomorrow will be good too.

Getting ready to ride!

David asked to wear my helmet today. He crawled over to the shelf, pat on my helmet, then pat on his head, and repeated the gesture until I put the helmet on his head. The helmet is about as big as his whole body and it was a very funny scenario, almost like what you see in a cartoon. Too bad the camera wasn't handy, I will try to take a picture next time.

He seems to know that he is being nutty and had a big silly smile on his face. Alyssa helped him to put on my riding gloves as well and they are all very happy.

Treasure box by mail

Every once in a while Ann's uncle will send us a big box full of goodies from Japan. Those Japanese snacks are amazingly good everytime.

We got another big box this week (11.5 kg!). Kids are thrilled when I opened the box and we had a great snack party after lunch.

It is funny to see some little personality differences through some very small things. Alyssa would look through all choices before making a decision (about which ones she's going to pick and which one she'll have first). This is just like me. It can take me a very long time to make a decision about buying anything. I just have to make sure that I've made "the best" decision at all times.
On the other hand, Vivian is just like Ann that she can make some very quick decisions and be happy with whatever decisions they made afterwards. I don't think that we've ever concisely taught them about these decision making business and yet they just turned out to be like us. Parenting can be a good mirror and sure is full of surprises.