Vivian's 1st violin recital!

Vivian had her 1st violin recital today. Instead of the Twinkle song, she picked Go Tell Aunt Rhody for her 1st solo play on stage:

Alyssa picked a difficult piece for her solo (Gavotte from Mignon):

The 1st time for us to see the 2 girls on stage together!


Learning about money is hard (not just for kids)

Recently David is getting very good with counting and some simple math. We thought that this may be a good indication that he is ready to learn about handling money and started giving him allowance last month. The little dude has been watching his sisters buying their own toys for quite some time now and is quick to grasp the idea. Not surprisingly, he requested to spend some money to buy his recent favorites: Matchbox cars.

I thought that this is a perfectly reasonable request and the $1/toy price tag works great for our purpose of teaching him money management. So I took the kids to the store last night and allowed him to find some cars that he wants to buy with his own allowance. As expected, the pile quickly grew to more than what he can afford so I suggested him to pick maybe 3 cars that he likes the best. He happily accepted my suggestion and made the decision. What surprised me was that, as we were on the way to check out, Alyssa pulled me aside and asked if she can buy a car for David with her money, "because I want to make him happy".

Understandably, I was thrilled to hear about that. After learning to manage her allowance for about 2.5 years now (we started back in July 2007), she has a pretty good idea about what this is about. She learned to spend money to make herself happy (certainly not as easy as it sounds), save up so that she can make bigger purchases, delay her decision to buy something so that she would be less likely to regret about it, and resist the urge to buy something just because her sister is doing that. Without a doubt, all these are pretty important lessons to learn. However, figuring out that money is a tool that can influence not only oneself but also others around you apparently is another big step.

So we went back to the toy aisle again and I got the second surprise. Alyssa didn't just get one, she ended up getting three cars for David, "because I think he will like all these".

My dilemma with these pleasant surprises is how to reward her decision for positive reinforcement in an appropriate way (still have no good answer after thinking about it for a day). After we got home, Ann and I both praised her and told her that we are very proud of her decision. However, I tried not to make too big a deal out it because I don't want to make her feel like she need to do this to gain our approval. Also I have to resist the urge of compensating her in material (money or other things), otherwise it will teach her the wrong lesson. Although I have to say that the temptation of doing so is quite strong for an overjoyed father.

Walking the fine line of financial education is indeed a tough business. It's not just the kids, the parents have a lot to learn along the way too.


What was I thinking?

I was going through my old files this afternoon to get rid of things that I don't need any more. A mid-term report from the Evolutionary Genetics course that I took during the first year of grad school caught my eye with the following paragraph:

"Godzilla godzillus is a large reptile species endemic to the Hollywood Desert in southern California (Emmerich 1990). Due to its popularity on pet market, human collection caused extinction of several natural populations during the past decade. Of the five remaining natural populations, three of them have very small population size (N<=60, Figure 1). To preserve the species, a captive breeding program was initiated at the Hollywood Fantasy Zoo (Emmerich 1998). However, the founding individuals used in this breeding program were all collected from one population (A1). This raises the concern that future restoration efforts will greatly change the genetic composition of the species. To access the level of genetic variation and pattern of genetic structure in remaining populations, this study collected samples from all five remaining populations in the Hollywood Desert."

I honestly don't remember doing such silly things. Good thing that they didn't kick me out of the grad program.


Interesting travel experience

Had some quite interesting experience today at the airport. First watched the US Air Force One took off up and close (that thing is HUGE!) while waiting to board at the gate, then got seated at 1A on my flight (although still economy class) and saw how busy the flight attendant was the whole time.


Cool little dude

A phone conversation that I overheard today:

Grandpa: 弟弟你今天是穿長褲還是短褲?
David: 我是好酷.

Here's the translation:
Grandpa: Are you wearing long pants or short pants today? (note: 'pants' sounds like 'cool' in Mandarin)
David: I am very cool.


Rocks and ruins

Taking advantage of the Thanksgiving break, we planned a 2-day trip up to Sedona, AZ to enjoy two things that I found fascinating: natural wonders and ancient civilizations.

On our way up, we first stopped by the Montezuma Castle National Monument, which is a 20-room high-rise apartment built into a cliff by the Sinagua people around 1,000 years ago:

After enjoying a short hike there, we got back on the car and took AZ SR 179 to enter the Red Rock Country. The various rock formations along the way are spectacular (even more so with the fabulous lights provided by the setting sun):

Our original plan for the next morning was to see the Devil's Bridge (the largest natural sandstone arch in the area). Unfortunately, the unpaved road to the trailhead is too much for our minivan to handle and I decided to turn back before it's too late.

As an alternative, we took another trail next to the Midgely Bridge on US Alt 89A to get down to the Oak Creek:

We are all very happy to see a creek with water in it again (you don't see that very often in AZ) and the kids had a lot of fun play with the water:

On our way back, we took a detour to see the Tuzigoot National Monument, which is a huge pueblo on a hill top with 110 rooms:

Before we head back home, we stopped by the downtown of Cottonwood to enjoy the atmosphere there. The kids are thrilled to find a rock shop and each got away with a pretty crystal to hold the sweet memory of this wonderful trip.


Our little silent singer

Vivian has always been a slow eater since she was a little baby. When we are not in a hurry, watching her savors every single bite of her food is actually quite enjoyable. However, the long wait it takes for her to finish a meal drives us nuts from time to time.

This week we noticed that she is eating even slower than usual (hard to believe that this is even possible). What's really strange is that she has been exceptionally quiet during meal time. While Alyssa and David were fighting to tell me about their day during dinner time, Vivian just sit there and said nothing. In the end, it took me three days to figure out this mystery. As it turned out, my little girl was sitting there and singing to herself in sign language everyday. Finally, she perfected the whole song and showed it to me before went to bed this evening.

My kids are truly an inexhaustible source of amazement.


Lost & found (plus a new one)

Perhaps this is just another variant of the Murphy's Law: if you can't find something, it will show up when you buy a replacement. This is exactly what happened to me recently.

Several weeks ago I was frustrated about my tremolo harmonica went missing. As I keep looking for it, my urge of wanting to play a harmonica grew stronger. Although I still have a diatonic one, somehow it just doesn't feel right and playing with it did nothing to help; in fact, it was more like pouring fuel on fire. Finally I broke down and ordered a new tremolo. Not surprisingly, the old one surfaced right after I received the shipping confirmation.

Initially I was a bit upset about this. However, I am quite happy after I received the new toy today: a shiny 24-hole Suzuki 2 Timer tremolo harmonica in A major. It is for sure a big step-up from the Hoher Echo Celeste that I have. As soon as I tried out the scale, I was shock about how well it performs. It is effortless to play and every note coming out of it is so clean and beautiful, despite the fact that I am still a unskillful player after all these years. In addition, this is my first experience with a harmonica that's not in C-major, and I am quite pleased by the different feeling it brings. Although the $27 price tag is almost twice that of a Hoher Echo Celeste, the joy it brings me certainly more than justified the cost. No wonder people are willing to pay some crazy price for good quality music instruments. Good thing that I am only into harmonicas, not violins. Even buying a Suzuki Humming or other top-of-the-line models won't break the bank.

On a side note, the name "2 Timer", like the English name of many other Japanese products, are positively confusing (Sony Walkman is a classic example), and worse, doesn't sound good at good. Is it referring to the double-reed design of a tremolo harmonica? I have no idea.


Growth record (Nov 2009)

Alyssa: 7 yr 8 mo, 131 cm, 22.7 kg.
Vivian: 5 yr 9 mo, 115 cm, 18.2 kg.
David: 3 yr 4 mo, 97 cm, 14.5 kg.


Pen Review: Delta Napoli

Also posted on the FPN.

This is a short review of Delta Napoli, a FP/RB set that I received as a gift from my parents-in-law. According to the box and the booklet that come with the pens, these pens belong to a Fountain Pen Hospital exclusive limited edition of 100. Strangely, I can't seem to find any information about these pens on the web, not even on FPH's own website.

1. Appearance & Design
The pen comes in a big blue box, with some very nice scenery printed on the outer paper box.

According to the booklet, the cap/barrel is hand turned from a solid bar of light blue resin. As a result, there is no seam in the material, which adds to its attractiveness. The main design features are two big engraved 925 sterling silver bands on the cap. The top one has some elegant patterns and the bottom one has the scenery from the bay of Naples in addition to the word "NAPOLI".

The serial number is engraved on the top of the cap:

and mine is the matching set of 065/100.

The blue colors of the resin is very beautiful, and they remind me of the movie "The Big Blue" directed by Luc Besson. The choice of the platinum-plated furniture compliment the body quite nicely.

2. Construction & Quality
These are substantial pens with very good construction quality. The barrel is quite thick and all the threads work perfectly. The engraving on the cap is done beautifully.

The only thing that I can nitpick about is the lack of attention given to the matching of the resin patterns between cap and barrel. While most of the resin is in a darker blue, there are two layers of lighter blue in the material. I thought that it would be nice if the these parts can match up between the cap and the barrel when fully closed to from a nicer flow. Unfortunately both of the FP and the RB have the same problem of mismatched resin pattern between cap and barrel. Considering that this is not really that hard to do, even a $10 Pelikan Pelikano Jr. can have threads that make the nib and the logo on the barrel lined up perfectly everytime, it is disappointing to see an expensive limited edition pen to fail at such tiny detail. Well, at least these are not faceted pens, otherwise it would be really unsightly.

3. Weight & Dimensions
The pen is about the same length as the Pelikan M800.



The diameter is slightly larger than the M800. However, it actually feels lighter compare to M800, possibly due to the fact that this is a C/C fillter and has no complicated filling mechanisms inside. I like the way that they put the engraved silver bands on the cap, which makes an attractive pen while maintaining a light body. The large size and light weight makes it my favorite these days. I can write with this pen for a long time and feel very comfortable.

4. Nib & Performance
The FP comes with a mono-tone platinum-plated 18k gold nib, about the same size as the Pelikan M800 nib. Right out of the box, the nib performance is a big disappointment. I need to press down pretty hard to get the ink flow started, and the nib makes a squeaking sound when I write. Even without looking, I know the tines are probably misaligned. A quick examination under a 10X loupe confirmed my suspicion: the tines are pinched together way too tight, and the right tine is higher by about half of the nib's thickness.

Fortunately, the nib is quite large and soft, which makes the adjustment relatively easy to do. After 10 minutes of tweaking, this pen quickly becomes one of the best writers I have. The F-nib writes a true fine line with a hint of springiness. It is softer than a Sailor 1911 nib, but not quite as soft as a Pelikan M800 nib. The extreme smoothness of gliding this nib across paper gives a very nice sensation that I enjoy a lot.

5. Filling System & Maintenance
This pen is a standard C/C filler. Nothing exciting here but it works as intended.

6. Cost & Value
As I mentioned in the beginning, this pen is a gift from my in-laws. I have no idea about the listing price or the street price because I can't find any info of it on the web. Judging from the construction quality of the pen and the usual going price of the Delta's LE pens, this pen is easily the most expensive pen by far in my collection (my Pelikan M800 being the runner-up). A pen in this price range is way out of what I'd feel comfortable to spend on a single pen so I can't comment on the "value" either.

7. Conclusion
This is my first experience with pricy (>$300) LE pens and also my second Italian pen (the first being a Signum Orione). I don't really know what to expect from such pens and was pleasantly surprised for the most part. The beautiful design, detailed engraving, solid construction quality, comfortable ergonomics, and nib performance are all big pluses going for it. However, the lack of attention to details (resin pattern matching between cap/barrel) and poor quality control of nib tuning in such expensive pens both left me baffled.

Overall I like the pen a lot because of how well it works as a tool. However, I don't see myself spending this kind of money on a FP now or in near future. To me the most important thing about these pens is that they are gifts from people who I love and respect, so I would cherish and enjoy them while I can, and eventually pass them down to my FP-loving children. NOPE, not now and not in near future either. Those Pelikano Jr. ought to last for quite some years to come. :)


Crazy windy days

The weather in desert can get quite extreme sometimes. Today we have 25+ mph winds with 40+ mph gusts. And as if that is not enough, the winds are expected to continue into tomorrow and bring the daytime temperature down by about 30-degree F compared to today. Perhaps I should consider taking a break from biking.


Another trip to Taiwan

Back from my second trip to Taiwan in two months, very tired but nevertheless quite happy. It is interesting to see how my body adjust to these frequent international travel and jet lag. Last time I slept quite well from day one, but lost my appetite almost completely and couldn't taste the food at all. This time I had trouble sleeping for the entire trip, but thoroughly enjoyed all the delicious food that Taiwan has to offer.

Work aside, I got to see my mom and my brother's family again, and of course, my nephew's excellent performance of making faces:

I also visited my in-law's new house

and saw a bunch of orchids and roses that have been keeping my father-in-law busy:

Luckily, my travel schedule allowed me to stay for my father-in-law's birthday, so I prepared a Think Tigre FP for him

and also a Lamy Pico for my mother-in-law as a very late b-day gift. What I didn't expected was that I'd come away with some really awesome party favors, including a Delta Napoli limited edition FP/RB set (FPH-exclusive)

and a yellow Aurora Ipsilon.

Now while I deal with the jet-lag (yet again), I will have some great time playing with these new toys.


Sleep seminar

While falling asleep during a seminar may not be all that rare (I do that some of the time and see people do it all the time), listening to a seminar about the science of sleep is definitely a first for me. Having good sleep during the night is difficult for me most of the time for as far back as I can remember, so when I saw the seminar announcement entitled "Sense & Nonsense to Improve Sleep", my interest is piqued and I can't wait to know what Dr. Richard R. Bootzin have to say about the subject. Here are the things that I learned today:

1. Sleep problems in toddlers and teenagers are good predictors for other problems (depression, substance abuse, etc) 10+ years down the road. Presumably, the same logic applies to adults.
2. Having <6 or >9 hours of sleep per day is not good; 7-8 hours would be the optimal for most people.
3. The use of bright light (in conjunction with darkness) is one of the most effective ways to influence circadian rhythm.
4. The stories about those crazy cyclists who participate in the Race Across America are absolutely fascinating. The hallucinations about aliens and such when one is under tremendous physical/mental stress and sleep deprivation can make very funny stories.


Pen Review: Libelle Season Collection

Here is a short review of the three pens from the Libelle's Seasons collection: Autumn Leaves, Summer Breeze, and Winter Storm. This is also posted at the FPN.

0. Background.
Well, it's not that I have never splurged on 3 pens at a time, but this is definitely a rare event. The main culprit of this crazy-impulse-purchase, although much delayed, is the Autumn Leaves, so I figured that I'd start with a background story.

I first saw the pen about an year and a half ago. My second daughter, Vivian, just started school that year. The first song she learned at her school is called "When the leaves are red and yellow in the fall", which is to the tune of "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain". The lyric goes like:

When the leaves are red and yellow in the fall, (clap, clap)
When the leaves are red and yellow in the fall, (clap, clap)
When the leaves are red and yellow, then the apples taste so mellow,
When the leaves are red and yellow in the fall. (clap, clap)

She enjoys singing the song at home all the time, and she looks so cute when she does that it melts my heart every single time. She kindly agreed to sing the song again for me today, but she is very shy this time:

Note: I believe that having a song as a part of a pen review is never done before at FPN. :)

One day, I had a chance to stop-by the Artlite pen store in Atlanta, and saw the Libelle Autumn Leaves there. The beautiful color combination of green/yellow/orange quickly caught my eyes, and when I learned about the name, I instantly thought of Vivian and her song. I almost bought the pen on the spot, but refrained from doing so because I really have too many pens and we were about to move all the way from Georgia to Arizona at that time. However, the image of this pen etched deeply into my mind, along with Vivian's song. For this reason, I simply can't shake the pen out of my mind. As I followed the pen, I noticed the subsequent release of Summer Breeze and Winter Storm in the Libelle Seasons collection, which are also quite stunningly beautiful. I keep telling myself that I really don't need another pen, but well, you know how that goes.

1. Appearance & Design
Each pen arrived in a nice cardboard/faux leather box. The black/white combination of the box did a good job to showcase the brilliant colors of the pens.

Inside the box, there is the pen (of course), a converter (with a bead in it), an international cartridge, and a small instruction card.

I've only seen the Autumn Leaves in person before I ordered the pens, and its colors are as wonderful as I remembered. The name pretty much said it all about what you can expect.

The Summer Breeze is a combination of white and blue with pearly irradiance, which reminded me of those wonderful times we had at beaches in summer. The Winter Storm is a very powerful/striking combination of black and white. I am very happy with the appearance of all three pens, and they are much better looking in person than any of the photos that I've seen on the web. Here's a shot of all three pens together.

Initially I thought that I wouldn't like the black part used for the cap/barrel ends because I always like pens that use the same material through out. However, this design feature makes the three pens look really great together, and I have learned to appreciate it on each individual pen.

To match up with the pen, I have PR Orange Crush for the Autumn Leaves, Pelikan Turquoise for the Summer Breeze, and Visconti Black for the Winter Storm. All three pen-ink combos look great for the moment.

2. Construction & Quality
The cap/barrel are thick in these pens, which makes them feel quite substantial. The construction quality is pretty good. I would prefer the barrel to be made thinner, such that (1) the pen can be lighter, and (2) the fit of converter wouldn't be so tight (you can feel a vacuum when you pull the barrel up and down, but this is a pretty minor issue). BTW, because the threads are on a metal part, eye-dropper (ED) conversion is out of the question with these pens.

3. Weight & Dimensions
I don't know the exact weight, but these pens feel heavier than my Bexley Americana and are similar to my Pelikan M800. These are definately full-sized pens, here is a shot with a Pelikan M800 (top) and a M200 (bottom) for comparison:

I like the balance of the pen when un-posted. The cap can be posted, but I don't do that for any of my pens except for Pilot M90.

4. Nib & Performance
The pen comes with a standard stainless steel Iridium Point Germany (IPG) nib, with M-nib as the only available option. All three pens that I got worked well right out of the box. They are all smooth writers with a medium ink flow (5 out of 10).
Although I probably should be happy with how well they write, I do have some complaints about the nibs that are not related to their writing performance. First, at this price point, Libelle could have use a nib that carry their own logo (the dragonfly should look pretty good on a nib). Second, the nib feels too small for the pen. It probably will look more balanced if a larger nib is used. Third, given that a generic IPG nib is used, they should have make it a screwed-out so that user could replace/upgrade the nib. Last, more nib size options should be available.

5. Filling System & Maintenance
These pens are standard CC fillers. Not much to add here.

6. Cost & Value
The MSRP is $80, and I bought them new for $56 each from TheInkFlow.com (standard disclaimer here). To me these pens are in the same category as the Levenger TrueWriters, so I think they will be a good benchmark to determine the "value". The Libelle pens look much nicer than the TrueWriters so they win hands down in the appearance part. The build qualities are similar. However, I am not so happy with the Libelle nibs, plus the Levenger TrueWriter can be had for a touch cheaper (or much cheaper if you go with the Levenger Ebay outlet), so it all depends on how much you like the look. Rationally, I think the Levenger TrueWriter has a much better "value", but then again, the reason I bought these Libelle pens are not entirely rational, and I am quite happy with the pens that I got for the price.

7. Conclusion
Overall I am pretty happy with these pens. To me the most important value of these pens are not how good they write or how good they looks, after all, it is difficult to put a price on the good memories from my daughter's 4-year-old days (yeah I know that this sounds like those cheesy credit card ads, but it's true). Now if Libelle come out with a Spring one with some cheerful colors, I would not hesitate to add that to my collection.