Duck Dodge!

As I've written about previously, I crew on a racing sailboat in the summers. Maybe once a year, we skip our regular race on Lake Washington and do the Duck Dodge.

This race is a Seattle institution (apparently, it's listed as one of Fodor's Top 100 Things to Do in North America). It's held on Lake Union, just on the north edge of downtown Seattle with the Space Needle in the background. Each week there's a wacky theme (we went out on Egyptian Night); many crews dress up or even decorate their boats, although we didn't. There are typically a ton of boats out, so it can be quite lovely and fun.
Duck Dodge fleet in front of the Space Needle

It's a pretty casual race with loose rules, but the one special rule is that you can't make a duck change course; if you do, you have to do a penalty turn. The first three finishers in each class (there are three, roughly divided by how fast your boat is) get a gold, silver, or bronze duck sticker. These are highly coveted in the Seattle area; winners typically put the stickers on their boom.

We've won a sticker in each race we've entered, but we had never won a gold first place prize. Despite the shifty, tricky winds, this year we finally won our class, by quite a big margin actually.

The funny thing was that we thought we were in second the whole race. It's a little difficult to tell which boats were in which class. We thought we were in the same class as a J/80 ahead of us (we had taken second to a J/80 last year - it's a much faster boat than our J/24), but when we finished, the committee boat staff told us we had won. The J/80 crew had apparently decided to join the faster class.

So, we looped around and picked up our sticker from the committee boat.
Bobby picking up the gold sticker from the committee boat.

We promptly stuck our first gold sticker on the boom. (We have a bronze and a silver duck on the other side of the boom too.)
Our gold duck sticker, next to an older bronze duck sticker.

Our merry band then motored back to our dock, quite happy. (It didn't hurt that we had an amazing bottle of rum onboard: a Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 - perhaps the best rum I've ever had and one that many commenters on my "Best Rum in the World" post mentioned. Highly recommended.)

Flight on a B-17

Andrew (15) and I got to fly on a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress from Boeing Field today, going with my friend Brian. This was the Collings Foundation B-17 "Nine-O-Nine", one of only ten flyable B-17s left in the United States. We actually tried to fly on this plane two years ago when they were in town, but the flight was scrapped due to rain.

Head on view of B-17G Nine-O-Nine

This year, we really lucked out. We had a perfect Seattle summer day. When we boarded the flight, we had to sit down and buckle up. There were spots for passengers scattered throughout the plane. Andrew and I sat in the radio room.
Andrew sitting in the radio room ready for takeoff

The crew left the top hatch open, so during the flight, we could even stick our heads (or camera) outside. This is a shot from out the top hatch, looking back at Boeing Field as we climbed after takeoff.
A shot of Boeing Field and the B-17's tail from the top hatch.

After takeoff, we could move throughout the plane. It was pretty tight and a bit tricky to move around with my camera bag; I can't imagine how hard it would be in a bulky flight suit, wearing a parachute.

Here's Andrew in the nose, looking through the bombsight.
Andrew looking through the bombsight.

This is a nice view of the I-90 Bridge and Bellevue, out the starboard waist gun.

One of my favorite places was in the top turret. You get a 360 degree view, although, I'm just a little short to be a good top turret gunner. Here's the view from the turret looking forward.

The flight lasted about thirty minutes, covering fifty-four miles. We averaged about 120mph and flew at around 1650'. It was loud and a rattled quite a bit at full power on takeoff, but the flight was smooth. The pilot was a pro and nailed the landing -- smooth as silk. Here's our flight track from my GPS watch.
b-17 flight

In addition to the B-17, they were giving flights on the last flying Consolidated B-24J Liberator as well as a North American TP-51C Mustang. I would really love to go up in a Mustang; this particular plane may be the only way to do it since it's a two-seater training variant.
TP-51C Mustang warms up, with Mount Rainier in the background.

This was really a rare opportunity since there are so few flyable warbirds left (and even fewer that take passengers). I'm really glad I got to do this with Andrew. (Too bad my younger son Michael wasn't interested.)

An Evening with an Astronaut

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As part of our trip to the Museum of Flight today, the boys and I attended a talk by astronaut Barbara Morgan. She's quite a remarkable person. After she graduated from Stanford, Barbara taught in a variety of elementary schools from an Indian reservation to Ecuador. She was selected as the backup to Christa McAuliffe as the Teacher in Space, picked from over 11000 applicants. After the Challenger disaster and McAuliffe's death, Barbara took on the role of Teacher in Space. She later was selected by NASA as a Mission Specialist and became a full-time astronaut, NASA's first "Educator Astronaut". After years of delays due to the Challenger and Columbia accidents, she flew on STS-118 on the Endeavor in 2007, bringing parts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). She's now on the board for the Challenger Center and teaches at Boise State University.

She took the Stanford Alumni Association audience through her flight, from launch to docking with ISS to landing. It was fun to hear her stories about what it was like, especially the little things like how they put strips of duct tape in convenient positions ahead of time so they could use them quickly to keep things from drifting around the zero-g cabin.

It was especially neat to have her give the talk in front of the real Full Fuselage Trainer - a full sized mockup of the Space Shuttle that the astronauts like Barbara trained on. She kept gesturing at different parts of the FFT as she talked. We're fortunate to have gotten it in Seattle (although a real shuttle would have been nice too...)

It was a real treat to meet a true American hero. I hope America returns to manned space exploration again soon -- on American launch vehicles.


Goofy boys in front of the new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery at the Museum of Flight
Charles Simonyi Space Gallery

The Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer
The Space Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer

Another view of the FFT
The rear view of the Full Fuselage Trainer

The cargo bay in the FFT. It's reasonably long but surprisingly narrow.
The cargo bay in the FFT

Astronaut Barbara Morgan presenting in front of the FFT
Astronaut Barbara Morgan presenting in front of the FFT

Barbara answering a little girl's question about the hardest thing she had to learn to be an astronaut.
Barbara answering a little girl's question about the hardest thing she had to learn to be an astronaut.

Scenes from the Museum of Flight

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I took the boys to the Museum of Flight here in Seattle today for a Stanford Alumni event (more on that later). It was the first time we've been there in a while. As I mentioned on a previous visit, I really love planes. This was a fun visit because Andrew (15) and I got to try one of the motion flight simulators; Michael (12) wasn't interested. On previous visits, the boys weren't old enough or I couldn't leave one alone while I flew with the other one. It was fun rolling upside-down. (We shot down two Zeroes too...)

I managed to get a few photos I liked while we were there too.

Zoom zoom: M-21 Blackbird engine intake
M-21 Blackbird engine intake

Don't tread on me: 20mm gun pod slung below a F-4C Phantom II
20mm gun pod slung below a F-4 Phantom II

Pride in craftsmanship: Pratt & Whitney FG-1D Corsair engine
Pratt & Whitney FG-1D Corsair engine

A big engine needs a big blade: FG-1D Corsair prop
FG-1D Corsair prop

Don't forget me!
Remove Before Flight tag on F-4 Phantom II

True PC Love: Dell XPS One 27 Touch

Over the past 30+ years (including 22 years at Microsoft), I have used a lot of computers, from my first TRS-80 Model III to my Mac Plus to almost the entire range of PCs from the original IBM PC and the first laptops to today's modern machines. I have some sentimental feelings toward some like my Apple II Plus, but I don't think I've loved any of them (with the possible exception of my iPad) -- until now.

Over the holidays, I decided to replace my Win7 home PC with a Dell XPS One 27 Touch running Windows 8. Based on my experience at work with Win8 on different computers, I knew I wanted a touch-capable machine for Win8 at home.

My new Dell (next to my "My First Bacon" plushie)

It's a lovely all-in-one computer, loaded with all the goodies like a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, loads of memory and storage, and a beefy i7 processor. However, when I first set it up, I was honestly a little unimpressed. I had it set up like a normal PC with the monitor upright and set back a little on my desk. It was just not very convenient or natural to touch the monitor there.

However, once I pulled the monitor closer to me, lowered to desk level, and tilted it back about 20-30 degrees, the device became magical. (It's easy to move the monitor up, down, and tilted.) Suddenly, as I was working over the PC a bit, reading became very natural. The 27" 2560 x 1440 screen is almost newspaper-sized and is sharp, so it makes for a great reading experience -- way better than my beloved iPad. Swiping the monitor to turn pages is very natural. I can see two full pages in the Kindle app or Zinio app (for magazines), and the Bing News app (which I didn't love before) has become a daily fixture for me now. Even the reading mode in Word (which I hate on my regular monitor/mouse combo at work) is fantastic on this machine.

Zinio's two page display

I still have my keyboard and mouse when I want it, but I find myself using touch a lot more. I must admit, I feel very Minority Report when I'm using this machine, swiping and gesturing to do everything. I now really want more Windows 8 Store apps; Win7/desktop mode feels too old school and cruddy by comparison.

Of course, not everything is perfect. I don't love the wireless keyboard and mouse that come with the machine and will probably switch to an ergonomic wireless keyboard and a mouse with back and forward buttons. The video card (nVidia GeForce GT 640M) is only OK; I'm not a huge PC gamer, so this isn't terrible, but a little more oomph would be nice. I also wish the machine used SSD more effectively. There's an mSata slot with a 32G SSD which they use in Intel's SRT mode, basically a cache for the hard drive, like Apple's Fusion Drive. I'd rather have a big SSD with Windows and my apps on it. The machine is pretty quiet, with only a low fan buzz, but of course, more quiet is more better. Finally, this machine is spendy -- $2599.99 for the totally tricked out machine. I can't remember the last time I spent this much on a computer. (They do have lower priced configurations with smaller monitors, less memory, etc.)

Conventional wisdom says that Win8 is great on tablet computers but is only OK at best on desktops. This machine has blows that view out of the water for me. This big touch screen with Windows 8 is really a transformative computing experience for me. I just love it.

The Essential Guide to Dim Sum

This is the article I wish I had written (or could write). It's a great primer on dim sum, complete with photos, descriptions, Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciation, and Chinese characters. As long-time readers know, I am a huge foodie and am basically illiterate in Chinese despite being able to speak pretty well.

If you go ever go to dim sum (or want to -- and you should!) I highly recommend it.

The Essential Guide to Dim Sum


(Separately, the author Carolyn Phillips has an amazing blog called "Out to Lunch with @MadameHuang" about Chinese food. She's an American who speaks Chinese fluently and has lived in Taiwan and China. She has beautiful recipes and photos on her blog that have me salivating. I've exchanged a little email with her too; she seems really nice. Check it out!)

Michael's first 5K

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Michael (12) started running this school year and has gotten pretty good (7:05 mile times). His school puts a lot of emphasis on physical education (rightly, I think) and awards extra credit when the kids run races outside of class. I therefore signed him up for the Resolution Run, which I ran seven years ago. (Holy cow! has it been that long?!)

It was a very beautiful (but cold – 34 degrees F) New Year's Day morning. Michael lined up for the race, confident he was going to blow through it easily, but he got cold feet – both literally and figuratively. Still, he powered through the race and finished in 34:40 (11:11 miles, average). This made him the 368th finisher overall in the "Dry" division (people who opted not to dive into Lake Washington just before the end of the race). I think there were about 700 people total in that group. He was 17th of 27 for his age division (boys 14 and under) and 168th of 228 of all men.

I think he did great for his first race, especially running by himself. (I opted out since I'm definitely not in race shape.) I'm very proud of him.) I need to get back into race shape so I can do the next one with him.

Michael crossing the finish line (behind the woman in blue). The time on the display is the "gun" time, not his time. They accurately calculate each runner's actual time using a chip tied to each runner's shoe and the blue pads at the start and finish.
Michael crossing the finish line.

Michael after the race, looking like he could run another few kilometers.
Michael after the race, holding his water bottle.

Merry Christmas!

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Michael and Andrew in front of the Christmas tree

This is a rare photo of Michael (12) letting Andrew (15) touch him. I had to tell them they couldn't open their presents until they posed for this shot. Whatever works. (You can see Michael's favorite panda hat in this shot; he wears it all the time around the house now.)

Here's wishing you and yours a joyous Christmas!

A call for reason

Like people around the world, I'm truly devastated by the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary; I definitely feel extra grateful my kids are safely at home tonight.

In the wake of an event like this, it's understandable, admirable, and very human to want to prevent it from ever happening again. My Facebook feed seems like a microcosm of our society, with some making fervent calls for increased (or even total) gun control while others assert that armed teachers might have made a difference. Most just express deep sadness and disbelief.

I'm not making any statements here about what, if anything, we should do; rather, I'd like to suggest how we might go about it.

First, although I appreciate the desire to do something now, I think reacting immediately can lead to poor policy choices. One has only to look to America's recent past for examples: the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor and the passage of the Patriot Act after 9/11. These seemingly well-intentioned actions made at the height of emotion limited Fifth and Fourth Amendment rights in the name of public good. However, the internment has been officially acknowledged as a national injustice and disgrace, and the Patriot Act has already had several portions ruled unconstitutional. I believe it will be seen by history as a similar injustice.

If we choose to limit or eliminate our Second Amendment rights, we should do so with clear heads (and in a legal fashion). There are no absolute rights, but I certainly think we should be cautious whenever there are calls to suspend, curtail, or overturn our liberties for the public good.

Second, we owe it to ourselves and each other to be informed and intellectually disciplined, that those who make policy or vote on it should understand the facts. For example, many people were shocked when US Representative Todd Akin demonstrated his ignorance of basic human physiology when he said that women's bodies can shut prevent pregnancies from "legitimate rape". Fortunately, I think many people were relieved he lost his bid for US Senate, preventing him from setting potentially damaging policies around reproductive rights or women's health.

I think we should be equally intolerant of people similarly ignorant about guns, current gun law, and gun control history who would propose gun control solutions. In the past, this has lead to feel-good but useless measures like banning Teflon-coated "cop killer" bullets. (Teflon doesn't enable bullets to penetrate body armor; in fact it reduces the round's ability to do so.) Learning about guns from Rambo is as insufficient as learning about science from Jurassic Park.

I've even seen my incredibly intelligent and well-educated colleagues ignore their understanding of statistics and logic. For example, they cite comparisons with other countries as evidence that gun control in the US would be effective (e.g. Japan), ineffective (e.g. Jamaica), or unnecessary (e.g. Switzerland), as if the only difference between these societies were in their gun laws. While it may be instructive to learn from other countries, we shouldn't confuse correlation with causation. I believe policy is only as good as the factual and logical foundation upon which it is built.

Most important, we must actually listen to one another. The balance between gun rights and gun control is often a deeply held, almost religious belief for people on both sides. I saw someone on my Facebook feed say, "I've never understood guns and never will." To me this is as reprehensible as a statement like "I've never understood homosexuality and never will." We have to acknowledge there are merits to both sides and thoughtfully address the concerns before we can reach any sustainable outcome.

I strongly believe, as with all complex issues, we must be wary of seemingly simple solutions. There are definitely tradeoffs and costs to any course of action. Mobs in the heat of the moment, confident in their own righteousness, and closed to dissenting views rarely find the right balance.

Something for my Christmas list

The last remaining bottle of the world's most expensive whisky is going up for auction tomorrow in LA. Glenfiddich made only fifteen bottles of the "Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve" from a cask that went into the barrel in 1955. (Janet Sheed Roberts was the oldest living person in Scotland and the granddaughter of the distillery's founder.) They apparently went into glass in 2010, so the whisky is considered 55 years old. One of the bottles from this set went for $94,000. According to the Glenfiddich malt master (how do I become a malt master?), the bottling is "incredibly elegant". Here are some other tasting notes.

The bottle itself is special too, "Each of the beautiful hand blown bottles has 24ct Gold adorning its neck and front. The stopper which consists of an aquamarine Cloisonné medallion monogrammed in gold with Mrs Roberts initials was made by Thomas Fattorini's." [From]

Yes please!

Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve, 55 year old whisky

[Via "This Is The World's Most Expensive Whisky" from NPR]