My 2016 in Review

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Well, I sucked at writing blog posts in 2016. I'm actually cheating now and back-dating this post by a day so there's an entry in 2016. I did think about writing a lot of posts since it was an interesting year. Here's a quick recap, as much for my future reference as anything else.

We started powerboating in earnest this year. Michelle and I were sailors before we had kids, but last year we tried cruising powerboats and really enjoyed it. We chartered again in February and decided we could even enjoy winter cruising, so in June we bit the bullet and bought a 47 foot Selene trawler. After some refitting and renaming her Tonic (her former name was Eric K), we cruised her up into Canada as far as Princess Louisa Inlet (really stunning). We spent most weekends aboard through the summer and fall and look forward to more cruising. Since we're only a few years from being empty nesters, we're also using this boat to see if we could realistically downsize and live aboard. Stay tuned on that front.

Tonic in Princess Louisa Inlet
Tonic in Princess Louisa Inlet

Andrew (19) scouting ahead as we cruise in Canada.
Andrew (19) scouting ahead as we cruise in Canada.

 

I also continued to race sailboats with my buddies this year aboard the J-24 Rajun' Cajun. We moved from racing in the Lake Washington J-24 fleet to the much less competitive (and more fun) Duck Dodge races in Lake Union. We've been racing together for so many years that we've lost count, but this was the first year I drove the boat for a few races (since our skipper Rico was out cruising on his new boat). We didn't do as well as usual, but it was fun and a good learning experience (except the part where I hit another boat, causing a bunch of damage to their outboard...)
Rajun Cajun sailing with sails backlit by the sun

 

Aside from boating, we had a quick trip in June to Chicago for my cousin Eric's wedding. It was a fun occasion and great to see family from all over the country in one place.

Me photobombing Eric and Melodie while Andrew (19) looks on. Michael (16) is on his phone, as usual.
Tony photobombing Eric and Melodie

 

Three generations of Chor boys and Michelle
Me, my dad, Andrew (19), my brother Ives, Michelle, and Michael (16)

 

Michael turned 16 this summer and got his drivers license. I'm not sure who is more nervous, Michelle and I or Michael (although he is a good driver). Oddly (at least to me), Andrew (19) never got his license. He's gotten back into rock climbing in a big way when he's not playing PC video games with his friends online or telling me everything is my fault.
Michael (16) focused on his driving

 

Andrew (19) finished his first year at Evergreen State College. He decided to take some time off, so he's working at a nearby ramen restaurant now. We also had our first drink together in Canada, where the drinking age is 19. It was fun to hang out in a pub near the marina we were in and shoot pool together.
Andrew (19) shooting pool

 

I started going to JabX Kickboxing, a nearby gym, in November of last year. I was a mess when I started; I couldn't even get through the ten minute warm-up. Here's me lying the on the ground after my first warm-up.
Me lying on the ground at JabX

Despite the inauspicious start, I kept it up all year, going most weekday mornings at 6:00am for the hour-long workout. I'm much stronger now. I also lost about twenty pounds and two inches off my pant size.

I got called to jury duty again, just a little over a year from my last time. This time I had a civil trial involving a slip-and-fall outside a local grocery store. Although the plaintiff was severely injured and was really sadly impacted by his injuries, we found in favor of the defendant. Despite the inconvenience of being on jury duty again, I thought it was interesting to see a civil case and contrast that with the criminal case from the year before.

 

On the work front, I completed my third year at Amazon. I continued to lead the Detail Page team (we make the shopping pages that have the information about each product like the picture, title, price, reviews, etc.) and added the Shopping Experience Platform team (we build the user interface framework and key API platform for Amazon's shopping experience as well as ensuring the site is great for customers with disabilities.) Despite whatever reputation Amazon has for being a bad place to work, I still really love it there. A big part of my team is in Bangalore, so I went there three times this year. On one trip, I ran into a bandh (protests), trapping us at the hotel for two days and forcing us to leave the office early one day. Fortunately, we had fun on other trips. I got to catch a performance at the Hard Rock Cafe by a local band, Agam, that two of my teammates were in. The Hard Rock staff apologized about the high cover price saying there was a "famous Indian band" playing; we told them we knew the band. They were skeptical until our friends came down to welcome us. It was cool to see the crowd all singing their songs. They're really good and worth checking out.

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I also finally left the airport in Dubai and spent a little time exploring there with some of my colleagues. We checked out the Burj Khalifa, hung out with some friends from Beijing, shopped around the old areas of Dubai, and went dune bashing in the desert (where our 4x4 got stuck and had to be rescued). Here I am in the desert, waiting for help. The Facebook caption contest returned themes Dune, Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia, lost golf balls, new Amazon offices, and how generally dumb I was to wear black into the desert.
Me standing in the desert with a black shirt on my head

Of course, I was most happy to find the "pork room" in the Burj Khalifa, a big deal in a Muslim country.
Pork room sign with Arabic writing

In the new year I'll be starting a new job in the same division, leading the new Shopping OS team. I'll keep the platform parts of my current team and add more platformy parts. We'll be building the next generation of Amazon's shopping application platform. It should be interesting, but I'll miss the detail page part of my team.

 

Personally, I learned to enjoy my life more. I stopped commenting on politics on Facebook. It was no fun and frankly kind of stressful to get into those kinds of discussions with friends, especially in such a contentious year. I was also reminded that our time on earth is precious. Two of my former teammates lost their spouses unexpectedly and a teammate on a partner team suddenly passed away. They were all younger than I am and were apparently healthy. We need to really enjoy every day.

Here's to enjoying every day of 2017!

Portraits of Andrew

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Andrew (17) kindly agreed to pose for photos during our recent trip to New York City. I'm biased, of course, but I think he's turning into a pretty handsome dude. Not sure when he grew up though.

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iFly!

A few weeks ago, I took my team to iFly Seattle for a little fun. iFly is billed as indoor skydiving. Rather than falling, you're in a powerful updraft. It was super fun (and got great reviews from my team members). When I told Andrew (16) about it, he wanted to go, so I took him for his birthday today along with our friend Maddi, who was also very gung ho to try it. Michael (12) wasn't interested but came along.

After some classroom instruction, an instructor goes into the chamber with you and helps you control your position and body. You're in the chamber for either a minute or two minutes, depending on which package you select, and you typically do two flights (I strongly recommend the two minute option since it takes a bit to get settled). On the second flight you have the option to do a "high flight" with the instructor, where s/he grabs onto you and flies you up into the 2-3 story chamber. It's actually not scary (at least I wasn't scared) since you don't have the falling sensation.

They have cameras in the chamber and will move you into position for a good photo (which you can buy afterwards). They'll also give you a DVD of your flight.

Andrew and Maddi had a great time. I'm sure we'll be going back.

Here's me flying at our team event.
Me flying at our team event

Andrew and Maddi ready for action.
Andrew and Maddi in purple jumpsuits

Andrew flying!
Andrew flying

Video of Andrew's "high flight"

Rafting on the Grande Ronde River

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After our amazingly fun rafting trip on the Deschutes River last year, Andrew (15) and I decided to go rafting with some friends again this year. Even better, Michael (12) decided to join us this time.

Our friend and trip planner Don chose the Grande Ronde River for this year's trip. This river is in the north-eastern part of Oregon. Like the previous trips, we used the awesome Oregon Whitewater Adventures guys. We drove down to La Grande the day before and enjoyed the comforts of the Rodeway Inn motel there (a little different from the resorts we normally frequent.) The next morning, we drove to Minam and set out on our three day, two night adventure.

The Grande Ronde River was a nice change from the Deschutes. It was a little less exciting from a rafting perspective; it had fewer big rapids (it's rated 2-3 vs. the Deschutes at 3-4) and dropped more consistently (vs. the pool-and-drop Deschutes). However, the scenery and camping were more picturesque -- more green than the high desert Deschutes valley. The additional moisture meant we could have fires in the evening too - a big advantage! Plus, there were no trains to interrupt our sleep and fewer other people on the river. We went around 50 miles over the three days -- pretty easy.

Like last year, we had two boats with our friends plus two gear boats. The staff did all of the work; we only had to set up our tents. We had great water fights and nice rafting, although we swam less since the water was more shallow this late in the season. On the Grande Ronde, there were no Bureau of Land Management campgrounds, so we camped in more primitive sites; in particular, there were no outhouses, so the staff set up a tent and porta-potty (really a seat on top of a big ammo can). Our guides were excellent again, with Colby and Jeff returning from last year and the crazy and wonderful Pamela plus the owner Dave joining us this year.

We all enjoyed the trip greatly and are already looking forward to next year.

The boys and I on the river.
Andrew, Michael, and me on the river

The kids playing cards (BS) in camp. It got pretty hardcore!
Kids playing cards in camp

Our camp site the second night.
Our campsite the second night

One day at lunch, we hiked up the nearby hill for a better view. It was quite steep, actually, but well worth it.
View of the Grande Ronde River from the top of a nearby hill

The views along the river were lovely. The hill in the background is the one we climbed. We made it about 2/3 the way up.
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Michael enjoying a swim.
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Michael enjoying some quiet time in camp, reading by the river. One of the best parts of the trip was having no electronics and no cellular signal.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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!

Rafting on the Deschutes River

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Andrew (14) and I spent the last three days rafting on the Deschutes River in northern Oregon, about two hours east of Portland. We went with our friend Selva and plus two of his friends; they had taken this trip a few years ago and decided it would be fun to bring their kids along. We were joined by another father/son pair (although the son was bit older than the other kids, entering his senior year of college).

We drove down from Seattle the day before and stayed at the Best Western in Madras (the Mexican restaurant next door has the biggest margaritas I've ever seen.) The next morning we started our adventure in Warm Springs and drifted almost fifty miles over the three days, getting out a little past Maupin. I didn't know whether the trip would be strenuous since I haven't really done much rafting before and have never done a multi-day trip. It turned out to be quite easy. The Deschutes is a "pool-and-drop" river. This meant we had long stretches of pretty calm water where we drifted along, paddling only to help correct our position in the river. Occasionally, we'd hit a short stretch of rapids which required a few seconds of hard paddling then more drifting. The guides steered the boat from the back and gave us instructions of when and how to paddle. Our group filled two boats plus we had two gear boats, packed with dry bags containing our camping gear and effects, the kitchen, food, camp chairs, etc. Raft camping is a lot like car camping in the sense you can live pretty comfortably since weight and space are less of an issue than in backpacking.

We generally left shore around 9:30-10:00am and rafted until 11:30-ish when we'd stop for lunch. We'd push off again around 1:00pm and raft until 3:00pm where we'd set up camp for the night. This left us a lot of time to chat, admire the high desert scenery, look for wildlife (including wild horses, bald eagles, turkey vultures, and dozens of ospreys), and engage in boat-to-boat water fights. There were a few exciting Class III rapids including "Buckskin Mary", which Andrew and I swam twice -- very fun. There were many camp sites along the river with pit or composting toilets so there wasn't too much trouble getting good sites with enough space for our group, both for lunch and overnight. We stayed at the Wingdam camp site the first night and Buckskin Mary the second. We ended our trip at Sandy Beach, which is the last pullout before Sherars Falls. We had good weather with only a few rain drops and alternating sunshine and slightly overcast skies. Our clothes dried very quickly each day. The evenings were warm so sleeping in the tents was not a problem. It was pretty different from camping in Western Washington where the nights are colder and more damp. The only downer of the camp sites were the trains that ran along the river; they came through a few times per night and were quite noisy.

We did our trip through the very excellent Oregon Whitewater Adventures; they did an excellent job making the trip comfortable, fun, and safe. I recommend them highly and would go again with them. They took care of pretty much everything -- loading and unloading, cooking, and cleanup. The food was pretty basic but good -- French toast/pancakes or eggs for breakfast, cold cut sandwiches or Costco oriental chicken salad for lunch, poached salmon or Spanish chicken and rice for dinner (although they forgot the rice so we had Spanish chicken and toast instead). The other rafters brought beer, wine, liquor, and soft drinks so we had plenty to drink in addition to what the company provided. Our guides Lauren, Colby, Jack, and Jeff were fantastic -- very friendly and great with the kids, safe and expert on the river, and full of stories and jokes.

Andrew and I had a really great time. I could easily have kept going on a few more days, and we're both eager to do more rafting trips.

 

The beautiful high desert landscape
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Andrew and I scouting Whitehorse Rapids.
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Camp life
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Our camp site at Buckskin Mary.
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Andrew playing "Paddle of Trust" where you stand up, hook paddles with another person, and lean back. Invariably, one or both players gets wet.
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Not that Andrew minded getting wet. He jumped into the cold water as often as possible
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All-in-all, it was a great mini-vacation.
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Camping at Spencer Spit State Park

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Andrew (14) and I spent the last three days camping at Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island, which is in the San Juan Islands north of Seattle). We had never been the Lopez Island before; we found this park through recommendations from friends on Facebook (search really is better with your friends...) Aside from a huge downpour that started right after we set our tent up, the weather was perfect -- sunny and warm.

Spencer Spit State Park entrance sign (name on a wooden boat)

 

The park has an odd very pointy beach, the result of alternating tides that have build sand up to form this point, aimed at the heart of the little nearby Frost Island.
Aerial photograph of Spencer Spit State Park showing the triangular beach.

 

We tried our hand at sea kayaking for the first time. We launched from the south side of the beach and circumnavigated Frost Island. We managed to successfully stay dry until a fell on my ass getting out of the boat, soaking myself in the process.
Andrew looking back from the front seat of our two-man kayak, islands in the distance.

 

We spent a lot of time on the beach. Andrew loves driftwood beaches; he's always making stuff. Knowing this, I brought along some paracord (always useful and good to have around). Andrew used the paracord to fashion a hoe, chiseling holes through a shell and tying it onto a driftwood stick.
Andrew proudly displaying his shell-and-stick hoe.

 

The shells made nice targets for our new slingshot, which we tried out for the first time. They exploded in a very satisfying way when hit, although we didn't manage to hit them directly too often since we were still learning how to aim the shots.
Andrew aiming his slingshot at shells lined up on a log on the beach.

 

We also used some shells to boil seawater, in an experiment to harvest salt. After boiling off the water, we did manage to get a little salt in the bottom of the shells. I think we'd have to keep adding seawater to get enough salt to scrape out. Note: the shells can pop and explode, I'm guessing due to pockets of moisture in the shells. Andrew got hit by a "shell fragment".
Three white shells on a grill over our fire ring.

 

Beyond our beach adventures, we played with a night-vision scope, which was much more fun in the woods than at home. We even watched a doe for a while through the scope. She didn't notice us (or didn't care) so we got to watch her feeding on the trail for a while. (No photos of this, unfortunately.)

Our campsite (#2) was pretty good. It got sun for a good part of the day and was conveniently located to the water, garbage, and restrooms. It was OK private, but a little noisy from the nearby group camping sites (although I'm not sure any sites would have been quieter). The park has a few walk-in camp sites on the beach, which would have been fun to try, although they're not very private and use a composting toilet instead of the nice clean flush bathrooms servicing the other parts of the campground. (They do have a cart at the parking lot to help you bring your gear down to the site, however.) It's also worth remembering that you can buy firewood at the campground for $5/bundle. (The "camp hosts" will even deliver it to your camp site); bringing enough firewood is always a hassle, so this is a nice perq, although I don't know if they have this service year-round.

We both really enjoyed the campout (and the visit to Lopez Village). Andrew kept saying "this is the life" and thanking me for taking him along. It was definitely a trip I'll always remember.

Andrew and Tony in our campsite.