Category Archives: fun

Transition to first grade

Serenity started 1st grade this fall. Same school. I have some ideas on first grade, mostly around the homework, “more serious school” vs. the kindergarten which has more play time. I learned from fellow parents last year when they talked about it after MFS (I volunteered there).

Seeing is believing. Serenity now has been in 1st grade for over a month. Some impressions:
1) More work, either schoolwork or the work we gave her.

2) More seriousness, definitely, she got a tardy slip (her first) because we were late in the morning, we were probably late for 2 or 3 minutes (but still late, no excuse here), as I saw we were the only car in the car pool lane which is the only time like this.

3) More pressure, or expectations, besides on time, they were expected to listen more carefully when the teacher talks, and follow directions quickly, etc.

Those are my initial impressions, after a bit over a month school.

What kind of person I like my daughters to become

1) Confident, independent (not blindly follow other or influenced by others opinion), strong (not easily quit, grit, or perseverance) ;

2) Empathy, humility, know how to wear other people’s shoes and feel other people’s pain (同情心);

3) 不卑不亢(english translation? It seems bullet 1 covers this too. List it here as this is my father taught me, likely from his own life experience.);

4) Grounded, down to earth. Don’t take self too seriously, have a sense of humor. 平易近人, 幽默感。

That sinking feeling 真的是狼来了坏事了?

Talking about tests exams and realized I made a big mistake, this happens quite often when I was in middle school. My solution to that was not talk about or think about it after a test. But that did not work for Gaokao. As we had to estimate how we did after the test, then decided the schools we wanted to apply (or realistically speaking, they will accept us). In Chinese it’s called 估分和填志愿。

Working days 开始工作: leaving work and on the car thinking about the automatic job running could have issues, and don’t know where I can find a useful wifi hotspot (like this afternoon). This is a bit like second guessing myself, which in many cases turn out my 1st attempt was good (including this afternoon). This is also a bit like in an exam, when I had time to review and was not sure about the answer to some question, I could make some change and basically changed some “correct” answers to “wrong” ones. Also keep in mind even in a few cases it did turn out I made small mistake initially, the mistake was mostly harmless, excepting waste some of my time or slow down other teammate (one example was the integration job during ugs/Siemens days). On a related topic, about working after hours. Try to stay away from those unless absolutely necessary. I know we are knowledge workers, in a sense we never stop working, we can think about work related stuff all the time. Don’t. Don’t pull out work laptop and start coding (or something else) if we think of some good idea. Instead put a note to yourself on a phone. We can pick it up the next day. That’s called work life balance.

Other situations (family related), when I call my parents at regular time and they were not there, I would start worry: are you getting sick, or something; once I missed the call from my daughter’s school bus driver, I was really worried kid may have issue on the way from school to home. Other kids related topic, I recall once I dropped my daughter on the ground (on her back, or back head), I heard her cry, and was very worried and felt guilty did not holding her tight enough 很遗憾没有把她抓住. After talking to a doctor, she reassured me in most cases a kid would still be ok. :-)

This reminds me for my on call (pager duty), many times when alerts go off, the wolf did not actually come. The real situation usually is not as bad as we initially thought :-)

Hit the hay 最近几年住过的酒店

十几年前我回国在上海一般就住一个如家或锦江之星,挑一个离地铁比较近的酒店,这样上班办事都比较方便。那时候没有小孩,旅馆主要就是睡个觉,干净清爽就可以了。快进几年,有了两个小孩,住的酒店要求也稍有提高。托酒店信用卡促销的福,攒了些点数或是free nights, 我也升级了住的旅馆。在上海常住的旅馆有,徐家汇的万丽酒店(courtyard Shanghai xujiahui), 她家所在的楼叫西藏大厦,出租车司机如不清楚可提这个名字。另一家是浦东的喜来登福朋酒店(four points by Sheraton, Shanghai pudong, 又叫由由酒店,楼的名字),注意她家旁边有喜来登酒店(Sheraton Shanghai pudong, 5 star vs four points 4 star), 不要搞错。这两家的房间起价大概是800人民币左右。

最近一次有幸住了回陆家嘴的柏悦酒店(park hyatt),这个标价是大概300多美金,我用的是hyatt卡的开卡free nights. 看了下用chase ultimate rewards points 的话是2万点一晚。小孩很喜欢,因为有一些没见过的features. 我的头被淋浴喷头砸了一下。Uncle Major 进大观园。:-)

在美国最近住Hampton inn 比较多。还是觉得Hampton inn 接地气一些。这家Hilton 系列的中档酒店设计简单,实用,且包早餐。一般我这样小兵级别的人出差就住它家。对有小孩的家庭包早餐是一个挺有用的feature. Other hotels have similar feature include Hilton garden inn, holiday inn express and clarion. Last but not least, hhonors is the Hilton hotels reward program. Hampton inn usually costs 20,000 points (roughly $100).

Last but not least, tips. I know it’s a sensitive topic, but typically I gave $2 tip for the maid at Hampton (or equivalent hotels), put the note stating “for the maid” on the top of the bill so there is no confusion. Interestingly, in China I noticed the tipping culture is popular in Shanghai foreign brand hotels (4 star or above), I do give tips for people who handle my luggages (roughly $1 for a piece, which is similar to US standard). But in less developed areas, there is no such things as tip. People will laugh it off and give back the money.

Under the wing 旅途点滴

上面这个照片是我在最近一次的去中国的航班上照的。来美国有快二十年,坐过很多次飞跃太平洋的航班,坐的最多可能是美联航的航班。从芝加哥到上海的直航也就13,14个小时,加上从圣村到芝城的一个小时再加上几个小时的lay over, 总共的旅行时间比我当年从宁波到武汉上学的时间(大概是37,38小时,包括两次中转的时间)还短些。当然还比当年的火车舒服些。飞机坐多了,难免会有这样那样的事。最吓人的一回是2004年夏天从旧金山走,说是飞机起飞时发现翅膀发动机有火花。飞机在海上把满箱的油放掉后返航。当时乘务员给大家出了一个题,多少油,多少钱一加仑航空油。我算了一下大概是30多万美元。随着航空公司这两年越来越追求利润,不知道现在还会不会这样做?

还有一次是冬天,圣村到凤城的航班因雪晚点。等我赶到去上海的登机口,飞机已起飞。求工作人员能否让我standby 还没走的北京航班。也许是被我的诚意打动,工作人员给我改签了到北京的standby。飞北京的航班也已快结束登机,这一次还有一个空位。工作人员把已关闭的登机口再打开(我是第一回碰到这种情况),登机不久,飞机就离开登机口了。




Hotels in Shanghai I stayed in recent years

Courtyard in Xujiahui (formerly Tibet hotel, as you can see the rooftop design, tripAdvisor, marriott website). Good location and friendly people. I recall the first time I visited (2011), I used my Marriott rewards and silver status, the front desk especially got the leader over and greet. I suspect at that time, perhaps there were not many guests with Marriott silver status. In fact for me it’s just a benefit of Marriott card via Chase. The location is really nice. There is a restaurant next to the hotel. And some convenience stores in walking distance. It’s within the walking distance of Xujiahui business district. It costs 10,000 points Marriott points or about 700 to 800 CNY per night. I stayed there a few times.

Four Points by Sheraton in Pudong (starwood hotel website, tripAdvisor). It costs 4000 SPG points. It’s bigger than the Courtyard Xujiahui, in fact many things in Pudong is bigger than Puxi, think it as downtown vs. suburban in the US (as one of my Haigui friends once said). The cash rate is between $72 to about $200 per night (depends on room).

Another hotel, I have not stayed, but will stay this June, is Park Hyatt in Shanghai Pudong (tripAdvisor). I am going to use my Hyatt free night there. The going rate is a bit expensive, I think.

Note I used to stay at budget hotels in Shanghai back in 2006/7. Now with family and kids, I can no longer do that.

Inflight wifi

I’d read this one first, because it explains the technology and the players.

Gizmodo (Adam Clark Estes 5/04/15 3:41pm): Every Major Airline’s Wifi Service, Explained and Ranked

Some background why Gogo is the dominant player at this time.
Bloomberg (Sam Grobart | August 26, 2015): Why Gogo’s Infuriatingly Expensive, Slow Internet Still Owns the Skies

RunwayGirlNetwork has a lot of articles on this topic, such as the following:
US transcon war heats up as Virgin America taps ViaSat for Internet By Seth Miller

Gogo to launch global Ground-to-Orbit connectivity (a bit old, note 2014/03)

14 Oct 2015 JetBlue hits major milestones with Fly-Fi rollout By Seth Miller →

Now you know carrier wise, Jet Blue is the leader in terms of inflight wifi. This is consistent with the Gizmodo article above.

The Gogo AA dispute
Bloomberg: Gogo Plummets as American Airlines Eyes Competitor ViaSat Michaela Ross Mary Schlangenstein

16 Feb 2016 American looks to swap Gogo for ViaSat on 200 aircraft By Seth Miller →

Beyond sky
Wi-Fi on Cruises: Five Popular Ships Ranked Written by Cynthia Drescher May 15, 2015. Note the newer generation technology behind the inflight wifi and cruise ship wifi are similar: satellite. The thing impressed me (quote below): Speed tests on a preview cruise, with every passenger provided complimentary access, measured an average of 5.00 Mbps download and 4.33 Mbps upload.

Some thoughts on wechat hongbao (red packet)

I came across a good discussion on the topic here at Baidu. Interesting discussions.

Btw, I thought about it before reading that, and decided to give most of my earnings to OCEF. Today I saw my name on the report. Good: really I don’t care too much about my name there, and I know my contribution is small, but I want the money to be in good hands. And I know they are doing good work for kids in disadvantaged economy condition.

wechat hongbao


(Update 02-23-2016) Got the refund from Uncle Sam. From filing to receive refund only takes 7 days via turbo tax web version. Now I am waiting till 4/15 for the state because I owe money to show me state :-)

(Update 02-16-2016) I filed the tax last night, since I got almost all the forms I need. In case some other form showed up and it it’s meaningful, I can always do an amended return. Again I used the Fidelity deal mentioned below ($15 off $55 for premier version).

(Update 02-09-2016) I found a possible meaningful deduction or credit for those with High Deductible Health Insurance Plan. I found I can get about $1400 more back after filling in the HSA (Health Saving Account) information, it asked me do I have HDP plan on Dec 1st 2015, the answer is “Yes”.

(Original 02-02-2016) It’s that season again. I received two W-2s lately (I know I know :-), and tonight I started working on it. Note I’ve done Federal tax using TurboTax online version since 2001 (ever since I worked full time). I know we can get discount from the PC version from time to time, but I felt it’s worth the money to use the online version so that I know I always have a copy somewhere on the cloud (note back in 2001 cloud was a far far place compared to today, I recall I was using dial up Internet at the time). This could come handy when sometimes I need a 1040 for home refinance etc. I know one can have a backup of desktop version too, but it better be kept in a safe place and personally I prefer turbo tax (intuit) do it. It’s a bit like personal safety deposit box at bank.

Back to the topic. There are still places we can get some discount using the online version, note there are many versions too, I used mostly Deluxe or Premier version. Some of the places I have used (or knew of) in the past: essentially an affiliate link from bank, brokerage website etc: vanguard, ADP (seems no longer available), Bank of America, Scottrade etc. More recently I think the deal offered by Fidelity, Discover are good. Both have up to $20 off: $7 off (Deluxe) or $15 off (premier version, that’s what I used last year 2015 tax season, for $40). And I used this one again this year. It seems both links are available to everyone. I know in the past someimes the links are just for customers. Last but not least, Southwest offers 1000 miles (roughly $10, so not as sweet as the fidelity or discover deal if you go for the premier version, but still good if you are into the LUV miles :-)

Federal Only, features, and free to use
I don’t use their State version very often though. I recall once I used it, probably because I was expecting a meaningful federal refund and decided to spent a little. And it backfired. The problem was I put a negative amount in the income field for my wife, and the software did not detect it. But the state revenue department noticed it and sent my return back. I was very angry initially at Turbo Tax. But their accountant was very calm and professional. So I corrected it eventually.

Over the years I saw Turbo Tax software improved consistently. There are two modes: wizard mode which walks one through the steps, ideal for new user; or the topic mode which is better suited for experienced user, basically I know which topic (income, deduction etc.) I need to jump into and it saves me time this way. It also added the “import” capability over the years: from W-2 to 1099 to stock trading records. It implemented 2 factor authentication too, so gives a peace of mind.

All those features are free to use as long as you don’t file tax via them. For State tax I actually used it as a verification tool. So this is a free tool for verification for those DIYers. I do file tax using Turbo Tax as I think its checking mechanism reduces the chance of being audited, and it gets refund faster.

Most of the time I got some federal refund, and due a small tax for state. Also I do direct deposit all the same for refunds. That’s usually faster than check. Once I joked with one of my coworker, he said he always get some tax refund, but he was not in a hurry to get it. I asked him why. He said because if he gets it, his wife will spend it, and they would not have money for summer vacation. I really love his thinking, and his wife’s spending habit. I think we as consumers have this trend more or less, because we feel a lot richer when we get a big chunk of money :-)

So after all my gas gift card was NOT stolen

I purchased a $100 Circle K gas gift card via eBay a few weeks ago, a few days ago I started to use it, and I found the initial balance is $75 instead of the $100 as advertised. See below, I spent $12.xx on the gas (imagine that a few years ago), and I saw $62.xx remaining.


So I was worried the card is stolen, and I filed a claim on eBay and whined about it on wechat. This afternoon I decided to cash out the card via other gift card, and to my surprise, it has the correct value: after I bought $75 other gift card, it still has $12.xx remaining. I was wrong. The reason I worried it could be stolen is I saw people talked about stolen gas card (same brand), and it’s not too hard to crack a 16 digit code.

You may wonder why I just pay credit card for gas, and go through the trouble of buying gas gift card, and had to use it at a specific store, also keep track of balances. Well, there is some savings, to be short. Basically I can get some rebate via eBates (going to eBay), I also get some eBay bucks, plus sometimes I buy $100 eBay GC at $95. Last but not least, I paid $95 for $100 gas card. So the savings add up. I spent somewhere between $85 and $87.5 for a $100 gas card. On the other hand, nothing is truly free, with the savings comes with risk. I think from now on, I will stick to credit card: this quarter I can use either Chase Freedom/Discover Cash Bonus for 5% cash/points back, and in normal times I could use the Sam’s Club MasterCard, which also gives 5% cash back (in a check issued once a year).