22 Aug 2014 / Excerpts From December 2013

These are more snippets of my life, a continuation of this post. All photos were taken on the Fujifilm X100 with minimal processing.

2013 Columbians / Mecha Bananas Holiday Party

The end of December not only marked the end of the holiday season and the beginning of a new year, but also marked an exciting event, the annual holiday party thrown by us Columbia alums and friends!

Like usual, it was potluck style and there was plenty of food and drink to go around.

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Some of it was even made fresh right before dinner! Here’s Julia making guacamole.

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The party brings together people from Norcal, Socal, New York and DC and gives the East Coasters a chance to escape the cold weather and do a bit of sightseeing.

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Unfortunately, Phil and Lynn couldn’t make it back to the Bay Area in time for the party, but Google Hangouts came to the rescue! They remotely participated in our White Elephant exchange, shipping gifts beforehand and picking their gifts via webcam.

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It’s the little things like our annual get together that remind me how much I love my friends. Here’s to many more years of holiday parties!

Santa Cruz With Family

The day after the party, I woke up bright and early and drove over to my uncle Sekar’s house. My cousin Ananth and his wife Kirthika were in town from Atlanta and we took a trip south of the bay to Santa Cruz and Carmel.

We started out with an attraction that I first visited as a child, the Mystery Spot. If you spend any time in the Bay Area, I guarantee that you will see cars adorned with bright yellow Mystery Spot bumper stickers. You might also occasionally spot similar orange Mercer Caverns bumper stickers, but the Mystery Spot ones are far more common.

What is the Mystery Spot? It’s a gravity hill, a place where physics and gravity supposedly don’t apply.

Initially, it might seem like a tourist trap, and if you take it at face value, it is. However, if you consider its history, the humorous high school students that lead tours, the paltry $6 admission fee and the free bumper stickers you receive at the end, it’s actually not too bad.

As long as you’re not allergic to thinly veiled pseudoscience, go visit sometime. At the very least you will find out how all those minivan drivers on Highway 101 all ended up with the same ugly bumper sticker.

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An added plus is the forest surrounding the Mystery Spot. It’s dense, yet airy and catches the sunlight so beautifully. There is even a hiking trail the runs through it, but given the limited amount of time we had, we didn’t venture too far.

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Afterwards, we had lunch at Ambrosia India Bistro in Monterey. We obviously also had to make a visit to the beach.

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Some of us even took an unplanned dip in the water and had to dry ourselves off. ^^

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Later, we walked through Carmel-by-the-Sea, visited yet another beach and had dinner at Aachi Aappakadai. As often happens, I got so absorbed in conversation with my family that I forgot to take photos. So, you will just have to image them.

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01 Aug 2014 / I Cleaned My Room!

Alright, this post isn’t actually about me cleaning my room. Sure, I did have to tidy up because my room was a complete mess, but I was really looking for an excuse to take a time lapse and try out the before/after image display on my blog.

Use the slider to go back and forth between my dirty and clean room.

Below is the time-lapse of me cleaning my room. I took a 42 minute time-lapse on my iPhone. The result is this 4:11 video that is sped up 10x.

24 Jul 2014 / Excerpts From October and November 2013

I’m not bad at capturing my life in photos. I take a camera almost everywhere I go. I am however pretty bad at actually editing and uploading my photos. I’m always months behind in editing and even further behind on posting to this blog. I don’t even post up all my photos. Many of them sink into the blackhole that is my Lightroom catalog.

While looking through my catalog the other day, I rediscovered many photos from weekend outings and day trips that I had forgotten about. Mostly, because the trips weren’t long enough to justify a whole post. So, I decided to combine them into one post, like this one. Expect more to come.

Nihon Whisky Lounge & Bonobo

Sometime in the middle of 2013, Jeff got obsessed with Scotch whisky and started a collection. The obsession started rubbing off on me after I bought a bottle of Yamazaki 12 year. We decided to take this interest in whisky and convert it into an idea for our next party, a whisky lounge!

I started doing some research on Reddit and compiled a list of whiskies to try. Jeff and I took this list with us to one of Jeff’s favorite lounges in SF, Nihon Whisky Lounge.

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Nihon is a lounge in the Mission District that blends Japanese fusion food with an extensive selection of whiskies. Basically, it is the perfect place to taste a few whiskies before buying bottles. However, I’ll warn you about the price. Our check was much higher than at other lounges I have been to, something that for me was not offset by the intimate atmosphere or the whisky selection.

However, the quality of the food and service are great. If you are looking for a place to take someone special and don’t mind the price, then Nihon fits the bill.

While Jeff and I were tasting, Jennifer and Nish joined us for a few more drinks. Shortly after, we all headed to the Bonobo concert.

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Bonobo was fantastic, but you probably knew that. If you didn’t, Go listen to him or read about him and you’ll see. Bonobo’s recordings are great, but he is even better live. The energy in the crowd and the lighting combined to create an amazing experience.

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Brohaus Party #4

Brohaus Party #4 was our first party after a long hiatus and also the first after Dustin, Eric, Jeff and I came back from Burning Man. The four of us were all in awe of how people on the playa were able to design such deep and enjoyable experiences. We took that inspiration and poured it into the party.

The party was the day after Halloween. So, we encouraged everyone to come in costume or wear costume items that we provided. The fight room 1 was converted into the whisky lounge I mentioned before. We set up shark races outside using remote controlled shark balloons.

Many people brought some pretty creative costumes: Linterest, lumberjack, light up suits, asian horror girl, inflatable sumo wrestlers. I loved all of them.

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Blizzcon 2013

Blizzcon 2013 was my first Blizzcon. I’ve been playing Blizzard games for more than 10 years, but only made time to attend their conference last year. We went as a large group, an annual event that the rest of the TAMS/UT people have been doing for some time.

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The convention had plenty to offer to every type of attendee. There were pro tournaments right on stage, announcements for new products, plenty of chances to play games, cosplay, merchandise, art for sale and more.

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While walking around the convention center, I saw famous figures in the Starcraft community, well known Blizzard employees and professional cosplayers that I recognized. However, the only person that I really had to stop and take a picture with is John Romero. He is the co-founder of id Software and helped design Wolfenstein 3D, Quake and of course Doom, the first widely popular first person shooter and one of the most significant games in history.

I saw him out of the corner of my eye and did a double take. I didn’t expect such an important person to just be casually walking around the hall.

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Of course, the most important part of Blizzcon is hanging out with friends. Jeff and I went for a run around the convention center and Downtown Disney one morning. A bunch of us waited in line a few times to crush noobs in Heroes of the Storm (which wasn’t yet available to the public at the time). We rooted on our favorite Starcraft players in the 2013 StarCraft II World Championship Series Global Finals. I got Hafu to autograph a screenshot of Chuan losing to her while she was streaming Hearthstone. We had late night food at IHOP.

These things really defined my convention experience and left me with fond memories.

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  1. After JJ moved out, we converted his part of the room into a second living room. It ended up becoming the de facto location for playing Street Fighter. Hence, we started calling it the fight room.

28 Jun 2014 / Pre-Christmas Yosemite Trip

After graduation, my core group of friends from Columbia (Mecha Bananas) ended up either on the East or West coast. In 2011, the first winter after graduation, everyone flew or drove in to the Bay Area around Christmas time to eat, drink and explore the Bay. This get-together has become an annual tradition that I think will continue for a long time to come.

Last year, two of our annual east coast visitors, Vinny and Meixin, joined Sean and me on an adventure to Yosemite National Park.

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Yosemite in the winter is a peculiar place. As it is a valley, different sections of it receive vastly different amounts of sunlight. While one patch of ground my be complete dry and warm, another a few feet away could be cold and covered in a thick layer of snow.

The following picture captures it well. If you crop the top half off, you have a beautiful winter wonderland. Crop the bottom off and you have a typical California mountainside in spring or summer.

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The weather in the valley also poses some interesting problems for getting into and around the park. We took my car into Yosemite. Even though it has four wheel drive, it still needed tire chains during sections of road due to the ice on the roads. I never thought much of it, but driving with chains is a pain. You can’t go very fast and the chains create noise and vibrations as you drive.

At first glace, my car may not look like an offroader considering that it is basically a family van. However, I think it looks well suited to the snow and icy roads.

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On the first day, we arrived in the park in mid day. We knew that we wouldn’t have enough time to go on a long hike. So, we instead explored a bit on foot and then dropped by the visitors center to scope out a trail for the next day.

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With the help of the park rangers, we chose the Yosemite Falls Trail. It is 3.4 miles of beautiful scenery that takes you 2700 feet up from the bottom of the valley to the top of the valley, above Yosemite Falls

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I put together this video in Google Earth using GPS data I got from RunKeeper. It should give you a good idea of the terrain.

As you look through the pictures in this post, pay close attention to the terrain and to what we are wearing. It will give you a good picture of the extremes in temperatures that we experienced. Here we see Vinny towards the beginning of the hike wearing quite a few layers.

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And soon after here is Sean wearing far fewer layers.

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Asians taking photos of scenery!

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The view from the trail was breathtaking, but I don’t need to say that. Just look at my photos.

If you are wondering if the photos are completely natural, my photos have been only minimally post-processed. I shot RAW on my X100 and applied a VSCO 04 Velvia preset. So, the beauty is just a result of the lighting that morning and the clear air.

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I think Vinny’s smile is proof of how much fun we had along the way.

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Even though the top is open to direct sunlight, it was covered in a bed of snow. It was so tranquil that I forgot how far we had hiked to get there.

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Some steep icy parts required climbing up and glissading down.

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We were one of the first groups to reach the top that day. While at the top, aside from the footsteps of hikers before us, we were alone.

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This isolation from other hikers and tourists is one of the best reasons to visit during the off season. Yosemite is one of the most visited National Parks and can be quite crowded in the summer.

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There were some pretty steep drop-offs, but fortunately they were lined with handrails. I wonder who installed them. Getting them up there and installing them must have been an interesting task.

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The hike was great, but best part of the day was lunch. We brought with us sandwiches that we prepared early in the morning. Nothing can beat cold cuts and cheese on bread after a few hours of walking

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Surprisingly, we had great cellular data at the top. We Facetimed from the top. It felt like an Apple commercial.

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Fallen icicles were embedded in the snow along the way, like bizzare fossils.

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I had a great time at Yosemite. It was a chance to bond with friends and get away from civilization.

If you haven’t visited Yosemite in the winter and live close by, you are missing out. Going in the winter offers you the chance to see a unique and beautiful side of this California landmark.