Sacramento last day

Our last day started off with a tour of the Stanford mansion! Apparently Leland Stanford (Sr) was the governor of California for a time and lived in Sacramento. The house, originally pretty modest at around 2000 square feet, was expanded to 4k and then 19k square feet.

Front of the mansion in the Second Empire architectural style.

After a really bad flood in 1862, the house was raised up and a relatively low-value ground floor added. That particular flood was so bad that Sacramento was about 10 feet underwater for 3 months. Afterwards, the entire city was raised a story, buildings and roads included. There are tours of the subterranean areas available during the summer.

The alleyways were not raised, which you can see evidence of in the still-present sloping.
A view of the Sacramento River with weird pyramidal building in the background.
Complete with abandoned stroller.
Pizza for lunch! J got a slice of garlic chicken pizza in addition.
Full-size model high-speed train at the State Railroad Museum. There’s a big room full of train cars from different eras.
Snow plow car, essential to rail travel through the Sierra Nevadas.
Dining car with historic train dining car china patterns.
Mail car, back when trains were used to transport mail. Apparently they were vulnerable to robbery.
Shinkansen training simulator. J did it and says its super easy – all you have to control is the brake.

Dinner for J. I had leftover burrito from the previous day.

We took Amtrak home in the evening, and then Caltrain back to our place!

Sacramento Day 2

The day started with a long walk to the farmers’ market! We asked the hostel’s desk clerk for directions.

Downtown Sacramento farmers’ market. Under a highway, dontcha know. We got lots of delicious free samples 🙂
The aforementioned highway.
Fortunately, the farmers’ market was right across the street from a scenic park with solar-powered… ducks?
The local Japanese sweets shop.

We got:

Walnut and red bean.
Peanut butter and mochi (and maybe red bean paste??) in a pancake.
Roasted soy bean flour and red bean paste. Was the mochi green tea flavor? Uhhh…
Sakura mochi.

The shopkeeper even put the sweets into my tupperware instead of the default styrofoam tray. Yay!

After a bit of a walk, we arrived at this hip and trendy mall.
…with a custom cobbler!!!!!!! The shop is also the workshop. In the back there you can see a lasting machine and a welting machine, maybe.

Of course, I was super interested (and pleased to hear that they get enough business). But the shop only uses one particular last, which I’m not interested in. So, that’s a no-go unfortunately.

Huge burrito for lunch. J got ceviche.
Neat street art. Reminds me of this.

We visited Sutter’s Fort and the State Indian Museum after lunch. Sutter’s Fort was an early settlement in California. I knew it only from it’s association with the Donner Party – it’s where they stayed to recover. I assumed Sutter’s Fort was a military fort, but… actually it was this guy’s private village.

Curiously, the fort was renovated in the late 1800s. So despite the fact that it’s not original, it’s historical in its own right.

The entrance.
The doll of one of the children from the Donner Party. She smuggled it during the trip after her mother had all the children throw their toys away to lighten the wagons. The doll is only a few inches tall.
The governor’s mansion! We walked by on the way to dinner. Sadly, tours are no longer available. The half mast flag was for some shooting that had happened recently.

We had disappointing Japanese food for dinner, so I’m not going to include pictures. All the photos are from J, by the way. We figured out a better way to share photos.

Sacramento Day 1

The main attraction!!!! The capitol’s lookin’ nice and tropical with that row of palm trees out front. Another main feature of the landscaping was the MOSS LAWN on the raised bed in front of the bushes. From afar, it totally looks like grass. Awesome 😀
The dome.
Some past governor with an interesting portrait. Arnold Schwarzenegger has one with a steel frame, oooo.
Each California county has a display case in the capitol basement to show off what they’re up to. Stanislaus County is really pumping out those cows…
Dinner at Ramen House.
The meat option.
The dessert not taken. It was a bit too cold for gelato.
Instead, we went to a chocolate shop (where I found a free chocolate abandoned on the ground… It was delicious)!
Hot chocolate with chocolate nibs.
Chocolate macaron. J’s all inspired now.

We also popped into Goodwill just in time for them to close. Since we weren’t actually looking for anything, a 5-minute browse was sufficient. This was the most professional Goodwill I’ve ever seen. The cashier was dressed in a suit (a suit!), and the store was clean and organized. When we walked in, I thought that we must be in the wrong place; it looked like an actual store!

Edit: My mom admonished me for not recognizing the portrait as being of Jerry Brown, a previous and the current California governor.

The hostel

Stained glass in the main stairwell.
Our room! All of the private rooms are named.
Space for two. Unfortunately, the window didn’t open any wider and the heat in the building was set a bit high. Bathrooms and showers were communal but segregated by sex (they definitely could have been unisex. I saw another person in the bathroom on one occasion).

The hostel had two sets of stairs — the main stairs and the servant stairs (verrry steep!). There was a shared kitchen with a grand total of 4 sinks, 4 stoves, and 2 fridges. I never actually saw anyone cooking, but maybe it’s used for the occasional party. Fridge access is always nice. Lastly, free breakfast was provided!

The hostel cost around $50 per person per night. That’s much cheaper than hotels in the area, but I’ve definitely stayed at cheaper hostels ($10/night in Seoul!).

Finished with grad school apps!

I just turned in the last of my grad school apps! Finally done~

I’ve been applying to Masters of Statistics programs since I’ve been doing a lot of data analysis and experimental design. I swore after undergrad that I wouldn’t go to grad school, but… it would be really useful to know more about statistics. I still refuse to get a PhD, though.

Friend A who’s allergic to everything is so done with software engineering after less than a year that he wants to get a PhD in linguistics. To be fair, linguistics was an existing interest of his, but it seems a little too soon to want to change fields 😛

To Sacramento

Two weekends ago, J and I went to Sacramento to take advantage of the President’s Day holiday. We chose Sacramento because it is close enough to ride the train to, but far enough that we wouldn’t go on a normal weekend. It’s also the state capital.

Apparently though, it is not considered a valid vacation destination. Almost everyone we told our plans to said, “Why Sacramento??”, as if there’s nothing there. For the record, Sacramento has nearly 500,000 people (2.1 million in the metropolitan area), a very walkable downtown, and some of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the US (think of them as the antithesis of ghettos). Sacramento is a lot cheaper than the Bay Area too 🙂

Jimmy and I took Amtrak‘s Capitol Corridor line from San Jose to Sacramento. The ride took about 3 hours, which compares very favorably to driving. It cost $40 per person one way.

Flowering pear (so said another train passenger) trees as seen from the train.
Cows as seen from the train. I’m sure they love that 60 Hz buzz.

We stayed at a Hostelling International hostel (J’s first time in a hostel!) just a 10-minute walk from the train station. The hostel is housed in the repurposed Llewellyn Williams Mansion.

A classic and very spacious example of Victorian Italianate architecture. We stayed on the third floor.

I’ll make more posts on what we did in Sacramento.

Chocolate soufflé

We made a chocolate soufflé a while ago (actually, pretty sure it was months ago) using this recipe. My main complaint is that it was too sweet. Next time, I might leave out some sugar from the egg yolk mixture or use less-sweet chocolate (although I used bittersweet as directed).

I know J has a picture of the souffle somewhere. I’ll try to dig it up…

Better phone options

Electronic devices never seem to last very long. The fancier they get, the shorter their usable lifetimes (think smartphones vs flip phones).

Planned obsolescence is a major part of this. It is manifest in such design choices as soldering the battery to the phone case, or putting the battery underneath the motherboard. Doing this makes it really hard to replace the battery. You can’t do it yourself, so you have to pay someone else to do it. The difficulty of the repair makes it more expensive and more likely to break or damage something else in the device. You probably won’t be able to replace the battery more than once.

Next time you’re in the market for a phone, keep these things in mind to get a longer-lasting mobile phone. Basically,

  • if feasible for your needs, get a simple phone
  • consult the iFixit list of phones by repairability (notice that the newest highly repairable phone is from 2016)
  • if you can’t get a highly-repairable phone, at least get one with an easily replaceable battery
  • extend the usable life of your phone by installing other operating systems once your phone no longer gets security updates (you may need advanced technical know-how to do this!).

I probably won’t need to buy a new phone for a long time. I’ve used a cheap candy bar phone for everyday use since 2012 (with a free upgrade to a 3G phone when 2G was being phased out). I use a J cast-off phone (Google Nexus 5) for traveling. In fact, I’ll probably be able to provide for all of my phone needs using old phones of J’s 😛

If I did need a new phone, I’d either: buy a used one that is listed as highly repairable by iFixit, or buy a Fairphone (pending additional research, although the concept alone is extremely appealing).

The Fairphone  is a modular Android phone made with ethically-sourced materials and components (Wiki). It was specifically designed to be easy to repair and upgrade without throwing the whole phone away. The end goal is device longevity. But the Fairphone isn’t perfect.

  • Unfortunately, support for the Fairphone 1 has already ended, only 2-3.5 years (depending on batch) after the device’s release, partly due to poor choice of SoC. This is worse than Apple, which generally supports devices for 5 years. Fairphones are only sold in Europe (although they are unlocked and would presumably work in most countries).
  • Replacement (e.g. battery, screen) and upgrade (e.g. camera) modules are available only from Fairphone, whereas components of other phones are not proprietary and can be bought from various suppliers. Fairphone is such a small company that it could go out of business at any time.
  • Because of the small size of the company and ethical sourcing requirements, the phone is relatively expensive for its specs. The Fairphone 2 was €529 (~$650), which although on par with other high-end smartphones is expensive for, e.g. it’s camera quality, lack of USB-C, etc.
  • The modularity of the phone means that it is a little bulky (11 mm thick).

The Fairphone 3 will be released sometime in 2018. Previous models have only been available in Europe; it is unclear if the Fairphone 3 will be available on other continents. Fairphone is aiming to support the Fairphone 3 longer by, for example, stocking up on repair components that are in high demand. The Fairphone 3 will be a smaller, less fancy smartphone with a correspondingly lower price of ~$500. (It is unclear why Fairphone feels the need to release additional phones at all. Shouldn’t they be making modules to update the Fairphone 1?)

Edit: J says to use to buy used phones. Devices sold on eBay tend to be stolen D:

Getting to know the other side

Featured on a recent NPR story, Better Angels is a group for people with different political views to meet and learn about each other. It sounds really cool! The goal of the organization is to prevent a major divide along political lines from happening. It’s too easy to be exposed to thought similar to your own if you just use the Internet sounding board to get news and opinions. People online tend to be more extreme than in person, so it’s also easy to get a skewed picture of a certain political group or demographic.