Maybe the flu

J has been sick for the last few days with a fever, headache, etc. Sounds like the flu to me, although he did get the vaccine. Get better soon!

J wondered if he should get Tamiflu, the antiviral treatment. Out of interest, I researched it and… it doesn’t sound that good. It only shortens symptoms by 1/2 – 1 day on average, and has side effects of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and trouble sleeping (much like the flu). It isn’t recommended for otherwise healthy people, but it also doesn’t decrease the risk of hospitalization or death in high risk people, so…

The most interesting thing about Tamiflu is that it was originally synthesized from a compound found in star anise. So maybe you can just drink star anise concentrate (that sounds like pho!) to get better?

Homemade yoghurt made easy, no special equipment needed!

My kefir culture (bought from a neighbor on Craigslist!) is no longer usable. The active culture went bitter somehow – probably contamination; the backup culture in the freezer died, apparently. I tried to make several batches of kefir with it, hoping for a revival, but nothing happened 🙁

Although kefir is easier to culture than yoghurt since it is mesophilic (grows optimally at room temperature), I prefer the flavor and texture of yoghurt. Unfortunately, yoghurt cultures are thermophilic (grow optimally around 110°F). It is difficult to maintain this temperature without special equipment (yoghurt maker or water bath) or lots of fiddling (e.g. with oven settings) for the 5-10 hours needed to make a batch of yoghurt. A recent read gave a good tip for getting around this: put the heated milk and starter culture into a thermos. Even bad thermoses are capable of keeping their contents hot for 5 hours, so it works out perfectly, no additional energy input necessary!

I tried the thermos approach with a squat, wide-mouth thermos from Goodwill ($2.19! Stainless steel! Thermos brand! Oddly, it is branded with images from some car movie). It worked really well! The yoghurt turned out thick (even thicker than the commercial variety I used as starter) and creamy. I will definitely do this again!

Overnight bus with beds!

Air travel is fast, but frustrating (I dislike the security checks + lack of leg room) and is particularly bad for the environment when traveling short distances. Because of this, I like to take alternative modes of transportation when possible. The train is nice 🙂 but can be slow and doesn’t offer a lot of different departure times; traditional long-distance buses (Megabus, Greyhound, BoltBus) can be just as cramped as planes.

However, there is an alternative! Cabin (previously SleepBus) is a bus service between LA and San Francisco that has beds on board, much like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. The trip is about 7 hours overnight, just about the perfect length for this kind of venture. One-way tickets are $85-$120, so 4-5 times more expensive than other buses and 2 times more expensive than Amtrak for the same trip. Flight costs vary a lot (I just saw $29-$200), but are comparable on average or at the last minute.

I’m eager to try out this service! Until Amtrak has an overnight trip between the Bay Area and LA, this sounds like a great option.

New Austin main library

J and I visited my family in Austin for Thanksgiving. One of the cool things we did was visit the new main public library! The opening was overdue by about a year, but the building and landscaping are pretty awesome.

The building is at the intersection of one of Austin’s major creeks and the river in the middle of the city, so it gets some very nice views and hopefully a lot of business!

The front.
The back and side, looking from a new bridge that goes over the nearby creek. That lowered sidewalk goes along the creek for a ways.
A view from the roof of the library, looking south across the river and over to the Long Center and the Palmer Event Center.

The library has an awesome rooftop garden à la green roof and a solar panel array as an awning to provide shade (sadly, I don’t have pictures). There is also a screened porch, so that you can enjoy the weather, but the mosquitoes can’t enjoy you!

Looking down in the central ‘shaft’ of the library. That art clock features grackles, a local menace that, much like corvids, survives very well on human refuse.
Looking up into the central shaft. The staircases and bridges are very Hogwarts-esque. The stairs and floors of the building are much too creaky for my tastes. They feel like they’re going to collapse one day…
Weird street art that we saw nearby :S

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 😛