Happy July 4th!

Fireworks from our small town celebration of July 4th. The two bright white dots in the background are actually Venus and Jupiter.

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Happy Moon Festival!

The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated by Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and many other Asian people. By Lunar calendar, the festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month, when the moon is at its fullest. The perfect round shape of the moon symbolizes family reunion.

2014 Moon Festival
2014 Moon Festival

How to Watch Chinese TV Online Using XBMC

XBMC is a fantastic media player that can handle most video and music formats. It also includes many add-ons to watch TV online. Being open source, XBMC is free and is compatible with Windows, Mac and other platforms. If you don’t have Dish Network or a dedicated set-top box for watching Chinese programming, using XBMC with CNTV can be a handy solution. CNTV (China Network Television) is provided by China’s official broadcasting company CCTV, and I’m sure there are other add-ons for different languages.

Quality-wise CNTV on XBMC is very good, although it highly depends on the speed of your Internet service. I’m using Time Warner standard 10MB down with Turbo Boost and can watch most stations without any problem. Obviously it still can’t compete with Dish’s Great Wall Package in terms of PQ and ease-of-use, but for occasional viewing, XBMC is hard to beat.

Below is a step-by-step tutorial for setting up XBMC with CNTV:

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July 4th Fireworks – San Diego, 2012

I live in a small community in San Diego and every year our town puts on a spectacular July 4th fireworks show. By spectacular, I didn’t mean it was comparable to New York or DC, but last night it was enough to cheer up the 25+ guests gathered in our backyard for an up-close, unobstructed view of the entire show. For a minute I was convinced the kids were making louder noises than the fireworks, but I decided to give them a break 🙂

I also took some photos; actually this was my first time trying to capture fireworks. The camera I used is a Canon Xsi, with an EF 24-105mm, f/4 L IS USM zoom lens. Manual focus to infinity, no flash, ISO100, f8 or f10, and on a tripod. I didn’t have a manual or remote release so I didn’t try the bulb mode, but I did take a few long exposure shots (4-6sec) and the results were better than I expected:

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Chinese Chess

I was teaching my son how to play Chinese Chess the other day, but couldn’t remember the whole rhyming song that explains the basic rules. So today while driving home, I made one up 🙂

马走日
象走田
炮打须隔山
小卒步步向前走
大俥纵横无阻拦
双士护两侧
老将守家园
中国相棋乐无边

Sorry if you don’t read Chinese, and I don’t think I’ll be able to translate it either. But if you are interested (it is a fantastic game, by the way), Wikipedia actually has some instructions in English. There are also quite a few Chinese Chess apps for Android and iPad if you want try it out.

2012 Solar Eclipse Viewing using Binocular Projection

The 2012 solar eclipse came and went, and it sure was fun to watch. I tried the simple method using binoculars to project the sun’s image onto a white board, and it worked surprisingly well. Basically, I held a pair of binoculars and pointed the wide end at the sun (never look through the eyepiece directly!). On the other end I put a piece of white board on a lawn chair. Using my own shadow as the background, the eclipse was clearly projected to the board for safe viewing and picture taking. Below are a few images I took:

 

Another look later:

 

You can see the setup and the shadow of a dedicated dad, showing strong desire to teach his kids science, despite their little interest:

 

Although I felt lucky to be able to watch the eclipse unfold right in front of my eyes, these guys probably had a better view:

 

For truly amazing eclipse photos, of course, Google is your friend.

Visit National Parks for Free in 2012

There are nearly 400 national parks in the United States. Many of them are not only spectacular, but also suitable for family vacations. In fact, visiting a national park has been our top choice for vacation trips ever since my kids were old enough to enjoy travelling. The National Park Service (NPS), in my opinion, has done a fine job maintaining the balance between tourism and preservation.

Some national parks don’t charge an entrance fee, but others do. However, every year those parks that usually charge a fee will be open for free on given days. For 2012, the fee-free days are listed below:

  • January 14-16 (Martin Luther King Jr. weekend)
  • April 21-29 (National Park Week)
  • June 9 (Get Outdoors Day)
  • September 29 (National Public Lands Day)
  • November 10-12 (Veterans Day weekend)

Popular Baby Names for 2010

The Social Security Administration maintains and publishes a list of popular baby names by birth year. The 2010 list is now available and here is the top ten for boys and girls:

Top 10 Baby Names for 2010
Rank Boy’s Name Girl’s Name
1 Jacob Isabella
2 Ethan Sophia
3 Michael Emma
4 Jayden Olivia
5 William Ava
6 Alexander Emily
7 Noah Abigail
8 Daniel Madison
9 Aiden Chloe
10 Anthony Mia

You can check every year’s popular names, dating all the way back to 1880! You can also check the popularity of a given name. Enter it in the text box and specify the number of years you want to see, you will get each year’s ranking over that period of time. Pretty cool!

Urban Dictionary for Age

Naive: You can’t hold your pee, or your mouth.
Young: You can hold your pee, but not your mouth.
Mature: You can hold your fee, and your mouth.
Old: You can hold your mouth, but not your pee.

Disclaimer: I didn’t write it – just translated it into English.

How Do You Pronounce Pint

I thought I’d been in the U.S. long enough to know the pronunciation of “pint,” as in a pint of beer. Obviously not! This is a perfect example for the saying: For every grammar rule out there, there is at least one exception.

If you don’t go to the bar a lot, or haven’t paid attention to this particular word, you would think it should be pronounced, well, pint. Just like hint, lint, mint, tint …… the words that don’t end with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or y.

In reality, it is supposed to be pronounced \pnt\, like pine, dine, fine or line, with a t at the end instead of e.

I’m just glad I said it in front of a small crowd, even though a very nice colleague pointed it out right there and then 🙂 Everyone got a good laugh out of it. Actually I appreciated that. Just like proof reading, sometimes it is hard to catch your own mistakes, however obvious it may seem afterwards.

While we are at it, one pint is 16 U.S. fluid ounces, equivalent to about 473 ml, which looks like this: