Back to iPhone

I used the Amazon Fire phone as my personal phone for almost a year. But a recent incident made me decide to switch. I have an iPhone 6 from work since last Sept. But for all the important places such as my daughter’s school I leave my own mobile phone number there. And last week, during a time when I need the Amazon fire to work, it failed. Basically the school bus coordinator wanted to get hold of me because of a mistake on my daughter’s side (she was supposed to go home after the art club activity, but she forgot about that and took bus home right after school, which means there is no grown up to pick her up at the bus stop).

I know one reason I did not answer phone initially was these days most of my unsolicited calls are from spammers (not just recruiters, they are people who tell me I won lottery, won a cruise, or try to sell me cable or home security services). I knew this one is real because the same number called twice. But when I picked up the second call, there is no sound. After a while I did figure out, the speaker on Amazon fire phone ONLY WORKS when I plug in the headphone (the ear phone). So on my way to home, the 3rd call came, this time it worked because I have bluetooth on the car, and I picked up the phone and found out what was happening. It has been about 14 minutes since the first call.

This incident was the main motivator for me to switch back to iPhone. Since I already gave my old iPhone 5s to my wife, I decided order the new SE for her, and then get the old 5s back. Switching back was almost trivial, just swap out the nano SIM card, and also since I had the google contacts managing my address book on Amazon Fire, I just imported them when I added the Gmail to iPhone 5s. I know when switching from iPhone to iPhone, the best approach is via iCloud (to get the contacts moved over).

Now that I switched over, I was hoping this kind of thing does not happen. It could be nerve racking when taking about calls about bus accidents etc.

JCC St. Louis and my exercise

JCC St. Louis (2 locations, Creve Coeur and Chesterfield) are very good. I joined JCC in early 2012 mostly for its exercise facilities. At the time I got discounted rate through my employer, and at the same time the employer paid 3/4 of the membership fee. Over the years I changed my employer couple times, and I still kept the membership (paying the full price from my own pocket). But I felt it’s worth it, not only I used it for exercise, but also my family esp. my kids have lots of funs at the recreational pools. Also my old daughter had her art summer camp there last summer.

Keep in mind JCC is more than an exercise facility, or a summer camp. It also has a lot educational, cultural, or health related facilities and activities. Recently I attended a free seminar hosted by St. Lukes Hospital which talked about joint health and replacement (mostly knees and hips). For me it’s mostly educational since I am still in 40s and there is no need for replacement, the reason I went there is I got some hip pain, and I like to get more information out of it. Also, my doctor is also working at St. Luke’s orthopedic and joint center. Let me back to the exercise topic. Over the years I started pay attention to my activities esp. daily walking steps (read my post about this one 10 years ago>pedometers I used over the years). In St. Louis weather, there are some days in summer and winter, it will be too hot or cold to walk outside, we can walk in mall, in company hallway (if they have a long one, note I try to stay away from stairs recently as it may have contribute to my hip issue). JCC always offers the opportunities for me to walk or swim, probably more swim than walk for me. Most recently as I mentioned my hip issue, I started doing walk in water instead of swimming, using the floating drum-bells. It can exercise my upper body nicely. And in the past I used the steam room, recently I started using the whirlpool. It’s funny I heard once from a gentleman says he has been to 5 JCCs across the country, the St. Louis one is the best (I think he meant the Creve Coeur one :-) So basically I used water to relax and get the stress out of my hip and back. I will try get back to swim soon, hopefully. Maybe someday I will find a swimming coach to correct my technique.

I used the Chesterfield facility too, both for exercise (again walk/swim) and kids activity (KinderMusik). My old daughter attended kindermusik for 2 years (between 2.5 years old to 4.5 years old). I recall when she was switching from toddler program to the preschool (when she became 3), for a brief period, KinderMusik class is the only class she wanted to go. The indoor swim pool at Chesterfield is not as big as Creve Coeur (it has 2, a lap pool and a recreational pool). But Chesterfield has one advantage, the water temperature there is just about right, vs “a bit cold” in Creve Coeur lap pool, and “a bit warm” for the recreational pool.

I recall once I went to see the shabach on Friday afternoon during my daughter’s summer camp, it’s fun and interesting to see how they share the special bread. And also kids perform. It’s something that will stay in my memory for a long long time. Note they have koshal food too. I esp. like their corn beef, which I can also get from Kohn’s, which is down the street.

Got new windshield wiper, tires

Last wed. morning,  temperature was below freeze point, there were some leftover snow. When I start my car, windshield wiper blade broke. So early afternoon I bought a new set and tried to replace the wiper. Those were worn out before last wed. The problem for me is, I don’t know how to take the old set off the Camry. Even after I watched YouTube video, I still did not know. So I went back autozone and asked for help. 

This is minor compared to the tire pressure problem for my wife’s sienna minivan. She texted me this picture, I know I know it’s tire pressure warning. I went through the same exercise last winter, even pumped couple times on sienna. And I left some damage on the sensor by doing that too :-(. And this time I am paying it back. The warning went away and came back last few weeks, even after I pumped air. So I thought to make sure, using a meter to measure the pressure. And I blew this one. When trying to measure the front driver side tire, the one has some sensor demage, that thing came out, and air came out. Flat tire :-(. This is not new but not often encountered, so I follow the procedures: use jack to get the van up, trying to locate the spare tire. Since it’s hard for me to get out the jack from sienna, I used the one from Camry. It’s not as strong, and I made couple mistakes the jack fell twice. But I still could not figure out where is the spare tire, even after reading manual. So I called AAA. A technician from AAA helped me on this issue. Today I went to Costco in the afternoon and got a new sets of tires on. It cost me about $770 for 4 Michelin tires. I still need to figure out how to put the spare back to its original place. 


My lesson learned:

1) It’s fortunate that we did not got hurt with this potential tire sensor problem. 

2) It’s ok to buy certified used (sienna), but it’s not necessary to buy extended warranty, put the money in bank for repairs and maintenance instead (the squirrel problem and the new tires).

3) Use Costco tire service, they seems have the best service plan for the $15 installation fee.

4) It’s kinda ironic I majored in ME in college and grad school. And I cannot figure out windshield wiper and spare tire. 

2015 Year In Review

It’s new year again, and obligatory new year resolution time. I think I’m already past that practice: will try to put down iPhone and Macbook more when I’m at home though (I was referring to this comment on 2014 review: Leave the iDevices/mac if I can). I’ve eaten my own words on this one. My younger daughter is at a fun age (17.5 months), being a toddler learning to talk, I’ll play with her more, and of course continue my weekend chauffeur job for my older daughter (skating, dancing/pre-ballet etc).

Job Change
I changed my job again this year. I was not expecting it at the beginning of the year or did any planning. But it worked out so far. Again I hope I can stay at my current place longer :-)

Personal finance
I stopped contributing to the Exxon mobile DRIP program; started put same money ($100 per month) into IBM DRIP program instead, still using ComputerShares. Was able to save some money in the emergency fund account. But still spent quite some on the following items.

Visited Disneyland;

Got a piano and ready to start piano lesson for Serenity in 2016;

Replaced AC and furnace, the new one (American Standard, same as the Trane brand) works like a charm, also bought two mattresses (one from Mattress Firm local store, another one from US-mattress online store). Long term it’s going to save some money on electricity as this one is more energy efficient.

Workout, exercise, swim
I have been doing swimming for a few years at JCC (both Chesterfield and Creve Coeur locations), as I live near the Creve Coeur location, and I worked near the Chesterfield location last few years. That has been changed as the new baby (July 2014), and new job requirement (June 2015). I have been using UP Band, Fitbit app on iPhone 5s, and in June this year I got Fitbit Charge the same time I changed job. Trying to get 10,000 steps per day per the recommendation. Still try to get some swimming as time permits.

I started walking in the trails at Laumeiers Sculpture park since last Winter: trying to breath some fresh air during lunch break at work. The new place does not have a nature trail like the Sculpture park, but it does have a one mile paved trail. It’s good enough for me. I usually walk at lunch break, when weather permits. Otherwise I would walk the stairs, as not good as outside, but it does the job. One thing I learned over the years is we need to take care of our own health while working, because at the end of the day, we need that to provide for our family, also to enjoy things (this hits home especially whenever I get sick). There is an excellent “Under the Radar” podcast on this ergonomics topic. I recall at my old work place, my coworker had surgery on the capal-tunnel (a common injury from using too much keyboard or mouse). Back pain is also common among office workers (sitting too long). The walk/stretch from time to time is a good way to prevent/reduce that.


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Got some tech toys for my daughter 

I thought this problem for a while. Sometimes I heard people complained companies like Lego discriminate: their toys are more for boys than girls, so Lego came up this Lego friends series which is geared more toward girl, as they ranges from bakeries, beach house, to rain forest rescue, and they have a lot girl figures. 

I think I fell into this trap too. I think some of the tech toys can be helpful and stimulate my daughter’s interest on STEM, but I did not follow through. She is 5 and will be 6 in a few months. So recently I did something different, I bought a quad copter (while she cannot play it, it could stimulate her interest), and the snap circuits 100. I can still sense her natural tendency is still social science, as I saw that’s her favorite in brain pop Jr. But I will give it some time and hopefully she will fall in love with IXL too :-)

Note: brain pop jr. And IXL are 2 kids education websites. 

Another related topic is the “hour of code” initiative, I feel the awareness of coding or programming is reach all time high in school these days. Still remember my first computer program in basic language, when I was in middle school (about 13 or 14). Of course now we have so much wonderful material and resources such as Kahn academy, raspberry pi etc. It’s much more fun and hopefully can be integrated into science and math curriculum as well. Personally I think that’s more fun than standardized tests. Don’t get me wrong, I think fundamental training is still important, but creative work or education are also important. This takes time and effort, I am hoping more stakeholders (educators and parents) can buy into this in the future :-)

Refer to Scott Hanselman’s blog post “The 2015 Christmas List of Best STEM Toys for your little nerds and nerdettes” here. Btw, I also got the Snap Circuit SC-300 for my nieces (10 and 8 years old).

Docker and Vault: a preliminary tutorial

We most likely heard about Docker, the ultimate container. Recently I followed the GSG on the official website to get a feel for it. Vault is a open source project supported by Hashi Corp (famous for Vagrant, Consul, and other open source projects). I came across this docker vault image created by kintoandar (Joel Bastos) via his blog post Vault: PKI Made Easy. Since I was new to both technologies (I did followed the docker GSG on my Mac), Joel’s blog is a bit advanced for me, here are some of the steps I did to make the basic vault commands work.

I will update this blog post as I follow along the offical Vault GSG and Joel’s blog post.

docker pull kintoandar/hashicorp-vault
docker run -d -p 8300:8300 kintoandar/hashicorp-vault

docker help

Minjies-MacBook-Pro:sandbox minjiexu$ docker ps
c8b183b9e0ed kintoandar/hashicorp-vault "/bin/vault server -c" About an hour ago Up About an hour>8300/tcp admiring_jang

Minjies-MacBook-Pro:sandbox minjiexu$ docker logs c8b183b9e0ed

Minjies-MacBook-Pro:sandbox minjiexu$ docker inspect c8b183b9e0ed

Minjies-MacBook-Pro:sandbox minjiexu$ docker exec c8b183b9e0ed vault status -address
Sealed: false
Key Shares: 1
Key Threshold: 1
Unseal Progress: 0

High-Availability Enabled: false


(Update 11-19-2015) It appears Facebook started to spam me. It sent an email saying I got a new message, which is not true. It actually sent not just one, but two messages. Also this is the second week of my pager duty. This afternoon Gas Buddy sent me an alert, and it got to my Martian Notifier. The gas price went up at least 20 cents, useful notifications, but not timingly because I don’t want it confused with the real page (text message or SMS).

(Original 10-19-2015) Just survived first week of pager duty (on-call): two sleep deprived nights, and some tense times. On the first night, around 2 am in the morning, the phone rang (paging text message came). Good thing is after validation it seems nothing horrible happened. I tried to go back to sleep, but I could not. One thing I was worried is what if I slept through the page SMS (text message) from the phone. Made sure the ring volume is maximized. I did think about a smartwatch or a wristband (Fitbit like) before starting page duty. Was debating between Apple Watch (about $400) and Fitbit Surge (about $250). Note I already have Fitbit Charge, and I don’t want to have another addictive device like iPhone (Apple Watch), plus the cost associated with it. So I did a little google and found this Martian Notifier Watch. And I ordered it via Amazon immediately when I could not feel asleep. It arrived on Wednesday and I made it work quickly: basically I updated its firmware to the latest via MacBook.

Then I saw something interesting happened: it vibrates not only when a message arrives; but also when I started driving to work or drive my daughter to ice rink/COCA, and when I complete an Apple pay transaction. Of course I know the notification is from iPhone and I went ahead and turned them off yesterday. So today is basically quite because I handed off pager duty this morning, and I turned off the two main notifications on iPhone. The first one is interesting, because it will say how long it takes to work or some other places. So apparently Apple is collecting some information about my behavior (where I go for work, what’s my weekend routine look like). One can say iPhone get a bit smarter (artificial intelligence), or put it another way, Apple is getting sneaky with iOS 9.

Back to the main topic, how much notifications do I really want? I recall when I got my first Blackberry, and have gmail installed on it. I was still excited about the device and the red flash comes with a notification (e.g., a meeting is starting in 5 minutes). So I turned on the email notification. Quickly I found this is excessive, because it will flash very often. So I turned it off. Similar goes to the badge (phone, iOS) notification comes with the Slack app. Once I got distracted, when I got home, I paid attention to that Slack notification, and I left my one year old daughter in the car for a minute and two.

We are living in a post smartphone, smart watch/wrist band world. We increasingly pay attention to the notifications from those devices, while at the same time, potentially ignore other important notifications from real people, both at workplace and home. Attention span becomes shorter and shorter at workplace too, with the instant messaging and the “high importance” emails. On one hand they are notifications, on the other hand they are distractors. Ultimately it’s up to us to decide what is truly important. Get the spam call from telemarketer who notify us “you win a lottery” or “do you want a home security system”, or just turn off all the non-sense.

(Update 11-08-2015) Some friends suggested mi band (or mi 2 band), which is much cheaper (about $16), and it also has those notifications capability. I have not tried and am not sure about the reliability of those. I noticed on my Fitbit Charge, after a while (app or firmware update), and previously paired notifications between my Fire Phone and Charge needs to be re-done. In this sense I feel good about the Martian Notifier, because so far (3 weeks in) I haven’t seen a problem.

Martian Notifier smart watch

Also I looked a bit more into the iOS notifications. Note all the Martian notifier notifications are supported by the master device, in my case iPhone 6. I mentioned earlier iOS seems guessed my routines and intentions well both in weekdays and weekends. For example, we stopped by Starbucks at Olivette on Sunday afternoon when we done with ballet class at coca (u city). The Martian notifier aka iPhone will say 8 minutes to Olivette as soon as I start the car at coca. Similar for the ice skate classes on Saturday. I think I will leave it on on none pager duty days, because I don’t want it to be confused with work related pager. 

Read also About Notifications on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (by Apple)

Why Wal-Mart is losing to Amazon

Just look at this smart watch on Amazon. Can you believe one can get a smartwatch that basically has the functions of a $100+ pebble watch, and sell for $12.80 at Amazon? We know stuff at Wal-Mart are made in China. How about this watch? I bet it’s made in China too, not only that, maybe sold by a Chinese person (or company) too. This is amazing, thinking about the king of global logistics/trade Wal-Mart increasingly lose out to Amazon, for that matter, that person may bought this from Alibaba (Taobao) in China.

LEMFO Bluetooth Smart Watch

On a personal level, I felt I go to Wal-Mart less, because I have other alternatives, Aldi, Targets are good ones. Costco is a more expensive choice. I do sometimes shop at, and pick up at store. The free shipping is nice, but the wait at their counter to pick up things is not. Amazon got rid of that hassle.

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Resources for aspiring software developers in St. Louis

We know St. Louis is not a hot (or cool) place as Seattle/Silicon Valley in terms of job opportunities for software engineers. But St. Louis area have plenty of opportunities from small to large organizations, with a diverse industries. There are also many resources for aspiring software developers who like to join the industry.

The No. 1 resource I recommend is LaunchCode. It was relatively new, but I personally knew 3 people got internship position through them, and 2 of them received full time offers, in last few years. They seemed really got the non-traditional students/newbies connected with the industry.

The No. 2 resource I like to mention is all these “user groups”, e.g., the old ones such as St. Louis Java User Group, St. Louis .Net User Group, St. Louis Unix User Group. They are mostly free and open to everyone, here is a list of monthly calendar compiled by the good folks at sluug. There are also some groups concentrate on newer technologies, such as iOS, Android, Angular JS Group, and functional and dynamic languages. Relate to the last one, there is also a conference on coding StrangeLoop which is considered good in the midwest (if not the US). I have been to most of the user group meetings and StrangeLoop conference (a while ago, when I’ve not got busy with 2 young kids), and I think they are good in terms of two aspects: 1) Learn new trends on the technology; 2) Get to know some of the people (they are not all nerds :-) Last but not least for user groups sometimes they have free food or door prizes: they are usually sponsored by the hosting companies or the recruiters who are looking for developers.

This is also my last bullet point. The recruiters. I know in this day of the age, we have a somewhat love/hate relationship with recruiters because they spam us on the phone, and on linkedIn. But looking at another way, for many openings esp. contractor positions are coming through recruiters. And also keep in mind not all recruiters are the same, there are some (if not a few) who are really good at finding positions and are also pleasant to work with. Not all are like car salesperson (for that matter, I think the perception on car salesperson is also rated unfairly). So my advice for aspiring developers is to establish something on LinkedIn, and start looking for a few good recruiters. I personally have worked with some very good recruiters, and my friend who found internship via LaunchCode worked with a recruiter at one time too (both out of necessity, sometimes companies can only hire contractor).

Will update this post as time goes.

tvOS tutorials collections

Note this is also available at github.

(10-06-2015 Update 2) Came across this one by tutsplus. Also the thoughts by Erica and savyapps.

(09-28-2015 Update) Came across this tutorial by madeupbypeople. Looks good. Also, note Xcode 7.1 beta 2 is coming out, along with iOS 9.0.1

(09-19-2015 Original) My Apple TV dev kit arrived. I haven’t done iOS dev for a while, not even get around the Apple Watch (I use a Fitbit Charge personally). But this new Apple TV thing seems really interesting, with all these TVML and TVJS things. There are not many tvOS tutorial right now, as this is really new and not many people get around it yet. But here are some I saw.

The following two both talked about TVML, TVJS and TVMLKit (the glue between TVML, JavaScript, and your native tvOS application per Kelvin Lau, see below). I know for traditional iOS developers Javascript may not be their favorite language (think Objective-C), but with the introduction of Swift, combined with the growth of popularity of Javascript in web development (both frontend and backend), we should at least pay attention to it. It’s much easier to setup a simple content navigation framework using Javascript and CSS (think websites) instead of Objective-C/Swift.

raywenderlich (Kelvin Lau @KelvinlauKL): Beginning tvOS Development with TVML Tutorial

Jameson Quave (@jquave)Developing tvOS Apps for Apple TV [Part 1] and Developing tvOS Apps for Apple TV [Part 2]

Mastering the tvOS Focus Engine: saw this at airbnb blog, this one is interesting because it talked about the focus and remote control. Note the game market is one focus of new Apple TV.

Quick Tip: How to use the remote control in your TVOS Apps for Apple TV in SWIFT

This one Hands-on with the tvOS SDK talked about porting iOS app to tvOS (note this is not a recommended approach). Nonetheless it’s interesting to see the gesture recognizer etc being discussed there.

I expect more tutorial and development on tvOS as we are close to the new Apple TV launch.