Southern Connecticut Beach Review

Despite everything happening with the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 has been a great year for beach relaxation — the weather has been perfect, and our town of Fairfield has done a great job in making sure the local beaches are well-maintained and litter-free. I’ve compiled a list of beaches and gear that I’ve liked this year, with more reviews later to come.

Beaches

State Beaches

Sherwood Island Park6/10Pros: Sandy beach, great rocky area near 9/11 memorial with expansive views, great picnic areas
Cons: Goose droppings everywhere, touristy (lots of NY residents have events here)
Silver Sands State Park9/10Pros: Fine sand, lots of space
Cons: Fairly popular
Hammonasset Beach6/10Pros: Huge beach (939 acres)
State Beaches

Local Beaches

Penfield Beach8/10Pros: Amazing view, great playground and swings, close proximity to Jennings Beach playground
Cons: None
Sasco Beach4/10Pros: Nice wooden play structure, great sandy beach with no pebbles.
Cons: Usually restricted to Westport residents, poor parking
Calf Pasture Beach6/10Pros: Great boardwalk, splash pad, lots of space
Cons: Usually crowded
Local Beaches

In the past, my favorite beach was Penfield Beach due to its playground, but since those are closed during coronovirus, my new favorite is Silver Sands — there’s a lot of space, it’s close to our house, and it has a sandbar that allows you to wade maybe 20 yards in 3-feet deep water, which is perfect for teaching kids to swim.

Gear

To date, I’ve found Clio chairs super convenient for taking to the beach — they’re bottle-sized, and very well engineered.

We’ve also had great success with the Sportsbrella beach umbrella, which has been perfect on the hot summer days — we did have to use a 5-pound sledge and ground stakes from Home Depot to get secure it, but has been *amazing*.’

Here’s to more days at the beach!

Lake Placid Itinerary with Kids

Last week, our family had the chance to spend six days in Lake Placid, NY! We had a wonderful time — abbreviated itinerary below, followed by photos:

Itinerary

Day 1Arrive at Hampton Inn Lake Placid, explore boardwalk around Mirror Lake
Day 2Explore High Falls Gorge, go paddleboarding
Day 3Explore the Wild Walk at Tupper Lake
Day 4Explore the Whiteface Mountain Summit
Day 5Explore the Whiteface Cloudsplitter Gondola
Day 6Visit the Natural Stone Bridge and Caves in Pottersville and head back home

Day 1

During our trip to Lake Placid, we decided to stay at the Hampton Inn Lake Placid — this was primarily motivated since our family had a lot of Hilton points saved up, but the hotel is also at an amazing location right next to the main beach, boardwalk, tennis courts, and playground with swings and slides. We splurged on getting a suite room with a balcony, which was totally worth it since we could easily eat breakfast and dinner feeling the amazing lake breeze. This day we had a chance to walk to the boardwalk and get some well-deserved ice cream!

Day 2

After eating the great complementary breakfast by the sides of Lake Placid, we went to High Falls Gorge to catch up with nature. It was great to see the waterfalls and expansive views, and the kids had a chance to see some great rock formations (or rock giants per Frozen 2)!

Day 3

On our third day at Lake Placid, we went to the Wild Walk at Tupper Lake — this was a lot of fun, and had a lot of kid-friendly activities, such as a giant spiderweb one could sit in, as well as some hanging rope bridges at tree-top level! The kids had a great time running around, and then we all went back to Lake Placid to check out the paddleboards!

Day 4

On our fourth day at Lake Placid, we went to the Whiteface Mountain Summit. Although the entry fee was pretty steep (30$), there were great views from the top. They had a food truck located which was pretty good, but a lot of the fun activities such as hiking trails were shut down due to the pandemic. Lots of time for R&R and watching Despicable Me at the hotel.

Day 5

On the fifth day, we tried to go on the Whiteface Cloudsplitter Gondola, but despite all reports to the contrary, the place was closed due to the pandemic :(. We decided to spend the whole day at the beach and had a great time.

Day 6

On the last day of our trip, we went to Natural Stone Bridge and Caves in Pottersville — this was a nice way to split the four-hour trip from Lake Placid to Connecticut, and gave the kids a chance to run around.

Final Thoughts

Overall, we had a wonderful time at Lake Placid (or “stickaplat” as Avi says) — the weather was perfect, the hotel was awesome, and there was lots of time to spend time and bond as a family. I can’t wait for our next vacation!

Danice & Alok Wedding

Last week, my family and I celebrated the wedding of Deena’s sister Danice and Alok! We had a wonderful time at initial ceremony in Tampa . . .

followed by a fun Mehindi celebration . . .

followed by a beautiful wedding celebration . . .

and an awesome reception!

Lots of love to the beautiful couple. Here’s a slide show made earlier about them!

Celebrating Alok & Dano!

Building a Flower Wall

One thing that I’ve seen at a couple of recent weddings is something called a ‘flower wall’, which is a beautiful wall made of lace/silk flowers to serve as a backdrop for wedding photos. I had a chance to assemble one a couple days ago for my wonderful sister/brother-in-law, so just wanted to walk through the building process.

Flower Wall Panels

In order make a rudimentary frame, my sister bought 15 flower wall panels, each 63x45cm. On the back of these panels are a plastic grid, which can be easily linked to adjacent panels with plastic zip ties.

After laying out the flower wall panels and connecting them together, we had a structure that was 6’2” by 7’4”. We also bought some pink silk flowers to accentuate the top of the wall, and cut out letters from foamboard to spell out the wedding hashtag #YouButalaBelieveIt! These letters were subsequently spraypainted with gold paint, and secured to the wall panel structure by painted zipties.

Trellis Construction

One of the big challenges that we faced was supporting the flower wall on a free-standing basis. The wedding hotel venue had a hard regulation against nails, hooks, or command strips, so we went to Home Depot and got the following supplies:

  • 8 1′ x 6′ 6ft common boards
  • An impact driver
  • Pack of 1-1/4” GRK screws

We first laid out the boards in the pattern below before drilling. One can see that the top and bottom boards are a little wider, just to get closer to the goal height of 7 feet.

Once this was done, we drilled everything together, and obtained our final project. Lots of work, but it came out looking great!

Glofish Aquarium

Over the past month or so, I’ve been working on stocking a new 60 gallon aquarium. I’ve always loved aquariums in the past, and actually had a 10-gallon aquarium with a betta fish (Reza), followed by five glofish tetras back in the day. Unfortunately, the five tetras passed away a few months ago, and the tank went down to the basement after being drained. However, over Christmas break, I found an amazing deal on a tank that was being sold on Craigslist, and decided to get back into the hobby!

A brief clip of the tank can be seen above, with Alexander hanging out in the background. Details about the tank can be seen below:

Aquarium60 Gallon Tall
Tank: 12.75 in L x 48.5 in W x 25 in H
Substrate20 lb of gravel (Black / Glofish)
LightingFluval Aquasky (included in Craigslist deal)
Generic LED airstone at base
AirstonesHydrofarm 4-port Pump, connected to bubble wand and 2 bubble discs
FilterFluval 406, replacing a Fluval 405 which was included in the Craigslist deal but had a broken latch. Filter contains Carbon, Seachem Purigen, and Seachem Matrix)

At present, in the tank, I have nine glofish tetras (genetically modified black skirt tetras). They look great, and have awesome schooling behavior. It’s pretty relaxing to see them swimming around! Just as a 1 month update, I’d like to also recommend the Aquarium Note app on Android, which is great for keeping track of water changes and parameters. I’d also recommend the Eheim Automatic Feeder, which is fantastic.

3 Easy Hikes in Sedona

This week, my wife and I were in Scottsdale for a conference, and decided to head up to Sedona for a day trip of trail walking / hiking. Although we used to do a fair amount of hiking back in Boston, we decided to do a fairly relaxed trail day, and found a few gems that we absolutely loved

Red Rock Crossing

Red Rock Crossing was a great starting point for our hiking day — we came in the morning around 0900, so the trail was deserted and we had the whole place to ourselves. There was a 10 dollar entry fee for parking, but it was well worth it — the grounds at the beginning were very well-maintained, and offered great views of Cathedral Rock. After doing a loop on the paved trails, we headed into the woods to walk through the vortex, balance on branches, and stack rocks on ‘Buddha Beach’. Our primary goal for the trip was to enjoy nature and not twist an ankle, and this hit the spot perfectly.

Fay Canyon

After getting warmed up, we decided to head to Fay Canyon. Although this was fairly close to our prior location, it looked completely different — instead of the water and lush vegetation, this trail was very sandy and rocky. It was also amazing to walk and see ourselves be dwarfed by these giant canyon walls on either side of us. At the end of Fay Canyon was a peak one could scramble up, but we decided to leave that to more experienced hikers.

Sugarloaf Summit Trail

After catching some lunch, we headed to Sugarloaf Trail for our last hike. Unlike the past two hikes which were kept the same elevation, this had us headed to the peak of a small hill. Although it was a little daunting seeing the summit from our starting point, it was amazing to get to the top and look over Sedona and feel a sense of accomplishment. Such a beautiful landscape.

After hiking, we relaxed at the Kimton Amara Hotel in downtown Sedona with drinks, and then headed to Elote, which was an amazing restaurant and had amazing authentic Mexican cuisine. Deena got a copy of the sourced cookbook, signed by owner/chef Jeff Smedstad!

Such a wonderful experience. Can’t wait to come back again to Sedona!

Regicide Completionist Chronicles 2 Review

This is a brief review of Dakota Krout’s “Regicide”. This is the second book in the “Completionist Chronicles” series, and is categorized as a fantasy LitRPG novel.

PLOT

A simplified graph of the major plot points in this title can be seen above. I absolutely loved the the last book in the series (Ritualist), and thought that it built a solid foundation for a litRPG series based on a enchantment-based protagonist. Although the book isn’t as compelling as the last book, it is highly entertaining.

One of my favorite things about the last title was the perception that the protagonist was making monumental changes to the game environment — he single-handedly overthrows the mage guild and defeats the Archmage. Unfortunately, even though this book is titled ‘Regicide’, the aforementioned King is only peripherally mentioned in the book, and his death (spoiler) has little impact on character development or story progression. Despite the false advertising, the book does have several subplots that are fantastic — (1) conquering the dungeon near Ardenia, (2) finding out how to build a cohesive combat team, and (3) defeating the wolfmen. I enjoyed exploring all of these subplots, and felt that all of these added to the overall story.

SETTING

The setting for this book was pretty standard high fantasy — this isn’t to say that it was poorly executed, but it wasn’t anything particularly unique for the litRPG genre. My favorite setting in this book was the description of the artifact building that the protagonist creates — it was interesting to see how the protagonist used different in-game deities to protect his investment, and hilarious to see him interrupting the cleric who tried to bless the main altar.

CHARACTERS

Although the protagonist (Joe) was interesting, I felt that he wasn’t as compelling as he could have been. While enchantment-based litRPG characters are uncommon, there are several books that have similar protagonists — as a case in point, Awaken Online’s Jason uses his programming skills to use his necromancy droids to map out a dungeon, and Arcane Ascension’s Corin uses his enchantment skills to create contextual shields. There’s one portion in the book where the protagonist is offered the chance to specialize (see below), and out of a realm of amazing options, the protagonist chooses to be an architect — quite possibly the most boring choice ever.

I was personally hoping to see the protagonist choose to be an ‘Empowered Jumplomancer’, leveraging the system glitch discovered in the prior book, or the ‘Psychomaster’ trait in an effort to go dark, or even the ‘Waritualist’ pathway due to its rarity and in-game potential based on the central quest of human expansion. Seeing the protagonist choose a non-rational path was disappointing, given the potential for great plot advancement.

STYLE

This book was well-paced and the writing style was fluid. I particularly liked the use of puns in the book (especially against Sir Bearington). Despite the slowish plot, I can’t wait for the next title. From a writing perspective, I didn’t find any grammar or spelling mistakes. As of 7/30/18, this book is available on Kindle Unlimited, and is available on Kindle for 4.99.

OVERALL: C

Overall, this title was good. Although the plot and protagonist were bland, the book had great LitRPG mechanics and a solid setting. Would recommend with reservations.

Amy’s Wedding

My sister got married!

wedding

Quick note, but just wanted to extend a big congratulations to Matt and Amy who got married on July 14th. The ceremony was absolutely wonderful, and just like the engagement a few months ago, there was lots of love and joy in the air.

On the day prior to the engagement, there was a great wedding rehearsal session, which was attended by all the folks in the ceremony — most of my family and in-laws were included, as seen below:

rehearsal_dinner

On the day of the wedding, we got up early, decorated the limo, and went to the church for the ceremony. Afterwards, we went to the reception at the Westmount Country Club, and danced the night away.

Such a good time. We are so happy for Matt and Amy and hope they have a great time on their honeymoon in Italy!

IMG-20180714-WA0001

littleBits Electronics Synth Kit Review

Our public library has a bunch of kid electronic projects that they loan out, so recently I got my hands on the littleBits Electronics Synth Kit.

As a kit, it was very well built and surprisingly easy to figure out — I actually worked through all the exercises in the book during Alexander’s nap time, which says a lot about the usability and accessibility of the kit and its accompanying pamphlet.

As it stands, the kit itself comes with several modules which are nicely packaged:

kit1

After reading the instruction guide, I was able to quickly make a working keyboard synthesizer — there was an sheet music score corresponding to ‘Mary Had a Little Land’, which I successfully completed:

kit2

After working through a few more filters and modules, the last module used a complex setup to create a full-fledged synthesizer with echos, filters, and mixed harmonies.

kit3

All in all, it was pretty cool to play with this kit and learn more about the synthesizer mechanics. However, I think the the replay value of this kit is relatively lacking, and don’t think I would use it again after working through all the exercises. I also think that it is pretty overpriced at $149, when similar Arudino kits are less than half that. While I personally didn’t think the kit was worth it, it did encourage me to perhaps check out Make Magazine and perhaps scratch a coding/robotics itch that has always been there. Cheers to more projects in the future!