Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Big Sur & A Trip to Monterey

I was so excited to be able to spend last weekend with my friend Steve and his wife, Amanda.  Steve and I went to undergrad together and though we've kept in touch, it's been about 8 years since we've been able to hang out.

What's awesome is that Steve and Amanda live in Monterey, about 2 hours from Oakland.  So Jeremy, Max, and I packed up on Friday and headed down to visit.

I was excited for a few things this weekend.  1) to see old friends.  2) for max to experience the beach and the ocean.  And 3) for max to play with Ginger dog!  Yep, Steve and Amanda have a little dog and I knew Max would just love him.

Though Friday night was a little touch and go, by Saturday night Max and Ginger dog were best friends.

I'm pretty sure Ginger ate more people food this weekend than she has in her short life so far.  Sorry about that Amanda.

Saturday morning we headed out to the coast and down to Big Sur.   The drive was amazing.  Though it was hard, I controlled myself and didn't ask to stop too many times along the way.  

We drove down to McWay Falls at Pfeiffer Beach and headed back, stopping a few times along the way.

The water looks so inviting.

And the coast so beautiful.

But it's pretty darn cold!

McWay Falls

McWay Falls Coast

Happy Family... well, two of us.

Bixby Bridge

After the drive, we headed to a small beach in Monterey.  I never did find out the name of it, mostly because I was crashed out along the way. 

I was so excited for Max to see the beach and the ocean.  He loves water and he loves the pool, so I was hoping he would like the ocean, even if it was a bit too cold to swim.

So we walked up to the water line.

And watched the ocean waves washing up on the shore.

The sand was chilly, but he cautiously walked toward the waters edge.

Man that water is COLD!  

And he was none too happy.

After we dried off a bit, we went away from the waters edge and spent some time in the sand.  He wasn't too happy at first (clearly), but after a while he seemed to be a little happy.

This kid is such a cutie!

Although the first trip didn't go exactly as I had hoped, I think our next adventures in the sand will be better received.  Though I'm sure swimming in the ocean will have to wait until we visit someplace warm!

Here's to great friends and California living!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

California Dreamin'

We made it!

It's been a hell of a 2 months, but we are finally here and getting situated.  At this point you've probably heard the story, but I'll give you a quick recap.

For the past few months I'd noticed the funding on my current project getting tighter and tighter.  I knew it was just a matter of time, so I started looking at other options.  One day I saw a post from Russ Angold on Linkdin looking for an electrical engineer to head up their Ekso team in the Bay Area.

"Should I apply?" I asked Jeremy.

"Sure, why not." He said. 

Well fast forward a few weeks and I landed the job two days before I was told that my project funding would be out in three weeks.  Perfect timing. 

Though I wasn't (and sometimes still aren't) convinced it was a good idea, we decided that if we didn't move to Cali then we would look back on this opportunity 10 years from now and say "why didn't we go."

So we sold the house, packed our stuff, and headed on out here.

Two weeks after moving and I can say we are getting used to the area.  We live in Oakland, but up in the hills with a great view of San Francisco and the bay.  Our house is about 700 sq ft smaller than our Houston house, but we rented a storage place and we are getting used to the limited space.  Honestly, there were rooms in our old house that we never really used anyway, so it's not so bad.  Plus we've really downsized and purged, which felt great.

As for my job, well, that's going great.  I'm full time now (did a few half days to start) and I'm loving the people and the work.  Our building is open and airy and has windows... a whole wall of them.  We even have TWO, yes 2, women's bathrooms.  Check out the bathroom signs

I've already have lots to do and people are all pretty excited that I've finally arrived.  I hope I can live up to their expectations!

Also today I got to take the Ekso GT for a test ride, okay walk.  It's pretty cool and it was really interesting feeling this exo vs the X1 exoskeleton that I worked on at NASA. 

What's even cooler is that people are coming into the building all the time to work with the exo and work with the PT's in our group.  It's amazing to see people up and walking in such a short amount of time.  I'm really excited to be part of this team and to be part of a project that will have such a lasting impact on mankind.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A special message from Sonoma

Happy 39th Anniversary 
Mom & Dad!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

NASA's Space Exploration Vehicle

Yesterday Jeremy, myself, and our friend, Chris, got to drive the NASA SEV Chariot Rover.  The Rover was designed in in the Dexterous Robotics Lab where I work, however the team that designed it is part of a different group, in a different building, so I don't get to interact with them very often.

It was a great experience to learn more about what they are doing and to drive the rover.  It was so much fun!

Jody was nice enough to take us out to the rock yard and we each got to drive through the craters and up and down the rock hill.

The Chariot Rover has six wheel modules, each with independent suspension, drive, steering and 2 feet of travel.   It also is equip with crab drive.  All this allows the rover to traverse even the most difficult terrains.

Here are some pictures of us driving up and around the rock yard.

Check out my flickr page for more photos and videos!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Meet Valkyrie

I am very excited to be able to share with you all the robot that I have spent the last 9 months working on.  It's been so hard to keep this a secret, but I have been very fortunate to work with an amazing team of people on this awesome project.

Meet Valkyrie. 

She is a highly dexterous bipedal walking robot designed by an awesome team of engineers at the Johnson Space Center to compete in the Darpa Robotics Challenge (DRC).

The DRC is a robotics competition bringing together the best of the best from around the world.  The goal of this challenge is to build a dexterous robot that can perform a variety of tasks in hazardous environments and perform disaster response operations, much like those seen at the Fukushima reactor site.

The project was kicked off in October 2012 with several tracks.  Our team has chosen to compete in Track A, which means we were responsible for building our own hardware and software from the ground up.  There are five other teams in the Track A category, one of which is RoboSimian, another NASA team from JPL in California.

Teams not wanting to design their own hardware, had the choice of participating in the Virtual Robotics Challenge.  These teams had to design software to run a simulated Atlas robot through a variety of tasks demonstrating robotic control, locomotion, and manipulation.  Those teams ranked highest were awarded an Atlas robot by Boston Dynamics which they will use to compete with along side the Track A teams this December in Florida.  (Side note: Our partner on the X1 Exoskeleton project, IHMC, placed first in the virtual challenge!)

This years trials will run the robots through a series of disaster recovery tasks, one at a time.  Some of the tasks include walking over rough terrain, clearing debris, climbing a ladder, driving a cart, walking up to and through a doorway, actuating power tools, and manipulating hoses and valves, to name a few.

To read more about the Robotics Challenge, click HERE.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


A few months back we were staying at our friends house in Austin, when he introduced us to the world of smoking.

No, not that type of smoking.  Texas smoking.  As in meat.  Delicious delicious meat.

He had just purchased a Trager smoker, technically a pellet grill, and was eager to make some ribs for us.  Using the 321 method (explained below) he proceeded to make the most amazing ribs that I've ever had at someones house.  And that includes my dad's ribs, which are pretty freaken amazing.

I was hooked.

Fast forward 3 weeks and I finally convince Jeremy that we NEEDED one of these for ourselves.

We head down to Costco and 2 trips later (that's a whole other story) we arrive home with 1 smoker and 3 bags of pellets: hickory, apple, mesquite.

First meal: Ribs.

For these we followed the Trager cookbook recipe and employed the 3-2-1 method.

Smoke for 3 hours, wrap and "cook" at 225 for 2 hours, unwrap and continue to cook at 225 for 1 more hour to let the meat tighten.

They were fall off the bone tender.

Here you can see them nicely arranged on the smoker.

We did notice the skin was a little tough, but I think we could avoid that by using a mop sauce as described below.

For the rub we used only a dry rub consisting of Rib Tickler and Joe's Stuff.

Meal 2: Brisket

Let me start by saying, we live in TX and in Texas there is no such thing as a small brisket.  Good luck finding anything under 10 lbs.  For our first brisket experience we chose a 12 lb prime brisket from Costco.  

It fit on the smoker quite nicely don't you think.

Again we used a dry rub consisting of Rib Tickler, Joe's Stuff, and Saltlick dry rub.

We also made a mop sauce of 2 cups of Saint Arnold's Octoberfest, 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce, and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar.

We smoked the brisket for 4 hours, uncovered, coating with the mop sauce (in a spray bottle) every hour.

We then cooked it at 225 for 6 more hours, mopping every 1.5 hours, until the internal temp read about 195 deg.

Finally we wrapped it in foil and old towels and let it rest in a cooler for 30 minutes.

It was awesome.  I'm not a huge brisket fan, mostly because I find it to be too dry, but this was super moist and delicious.  Two thumbs up.

In addition to brisket and ribs, we've also done chicken (cooked at 350) and burgers.  The burgers were okay, but the chicken was very juicy and had a perfectly crisp skin.

I'm so glad we made the investment, and I can't wait to see what we decide to smoke next week!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Germany Part V - Munich

(For Part IV click HERE)


Our final three days centered around Munich, but before we even got into the city we stopped to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp.  Originally I had wanted to take a guided tour from Radius Tours because I think you get so much more interesting information this way, but we couldn't really get Max's feeding schedule to line up well with the tour schedule.  If you can't take a guided tour, don't worry, everything is documented in English and you can rent audio guides, which we did, for about 7E/pp.  

It's really hard to put into words the feeling that you get walking around Dachau.  You can't explain it.  All I can say is that it is worth a visit to anyone in the area.  Although we don't like to talk about it, what happened in Dachau and hundreds of other places across Europe is part of our history and something we all need to learn from.  Dachau is a great place to explore the history of the Nazi regime because it became the model for all other concentration camps. Visiting the Documentation Center in Nuremberg a few days before really set the stage for our visit here.  


After a visit to Dachau, we headed into Munich.  We stayed at the Hotel Mercure in the old city right near the Marienplatz.  We first dropped our bags at the hotel then went to return the rental car; we wouldn't be needing it anymore.  I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to walk back from the car drop off.  We could have also taken the train, but the walk was pretty short and gave us a chance to explore a little.  

It was just about time for dinner once we got in and Jeremy wanted to check out the first of four biergartens that we would hit up during our stay.  The first place we visited was Viktualienmarkt.  The small beer garden actually sits in the center of this farmers market; sit in at the tables with cloths for full service or without to self serve.  The process is the same as every other biergarten except this one is pretty small.  First you grab a table, then you head over to the food stalls to grab some food and to the beer meister to get some delicious libations.  Here they offered 1/2 and Full liters of beer as well as 1/2 liters of Weißebeer.  Up to this point we had been eating a variety of sausages at nearly every meal (bratwurst, nuremburg bratwurst, weisswurst, etc) so tonight I was determined to get something different.  But alas, I couldn't find the chicken guy, so wurst it was!  

The next morning we woke up casually and took our time at breakfast.  We spent part of the morning exploring the Marienplatz and the surrounding area before continuing our beer garden adventures later in the afternoon.  I was really mesmerized by the Neo-Gothic architecture of the New Town Hall.  It is so intricately decorated and check out this little guy climbing the corner tower.   Look closely at the faces of the figures right near his head.  To the people of Munich this New Town Hall is also  home to their beloved glockenspiel (Center of the building).  This giant spiel goes off every day at 11 and Noon and hundreds of people flock to the platz to watch.  We were one of those people.  Gotta tell ya... eh.  If of all the things you do in Munich, this is the event you miss, don't let it break your heart.  After 3 minutes or so Jeremy and I looked at each other, looked at the spiel, looked at the crowd looking at the spiel, looked at each other again, then left.  

In münchen steht ein Hofbräuhaus

Once the clock struck noon it was time to go biergartening (is that a word?!?).  We first stopped by the famous Hofbräuhaus.  Because we were there so early it wasn't really crowded, but there was an Oompah band playing.  After changing tables a few times due to smokers and other issues, we finally settled down and ordered.  At this point Jeremy said "no more sausage," so he ordered himself some meatloaf.  Well, the joke was on him.  This so called "meatloaf" was pretty much a hot dog loaf.  Yea.  To make this little dish all you have to do is take a hot dog out of its skin, press it into patty form and you've got yourself a Hofbräuhaus meat loaf.  Gross.  But the beer was tasty, pretzels good, and Max seemed to have fun too.  (No, I didn't feed my kid beer, but he seemed to be mesmerized looking through the glass)  

Augustiner Beer Garden

After the visit to the Hofbräuhaus, we walked across town and past the train station to the Augustiner Beer Garden.  There are several Augustiner restaurants scattered throughout the old city, however the big biergarten is out past the train station.  It's a pretty easy walk.  

Much like the Augustiner Bräustübl in Salzburg (similar name, not related) this biergarten is great for a true under-the-trees 
experience.  The weather was perfect, the trees provided a nice shaded area, and the beer was good.  Like other places there are service and self-serve areas, so watch which table you pick.  Here we also enjoyed some liptauer (see right) and chicken.  Yes, we finally found some chicken.  

On our way back to the hotel we stopped by a park to feed Max.  When we got there he was sleeping so peacefully we decided it would be best not to wake him and instead just wait it out... at the Park Cafe... with beer.  We just sat outside and split a half liter, but the inside of this place is really cool.  If we weren't ready to call it a day, and if my body was able to handle more, it would have been really neat to lounge inside and sip some wine.  

English Garden

Our last day in Munich we decided to take it really easy.  We had contemplated taking a guided tour of the city, but we were both feeling kind of done.  Instead we headed up to the English Garden.  This is Munich's equivalent to Central Park.  It's huge and awesome.  You don't even realize you are in the middle of this big city.  As Rick Steve's suggested, we entered the park from the south side at the intersection with the river.  From here you can follow the river up through the park.  There are two reasons to do it this way.

Reason 1: Surfers.  Yes, surfers.  The formation of the river forms a unique wave right at the bridge where surfers gather each day to test out their latest moves.  I guess when you don't live close to the ocean this is the best you're gonna get. I shot a short video you can watch over on my vimeo page HERE.  

After watching the surfers for a while, we continued our walk through the park.  It's such a lovely area and a great place to relax.  It was the perfect way to spend our last day in Germany.  Here's a family shot that we got along the river.

Continuing along the river, brought us to reason #2 for following this path: The Chinese Tower Beer Garden.  I suppose its a redundant statement to say this 6,000 seat beer garden is huge, but it IS huge.  We found ourselves a little seat out of the sun where we could listen to the Oompah band play, watch the crazy Austrian soccer fans, and eat some lunch.  (side note: apparently there was a World Cup qualifying match between Austria and Germany being played in Munich later that night... Germany won... I think). 

After spending the rest of the day relaxing in the garden, we headed back to the Marienplatz.  That night we ate dinner at Restaurant Opatija.  This little restaurant off the beaten path has an eclectic Italian and Balkan menu.  Jeremy got a big seafood salad and I had some pasta carbonara.  Totally not German, and totally awesome.

Before heading back to the hotel, we took the elevator down to the S-bahn to get our airport tickets and scope things out.  The elevator is located right in the Marienplatz which made it very convenient the next morning.  To get an airport ticket, simply use one of the automated machines (the newer blue/gray ones) and check the schedule on the opposite wall.  The S8 and the S1 run to the airport but the S8 is more direct (from what we understand).  Though either way you have to change once.  Also don't forget to stamp your ticket in the little blue machine before going down to the track. 

At the time we visited there was a lot of construction going on so some of the sections were blocked off.  When we purchased our tickets Jeremy took the escalator down to track 1 to scope things out.  What we didn't realize until the next morning, was that the escalator went down to track 1, but the elevator only took you to the main floor (purchasing and validating of tickets) and to track 2.  We had no idea how to get to track 1!  We looked around for a bit, and I'm sure there was some way to get down there, but we were too nervous about missing our train, so we took the escalator.  After having done this a few times already with a stroller, I knew it could be done, but it still scared the crap out of me.  We did have to change trains once, but that was pretty easy.

We flew home from Munich to Frankfurt then a direct flight from Frankfurt to Houston.  Once again we had the bassinet going back and Max did a really great job.  He's a traveling champ and we can't wait to take him on his next vacation.  

We had a great time in Germany and would highly recommend it for anyone considering a trip to Europe.  Traveling with an infant does have it's challenges, but you know, it really wasn't bad and once we were there we were doing anything we normally would have done at home except in a different country.  Yes, we did have to buy diapers and wipes while we were over there, but it wasn't hard.  (though at first we did buy the generic german brand thinking we would save money but soon realized why its worth it to buy name brand Pampers).  I know that Max won't remember any of the trip, but I think the exposure to traveling and people and new places will have a positive effect on him and we will always remember the great time we had.