Roadtrip: Houston, TX > Princeton, NJ > Denver, CO > Houston, TX

Roadtrip began on June 3, 2017, and ended on June 18, 2017, covering a distance of 4,581.4 miles (7762.24 km)

Ba and I picked up the rental car, a Dodge Caravan, on June 2 with 8,307 miles on the odometer.

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We left home just before 8AM on June 3rd.

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After dropping Paul off at Justin & Hope’s home, we commenced our journey in earnest. The first leg had us driving to Princeton, NJ, to attend Alice’s commencement ceremony.

I woke up on the wrong side of my bed that morning, and rested most of the way to our first rest stop in Lake Charles, LA. I found a dollar bill on the floor of the gas station that we’d stopped at, which I placed onto the countertop before stepping into the men’s room. It was still there when I came out, so I pocketed it before poking my head into Cash Magic. I learned that smoking is allowed inside all of Louisiana’s casinos. I stepped out, realized that Ma and Ba were aleady at the car, and hopped aboard so that we could move on.

Ma and Ba had planned to make a stop at Sam’s Club in Covington, where we’d get an opportunity to fill up the car and eat some pizza, but I suggested to Ma that we check out some more regional fare. We stopped at Billy’s Boudin & Cracklins at my suggestion and tried their pistolettes (boudin, crawfish), along with their smoked boudin. We also ordered the cracklins, both seasoned and unseasoned. I contributed my dollar from the gas station to the tip jar, and we moved on.

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Big Mamou offers beef jerky in boiled crawfish flavor!

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We like our elbow room here in the south

We stopped at Sam’s Club in Covington, LA amidst rainfall. I had forgotten how exciting Sam’s Club is in a different market!

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Hannah’s Ready to Eat Pickled Eggs

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Heavy rain continued to hamper visibility as we forged on (video taken along I-59N, Purvis, MS), and led to traffic delays (18-wheeler)

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Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama

We overnighted at Hyatt Place in Birmingham, Alabama. High humidity, the carpet felt moist.

The next day, we set out after breakfasting at the hotel, stopping for a late lunch at Arby’s in Bristol, VA, where we managed to catch the tail end of happy hour: $1 sliders and $1 small Jamocha shakes! I didn’t even know that Arby’s served sliders…

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Stopped at Radford Rest Area North.

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KFC signage

The three of us enjoyed dinner at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (200 Front Royal Pike, Winchester, VA 22602). I had a chicken-fried steak.

We made it to Princeton, NJ on the afternoon of June 5, in time to catch Alice’s Class Day reception.

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Ba checks out a Princeton class mug

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Ba and I attended the event, finding it quite disorganized, owing perhaps to the explosion of Computer Science students within the ranks of Princeton University’s engineering department.

Alice took us into the engineering library. I observed that most of the task seating was Herman Miller.

I was especially taken with the material library.

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In preparation for Alice’s small celebration that night, Ba and I took Alice to McCaffrey’s to pick up some last-minute items, including chips.

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Ba gravitated towards the Lays chips

We met some of Alice’s friends from Princeton, and I was glad to see Uncle Charles, Stephen, and Auntie Sun once again.

Princeton University’s 217th commencement ceremony took place on June 6th under overcast skies.

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We lingered on Princeton’s campus a while to take some pictures

Afterwards, we helped Alice pack and load her things into the back of the minivan.

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Dodge Caravan saddled down during loading

We had dinner together at Shanghai Park (not Alice’s first choice) and spent the night at the hotel.

On June 7th, Ba and Alice flew together to Denver, CO, to scout ahead, while Ma and I began the drive from Princeton, NJ to Denver, CO, stopping over in Columbus, OH and Kansas City, MO.

Pennsylvania toll road – Ma remarked that the toll was especially high (~$30), and posited that there must be limited revenue from other sources for roadway maintenance.

Heeded roadside banner ads for Blue Springs Café’s famous foot-high pie. Seeing traffic slowed down along the interstate made my decision to turn off that much easier.

We made a fuel stop at QuikTrip in Columbia, MO. The building had changed completely since I last saw it.

Overnighted in Independence, MO, where Ma and I ate at Smokehouse Barbecue, I took some photos of the Logitech G900 Chaos Spectrum, and we enjoyed the best hotel breakfast that we had along the entire trip, during which I learned about “Brie” in America.

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This was my first time driving this far west along I-70 – I saw road signs for Manhattan, McPherson, and Wichita, and smiled a bit as I remembered Joseph J and his brother, Jesse.

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Wind turbines have become a common sight, dotting the landscape around I-70. I first encountered them when visiting the Netherlands, and didn’t see them stateside until we visited Big Bend National Park in December 2015.

We arrived in Denver on the afternoon of June 9th. Ba had rented a pickup truck, which turned out to be a handsomely-equipped Ford F-150 4×4 crew cab.

Alice had settled on an apartment that she liked: a modern loft located near her workplace. I was very fond of the exposed HVAC ducting – I would love to have sheet metal ducting in my own home.

Ba flew back to Houston, TX on June 11th, while Ma and I stayed and helped Alice get settled in to her new digs.

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We slept on air mattresses that we picked up at Wal-Mart (the area Sam’s Club didn’t stock any).

On June 12 I finally responded to the voicemails left by area Mazda dealers, went for a test drive in a 2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring hatchback followed by a 2017 Mazda CX-5 Touring, visited an area Honda dealer for comparison’s sake, and brought back a sleeper sofa from IKEA.

The Colorado DMV stopped taking walk-ins for learner’s permits and new driver’s licenses on June 1st, and the first available appointment in the Denver metropolitan area wasn’t until July, so we made the drive to Pueblo, CO on June 13th. Alice successfully passed the written test, and with her new learner’s permit, we immediately sat her behind the wheel. She drove on the highway for the first time in her life, taking us to Colorado Smokehouse, where we had lunch.

I took over from that point onward. We stopped by the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) on the way back where we watched the short film showing the life of a cadet, visited the cadet chapel, and stopped to take pictures by the B-52 on display.

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This visit started me on a bit of a history tear. I found this particular article very interesting:

I made a long-overdue pilgrimage with Alice to the Apple Store to see if they would help her out with her compromised Apple Watch. I walked away very impressed by Devialet Gold Phantom ( and DJI OSMO Mobile ( I also tapped away briefly on the recently-updated 12″ MacBook with second-generation butterfly mechanism. Really dug what Apple have done with their Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad.

On June 15, Alice received shipment of the Ghostbed that she ordered and picked out her first car, a 2017 Mazda CX-5 Touring with Preferred Equipment Package in Soul Red Crystal. I met up with Forrest “WrinkledCabals” O., a friend that I met through streaming, and we enjoyed Wagyu burgers together at Metropolitan Bar & Grill.

I briefly considered not sharing my goofy grin, but decided that I may as well.

By the time that Forrest dropped me off back at the dealership, Ma and Alice were on their way out of the box.

On June 16, Ma and I took the day off from helping Alice and engaged in some sightseeing of our own. We visited downtown Denver. Unfortunately, the Mint is closed on Friday for inventory, so all our talk of buying gold coins was for naught, but we did enjoy touring the (very stately!) Colorado capitol building and walking the 16th Street Mall.

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We had lunch at Rialto Café, where you can get a beer on the house on Fridays.

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I requisitioned Alice’s Apple Watch that evening wore it on the way back, setting aside my Seiko Arctura SNG045 for the time being.

We started our journey home on June 17, overnighted in Wichita Falls, TX where we had dinner at Cotton Patch Café, and reached Houston in the afternoon of June 18.

Trip total: 4851.4 miles

There were times during our roadtrip where having lane keep assist would have been very helpful: long stretches of straight highway as far as the eye could see

Order Placed: Zhiyun Smooth 3

My awareness of these products began with DJI OSMO Mobile, which I found during a visit to the Apple Store

The DJI OSMO Mobile has been on the market for some time, so I was able to explore reviews and found a slew of products by searching for more generic keywords (gimbal for smartphones)

My awareness grew to include Zhiyun products, and an exploration of Zhiyun website led to awareness of Zhiyun’s latest products catering to smartphone users seeking to stabilize their video captures: Smooth 3 (MSRP $299, & Smooth-Q (MSRP $139,

The Smooth 3 is their flagship product for smartphone videography, and it can stabilize devices weighing up to 260g. I looked at comparisons pitting the Smooth 3 vs. Smooth-Q, and decided to pull the trigger on my Zhiyun Smooth 3 purchase after locating a 10% off coupon.

The Zhiyun Smooth 3 uses a 26650 battery, which means that I’ll be able to source my own batteries if I need more. That single battery allows for an impressive 14-hour continuous runtime, which should outlast my iPhone 7 Plus.

One video review that I watched highlighted an issue: optical image stabilization on devices does not play nicely with stabilization from gimbal. This came as no surprise.

Analysis of Texas Gulf Coast Alumni Chapter Dataset

I applied some data analysis concepts to a dataset obtained from Tau Beta Pi HQ.


  • gain a better understanding of the Texas Gulf Coast Alumni Chapter of Tau Beta Pi’s constituency
  • determine parts of town where events might be hosted to achieve greater turnout

Data was received in .XLSX format, so I naturally gravitated towards Microsoft Excel for data analysis.

I constructed a series of PivotTables to gain insight about the geographical distribution of the alumni chapter’s constituency.

Prior to mapping, I filtered to count only those entries that have an email address, yielding 2682 out of 9127 records. My focus is on those members that have provided their email addresses: without external support, it will be challenging and expensive to reach out to the broader population.

I discovered OpenHeatMap (GitHub) while searching for a tool that would easily map entries from a CSV file. Thanks to Pete Warden for producing OpenHeatMap.

Tested the effect of cleaning ZIP code data, stripping any ZIP+4 codes back to five-digit ZIP codes.


    1. Some members list their work address instead of their home address, resulting in inflated counts from some parts of the city (namely downtown and Rice University)
    2. OpenHeatMap did not correctly resolve all ZIP codes
      1. This was noticeably worse when mapping ZIP+4 (ZIP+4 vs. ZIP

I attempted to overcome the second limitation by providing more contextual location information, appending city and state to the ZIP code.


Note that the maps above were generated prior any data cleaning.

The final map was generated after cleaning the data of any misspelled cities

20170222 I learned of Google FusionTables, which can be used to generate heatmaps and much more. Beginning further analysis to see how this tool might be used. So far I have observed the Google Maps Geocoding service used by FusionTables to be rather slow – perhaps it’s single-threaded?

Unfortunately, the heatmaps generated by Google FusionTables show only 1000 rows of data. Additional limitations are listed here.

Windows 10 Black Desktop with Cursor Fixed


My Cool ‘n’ Quiet workstation was working fine until some point last night where it showed a black screen with moveable cursor. Attempts to bring up the Task Manager were unsuccessful – the cursor briefly changed to indicate busy state, but Task Manager would not appear.

This morning, the system would boot, displaying the Windows logo, but I was stuck on a black screen showing only my cursor.

I did not make any changes to hardware, and was not aware of any changes made to my system.

Initial Troubleshooting

I plugged my secondary display into my workstation’s graphics card and attempted to tinker with Windows 10’s Project settings (Windows key + P) to no avail.

Stumbling Across a Solution

I poked around within my workstation’s UEFI and focused on Boot Option Priorities.

Last Known Good Configuration

Boot Option Priorities
#1 Windows Boot Manager
#2 SATA: My Windows 10 OS Drive
#3: UEFI: Built-in EFI Shell

I modified Boot Option Priorities:

  • Swapping positions of #2 and #1 resulted in failure to boot
  • Tested UEFI, Windows Boot Manager, and finally SATA. This time, I was greeted by the familiar login screen

Upon login, Windows displayed a notification stating that updates were installed.

Update history (Settings > Update & security > Windows Update > Update History) showed that an updated NVIDIA display driver (NVIDIA – Display – 12/29/2016 12:00:00AM – was installed last night – could this have been the culprit?

Confirmed that this updated NVIDIA display driver is shown for my graphics card within Device Manager.

After successful boot, I restarted my workstation, and reverted changes to Boot Option Priorities. I was still able to boot cleanly into Windows 10.

I ultimately modified Boot Option Priorities. They are now set to

  1. UEFI
  2. Windows Boot Manager
  3. SATA