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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Arosha’s Birthday

Balloon tradition.This year Arosha turned 9. Happy Birthday, my boy! We love you very much and wish you all the best things there are!

Spooner balancing board.The birthday fell on Thursday. Daniеl took a day off work so that we can spend it together and celebrate as a family.

Swurfer swing. Awesome!We inflated a bunch of balloons the night before — the expected, but still very exciting birthday treat which we started when he was still a toddler. We put the gifts from grandparents and aunt Lina on fireplace and we also hid most clues for the treasure hunt which happened on birthday morning and led Arosha to our gift.

Anna swurfing.Anna also prepared a gift for her brother. She repurposed a bath bomb box with the help of scissors, scotch tape and markers and created a cardboard house. She put some drawings and $1 in a pretty bag inside. She also bought him a ball at our local store later in the day.

Swurfer fun.From grandparents and aunt Lina he got a bunch of things that he asked for — wooden blocks, poly spots — and a bunch of things that were a surprise — board games, electronic Rubik’s cube puzzle game. Anna also got a few small gifts.

Hibachi dinner.We got him a spooner balancing board which looked way more fun on Shark Tank than it was in reality, and a Swurfer surfing swing, which actually is fun so long as you are careful. The installation of Swurfer took over an hour — Daniеl was doing most of the work and I helped with little things. We also stopped at the local service station later in the day and got two used tires which Danya attached to the tree trunk to somewhat protect a person in case of impact. The original rope included with the swing was a little too short for our high branches, so we had to order a longer rope. It came with two additional handles sets plus we had a set included with the swing. We installed two of those so that it’ll be comfortable for both Aaron and Anna, but did not think that for a grown up an even higher set of handles would be very convenient. That is a sad mistake, but it’ll take a lot of effort to install it now, so sadly adults have a bit less control while swinging.

Birthday cake.At lunch we went to Mannen — our local hibachi place that Arosha really likes. Then we went to Stop and Shop where he picked a cake and some candles. It was nice, fruity and not too sweet.

Duckpin bowling with friends.And on Saturday he celebrated his birthday with friends at Danbury Duckpin Bowling. Logan, Julian and Ben were invited from his class (also Justin, but he was away that weekend), and Matvey and Misha were invited along with their parents. Bowling was fun, although I with they would let us play longer. There were no other parties, so we had a whole party room for ourselves and got an extra lane. There was pizza and ice cream cake with candles and I also made a fruit salad in the morning. The price was very reasonable too, which is a nice change after crazy Brooklyn prices for party events as such.

Birthday lunch with friends.And after bowling Ilya with family and Logan went to our place to celebrate some more. The boys seemed to have fun playing together and we also enjoyed the company of the adults. Later on Wendy stopped by to pick Logan up and spent about an hour with us. That was nice too.

Swurfing mastery.All in all, Arosha had a nice birthday and a good year for the most part. I hope he’ll have a wonderful next year of his life. We are lucky to have him in our family!

Another birthday cake!

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Smart Lights Control

Hue bulbs in a floor lamp.I’ve seen a lot of people start their foray into smart home with smart bulbs only to be faced with a problem of controlling those smart bulbs in a way that would not annoy the rest of the family.

Recently a friend of mine started this journey and I’ve been going through the options that I have discovered for myself over the course of last year. So I decided to lay out a simple guide of those options along with their pros and cons.

I’ll preface this with a couple of points on the specifics of my experience and smart bulbs in general.

I’ve only dealt with Philips Hue smart bulbs, which is probably the most popular brand. The issue that people face with smart bulbs is that they must always be powered on, thus rendering a regular wall switch useless. If power is cut all the smarts are gone with it.

The first and the most obvious way to control smart bulbs is with a manufacturer’s app that one can install on the phone. However this also takes the first place for the most inconvenient way of dealing with the lights. My opinion is that some form of physical control is a must.

Blocked switch.It is also advisable that the actual physical switch is either removed or blocked in some way in order to prevent other family members or guests from cutting the power off. There are multiple ways to achieve this, but the simplest way is to buy a set of plastic switch blockers on Amazon. These can be bought for any type of switch, be it “decora” or a toggle switch.

Philips Hue motion sensor.Another simple way to control smart bulbs is with a motion sensor. Somebody walks in, the lights go on. After a set period of time of no motion the bulbs go off. I, however, prefer to have my motion sensors to be “on” only at certain times and therefore I have another type of a physical control associated with motion sensor controlled lights.

So let’s talk about actual switches that can be used with Hue in place of the original dumb switch or alongside it.

Hue Dimmer switch being used as a stand-alone remote.Philips itself makes two of these. One is a battery powered Hue Dimmer switch which is probably the most affordable option. These typically go for $25 and can be gotten for even less on sale.

This switch actually gets exposed to HomeKit, so I use it for numerous applications beside controlling the Hue bulbs themselves all throughout the house. For example I have one of these mounted in the hallway on our way to the bedroom to turn off Hue bulbs in the far living room along with kitchen island lights controlled by a smart Wemo switch.

There are three ways to mount these. One is to simply use the stickers on the provided plate and stick it to the wall in a desired place. This switch is battery powered so the placement of it is truly unrestricted. It can go anywhere.

Standard Hue Dimmer plate in place of an old dumb switch.If you’re not happy with sticker approach the plate also has screw holes. I use this approach when I actually replace a physical switch. I take out the actual power switch, connect the wires inside to the constant “on” position and screw on Hue Dimmer to cover the hole.

3D printed plate for Hue Dimmer switches.But my favorite way is to actually use a 3D printed specialty plate that leaves the original switch alone and mounts right on top of it in place of the original plate. I have a couple of these in our house. With this setup you have a fairly clean look and still have an option of accessing a hidden dumb switch.

Same plate as above with switches taken out. Switches are held in by magnets.A ton of possible configurations of these can be found on Etsy. In fact I have replaced a single toggle switch’s plate by our bathroom entrance with a plate that can mount three Hue Dimmers. We have three independently controlled lights in the bathroom and switches for those are in multiple places. Now those lights can be controlled from a single location.

Hue Tap as a stand-alone switch.The next option for a switch is Tap, which is also made by Philips. While Hue Dimmer works well on typical walls I find Tap’s round shape to have a better fit in certain other applications. This switch costs $50 and it also gets exposed to HomeKit.

It doesn’t need any kind of power at all. It uses kinetic energy from the button presses, which makes it feel slightly unusual. Some people dislike the feeling of these buttons, but I find them perfectly acceptable.

Hue Tap attached to the bed's headboard.I have one of these mounted on the headboard of our bed by my pillow. It controls our bedside table lamps along with a Hue led strip under our bed. It works in conjunction with a Hue Dimmer switch mounted in place of the original pre-Hue switch by the bedroom door.

I have four different light schemes programmed into this switch along with the main button being a toggle for a regular warm light and “off” button. This can be achieved with 3rd party HomeKit applications which allow for conditional automations. If light is “on” perform “off” function. And vise versa.

A third switch that I have used in my home is a “decora” shaped kinetic switch made by a company called RunLessWire. It fits into an opening in the wall in place of standard dumb switch. For it to work the actual wires have to be connected together in a permanent “on” configuration.

This switch will cost you $59 and it also gets exposed into HomeKit. It’s called Click.

A pair of RunLessWire Click switches.The switch itself does not use any kind of power — same principal as Tap switch mentioned above. When ordered, the switch comes with two possible options — single or double button. This particular switch is useful when you have a multiple gang box, but only want to replace one of them.

I specifically had a configuration where I wanted to control four different lights, but only had two sized opening in the wall. I replaced both of the original switches with two-buttoned versions of RunLessWire Click switches.

As with Tap, the buttons have an unusual feel to them. I find them not to be instant all the time, meaning that you have to hold the button depressed and wait for a programmed action to trigger. Kids in particular had trouble with this, but eventually got trained to hold the buttons down for a long enough period of time.

Lutron Aurora switch next to a standard Lutron Caseta smart switch.The last and a very new addition to this party is a recently release Lutron Aurora dimmer switch made specifically for Hue. This is the only switch out of the above mentioned ones that does not get exposed to HomeKit, which limits it to controlling Hue bulbs only.

A pair of Lutron Aurora switches next to Wemo smart switches.It attaches right onto a standard toggle switch, thus blocking it in permanent “on” position and takes over the Hue control functionality. It looks like an old style dimmer knob. It’s aesthetically pleasing and it provides a physical control for Hue bulbs as opposed to simply blocking the dumb switch with a piece of plastic.

Same as above, different angle.The installation takes less than five minutes. The base comes with a blade kind of a piece that cuts slightly into the toggle switch when you tighten the screw on this base. And the controller itself just snaps onto the installed base. Aurora will run you $39 a piece.

Lutron Aurora mounting base attached to a standard toggle switch.That’s it for the physical controls. A good sized array of options. And I should mention voice control as well if you have access to Siri or Alexa. But it not nearly as convenient as any of the actual physical controls.

In conclusion all of these have their strong sides and you probably should be choosing based on your application.

Custom printed plate for Hue Dimmer switches.In my opinion custom 3D printed plates for Hue Dimmers are probably the most versatile option — you’re making the least amount of modifications, you still have access to your dumb switches which are cleverly hidden and you’re not gluing anything to the wall.

Same as above, with one switch taken out.Philips Hue Dimmers themselves are very cheap and you get the full functionality of HomeKit open to them, giving you a wide array of configurations and use cases.

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Anna’s First Tooth

Anna's first tooth.A couple of days ago, on July 16th, Anna has finally lost her first tooth. It was barely hanging by in her month for the past two days, but she was too afraid to pull it out. On the last day she allowed Alёna to try to tie a thread to it, but the thread kept sliding off.

In the evening, when I came home from work, she allowed me to try the same. Eventually I thought I got a good knot on and pulled the thread suddenly. The tooth fell out. She had a strange reaction. She kept going into laughter and then tears and then laughter and then tears in 3 second intervals. But she was mostly happy.

For the night she put her first tooth under her pillow. Tooth fairly exchanged it for $20 — first teeth are expensive. Anna however thought that it was a pretty bad deal and she’d rather have her tooth.
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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Hammock and Owls

Wooden owl.Several weeks ago we bought a hammock. We had perfect spacing between a pair of trees in our backyard to hang it on.

Our hammock area.However we knew that those trees were close to death when we moved in. These particular ashes were being killed by invasive beetles that have killed off pretty much all ash trees in the area.

Owls. We decided to put them up at a different height.Along with those ash trees we had another five trees that were either completely dead or on their last breaths so to speak. This area gets hit by strong storms from time to time, so we wanted to make sure that none of these trees fall on the house. We did hire a company and had them all cut down.

View from the deck.The crew of five people worked from 8am to 5pm. It cost us $3,200 to cut them all down and removed from our lot. A lot of money, but a very good deal considering the price of such work in the area.

Another angle.We asked to leave long stumps for where our hammock would hang. And in order to make it look presentable we ordered a pair of owls specially cut for us by a local artist. They were installed today.

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Canada 2019

We're all over Canada.This is going to be somewhat of a different approach to a vacation post that I usually take.

Kids.The main difference is that the vast majority of our trip was very similar to the one we took exactly three years ago. Even the time of the year was pretty much spot on.

First dinner of the trip. A short top close to Canadian border.So I’m going to concentrate on things that were different instead. And the first thing that was the biggest difference was the company.

First dinner of the trip. A short top close to Canadian border.Since Ilya’s kids have a spring break at the same very time as our kids and they wanted to go to Canada for a while now I offered to join us up once I booked it. And they took us up on this offer.

Looking at lit up falls.We tried our best on sharing things that we liked and saw and I hope that we mostly succeeded. Different people do vacations differently and our typical approach to vacations, for many many years now, was that we try not to concentrate on fitting into a specific budget. This is one time when we just close the eyes on the costs and try to just enjoy it.

Pretty colors of the falls.This kind of approach started way before we had kids and had less responsibilities, but it kind of stuck with us. So we had a couple of slight hiccups on this front, but overall, no major differences.

First morning.We all wanted to see similar things and because of Ilya’s family we ended up visiting a bunch of new things that we would’ve probably skipped on our own.

American falls.Plus we loved the company in the pools. Kids typically are quite demanding in the pool and always want us to play some kind of games with them. This time they had friends to play with. But not only that, but Ilya is one of the most dedicated dads I know. He spent hours upon hours of playing games with all the kids while I lazily soaked in a hot tub.

Mandatory selfie.One of the big achievements on the swimming front is our discovery of Anna’s swimming abilities. While all the time she used floatation devices, it turned out that when you take them off she actually can swim. And pretty well at that. She swims going forward and she can swim on her back like a little torpedo.

Horseshoe part of the falls.I guess she was as surprised by that discovery as we were, so we couldn’t really talk her into using her floatation devices anymore. She wanted to go and go and go on her own.

Under the falls view.And we also might’ve solved her ear problem. She kept ending up with ear infections and pain in her ears after the pools. This time we used a rubber cap to protect her ears and it seemed to have worked well.

Us under the falls.Back to the itinerary of our vacation itself. This was the first time when we drove out from Ridgеfiеld instead of Brooklyn. I was amazed that by the end of our drive to Niagara Falls — our first stop — my average speed was 68MPH. Never could we just get on the road and drive without getting stuck in a single traffic congestion while living in Brooklyn.

Rainforest Cafe.The drive was uneventful as was the border crossing and we were in our hotel at around 8PM. About six and a half hours of driving plus an hour or so for dinner.

Rainforest Cafe.Last time Anna was only 2 years old and we always ended up going to bed before sun sat down. This time kids noticed lit up waterfalls from the Rainbow Bridge — border crossing — and once we checked-in, talked us into going down to the falls.

Rainforest Cafe.So this was the first time they saw Niagara at night. We saw the Bride’s Veil falls well with all kinds of animating lights, but the water mist rising from Horseshoe part of the falls and light reflecting in all that obscured the bigger part of the falls pretty much completely.

Ferris wheel in Niagara.We started the next day with a trip through the tunnels under the Horseshoe part of the falls. Unimpressive is the word. Just a tunnel with a couple of small openings and a viewing platform with mediocre views.

Go-karter.The movie that we watched about the history of the falls and a little bit of a 3D experience that was included in the package ended up being more fun. I learned that the whirlpool on Niagara actually formed in a matter of hours. The river hit some soft portion of the rock formations and everything came crumbling down.

More pro-drivers.For lunch we decided to go to Rain Forest Cafe. Kids remembered it from the last time and really wanted to go. While we remembered the food wasn’t really stellar it somehow turned out to be ever worse this time. Kids did enjoy the animal shows, but everyone suffered through their lunch.

Outside the go-carting course.I think that was probably the biggest fail of a food experience during the trip. We also had a very mediocre lunch on our way to Montreal from Toronto. We stopped a in a tiny town of Gananoque in a Thousand Islands region. Every restaurant was closed for the season and we actually ended up in the same exact place as last time. Zero choice.

What is this ancient thing?Back to Niagara — dinner in a Brazilian Steak House — Brasa — was as good as we remembered. I ate a lot of steak. Arosha was finished with steak fairly quickly, but then he proceeded to consume what seems to be two full roasted pineapples.

Cable car.While walking through the town of Niagara we discovered a newly constructed Go-Kart course. Everyone partook in the experience. Arosha for the first time in his life actually drove a kart by himself. He did well and really enjoyed the experience. All the other kids had to ride with parents because of height limits.

Over the river.The second day in Niagara turned out to be quite rainy. But we did two interesting things. First of all I finally rode in 1916 Whirlpool Aero Car — a carriage that is supported by six steel cables that goes over the whirlpool of Niagara River.

Cable car ride over Niagara whirlpool.I’ve seen this thing many many times before. But either it had very long lines during tourist season or it was closed for the low season. This time it seems to have just opened and there were no people. It was very rainy and cold. And the ride wasn’t really anything special, but I was happy to cross this achievement off my list.

Butterfly Conservatory, Hoping for a landing.Another new thing we did was visit a place called Bird Kingdom — world’s largest free-flying indoor aviary. Kids had a blast. Two parts stand out the most — they were able to take pictures with large macaw parrots on their hands.

Butterfly on Anna's hair.And another thing was that they were able to participate in feeding lorikeets — a kind of parrots. And because there weren’t too many people due to low season they ended up going on multiple circles of this adventure.

Butterfly Conservatory. Looking for more landings.In Toronto we ended up doing a couple of new things beside the mandatory tour and dinner at the top of CN Tower. We explored a complex of office buildings linked together by a beautiful galleria. The complex is called Brookfield Place. The unusual interior makes it quite photogenic and interesting to explore.

Aroshka's shoulder.There is also a Hockey Hall of Fame inside, but we only took a couple of pictures at the entrance of it and didn’t go inside. I guess none of us know much about hockey and its history so nobody had an urge to explore it fully.

Success.The big thing that we did this time was a visit to Toronto’s Ripley’s Aquarium. I must say that this must’ve been the best aquarium that I’ve been to and I’ve been to quite a few.

Success.It has a lot of different exhibits, but the best thing was a glass tunnel that goes right through the aquarium itself. And the most amazing creature that I saw while walking through it was an enormous saw fish. Huge. Not to mention a multitude of sharks, turtles, rays and all other kinds of things swimming around you.

Bird Kingdom.In Montreal we, again, did a lot of the same things as last time. However we did catch an organ playing at sailors’ church. For lunch we went back to the fondue place that we’ve been to two times before. This kind of unusual and authentic food connects you more to a foreign place that you are visiting.

Down the falls.We went for the beef broth again, since our kids really do not like cheese for some reason. Our family enjoyed the experience with kids cooking their own meats and vegetables. And we felt more of French Canada, so to speak.

Feeding lorikeets.Second day in Montreal was again rainy. Ilya, thought, found an archeological museum that we haven’t been to before. I didn’t expect much from it, but it turned out to be very interesting. We actually stood at a place where Montreal formed and learned about its early days. It’s always nice to learn new things about the place that you’ve been many times to and yet haven’t delved into its history much before.

Wing-span.For dinner the four of us went to a place that Alёna and I have discovered on our last trip. Although we had a bit of a lunch fiasco. We decided to be hungry when EVERYTHING got closed for a switch-over from lunch to dinner menu. We were very close to actually eating at Burger King.

Bird Kingdom.But we found a coffee shop where we bought a pair of croissants for our kids, so we were able to hold out for pretty much two hours until places started to open back up.

Brasa — Brazilian steakhouse.The memorable part of this dinner was our acquisition of authentic Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc beer glasses. This beer happens to be our current favorite and we couldn’t find these glasses for sale. So we asked if we could buy a pair from the restaurant.

Brazilian steakhouse.The waiter said that he will give them to us. I guess what he really meant was that he will not tell anyone at the restaurant either, but we did take them. We also gave him a really good tip. So these glasses now have their history.

Somewhere in Toronto.And we have crossed another achievement of our list — we actually rode Uber for the first time. We didn’t want to walk all the way back to our hotel under the rain, so we tried it. It worked really well. I guess there is a reason there is all this hype about the service.

Inside Brookfield Place.And our last stop was Albany. The new thing we did here was visiting New Your State Museum that Ilya’s family discovered. Third time in Albany, never noticed that it existed.

Brookfield Place.The museum turned out to be free and much more impressive than I expected. Its exhibitions are a nice combination of a history and natural history items. A lot of a fun sections including an almost full skeleton of mastodon. I was very surprised to discover that African elephant is actually larger in size than either mammoths or mastodons ever were.

Brookfield Place.And on our last night of vacation all eight of us had a nice dinner at a table meant for six people. But I think it actually made things more intimate and close and put a nice period on this trip with good friend and good company.

And just a whole bunch of addition pictures follow below. Continue Reading

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Small Office Updates

My gray desk with a pair of 27" 5K monitors powered by top-specced 2018 MacBook Pro 15. Philips Hue strip behind the desk.I finally got around to redoing some of the pictures of my office. Some of the minor changes are the acquisition of Sonos One speaker and a couple of nice trinkets. I love my cacti collection. A set of pots with little plants and a set of glass ones. And then there is a steampunk mask we brought from Venice.

Twenty-one panel Nanoleaf arrow on the wall.The biggest change is the addition of a twenty one panel Nanoleaf setup on the wall. This thing is amazingly hard to photograph well because of its high level of brightness, but it really is beautiful in person. I have it set to turn on automatically when I walk into the office along with my Hue light-strip behind the desk.

And the back wall is pretty much unchanged.And the last change is my monitor arm setup. So in my process I went from $700 arm to $200 arm to $30 arm. And the latter is the one I settled on. It’s made by VIVO. All I wanted was to position my monitors in a perfect straight line next to each other and never touch them again. This cheap arm does just that.

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