Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dinner @ Kin Khao in San Francisco, CA

I recently went to Kin Khao, a recently minted Michelin Star Thai restaurant in San Francisco.  A Michelin Star for a Thai restaurant piqued my interest, because there aren't many of them (reading online, there's three of them in New York now).

Kin Khao has both an a la carte menu and prix fixe menu.  If you've read any of my other blog entries, I usually default to the prix fixe/tasting menu because I don't want to bother with picking items off the menu.  However, I made an exception this time.  The prix fixe menu is a collection of items off the a la carte menu.  There were 1-2 items on the a la carte menu that weren't on the price fixes that we really wanted to try, so we went with a la carte.  The price fixe is a pretty good deal ($55 per person) to try a number of items on the menu and we ended up paying a similar price for the 5 dishes we selected below.

Here's an overview of what we had.

1)  Som Tum Papaya Salad - Spicy chili+lime+fish sauce dressing, green beans, cherry tomatoes, dried shrimp, peanuts

First up was this papaya salad.  I've had similar salads at other restaurants before, but I don't recall them being as spicy as this one.  Overall, very tasty.  A good light start to the heavier stuff coming below.

2) Namprik Long Rua - Spicy, umami-bomb Kapi shrimp paste relish, served with caramelized pork jowl, crispy Passmore ranch catfish, seasonal vegetables

This is the dish that basically made us not get the prix fixe menu.  It seemed so different from anything else I'd ever seen at a Thai restaurant before.  In fact, the menu actually said something like "This is not for beginners" on it.  That made me want to try it even more.

The menu description isn't that clear about what this is though.  The shrimp paste, pork jowl, and catfish are all in the jar you see in the picture.  You mix it all up together to create a paste/sauce.  The waitress said you should put it over rice.  It also comes with a collection of vegetables and fruit to dip into it too.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but it includes cucumber, asian pear, raddichio, green mango, carrots, radish, Thai eggplant, what I assume is chicory lettuce, and one other vegetable that my date and I were unsure about (maybe daikon?).

Short answer, as the menu description says, it really is an umami-bomb.  It's absolutely delicious over rice.  I didn't actually like it too much with the vegetables, as I think it was hard to dip everything into it.  I ended up taking some of the vegetables out and sort of making a salad with it and putting some of the paste on.  After the spicy papaya salad above, it was good to get all of the veggies and fruit to balance the spiciness.

My one only weird criticism of this dish is it is very very savory.  After eating about 1/2 of it the dip, my date and I couldn't eat anymore.  I think it'd work out much better if there were 4 or more people to share it.

3) Caramelized Pork Belly - Sweet, savory, voluptuous pork belly cooked in a clay pot

Holy cow, this is one of the best pork belly dishes I've ever had.  It was super soft and gelatinous.  It reminded me of the pork belly from French Laundry.  Really really good.

4) Khun Yai's Rabbit Green Curry - Kiew Wan Curry Paste, Coconut, Milk, Rabbit Leg & Saddle, Rabbit Meatballs, Apple Eggplants, Thai Basil

We felt obligated to try a curry since we were here.  We eventually settled on this rabbit curry, because I don't think I've ever seen a rabbit curry at a Thai restaurant before.  The curry was a medium spicy, but not as spicy as the papaya salad above.  Over rice, it was really good, however the star of this dish was the meatballs.  They were delicious.  Much better than the rabbit meatballs from The Progress.

5) Black Rice Pudding - Served with burnt coconut sugar caramel, salty coconut cream, puffed rice+peanut+sesame praline

This was apparently the only dessert Kin Khao has (according to the waitress which we overheard at a table next to us).  We wanted to try this before coming here, so we didn't bother to look at a dessert menu if there was one.

The black rice putting comes with all the extras you see in the picture.  The waiter said you can use it to build a sundae-like dessert.  I think the black rice pudding was a tad bland by itself, but with everything else together it was really tasty.

Overall a good meal at Kin Khao.  I definitely want to go back as there were multiple other dishes I wanted to try.  The chili jam clams and spicy squid were the two dishes that caught my eye.  Pad kee mao is my favorite Thai noodle dish and unfortunately it was not on the menu during my visit this winter.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tasty Stuff I Ate in 2015

As I did in 2014, the following are selections of random things I had in 2015 that were particular tasty or interesting that I didn't yet blog about.  I don't blog about every meal b/c I don't really feel like it, but these were particular good and interesting and worth noting.

1) mochi wrapped with bacon from Ippuku, Berkeley, CA

This was a very popular item at the restaurant, but I couldn't imagine it tasting good.  I just couldn't imagine the two items working out ... but it did.  And it was delicious.

2) Fried frogs legs en Aigre Doux garlic, lemon from Monsieur Benjamin, San Francisco, CA

These frogs legs were delicious, but what made them so memorable was the presentation.  They all had their "claws" on them still (I know it's not claws, it's bones, but it looks like claws).  I recall the waitress telling us that many customers get freaked out by them.  The table next to us had just ordered them but were looking at ours with regret.

3 & 4) Barbecue Abalone & Grilled Giant Ama Ebi at KCC Farmer's Market Honolulu, HI

While in Honolulu, I hit up a local farmers market.  While admittedly semi-touristy, I loved the fact this farmers market had a unique set of "fair food" that is just not what you normally see on the mainland.

5) Omakase Sashimi from Dash, San Mateo, CA

After my dinner at Kusakabe, my girlfriend and I wanted to find more great sushi but at a slightly lower price point.  Our favorite was Dash and this great sashimi plate.

Battling Dry Eyes and Eye Strain

On and off over the last year I've been dealing with some eye-strain, dry eyes, and eye allergies.  After some trial and error, I was eventually able to solve the problem(s). 

The problem was a little hard to isolate b/c there were a number of competing problems.  In addition, one issue can actually lead to the other.

I thought I'd share what I figured out, what I did, and some random tips/tricks in the hopes it helps people out there.  I know I'm not the only software engineer / office worker that has to deal with these problems. 

Of course a DISCLAIMER, I'm not a medical professional.

Part 1 - What I was doing Wrong

1) Not Blinking / Focusing Too Hard

As a software engineer, you unfortunately have to stare at a computer a good part of the day.  You probably also have to stare at your phone too.  If you're like me, some video games after work to relax or reading a book at night might be adding to the problem.

Apparently human beings, when concentrating, blink less than they normally do.  This is bad.  Blinking adds moisture and other teary goodness/oils to your eyes.  When you blink less, your eyes can dry out.  When you blink less, your eyes aren't clearing out dust/allergens like they normally are.

I'll let you Google for yourself about strategies to blink more, but it took some time to retrain myself to do this.

2) Not Taking Breaks

It goes without saying that when you're sitting at a desk all day, it can effect your eyes.  Your ocular muscles are no different than any other muscle in your body. When they get fatigued they begin to get sore.

Taking a break to look off into the distance and just relax your eyes from staring at a monitor is a great break.  Eye strain itself can lead to dry eyes too.

There is a general 20-20-20 rule that's stated on many websites.  Every twenty minutes, stare off in the distance of atleast 20 feet, for 20 seconds.

I didn't necessarily follow this, but the general rule of take a lot of breaks and stare off into the distance is a good idea.  I now force myself to get up and walk around the hall atleast every hour.  I also try to go for a longer walk every afternoon.  I used a timer on my phone to force this at one point, but I just know to do this now.

3) Not having good ergonomics

While my ergonomic setting wasn't terrible, it wasn't ideal and probably exacerbated a number of issues.  Luckily I have an ergonomic evaluator at work that found the following problems for me.
  • Keep your computer monitor below your eyes / Keep the top of the monitor at the top of your vision level.  If your monitor is above you vision line, you open up your eyes more, which can lead to your eyes drying out.
  • Your monitor should be about 20-28 inches in front of you.  Mine was 32 or more inches away, which can lead more eye strain.
  • Although I've been at my desk for many years, I have an air vent above my desk.  Likely not the biggest culprit, but it was likely a contributor to drying out my eyes.
4) Squinting

This goes without saying, get your eyes checked.  Squinting can increase eye strain & dry eyes too.

It ends up that my vision was actually fine.  I was actually squinting b/c of my dry eyes and seasonal allergies.  I didn't want to open my eyes as wide to avoid having them dry out.

5) Running a fan at night

When it's hot during the summer, I sometimes run a fan by my bed to keep me cool.  Bad idea as the air / wind can totally dry out your eyes.

6) AC + Allergies

These are the two factors that are sort of not in my control but probably exacerbated the problem for me.  If all of the above happened during the winter (minus the fan at the night), things might have been more tolerable.

Air conditioning can dry out the air and lower the humidity in your home and working environment.

Allergies are controllable through all the normal mechanisms, but there are circumstances you can't control b/c you have to be outside at some point.

Part 2 - What to do

1) Eye Drops

So you can buy various over the counter eye drops to help with dry eyes and/or allergies.  However, I would caution to buy anything w/ preservatives in them.  I unfortunately seemed to be sensitive / allergic to several of them, which made my problem worse for awhile.

My understanding is that you need to keep at it for awhile.  If your eyes have been really dried out, the tear film has been weakened.  Using eye drops for awhile can help moisturize your eyes making you feel better, but at the same time it gives your eyes more opportunity to heal.

2) Use warm / cold compresses

Using warm & cold compresses helped my eyes rest / heal.  You can use normal towels with water or ice, but you can actually buy compresses that are specific to your eyes.  They are far more convenient.

However, it is important differentiate when to use warm or cold compresses.  It was hard for me to figure out what was what and when to use what.  What I eventually figured out was:
  • eye strain - your eyes are sore, tired, or fatigued in some fashion.  Imagine you're sore after running, it's that kind of feeling with your eyes.  Just like with sore muscles, warm or cold compress are good to relax your muscles / lower inflammation in muscles.
  • allergies - your eyes may be dry, but the core differentiator is there is some itchiness or inflammation (which to me felt like my eyes were "big" or swelling).  Use a cold compress to reduce inflammation.  A warm compress here is bad.  If your eyes are redder after using a warm compress, I think that's an indicator it's allergies and not dry eyes.
  • dry eyes - your eyes feel sticky or not well, but it isn't itchy or have any feeling of inflammation, use a warm compress to create tears and oil.  I suppose cold compresses wouldn't hurt here, but they probably don't help.
Naturally, if you have both dry eyes and allergies, how do you do it?  I would use a cold compress to get the inflammation down, then wait awhile, and use a warm compress.

3) Massaging your eyes

I eventually realized that some muscle tension built up in the muscles around my eyes, likely contributing to the eye strain.

You can look up your own massage your eye videos on Youtube, but the core massages that helped were:
  • massage your temples
  • massage the muscles around your temple / connected to your temple
  • massage your eyebrows
  • massage your forehead area / muscles connected to our eye brows
  • massage around your eye socket
  • massage the pressure points around your eye & nose
  • massage the middle point between your eyebrows and above your nose
I had to keep at this for awhile to slowly but surely massage out all the tense muscles.

4) Rest

As much as we all have work to do, the best thing to do is just rest.  Stop looking at a computer whenever you can.

5) Turned off the lights

It ends up I did have some sensitivity to the fluorescent lights in my office.  I read online that it's a fairly common issue for people who have dry eyes.  After all, part of your tear film has been weakened, so it makes sense.  Luckily for me I work in my own office, so I could just turn off the lights and only suffer them in meeting rooms until things got better.

It's also possible my monitor was old and bright and/or flickering.  Turning down the brightness helped as well as looking at my laptop (which for some reason was better).

6) Humidifier

It sucks to add moisture to the air when its hot outside, but it's important to keep the air reasonably humid and not too dry.  I tried to just keep the humidity at about 40%.  More can lead to mold growth in your house, etc.

7) Eye Exercises

So I'm not 100% positive about this, but there are anecdotal stories that eye exercises can help strengthen your ocular muscles and make eye strain less of an issue.  My ophthalmologist suggested pencil push-ups which I did for awhile.  I'm not sure how much it helped or not.

However, after I started playing Fallout 4 (a first person shooter video game) my eye strain at work started to get a lot better.  The first night I played Fallout 4, I had a terrible headache the next day.  Then, as time went on the headaches didn't happen anymore and my eye strain began to get better (both at work and playing the game).

I'm no doctor, but I could see that first person shooters are an "intense" ocular workout as you have to move your eyes around a lot.  It makes sense that the ocular muscles could have been built up a bit.

8) Have patience

It can take a lot of time, likes many months.

Good luck to anyone out there who read this.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The So Far Forgotten San Antonio Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs are playing great.  It's almost been forgotten and certainly not covered much given the 24-0 start the Golden State Warriors had.

The Spurs are currently 23-5 and sit only 3.5 games out from first place in the Western Conference.  That 23-5 record translates to a 67 win season, which would match what the Warriors did in 2014-2015 and tie for one of the top ten most winning seasons in NBA history.

I can't help but wonder what the Warriors are thinking.  They are off to the best start in NBA history, and when they look at the standings they are only 3.5 games in front of the Spurs.  In contrast, they'd be about 8 games ahead of Cleveland in the Eastern Conference.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Perplexed over the Giants signing of Jeff Samardzija

After I heard that the Giants had signed Jeff Samardzija to a 6 year $90 million dollar deal, I was perplexed.

Right now, according to FanGraphs, teams are spending about $6 million per WAR on a player.  Although that calculation is a few years old and some say it is closer to $8 million per WAR nowadays, it's a reasonable number to use for judgement.

Jeff Samardzija has had the following WARs in his career since being converted to a starter:

2012 - 1.8
2013 - 1.0
2014 - 3.7
2015 - 0.2

Based on his $18 million a year salary, the Giants are effectively paying for 3.0 WAR a season.  Something he has only accomplished once in his career, and he wasn't particularly close in any other year.  He was ridiculously off in 2015.

In contrast, lets take a look at David Price's contract at 7 years and $217 million.  The Red Sox are paying for what they hope is about 5.1 WAR per year.  Since 2010, when he began a full time starter, David Price has WARs of:

2010 - 4.8
2011 - 2.8
2012 - 6.9
2013 - 2.8
2014 - 4.6
2015 - 5.9

That's not too bad.  He cracked a 5.1 WAR two times and was pretty close another two times.  Minimally he's averaging a WAR of 4.6 (~90% of desired) compared to the average of 1.67 for Samardzija (~55% of desired).

Lets look at Zack Greinke.  His 6 year $206 milllion dollar contract means the Diamondbacks are looking for 5.7 WAR per year.  Since 2008 when he began playing as a starter full time Greinke's WAR has been:

2008 - 5.4
2009 - 10.4
2010 - 3.4
2011 - 1.5
2012 - 2.6
2013 - 3.9
2014 - 4.3
2015 - 9.3

He's cracked 5.7 twice and was pretty close in 2008.  Again, his average is 5.1.  Not that far off (~89% of desired).

Lets look at Jordan Zimmerman to just round things out.  Zimmerman got a 5 year $110 million dollar deal, so that comes to a goal of 3.66 WAR per season.  What's his history?

2011 - 2.8
2012 - 4.7
2013 - 3.7
2014 - 4.9
2015 - 3.5

This deal seems to be a bit more on the mark.  Zimmerman is averaging a WAR of 3.9 over his career.  Based on this, it seems the Tigers got a pretty good deal on Zimmerman.

So while I'm perplexed about the Samardzija signing, a team that has won three World Series in the last 6 years should deserve some credit.  Perhaps they see something that others don't.  At the minimum, because Samardzija converted to a starter later in his career, he doesn't have as much mileage as other starters.

But the Giants are certainly banking on the fact that 2015 was a fluke and 2014 is a better indicator of his performance.  In 2015, Samardzija played for the most defensively poor team in baseball (see Fangraphs chart).  So a change of scenery to a very good defensive team (#2 according to Fangraphs for 2015) may do wonders for Samardzija.

Friday, December 11, 2015

What should the Cardinals do this 2015-2016 offseason after losing John Lackey and Jason Heyward

One year ago I wrote about the Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward trade.

In it, I posited that it was a huge cost to give up a young starter with 4 years of team control for just one year of Jason Heyward.  However, it was a risk the Cardinals took to make a run at a World Series title.  There were several reasons I felt they had to make that push:
  1. John Lackey was only under contract for 2015
  2. Matt Holliday, Jhonnny Peralta, and Yadier Molina were getting older
  3. There were no prospects with Oscar Taveras's ceiling in the minors
So 2015 might have been the small window the Cardinals had to try and win a World Series before a small rebuild would have to occur.

In the end, the trade perhaps worked out as well as you could have hoped with the exception of the early playoff exit.  The Cardinals won 100 games and Jason Heyward had a marvelous season where he ended up with a 6.5 WAR and was 15th in MVP voting.

However, a number of things I cited as issues in that post a year ago became true.
  • Matt Holliday played only 73 games and had a .804 OPS, both worsts in his career
  • Yadier Molina posted a .660 OPS, his worst since 2006
  • Jhonny Peralta posted a 1.8 WAR vs 5.7 in 2014

So the question is, do the Cardinals think they have more playoffs runs in them with this current staff?

On the one hand, their young players played really well.  Rookies such as Thommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty  all played very well (all with OPSes in the .824-.877 range).  Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez also played well, with the latter getting an All Star nod.

On the other hand, the Cardinals lost Heyward, Lackey, and also Lance Lynn to Thommy John surgery.

So the Cardinals probably need a starting pitcher to round up the team for a playoff run and it would be nice to get a big bat.  However, the pickings are a little slim right now, with mostly "Plan B" type players left in the free agent market.  Players such as Mike Leake, Justin Upton, and Chris Davis probably highlight the remaining free agents.

However, I think the biggest thing the Cardinals need to consider in their offseason plans is contending with the Cubs in their division.

The Cubs were a 97 win team in 2015 and they only seemed to have gotten better with the addition of Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, Jason Heyward, and whatever other offseason moves they will make (they will likely trade Jorge Soler since Heyward now has his position).  Not to mention hopeful improvement from their rookies Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber.

Winning the NL central is going to be really hard.  So a Wild Card is probably the best bet for the Cardinals.

If a Wild Card is the goal, there's no reason for the Cardinals to go nuts in free agency.    It would take a lot to keep up with the Cubs.  The Cardinals could shore up their pitching staff with a someone like Mike Leake, who shouldn't be too expensive.  However, they should show restraint and not overpay for a Chris Davis or Justin Upton.  This team is good enough for a Wild Card run already.

Perhaps mid-season if a Wild Card looks out of the picture, the Cardinals could try and trade Matt Holliday and/or Peralta for prospects.  I'd even consider trading Molina if the right deal comes along.

For the longer term outlook, Matt Holliday's contract will be up after 2016 and Peralta & Molinda's will be up after 2017.  A new TV contract begins in 2018 for the Cardinals, which may be the time they can begin a new round of playoff pushes with a new crop of young players and money to spend on free agents.

In addition, by the time 2018 rolls around, the Cubs may also be weaker.  John Lackey's contract will be up.  A number of younger players will become arbitration eligible and no longer cost peanuts.  Jon Lester will also be entering his mid-30s.  Jake Arrieta will be a free agent.  That may be the time for the Cardinals to strike.

Update 12/22/15: 

Looks like the Cardinals did shore up the pitching staff w/ Mike Leake.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Arizona Diamondbacks Zack Greinke signing & Shelby Miller trade analysis

The Arizona Diamondbacks just made two huge moves by signing Zack Greinke and trading for Shelby Miller in the last week.

The Zack Greinke deal was a bit of a shocker, as most expected the 32 year old to get about a $150 million dollar contract.  Instead, he got a $206 million dollar contract.

The Shelby Miller trade has been widely panned as the Diamondbacks gave up:

Ender Inciarte, a player who posted a WAR of 3.7 & 5.3 in his first two major league seasons.

Aaron Blair, a prospect who was rated the #40 prospect in baseball before 2015.

Dansby Swanson, the #1 pick in the 2015 draft.

That seems like a huge haul for Miller, who was an All Star in 2015 and posted a 3.6 WAR.  He has a career war of 9.1 in a little over a three seasons of work.

However, much like the James Shield for Wil Myers trade a few years back, I think the there is a method to the Diamondbacks madness.  Time will tell if the move was a good move or not, but right now I don't think it's as bad as people make it out to be.

In 2015 the Diamondbacks were 79-83 with a +7 run differential.  So basically, they were about a .500 team.

They had the second best offense in the National League.   They had the best offense in the National League amongst teams that didn't play in Colorado.  Led by All Star & Gold Glovers Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, the Arizona offense is really really good.

The pitching was a different story though.  Arizona's pitching was 9th in the National League, so sort of middle of the pack, a bit below National League average.  Rubby De La Rosa, Chase Anderson, and Jeremy Hellickson started 86 games for the Diamondbacks.  They all posted ERAs of atleast 4.30 and only Chase Anderson had a WAR that was above 0.0 and it was barely at that (0.8).

So this had to be improved.

Bringing in Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller for 60-70 starts should immediately make that situation better.  Add in rookie Robbie Ray for more than 23 starts and a hopefully healthy Patrick Corbin for more than 16 starts, and suddenly this pitching staff looks much deeper and much better.

It isn't hard to imagine that Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller single handedly change the run differential by about 50 runs by themselves.  Add in new depth in the pitching staff and a change of 60-70 or so runs in run differential isn't hard to imagine.  And when your run differential goes from +7 to lets say +70, you suddenly have a contender for the National League West Title (Dodgers were +72 last year, Giants were +69).

Of course, this assumes that Ender Inciarte's value can be replaced.  Which may not be a small feat.