My Super Bowl 50 experience

As hopefully all of you know, the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 24-10 at Levi’s Stadium. As a football fan living here in the Bay Area where Levi’s Stadium is located, I got to experience in the game in a few different ways.

First, I saw the Bay Area as a resident annoyed at the effect of tourism. We were warned that millions would be descending upon the city and that traffic and public transit would be problematic. To be honest, however, I didn’t really notice much of a difference as my daily life doesn’t seem to intersect with the public very much.

Second, I saw the Last Monday, I headed up to Super Bowl City, a few blocks of downtown San Francisco taped off for a bunch of booths and free concerts for the public. On the evening I went up, it was relatively chilly, and there wasn’t a concert going on. As such, most of the activity was centered around modular buildings for companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Verizon, and Intel. Most of the things worth doing, however, had relatively long lines that we weren’t patient enough to wait for. Overall, it wasn’t a particularly interesting experience, but I’m glad I went since I would have regretted not seeing it.

Third, I saw the game like any good US resident: at a Super Bowl party. One of my co-workers helpfully “volunteered” his place to host, and we prepared the usual array of chips, frozen pizzas, chicken wings, and other generally unhealthy game snacks. Somehow, the Super Bowl has ended up being one of the great, annual American culinary events alongside Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. However, it is unique in my mind because I don’t think about elevating it with creative recipes or “good” food, per se. I would rather just eat the same bags of chips and bake frozen foods.

I also paid attention to the important parts of the game by taking my bathroom break while the Panthers were on offense so I didn’t miss any commercials. I generally enjoyed the commercials this year: it seems like they have cleaned up a lot of the most outrageous ads, and they generally seem to do fun ads now. I think my favorite commercials were the avocados in space and the prius getaway car. I also really enjoyed the half-time show.

Fourth, I saw the game like a football fan. Specifically, I watched as a fantasy football team owner who wasn’t really rooting for either team but wanted to see a good game. And for a defensive struggle, it was a surprisingly good game. Most defensive struggles end up being quite boring while nothing really happens as both teams stop each other. This game, however, had 7 fumbles and 2 interceptions for a totally wild ride.

Few, singular events end up affecting me in so many ways, but the Super Bowl really has its own culture around it far beyond what happens on the field itself. Like Game of Thrones, I see it as something big enough that it’s worth participating just because everyone else is. So regardless of whether you got a 4-faceted experience like me or if you were rooting for the winning or losing team, at least we all share something to talk about this week.

Farm Fresh to Me

You may or may not have noticed that I never really concluded my dinner table tournament. Despite my claim to be good at maintaining commitments and projects, I definitely stopped well short of goal to cover all of the options. I did, however, make it slightly further than my blog would indicate because Julie and I did end up trying a CSA about 6 months ago, so here’s my extremely belated post about it.

Farm Fresh to You

Farm Fresh to You is a community supported agriculture provider. The idea is that consumers can cut out the grocery store middleman and get produce directly from local farms. There are various schemes of how it works, but the basic setup is that I, as a consumer, pay a farm, and they send me shipments of whatever they’re current growing on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

Many people have opinions about the benefits or issues with this, but I was interested in trying it primarily for 2 reasons. First, I would get better, fresher, riper produce. The story goes that produce at the grocery store has to be picked early so that it will not rot en-route before getting to the consumer. Since CSAs cut out that step, the produce can be picked at perfect ripeness. Second, I would get different stuff. I like the novelty of eating, cooking, and cooking with different things. When I go grocery shopping, I will naturally tend to buy produce that I know how to use and how to cook with. With a CSA, I would be forced to use whatever showed up and, as a consequence, try new things.

We ended up signing up at a booth during a community event in downtown Mountain View. Although I could tell that they guy was going through his sales shtick, I felt okay going along since we intended to try a CSA anyways. He got us a discount for our first couple boxes, and in the end, each bi-weekly shipment was somewhere in the range of $30-40.

Delivery

Our box showed up early Friday morning, so we opened it up over breakfast and discussed our options.

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The mix included a few different types of fruit, 2 types of peppers, 2 types of grapes, some greens, tomatillos, and a few other items I can’t identify several months later. Overall, we were quite satisfied with the variety and set about planning how to use everything.

Preparation

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Prior to that day, I could not have told you what was in green salsa. Maybe just green bell peppers? It turns out that green salsa is mostly just tomatillo with something spicy (peppers) in it. We found a recipe for green salsa, and it turned out great. The fresh salsa listed on the same page was not good. I would not recommend that. But the roasted salsa was good, and I definitely learned why I should be less impressed with the salsa options at Mexican restaurants.

The peppers ended up as fajita vegetables for fajita night.

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and we also roasted and sauteed the other vegetables for another meal.

I'm pretty sure we got those potatoes in the box, too. I forgot about those, I think.
I’m pretty sure we got those potatoes in the box, too. I forgot about those, I think.

The butter lettuce ended up as part of our salads. I sadly realized a long time ago that I didn’t know how to make good salads. I think I leaned too much on vegetables (all bitter) without balancing it out. With Julie’s guidance, we stepped up our salad with apple, dried cranberries, blue cheese, and candied nuts.

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The Followup

Given just the text above and the pictures, you might have been led to believe that we had a good experience with it. You would be correct. We liked the CSA enough that we got another 4-5 boxes.

Unfortunately, I don’t think a box ever went that well again. We got the first box on a signup promotion, so subsequent boxes ended up with much less in them. We also noticed that they often were filled with less exciting staples, like onions and green lettuce, which didn’t really taste any better to us than what we got at the grocery store. Because it was just produce, we ended up having to go to the grocery store anyways to fill out our meals for a week.

The final realization, however, came when I went shopping the day after receiving a box and seeing a few of the more unusual items at the Milk Pail. I walked through the store and tallied up the cost of buying an equivalent amount and realized that I would come out far ahead doing my own shopping–which I do anyways. I immediately added a task for myself to cancel my subscription, which took probably another month because I had to call in during work hours to do it, and I’m bad at completing tasks that require phone calls during work hours.

Overall

I had a good experience with Farm Fresh to You. I have realized that I enjoy the process of cooking, and a CSA mostly lets me do that. However, I think I am mostly spoiled to have the Milk Pail just down the street from me, where I can get cheap, local, fresh produce. In the end, the CSA just provided me the convenience of delivering a few of the same items at a premium, and that wasn’t worth it to me.

Here are my rankings:

  1. Blue Apron
  2. Farm Fresh to You (CSA)
  3. HelloFresh
  4. Munchery
  5. Plated

You may be surprised to see the CSA not first despite it being the closest to my normal pattern. Were normal home cooking not an option, it would be first, but I think that I would be more likely to mix Blue Apron into my meals than the CSA.

There’s a chance I will continue the Dinner Table Tournament in the future, but in the spirit of sunsetting responsibilities for my New Year’s Hopes, I think I will declare it done. I will probably continue to blog about food, but it will likely be in a far less structured format.

This post is part of the Dinner Table Tournament where I pull Julie along my need for novel experiences in “staying in” dinner options to generate blog content. I have not been compensated by Farm Fresh to You for this in any way for this post. Yet.

What I learned from Fantasy Football

A few weeks ago, I finished up the latest fantasy football* (FF) season in 2nd place in my work league and 5th place in my friend league. Having played for 3 seasons, I am mostly past the initial disgust about bad luck and mostly jaded about the entire process. Having gotten this far, though, I do have a few different lessons from the experience.

(*for the uninitiated, fantasy football is a game where a group of people (usually friends) play “games” in a season where, each week, your team’s performance is determined by the statistics of how real-life NFL football players perform (e.g. you get 6 points for a touchdown or points per yards gained). Everyone drafts their team before the beginning of the real NFL season, and over the course of the season, you can trade with other teams, pick up and drop players, and change your lineup week to week. )

1. Actual game knowledge can be very deceiving.

“A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” When you’re on a fantasy football website, there are going to be projections and rankings and all sorts of information to help you make good decisions. I have seen a lot of real football fans (i.e. people who actually watch and follow football and not just fantasy) try to outsmart the predictions with some obscure knowledge, but my experience is that typically, the football-naive (but fantasy savvy) people do better. Maybe you heard that your running back plays really well in sub-50 degree games or saw how fast he makes cuts and should crush a slower set of linebackers: the experts probably know that, too, and that he only plays that way in indoor stadums, and that his left guard still has a lingering injury.I think we tend to overvalue game knowledge in fantasy when rankings have already accounted for those facts.

2. Don’t trust anyone. Trust everyone.

Continue reading What I learned from Fantasy Football

New Year’s Hopes: 2016 Edition

Despite this not being my first blog post of the year, I have not forgotten about New Year’s Hopes. As a reminder, New Year’s Hopes are like Resolutions, except with less of the false sense of confidence. Before diving into this year’s, let’s review last year’s hopes.

Old 2015 Hopes

1. Get more sleep.

Technically, this went well. Julie and I managed to adjust our sleep schedule back about a half-hour to get from 7 hours of sleep to 7 1/2 hours of sleep. Unfortunately, I think that 7 1/2 hours of sleep is still not enough. I think it’s telling that I thought that a good goal for 2016 would be to get more sleep and had totally forgotten that it was a 2015 goal.

As such, this goes in as an unofficial 2016 hope to get more sleep, where more sleep is defined as 8 hours. To get there, I think I need to start getting ready for bed at 10PM and have lights out at 11PM. One suggestion I read somewhere was to do a mini turndown service to start the shutdown process. Maybe I will try that.

2. Spend my time better.

Reflecting on this goal, I have no idea if I was successful with this or not. Unfortunately, it seems very difficult to quantify, but again, I had come to a similar type of goal for 2016 without remembering that I had done this one. That probably means that I did not satisfy this goal. Unlike the previous goal, however, I will not repeat it because i don’t know how I would know if I had accomplished it.

3. Put together a digital family tree.

Surprisingly, this mostly happened. The main obstacle was putting together the application to store all of the data, and I actually managed to do that. The trick now is just to get the data in, and assuming I built it well, that shouldn’t be too tricky. I will have to make an Asana task for myself to do that, but I am ready.

New 2016 Hopes

1. Watch more TV.

It’s an unusual goal, and I admittedly am being sensational with the title. My real goal here is to watch less twitch.tv. I had initially started watching gaming streams to follow professional StarCraft, but I have been falling out of the eSports scene, and twitch just became a distraction while in-between more significant events and a procrastination tool. Since I am mainly interested in the games rather than the community aspect of twitch, I just wasn’t getting much value out of it.

On the flip side, I am notoriously bad at watching TV and have taken far too long to watch too little. There are many reasons, but I think a primary one is that I feel that the right way to watch is to dedicate time to fully watch episodes without multi-tasking. Realistically, I just can’t watch all of the TV I want to in that fashion, and there is a lot of TV I am probably willing to watch while distracted. Examples include Reboot, Archer, and Star Trek: Enterprise.

So my hope is to watch less twitch and watch more TV.

2. Sunset some of my commitments and projects.

I (egotistically) think I am pretty good about following through on a lot of tasks and commitments. I have multiple active side projects (as listed on my website) and partake in many hobbies (often with friends). Most people tend to seek advice about how to complete projects, but I tend to have more issues figuring out how to finish up with ongoing responsibilities and move on when they have become more of a burden than benefit to myself.

I think the issue goes down to a core belief that the best things in life like friendships or skills should be permanent, lifelong commitments. As noble as that sounds, however, some things are meant to be fleeting through different stages of life. I think I need to be more realistic when things aren’t working out and not feeling guilty about letting down those who might be impacted.

All of this is, of course, coming from the guy who just picked up the tuba again after about 8 years and is trying to revive his blog. To do those things, however, I need to make time, so I hope I can deliver on this goal.

3. Express gratitude on a daily basis.

I don’t have a reference at the moment, but according to science, one happiness-creating habit is showing gratitude regularly. The most common method is to write down a few things you are grateful for every night before going to sleep, but I think that expressing gratitude to someone else or keeping it in mind through regular life all broadly fall into the category. Regardless of the efficacy, it just seems like a good idea for being more conscientious and maintaining perspective in my life, especially given how lucky I have been.

This is a minor digression, but having not grown up in a religious household, my family never said grace before meals. As such, the practice never meant much to me before, but in the lens of this hope, saying grace seems like a great way of regularly expressing gratitude. I hope to be able to do something similar, if without the religious connotations.

How Playing Tuba is and isn’t like riding a bike

When I am further along and in a more thoughtful mood, I’ll write a more complete post explaining why I decided to join a community wind ensemble and play tuba again. This post, however, is just a smattering of reactions from going to my first rehearsal in about 8 years.

Overall, the experience was a lot of fun. It’s amazing that I sat in a room of total strangers and was able to make music as part of a large ensemble. Some things went well. Some things did not go well. Here were the highlights.

Things that were liking riding a bike

1. Hitting notes. I’m probably overestimating how well I did, but in general, I was able to find the intervals fairly well. I tested my range up to 3 octaves, so that’s pretty much all there as well.

2. Rhythms. We got some funky time signatures like 4/2 and 5/8, and for an instrument best known for playing downbeats in a polka-like fashion, we had some strange syncopated rhythms as well. I definitely flubbed some faster sections, but I mostly didn’t get lost.

3. Counting rests. Nothing makes you feel more special in music than counting rests for 20 bars.

4. Hearing tuning problems. During warmup and in a few long notes, I could hear that I was badly out of tune. I actually didn’t even have a tuba when I showed up for rehearsal, and the director fortunately had an extra tuba lying around to lend to me. at least it was a miraphone, which is mostly what I have played. Anyways, I didn’t know the instrument and didn’t get a chance to tune with a machine.

Things that were not like riding a bike

1. Fixing tuning problems. Just because I could hear the issues and knew why they were happening didn’t mean I could fix them. On more than one occasion, I stopped playing because I knew I sounded bad and couldn’t do anything about it.

2. Key signatures. Were it not for the big poster on the wall of the middle school music room with the circle of fifths, I would give myself a 50-50 chance of naming the key I was in at any given measure. I instead relied largely on instinct for whether a note should be sharp or flat based on roughly how many symbols were in the key signature. Many apologies to the tuba player next to me who listened to me miss the same notes over and over.

3. Accidentals. I could not think fast enough for some of the accidentals, especially the weird ones like F-flat. Actually, combined with my uncertainty about the key signature, I probably accidentally played the accidentals correctly. Nevermind. This one went okay.

4. Endurance. This actually didn’t go as badly as I thought it might: the tuba parts were not too difficult, so I made it through a 2 1/2 hour rehearsal without blowing out my chops. However, I felt a lot of tightness in my lips while I was warming up and generally did not play the full dynamic range during rehearsal, so it was a constraint. On a related note, if you have not had tightness in your lips from playing a brass instrument for the first time in a long time, take my word for it that it is extremely bizarre.

5. Reading ledger lines. In my high school music, I was largely spared playing low notes because the music tended not to go that low (maybe an E below the staff). The music we were sightreading, however, was much more challenging in this sense because I was regularly reading 3 or 4 ledger lines below the staff, and I have no idea what any of those notes are. I know I can hit them if I had a fingering written in, but I didn’t, so I just put a lot of fingers down and played low. I think most people are not trained to distinguish notes that low anyways, so I got away with it.

Overall, I thought that the rehearsal went well, and I really enjoyed playing again, even if I missed so many key signatures. I hopefully will write more about the experience soon, but in the meantime, you can check out my view of rehearsal.

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the picture is sideways because I don’t know how to fix the orientation in wordpress

My Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving: 2015 edition

Long time readers of almost exactly 1 year may remember that I cook a Thanksgiving dinner for my company a week or 2 before actual Thanksgiving. It is probably the biggest event that I host each year, and I hopefully am learning more each time about how to do it better.

Continuing my tradition of doing different ethnic cuisines, I did a Cajun Thanksgiving this year with a Creole spice mix over the turkey and a variety of spicy and rich dishes. Fortunately, I am the only person on the team from the south, so there weren’t many critical opinions in the crowd.

Overall, I think the food was fine. The turkey was overcooked, and the mashed potatoes were very salty (even after cutting down the salt from the recipe). Because Cajun is a real American cuisine, it already has Thanksgiving fare that is not so dissimilar from a traditional Thanksgiving.

The biggest factor, however, was the attendance. Last year, we had somewhere just shy of 10 people attend. This year, our 2 bedroom place hosted a total of 20 hungry people. This year, more significant others attended, and we also invited recent interns back. The team has also been growing, and all of this ballooned the headcount, expectations, and required preparation.

Overall, I think we managed to do well. Despite running out of most dishes, the guests seemed to be well-fed and enjoyed the food. Everyone seemed to enjoy the company, and the mix of SOs and former Zanbato employees made it a more special event than another meal with the people we spend 40+ hours with a week.

Here were a few of the things I learned and/or felt worked well with the party this year:

1. Create a clear, smooth welcome experience.

First impressions between people are important, and first impressions about a party also set the tone for the social experience the rest of the night. In the past, I have been bouncing back and forth between the door and the kitchen hollering out instructions while trying to dash back to my gravy. This year, I wrote up a series of signs directing guests to come right in at the front door, where to put their bags and jackets, and where to find drinks and appetizers.

2. In a small space, configure and reconfigure to make all of the space multi-functional.

With 20 people in a few hundred square feet (including my kitchen), we fit the normal dining table, an additional folding table, and a few couches around a coffee table for eating. I knew I wanted to have everyone standing and mingling during the appetizer hour, so we pushed all of the tables back against the walls and blocked out the chairs so that people couldn’t really settle in. This created a more open, standing space for people to float around and get settled.

When we were ready to serve, everyone was happy to help and rearrange furniture for dining. We cleaned just enough counter space in the kitchen to serve and moved the appetizers and beverages back off of the tables. Then, everyone found a seat to enjoy their meal.

We did find 2 things to improve. First, Julie pointed out that the appetizers were hard to get to because people were standing in front of them. They ended up being placed somewhat int he corner, so next time, I would place them more centrally. Second, I would have encouraged everyone to switch seats between dinner and dessert for more mingling.

3. To feed more people, multiply recipes instead of making more dishes.

Overall, the cooking process went very smoothly. This year, I went digital with my chart to plan out cooking, and we stuck with it. I conscripted my coworker Conrad to help cook through the last push, and we stayed on the schedule very well.

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Even so, cooking did take quite awhile between the previous evening and the day of. Seeing how we ran out of most everything, I think people would have been just as happy with having 2-3 fewer dishes and just doubling the recipes. That would have saved me a ton of work as well.

4. Don’t worry too much about the food.

Maybe people are just being polite, but I have gotten a lot of appreciation for the food despite my own opinion about the quality of the cooking. I wouldn’t say that people aren’t critical: I just think there is generally enough goodwill and merriment in the atmosphere that the food itself just doesn’t matter so much.

So whether the food is good or bad or too much or too little, I think the party depends more on the other details of the environment and the company present than the food itself. The time spent on the food will always be disproportionately high to its importance, and it is much harder to improvise than, say, a guest list.

Anyways, we’re headed into the holiday season now, so best of luck to all hosts. Don’t worry too much about the food, and enjoy the company!

“The Martian” Review

Last November, I saw Interstellar in theaters and was surprisingly pleased by the use of physics to drive the plot. It takes creativity to turn time dilation into an interesting part of human relationships, and it takes even more to make it meaningful and compelling on-screen. The Martian, based on the novel by Andy Weir, goes further in creating suspense with plausible, basic science and making space travel look really fun.

The Martian is set roughly in the present time with technology seemingly not so different from our own. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of a 6 man crew on a manned mission to Mars when a storm hits. As the crew goes for an emergency takeoff, Watney is hit by debris and presumed dead as Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) takes off without him. Watney comes to shortly afterwards and realizes that he’s stranded alone on Mars with limited rations and no way to communicate with Earth and needs to find a way to survive. Meanwhile, back on Earth, NASA (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, and more) discover he is still alive and work to figure out how to bring him home.

The movie largely follows the plot of the book and retains both the commitment to science and the humor along the way. Early on, Watney needs to create water: he figures out that he can burn hydrazine from rocket fuel, but it of course blows up and leaves him singed in a typical mad scientist sort of way. Watney himself is a bit of a wise guy, and much of the humor comes through the characters and their reactions to their situation. Although the plot is obviously geeky, each step is explained clearly and visually to make it accessible to a wide audience. Perhaps experts in particular fields may be more critical, but general consensus seems to be that the science is pretty good, the solutions are plausible, and the dangers are real, which makes it all the more inspiring to watch.

I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at pictures from Curiosity or other Mars missions, and assuming that the graphics are roughly accurate, the movie provided striking landscapes of Mars. From a story perspective, they certainly emphasizes how isolated Watney is, but I enjoyed it just as a way for me to visualize what Mars is like. Most hard science fiction comes as books, and even with the best descriptions, it can be hard to imagine alien planets, spaceships, and Mars habitats.

I will be “that guy” who points out that the book was better: I think that largely comes from how similar the book is to the movie. In some ways, the plot almost reads like a series of mystery stories, where each survival problem needs to be solved using science of some sort. Knowing what those solutions are and how they’re going to turn out took away much of the suspense, but as I mentioned above, it was still very entertaining to see live.

I opened by comparing the movie to Interstellar, and I will close with the same. There are many similarities such as cast, timing, and genre, but the two movies definitely have distinct characteristics. Interstellar is set further ahead in the future and uses science to motivate the story about the characters and their relationships, and those relationships are the heart of the movie. The Martian is, at its core, about solving problems with science and engineering, and it actually really works.

Saying Hello to HelloFresh

This past weekend, I was talking with my friend Jenni about a personality trait that affects how people approach food: novelty seeking. Some people enjoy novelty for its own sake; others find comfort in known pleasures. Would you rather try out that new restaurant you don’t know anything about, or would you rather go back to that restaurant you love? Same question goes for cooking.

It is a spectrum, and we all have moments in both directions, but I think Julie and I tend to be novelty seekers. I have lamented to many friends recently about how I rarely go back to my favorite ramen place in town: I would rather go to a new restaurant in the same area rather than go back to the same place. The novelty in itself is worth a try.

Whenever we go out to eat, Julie and I always agree on the 2 things we’re going to order, then switch half way through the meal. Sometimes one of us ordered something better than the other, but we are almost always glad to have tried both. And if you set a dessert bar in front of me, I will try to cut the smallest piece of everything so I can taste every different things I can.

I would probably vary my cooking just as much if it wasn’t so much work. The ease of pointing at a different menu item or walking one restaurant over certainly encourages novelty, and that is hard to replicate at home. Hopefully the Dinner Table Tournament brings about that same ease.

HelloFresh

HelloFresh is a service that ships out boxes of measured ingredients to prepare a series of dinner menus with recipes included. By default, they provide 2 broad options for vegetarians or not, but you can customize your order week to week depending on what they have available. You order by the meal for roughly $10 each with no additional tax or tip.

Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 2.53.03 PM Continue reading Saying Hello to HelloFresh

A Typical Week of Home Cooking

Going through the Dinner Table Tournament, I have discovered many different ways to cook. The process of writing and documenting those different services changed the way I thought about the cooking experience. To put it on an even comparison against our typical routine, I decided to write up what a typical week of cooking looks like.

Home Cooking: Take about a couple hundred

Julie and I usually start our weekly meal planning on Sunday morning over brunch. That way, we can go grocery shopping that afternoon. Brunch is typically eggs (scrambled, omelet, soft boiled, fried, poached, or whatever Julie is in the mood for), toasted leftover whole wheat sandwich bread ends, and fruit. We had guests over on Friday, so we substituted in strawberry long-cake and salad greens. Continue reading A Typical Week of Home Cooking

I finished Battlestar Galactica, and I have to talk about it

In this age of binge-watching, I continue to be bad at watching TV shows with any haste. I’m actually quite proud that Julie and I finished watching all 4 seasons and 75 episodes of Battlestar Galactica (BSG) in about 3 years. Although I’m about 6 years too late, I have to talk about it.

If you haven’t watched the show, there are spoilers ahead, and even if you don’t mind the spoilers, this post probably won’t make much. If you have not watched BSG and enjoy sci-fi, I recommend it.

Continue reading I finished Battlestar Galactica, and I have to talk about it