Aug 222015

Audi A4 Quattro headlamp

Its been awhile since I’ve posted anything.  So I decided I should focus on the travel side this time.  I wanted to share my thoughts on a car rental service…yes, a car rental service.

For my day job, I’ve been doing some travel recently.  In all destinations, a car rental is generally necessary.  Long line, slow or poor customer service, a sub-standard car which keeps shrinking in size and a litany of other complaints all seem to happen.  Hertz’s Gold Plus Rewards, National’s Emerald Club or Avis’ Preferred, which allow you to bypass the counter and lines to proceed straight to your car.  With these exceptions, the car rental experience can raise your blood pressure.

Enter Silvercar, “Car Rental, The Way It Should Be”.  Its name, derived from the only vehicle you can rent from them, an Audi A4 Quattro in Silver, carries across its website and phone app.  You register on their website, giving basic car rental types of information such as name, address, insurance preference, etc… and then download an app to your smartphone.  When you arrive at your destination, you tell them that you arrived (via the app) and they’ll either come pick you up or give you instructions on how to get to their rental facility.  The first time you rent from them, they’ll greet you and verify your Driver’s License and credit card at the car.  You then use the app to scan the QCode on the car and your rental period begins.  The car will unlock itself and the keys are inside.  You’ll do the requisite car inspection using the app noting any dings, scratches and such and then your off.  Simple as that.  Every subsequent time, you simply get to the facility, chose which Silver Audi A4 Quattro you want, scan the QCode and your off.


The Audi A4 Quattro itself, is generally always a current year model, with less than 30,000 miles on it.  Included is satellite radio, a wi-fi hotspot (in-car, free data) for your devices, a toll tag transponder (for which they only charge you the actual toll if incurred) and ancillary services.  If you return the car needing gas, they’ll charge you a $5 service charge to go fill the gas, at prevailing rates, which is quite reasonable for the service.  No more games trying to empty the tank.  If your car has any issues, they’ll work with you to resolve.  If need be, I hear they’ll even bring you a replacement car to wherever you are at.  When you return the car, they don’t mind if you’ve left a few things that need to be thrown away since they’ll need to clean the car anyways.

Finally, they’re using  the web social media model in that if you use a referral code, you and the referring person will receive $25 via PayPal on your first rental.  Now you can’t beat that.


My recent business trip to Denver allowed me to summit two 14ers (14,000+ feet peaks) in one weekend.  Now, truth be told, I took the easy way out (yeah, didn’t hike it all the way up) and drove the Audi up.  It handled like a charm, much better than a standard rental car.


View of Upper and Lower Lake Chicago from Summit Lake area on Mt Evans. This valley was formed by Glaciers and are considered Paternoster Lakes.

View of Upper and Lower Lake Chicago from Summit Lake area on Mt Evans. This valley was formed by Glaciers and are considered Paternoster Lakes.

Should you find yourself in a major city where there’s a Silvercar, give it a try.  And, to be self promoting, if you don’t have a referral code, please use mine:  CCHIN2.


Dec 302013


As the year draws to a close, it was time to capture a in-transition period for the Bay Bridge.  The western span of the Bay Bridge, has a light show, “The Bay Lights”, that started on March 5, 2013 and runs through March, 2015.  The Bay Lights was created by artist Leo Villareal.  It is the worlds largest LED light sculpture consisting of 25,000 white LED lights.  Programmed by the artist, it creates a never-repeating, animated display across the western span of the Bay Bridge.

On the eastern side, the new Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge was completed and opened on September 2 of this year.  The primary purpose of this new bridge was to replace the old one with a bridge that is seismically more fit for the region.

For more Information:

The Bay Lights – Website for the organization,

SF Oakland Bay Bridge – Website for the project,

More SF @ Night Photos

 Posted by at 11:37 pm
Oct 072013

With Carol Leigh’s board ending, fall foliage reports for California are sparse and scattered.  Having read various reports, some had indicated that fall was early this year.  Taking a chance, I decided to take a drive to the Hope Valley area and then return to the bay area via route 49, not quite entering Plumas County.  For the most part, peak in some areas is past with leaves already having come off the tress and in other areas, a mix, maybe about 60 – 90%.  The effects of chilly evenings, wind and some warmer days is having an interesting effect this year.  Bottom line – Go Now!  Below are the observed conditions;

Hope Valley – The area around Sorensen’s resort is about 90% with the rest of Hope Valley varying from 60-80%.  The effects of the weather patterns causing the “lemon-lime” effect in tree leaves.  Most of the colors in this area are aspen yellows with some hits of orange in the area.

Rt 89 to Rt 49 Junction – Driving along the river one can observe that most of the trees there are around 75 – 95%.  Other areas away from the water, the trees may be 50 – 80%.  For the most part, this area is pretty much at peak for about another week.  Most colors are yellow aspens.

Rt 49 – Sierraville – Downieville – Grass Valley – As you drive along the river, color is abundant.  The river areas is at peak or will be at peak in the next week.  Areas away from the river seem to be around 50%.  As you travel west from Sierraville, colors progressively get more brilliant and closer to peak.  Most aspen yellows with a sprinkling of oranges and reds.

More Photos:  My Gallery


California Fall Colors – Contender for Carol Leigh replacement site.

Fall Leaves Interactive Map – Link to a visual map of fall colors as reported by the Sacramento Bee.

Fall Leaves – More direct link to map – updated every Thursday

Plumas County Fall Colors – Fall colors site from Plumas County Tourism department.

Natural History Wanderings – Sandy Steinman’s site with nationwide reports.

Parcher’s Resort – Decent site for Bishops Creek area reports.


 Posted by at 10:59 pm
Feb 192013

February 16-17, 2013

C Chin Studios: Yosemite &emdash; Horsetail Falls C Chin Studios: Yosemite &emdash; Horsetail Falls

Wanting to get out and field test some equipment, I went up to Yosemite for the weekend hoping to re-capture and experience the “fire falls” effect @ Horsetail Falls in Yosemite Valley. As described in my post back in February, 2010, this effect only happens once a year (though rumor is it also happens in the fall based on another blog post). The park rangers seem to have caught on to this phenomenon as evidenced by the cordoning off of a lane on both the north and south drives for “Special Event” parking. This is undoubtedly due to the popularity of this event.

C Chin Studios: Yosemite &emdash; Golden Falls

Andrew Kee’s blog calulated that the optimal time this year would be from February 12 – 27, with the optimal time being mid-week, February 20-21. Viewing this phenomenon relies on several key factors with water flow and direct sunlight being the most important. During this past weekend, Saturday was the better of the two days, though not as good as back in 2010 when the water flow was more abundant. Water flow this year has been characterized as “below normal”. This however, may change as Yosemite probably got some snow today and perhaps again this saturday. Should the weather remain cold the optimal time could be pushed out several days.

C Chin Photo 2010 Blog Post
Andrew Kee’s Blog
Fred Miranda
The Photographer’s Ephemeris

Sep 072012

During a brief excursion up to Oregon, we stayed in a charming small town named Ashland, full of culture, restaurants, shopping and outdoors activities.  Ashland is the home of several points of interest, most notably the year-round Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, founded in 1935, is the nation’s oldest and largest professional non-profit companies with very high production values and strong artistic values.  During its eight-and-a-half-month season, they put on eleven plays annually with an attendance of approximately 400,000.

Ashland also has a university, springs, wineries, restaurants and interesting parks.  Most notably, Lithia park, where much of the Shakepere festival is held, also hods somthing for everyone.

In addition to the over 80 restaurants, Ashland hosts a variety of culinary events throughout the year including the Oregon Chocolate Festival, Taste of Ashland and the Food & Wine Classic.  During our visit, we experienced some yummy cupcakes from Larry’s Cake Shop.  With over 50 flavors to choose from, we wish we had more time here to sample.

In addition to the food, wine and cultural activities, Ashland is also the gateway to many of southern Oregon’s outdoor activities.  Surrounded by mountains and lakes, there’s a lot out there to be experienced.

Ashland also hosts various outdoor attractions, such as equestrian trail rides through the countryside’s evergreen forests, elevated lakes, and photogenic mountains. Croquet on the Lithia Springs lawn spurs gentle competition during mornings and evenings Thursday–Monday, with lessons and touch-up sessions available. Whitewater rafting (through September 4), golf, and excursions along the Applegate River Valley soothe visitors with the crisp air and untouched beauty of Oregon’s rolling landscapes.

Lithia Fountain, found in Ashland Plaza downtown, gets its water from the Pompadour Chief Spring, four miles east of downtown.  This fountain is built with locally quarried Ashland Granite.

For more information:

Ashland Chamber of Commerce –
Larry’s Cake Shop –
Oregon Shakespeare Festival –

May 132012

Situated on 50 acres of hillside overlooking the Pacfic ocean are the Carlbad Flower Fields.  Planted on the main fields are the Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers.  Just below, towards the highway are the Carlbad Premium Outlets and up and over the hill is Legoland.  As odd as the location may be, the Flower Fields have been there since 1965 and has been a popular tourist attraction due to its proximity to the highway.   It was started by the Frazee family with seeds brought to the area by Luther Gage.  Every year, these fields are open to the public for a limited time, generally during the spring when the flowers are in full bloom.

This year, the pattern of the fields has changed for the first time in 15 years.  The new color pattern was designed by a professional colorist.

Surrounding the fields are other flower oriented attractions.   One of the most notable is the historic Poinsettia Display where you can find the world famous Ecke poinsettias.  Aside from the Poinsettia display, there are the antique tractor rides around the field, the “Artist” gardens, the American Flag of flowers, the Sweet Pea maze, the Cymbidium Orchid Greenhouse and Santa’s Playground to keep the kids busy.

During this visit, Canon happened to be sponsoring a mini-class on macro-photography.  As with a free or low cost events (you need to pay admission to get into the fields, otherwise free), the barn was packed.

If you get hungry after walking the fields, two exits north on I-5 in downtown Carlsbad is an excellent italian restaurant, Vigilucci’s Cucina Italiana, where they claim to make everything fresh and to order.  True to their word, I had special ordered a dish of pasta that was very well prepared.  Highly recommended.

For more information:

For more photos, visit my gallery.

Website Link:

Restaurant:  Vigilucci’s Cucina Italiana
2943 State Street
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 434-2500

 Posted by at 9:22 pm
Oct 112011

As the cool crisp air of fall arises, I long for the New England tradition of apple picking and everything else apple related.  Here in the Bay Area, one of the best options is to head east on Highway 50 toward Lake Tahoe to an area known as Apple Hill, located in Camino, Placeville and Pollock Pines California.  Originally an association of 16 ranches, Apple Hill is now comprised of over 50 ranches with christmas tree growers, wineries, a micro-brewery and spas.  Many of the ranches are only open from Labor Day through Chrismas Eve.  Kid friendly, one can pick apples, go for a hay ride, attend many of the festivals, pick pumkins or chop down a christmas tree.  Of course, the main attractions of the area are Apple Cider, Cider Doughnuts, streudels, pies, dumplings and turnovers.

While up there, if your timing is good, you can get some decent landscape shots.  Rolling farmland hills can be found almost anywhere along with fall harvest (Halloween and Thanksgiving)  types of decorations.  Pumkin patches, hay mazes, horse rides, petting zoos and other venues can keep the kids content.

For more shots of the area, see my gallery at:

For more information on Apple Hill, go to the Apple Hill Grower’s website at:

 Posted by at 10:44 pm
Oct 042011


Spring Mountain Vineyard(SMV), located on the eastern slopes and lower half of Spring Mountain in St. Helena, CA, on 845 acres.  SMV was once three separate properties:  La Perla, Chevalier and Miravalle.  Visits to SMV are by appointment only.  SMV has four levels of tasting – Varietal Tasting, Estate Tasting, Explore Elivette and Library Vertical Tasting.  The fee is waived with the purchase of wine of varying amounts, depending on the tasting.  During this visit, we visited Miravalle and did an Estate Tasting.

The tasting was lead by Sarah Livermore, a very knowledgable and gracious host and tour guide.  After a brief tour of the grounds, we sat down in the dining room of Miravalle to do some tasing.  Overall, the wines were quite good and the tasting quite enjoyable and educational.

As you enter the gates and park in the visitor area, you immediately notice the greenhouse and the Carriage House.  One of the differences you’ll notice immediately is that the vines are grown vertically – Vertical Gobelet vine training.  SMC did this primarily because of the topography of the vineyard.  SMV says that this allows the vines to follow the topography of the vineyard on hillsides, that it preserves topsoil, improves yield and quality, reduces stress on the vine and canopy management on all sides of the vine means even ripening and higher wine quality.

SMV practice sustainable winegrowing methods since its new ownership in 1992.  The most common sustainable winegrwoing practices include avoiding herbicides and insecticides and embracing natural, biologically-based regimens.  The goal of sustainability is to avoid depleting the long-term health of the land and environment for short-term gain.

SMV is a must see if you’re ever in the area and wish to visit an outstanding vineyard, away from the crowds.

Winery Website:

Spring Mountain Vineyard
2805 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena, California 94574-1775


 Posted by at 9:36 pm
Jul 312011

During an excursion up to Oregon in early July, we stopped by Crater Lake National Park.  Though it was July and we had driven up through Redding, where it was over 104 degrees, a good portion of Crater Lake’s rim drive and trails were under 4+ feet of snow.  Luckily, the road from the Annie Spring Entrance and the West Rim Drive through the North Entrance Road were open.  Since the trails were under snow and we didn’t have our snow shoes, there was no hiking.  Boat tours wo wizard island don’t start until July 21, conditions permitting.

Crater Lake is one of the deepest lakes (1,943 feet) in the United States fed only by snow and rain (no rivers or streams).  It rests inside a caldera formed approximately 7,700 years ago when a 12,000 foot volcano (Mt. Mazama) collapsed.  Later eruptions formed Wizard Island, a cinder cone.  Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902.

For more photos, check out my gallery:

For more information:
Crater Lake National Park site –

 Posted by at 10:55 pm
Jul 232011


Yosemite National Park, located about 190 miles from San Francisco, is almost doable on a LONG day trip, so long as you don’t want to see everything.  Prodded by the fact that the past winter’s snow pack and longer than average spring rains persisted, news of abundant water flow through the park promised a decent show at the park’s water features.  In past years when there was a lack of rain or snow, one could visit Yosemite Falls and only see a trickle of water at the namesake falls.

Despite the downturn in the economy, occupancy and visitior rates at Yosemite remain high, attesting to the popularity of the park.  Currently, there’s some road construction going on near the intersection of Big Oak Flat Road and El Portal Road which can cause delays.  Water flow is high and should continue so into August due to the continuing melting of the snow pack.  With such water flow, visitors should excercise caution around the water.  Unfortunately, as noted in the news of the day we visited, deaths and injuries can occur if you’re not careful.


At the higher elevations, widflowers can still be found, especuially roadside and in the meadows.

If you’re interested in photography, you should definitely stop by the Ansel Adams Galley in Yosemite Village.


Map of Yosemite
CCS Yosemite Photo Gallery
Horsetail Falls

 Posted by at 2:49 pm