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2016 Hyun Family Christmas Letter


Christmas Greetings! Another year has gone by, and we hope it has been a great one for you. It has been a busy one for the Hyun Family, and we wanted to share a few highlights of our year with you.

As is to be expected, our boys are growing and changing. Caleb is 12 years old for goodness sake! He got contact lenses and braces and is starting to become opinionated! He was quite passionate during election season this year and openly spewed his distaste for Trump’s antics. In the end, he is learning to accept the election results like the rest of the West Coasters. At church, he has received the Aaronic Priesthood and has gone on his first youth temple trip. He started middle school at Annie Wright and loves it. He ran for middle school student council as a class representative and was all ready for a hard campaign with a strategy to try and win the girl vote. But in the end, all the other candidates dropped out except for one other girl, so they were both automatically elected as the 6th grade representatives. He also learned to play the ukulele at school and recently played and sang a song in front of the entire Middle School. We are told by his advisor that he is also quite a dancer, but have yet to see his moves at home. Hopefully, he is picking up dance moves from mom (not dad). He played on the varsity soccer team at school as a defensive starter, and he’s the pianist for the middle school band. He can’t wait for Ultimate Frisbee to start in the Spring. Needless to say, he has catapulted himself into the middle school scene and is loving every minute of it.

Andrew was baptized in January. This year, Andrew started cub scouts, played on a basketball team, went to a golf camp, and played soccer. He is still quite a lady’s man and will gravitate to wherever the 3rd grade girls are. He is still the flavor of our family, and the flavor keeps getting stronger. Most of the time, the flavor is great and makes us smile and laugh. But sometimes, the flavor will invoke a lecture about proper behavior. When we were visiting our friend this year, Tom Mangle had prepared a Baby Back Rib dinner for us. Tom asked Andrew if he likes baby back ribs. Andrew answered that he likes Filet Mignon. This resulted in a lecture from dad about graciously eating whatever the host is providing. But, Tom cooked him up some Filet Mignon, and Don’s not sure if his lecture really sank in as Andrew gobbled up his Filet. With that said, Andrew is such a sweet kid. He is always writing love notes for family members and friends, and he gives the best hugs. He loves to have fun and enjoys life. He is a friend to all, and his smile is contagious.

Both of the boys have stopped formal piano lessons, and Don started teaching them at home to play popular music. We gave 3 family concerts this year, and we are like the Beatles of the Federal Way Assisted Living Home scene. Andrew has become an avid Michael Jackson fan and loves to play Michael Jackson music on the piano. At one of the assisted living homes, the residents started calling him Michael Jackson and requested that he learn the moonwalk for next time. If you’re interested, you can find Andrew playing the piano on Youtube. (He’s the first video if you search “Andrew eye of the tiger”). He is working on the moonwalk. Hopefully, we will be able to post a video of that soon.
Don and the boys have been all about robotics this year. Don ran a robotics club at church and taught a bunch of kids (and their dads) how to build a sumobot using a 3d printer, raspberry pi, and other electronics. The class culminated with a very exciting sumobot tournament where the robots competed against each other, trying to force their opponent outside of the circle. This is just step 1 in a multi-year plan of eventually trying to build an autonomous robot sailboat and sail it to Hawaii. As step 2, Caleb and Don both passed tests to receive their Amateur Radio License. As step 3, Caleb went to a sailing camp this summer. If you want to help build a robot sailboat (and most importantly travel to Maui to wait for it to arrive), just let us know.

We also went to Boston to go watch the famous 2.007 robot contest. The contest had an American Revolutionary War theme which was perfect because we also walked around the city on the Freedom Trail visiting Revolutionary War historic sites. While roaming around the halls at MIT, we got invited to see a bunch of Japanese students present their robots that competed in a reality TV robot competition. The boys even got to drive the robots. Then, we followed them into the biomimetic lab where we got to see a running demo of the MIT robot cheetah. Unfortunately, there were no robot antelopes around, so we didn’t get to see a kill.
Lastly, Don coached an FLL Lego Robotics team in the fall. Caleb and 5 other kids spent several hours every Thursday night for 3 months building and programming lego robots. Seconds before the team’s last run at the regional competition, our team was told that we had too many motors, and the referee took one of the motors. Without the motor plugged in, our robot was immobile! But, as the competition started, Caleb and the other boys quickly figured out a way to reconfigure the robot to still make it run. They ended up scoring enough points on that run to get first place out of 32 teams! It’s on to the semi-finals in January! Andrew was the special coach’s assistant and likes to take all the credit for the win. He’s looking forward to his own JrFLL team that mom has agreed to coach the beginning of next year.

In March, Don was called as Bishop of our local LDS congregation (Redondo Ward). It has been a big adjustment for the whole family as we’ve tried to figure out how to handle the time commitment. However, it has been a special blessing for our family to be involved in so many people’s lives. It has been amazing to have a front row seat to see the miracles and angels in our ward. Don is constantly inspired by the wonderful and faithful members of our congregation and their diligent service. There have been so many stories (big and small) of how God cares for each one of his children.

Tenille stays busy with homeschooling Andrew part-time in the mornings, (striving to) walk on the treadmill each day, being the PTSA treasurer at Andrew’s school, and always looking for ways to maximize our travel rewards so our family can enjoy vacations on the cheap. You could say she has a part-time job as our family’s travel agent with all the time she spends planning. A travel highlight for her this year was swimming with the stingrays near Grand Cayman Island when she joined her parents and siblings on a cruise. Don and the boys had to fend for themselves for a week. Thankfully, Don’s mom stepped in to help with running the show…..just one of the many benefits of living with mom.

Being a Bishop’s wife has forced Tenille to step out of her comfort zone. She made a goal to have every family in the ward over to our house for dinner. This results in the boys asking each Sunday, “Who’s coming over tonight?” She has gotten pretty bold and likes to try out new recipes when she invites guests. So far, no disasters…. yet. We have had the chance to have dinner with almost half of the congregation since March, and we’ve enjoyed getting to know the members of our ward and call them our friends.

Tenille is turning the big 4-0 in December this year. (Yikes!) We are celebrating by going to Las Vegas and watching the Beatles Love and Michael Jackson One Cirque du Soleil shows……all using travel reward points of course (with the exception of the MJ One show tickets). It’ll be worth paying hard cash for that show, though, if it helps Andrew get his moonwalk on.

We hope your year has been full of many blessings and that we will be able to share some time and laughs with you in the upcoming year ahead. We hope you are feeling the joy and the special spirit of the Christmas Season when we celebrate the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, who was given to us in a humble stable so that He may save us. Merry Christmas, and may your New Year be full of joy and light!

With Love, The Hyun Family – Don, Tenille, Caleb (12), and Andrew (8)


Piano Lessons

The rule in the Hyun home about Piano Lessons is that you can’t quit.  Ever… you can change piano teachers, but you can’t quit piano…  I’ve heard too many adults lament about how their “parents let them quit piano.”  Implied is that only if their parents would have had a little more fortitude and forced them to play, they would be great pianists today… but because of their weak-willed parents, they are not able to play piano…

Well, I decided long ago, my children will never accuse me of being weak-willed… at least not when it comes to learning the piano.  But the fact is learning to play the piano is VERY difficult, and there is a steep learning curve.   There is a long period where playing (practicing) may be very difficult.  And just like learning anything new (tennis, golf, programming, snowboarding, any musical instrument), you need to be able to power through the ugly part of the learning curve. 

Now, I’m not advocating “forcing” your children to do anything… but I do think it’s the parent’s responsibility to find a teacher that can ease the pain of climbing that learning curve by making it fun.  Frankly, that is a tremendous talent (whether it’s for piano, sports, or any other skill).

With this backdrop, we’ve gone through 5 piano teachers in the last 5 years.  Some moved.  Some had babies and stopped teaching.  Some were great and some were not. 

I don’t expect either of my kids to be entering any classical piano competitions or playing in crowded auditoriums.  I feel my hopes are modest.  I want my children to love playing the piano and singing songs they enjoy.  I hope they will be able to play some church hymns when they are needed.   I hope they can accompany their families on Monday nights for Family Home Evening.    I hope they can entertain some senior citizens in an assisted living home.  I hope they can pick up a guitar and lead a few songs around a campfire.

But, this can’t happen if you can’t get the kids to the bench.  If you can get the kids to the bench, then they will get better.  We’ve had a few teachers that loved the kids and catered to the music they enjoyed playing.  Our kids would naturally practice these songs that they liked.  We’ve also had a few classical piano teachers who were obsessed about technique and love to talk about how great of a teacher they were.  The problem is, they were not providing music or instruction that made our kids want to play the piano.  In the end, they were failing to connect our kids to the music.  The consequence was that both Caleb and Andrew found practicing the piano a chore and you heard less and less practicing.

We are in a bit of a break from piano teachers right now and I have taken over temporarily.  I say temporarily, because I am desperately looking for a great piano teacher that can relate our kids to music. 

When I was a kid, I honestly hated piano lessons until the 8th grade.  In the 8th grade, my mom found this high school kid that was teaching piano – Chris Halon.  He changed my world.  Until then, I was only taught classical music.  Chris asked me what songs I wanted to play.  Then, he showed me how to play them.  From that point on, I only played songs I heard on the radio.  It’s when I really started loving the piano.  I could hear a song on the radio, and he would show me how to play it.  It was awesome!

In this break between piano teachers, I’m taking the opportunity to show my kids what I learned from Chris.  My goal is just to keep them coming back to the bench.  I don’t think they are too far from learning everything I have to offer, so I want to find a piano teacher that can take them farther. 

However, it’s very difficult to find a piano teacher that’s willing to coach a student in the direction that the student wants to go.  I suppose it’s easy to tout some teaching methodology (like Suzuki method) or some educational credentials (like Juilliard)… But, I just want a teacher who has a group of students that are loving what they are playing…  I don’t care about where they went to school or what kind of method they are using.  Show me a recital full of kids that are loving their songs.  I’m a very interested customer.

In the meanwhile, I’m sitting down once a week with the kids and asking them to print out some tabs of their favorite songs from Ultimate Guitar.  There has certainly been an increase in piano pounding over the last few months.   And the playing has been “fun”.  I try to sneak in some theory and challenge them with various techniques as the songs require them.    I don’t really give them a hard time about correct technique or even correct notes.  I do try and emphasize keeping the rhythm steady.  The toughest thing about home instruction (without a teacher) is the discipline.  It’s so easy to skip a week.  Hopefully, we can keep it up until we find our next piano teacher.  

And I’ll admit it.  In our home, we “force” our kids to do piano.  I am completely unapologetic that we “force” our kids to develop all kinds of skills.  But in the end, the hope is they are going to love it.


Robots vs. Hornets

Andrew had a hard year this year with wasps and hornets.  He got stung 8 times on our camping trip to Mt. Rainier.  About a month later, we discovered a hornet’s nest at our house.  The kids were given explicit instructions not to play near the Hornet’s nest, but that’s like telling the wind not to blow.  Inevitably, Andrew was a victim of a hornet’s sting.  His leg swelled up big and purple, and we considered taking him to a doctor.



We decided as a family, that it was time to take action.  We put on our engineering hats and devised a plan to take revenge on these hornets!   (from a safe distance.)  We decided to make a robot that could roll up to the Hornet’s nest and deploy a hornet’s nest destroying mechanism – all while capturing the havoc on video.  Caleb and I worked on a Lego Mindstorm robot that we could control remotely using the bluetooth on Tenille’s cell phone .  The robot could hold my cell phone and capture the action on video using skype video.  The plan was to sit in the safety of my Subaru Impreza as we rolled the Hornet’s nest destroying robot up to the nest and watched the destruction over skype.    Knowing how many of our plans actually work out as planned (the probability is pretty near 0%), I had plan B ready in the form of a Hornet Killer spray from Home Depot.



We did a few test runs indoors.  The robot worked perfectly.  Skype video also worked well.  When we took the robot out in the field, there were a few complications.  My phone and the computer were at the outer edge of the wifi range, so Skype video was intermittent.  I had to bring our router out near our front door.  Also, the terrain of our terrace (where the Hornets were located) was not flat Pergo.  It was a pretty severe hill and covered in bark. 

We all ran into my Subaru and closed all the doors.  Tenille who had been shaking her head at us, also ran into the car because at the end of the day, who doesn’t want to see a robot destroy a Hornet’s nest?

The angle of the hill made the lego robot off balance.  I wanted to get it as close as possible to the Hornet’s nest, so that it could just roll up to the nest and do it’s business.  As I approached the nest in my camouflage, I noticed the size of the hornets.  They were enormous!  It did make me pause to think if agitating a nest full of hornets while my family was trapped in my Subaru was a wise activity.  The show must go on.  I placed the robot as close as I dared in front of the nest and ran down to the safety of my car.

In mission control, we did a quick check.  Skype video was on.  (CHECK!) We could see the Hornet’s nest through the video.  Robot was responding.  (CHECK!) 

Caleb used Tenille’s phone to make the robot approach the Hornet’s nest.  

Unfortunately, the terrain was too difficult for the robot.  We anticipated that the terrain would be difficult and used a drive that we thought would be most effective – tank treads.  However, the combination of the incline and the bark made the treads slip.  And as the bark slid underneath the treads, the robot started swaying back and forth. 

Because the robot has a long moment arm (to hold the camera and nest killer), the swaying was not a trivial problem.  The robot eventually fell over to the side.

I ran back up to the robot and put it back upright.  I tried to put it even closer to the nest.  Those hornets were huge.  I ran back down to the car. 

Attempt #2!  The robot got a little closer, but this attempt ended like the first one.  The terrain was just too much for the robot.  And now there was the robot and my phone lying VERY close to the hornet’s nest.  It was time to abort the mission and go to Plan B.  What I did not anticipate was that I would have to go on a rescue mission to get my phone and the robot back. 

I ran back up to the terrace and slowly inched toward the nest.  The hornets were going in and out of the nest 2 or 3 at a time.  After some more testing, we decided we had to spray.  The robot was not traversing over the terrain.

We used the robot as an observation station. Then, I dumped an entire can of hornet spray on the nest.  It was somewhat satisfying to see the mass of Hornet’s buzz out of their nest in panic, but not as satisfying as seeing the Hornets’ face through Skype as we destroyed their home with a home-made robot…  Either way, the message was sent.  Don’t sting Andrew anymore.

San Diego Trip

On our San Diego trip, we re-visited some of our old favorites and tried some new things.

First we went to Sea World. 


We saw some Flamingos.





P1000026Andrew did not want to go on the Atlantis ride, but he had fun running away from the splash.





Caleb and I sat in the (Splash zone) of the Shamu show.  The Whales did not disappoint. 




Then, we went to the San Diego Zoo for the first time.



A quick photo opp at the Seal exhibit.





This is probably the closest that Caleb will come to some of these animals and live to tell about it.



Polar Bear
























Hippopotamus:  Africa’s #1 killer of humans.















Then we went out to the Safari Park.

P1000219Saw some lionesses






The Southern White Rhinoceros








Bats!  The first time we’ve seen them in lighted conditions so that we could take good pictures of them.






We also got to pet some goats.







Don and Mom’s silly face look exactly like their normal face…



One of my favorite stops was at the Mormon Battalion Memorial:



They did an excellent job retelling the story of the Mormon pioneers that were recruited by the Federal military to go on one of the longest marches in U.S. military history. 










We also stopped by the beautiful San Diego LDS temple.













On the last day, we also got to see the Aircraft Carrier USS Midway.  Amazing to see such an enormous man-made machine that takes thousands of people to operate. 






20151012_131136It has about a 3.5M gallon fuel capacity and burns approximately 100,000 gallons of fuel per day.  They had to refuel every few weeks because they don’t like it past 1/2 empty.  The nuclear carriers now only have to refueled every 25 years.



Right across from the Midway is the Kiss statue.


Carpool from Federal Way to Bellevue

If you are carpooling from Federal Way to Bellevue, I feel your pain.  I did not get the vanpool set up that I wanted, but I did find a work buddy to carpool with and have been carpooling for almost a year.  Currently, the arrangement is that my buddy will drive, and I pay $5/day every day that I carpool.  I get to do some work on my laptop and get another 1-1.5 hours of work in every day during my commute.  We meet at 8am and get in to work between 8:30-9am.  We leave some time between 4:30-5pm depending on when we got in to work.

We are open to taking on other drivers or passengers.  Feel free to leave a comment if your route fits with ours.

We go from the Redondo Heights Park and Ride to the Bellevue Community College Park and Ride.


Carpool Federal Way to Bellevue
Carpool Federal Way to Bellevue

Quite a few people have contacted me about carpools, but unfortunately our hours and/or routes did not match.  If you are commuting from Federal Way to Bellevue and looking for a carpool/vanpool match up, feel free to leave your contact info in the comments and  hopefully someone will match up with you.

Perhaps one day if there is enough people carpooling,  we can achieve our dream of putting together the wifi vanpool.  🙂


A Thermonuclear Reactor in Federal Way?

I was recently at a community meeting with the new Superintendent of Federal Way.  I heard one of the parents say that there was a nuclear reactor in Federal Way next to Decatur High School.  WHAT?!?  She said that there was a man with a fusion reactor in his basement and high school kids come over to do science projects. 

After the meeting, I made a beeline for the nuclear lady and asked her for more details.  She gave me the website and I spent the rest of the evening looking into what they were doing as well as researching how fusion reactors work.  That night, I emailed Carl Greninger who runs the program and asked if I could take a tour.  I got a reply the next day inviting us to his next meeting on Friday night at 6:30pm.  Great!  This is exactly the kind of thing I want to be doing on a Friday night!

When Caleb and I got there, it was an unassuming split level house in a very ordinary looking Federal Way neighborhood.  A bunch of teenagers arrived the same time we did and told us just to go in the house.  When we opened the front door, Carl greeted us and escorted us into the garage of his house. 

It looked like an ordinary garage.  It had 2 cars in it and some wood working tools.  Carl told Caleb to go stand in front of the drill press and asked him if he could guess where the Reactor was.  Caleb shyly looked around the work bench and behind himself, then shrugged his shoulders.  Carl went over to the bookshelf and moved a few things, then it opened up into a secret lab lined with LED lights.  Caleb’s eyes widened and he whispered to himself, “Cool!” 


We walked in, and there in the middle of a small room sat the reactor.  Carl gave us a thorough lecture on radiation safety.  He had all kinds of detectors monitoring radiation.  He gave Caleb and I our own personal Russian radiation detectors that clicked when it detected radiation.  All the regulars wore little radiation badges that show lifetime radiation exposure.    He had some very sensitive equipment that detected background radiation that emitted from the ground and other naturally occurring sources.  He assured us that he and his team take radiation safety very seriously, and ensured us that there is no radiation exposure from the fusion reactor.  (Later when he turned on the reactor, he showed us all the instrumentation to assure us that there was no radiation leakage.)


He then showed us the power supply for the reactor.  It was a transformer that looked like it came right out of a Frankenstein movie.  He told us that the first stage takes up the voltage from 120V to 30,000V.  Then, there was a second stage that kicked it up above 100,000V.  All of this to transform Hydrogen gas into a plasma inside the reactor called a Fusor.  I think he said that the temperature of the plasma was 3million degrees Fahrenheit.  I may have misheard him and it may be 300million degrees.   There was a lot of information coming at us, but the take away was that it’s probably the hottest thing that I’ve ever stood next to (my wife excluded). 

In this next video, you see Michaela.  She is a freshman in high school.  I spoke to Michaela afterwards… or more accurately, she came and spoke to me.  She asked me what else I would like to know about the program.  She asked me if I had questions or if I would just like her to show us around.  She was probably one of the most articulate and professional high school students I’ve ever met.  I was later told that she just earned her red badge by recently passing all of the tests that Carl gave her based on the Department of Energy material listed on his website.  To see all of the subject matter, see here.  It is some serious course material.  Here she is operating the fusion reactor for the first time with Carl instructing her:

The first time, the plasma petered out.  Here is the second time, when you’ll see plasma on the screen right above Michaela’s head.  You’ll also hear the radiation detector clicking in the background as fusion is happening in the reactor.  (The detector is instrumented inside the nearly 1 ton lead/cadmium shielding.)

After spinning down the reactor, Carl lifted up the shielding using what appeared to be a hydraulic lift.  Michaela explained to Caleb how it worked and where the magic was happening.


The fusion reactor was pretty awesome.  But, I came to realize that this really wasn’t about a fusion reactor.  This was about the kids.  These high school students were amazing.  I got to meet many of them as we went into an adjacent room which was a meeting hall with a projector and lectern.  All of the students were dressed in their white lab coats.  They all had on different colored badges which signified that they have passed certain tests.  After some announcements, Carl dismissed the class to start lab.


One of the students showed me a contraption that he made on a milling machine.  He was using an aluminum brass coupling to make an actuating shield.  How did he know what materials to use?   How did he know how to use a milling machine? These are things that I learned when I was a junior in college.  He talked about the 6 hours it took to make the component and how he cut himself a few times trying to debur the sharp edges.  This was a component he was creating to conduct some experiments inside the reactor. 

Here is a snippet from their website of these student’s accomplishments:

We won the Gold (1st Place) at WSU Imagine Tomorrow in 2012.  We also won  the Gold (1st place) at the  Washington State Science Fair, and the Silver (2nd place) world wide at ISEF in 2013.   In 2014 we  won 2  silver  (2nd place) at the Central Sound Regional Science Fair at Bellevue College and  the Gold (1st place) twice in category at the Washington State Science & Engineering Fair at Bremerton.  In 2015, we won 14 – 1st place trophies at the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair, over $250,000 in scholarships at two different colleges and 3 of the 5 available trips to ISEF, where we won 4th place in the world against 72 countries. 

I was told that one of their high school freshman just won an $80k scholarship.  This student has 3 more years until they even attend college!

This experience opened my eyes to what could be done in education.  I asked Carl if there is anything I can do to help?  Where was he going next?   In his pamphlet, he describes what he is doing as a private science club.  It seemed like he wanted people to see that this type of club is a viable model for education.  He asked me to help him spread the word to educators.  He is not necessarily looking to expand his program or change it in any way, but it seems like he wanted others to see and replicate.  I did get the impression that one day he may want corporate sponsorship/partnerships. 

I am rarely blown away by what is being done in secondary education.  Carl blew my mind.  He has opened my eyes to what is possible beyond a week-long or month-long science project. 

I have enjoyed doing a lot of different STEM type activities with my children, but Carl is doing something at a level that I had not even imagined.  The level of time and financial investment he has put into proving out this model is incredible.  Carl has set a new bar for me for someone that is magnifying his God-given talents, gifts, and resources.   It is making me dare to dream bigger about what kind of projects/programs are possible, and what I might be able to do.

It has further impressed upon me that teaching our kids is our own responsibility.  I have no excuse not to provide my children with the kind of education I want them to have. 

Thank you for the tour, Carl!  But, more than that – thank you for the vision and what you’re doing.  It’s been a while since I’ve been truly inspired by someone.  It has caused a lot of discussion in our home about what to do next in science and engineering.

Hopefully, we’ll be regulars on Friday nights when Caleb (and Andrew my younger son) are old enough to join. 


A few links for those that are interested: