A Few Days in Denver

Just finished the first leg of my three-week trip (Denver-Boston-San Francisco); I spent time in Denver, both in meetings (PowerPoint presentations in windowless rooms in generic office parks) and hanging out with friends.

While travelling with my coworkers, I ended up being the impromptu tour guide, due to my research on the Beer Traveller's website (a fine resource for any beer lover spending time on the road). We had dinner at the Wynkoop Brewing Company--they serve an excellent stout, and a very nice summer ale with citrusy notes. The restaurant is in the LoDo (lower downtown) section of Denver; it was a depressed warehouse section of town that underwent a renaissance during the 1990's, and is now the hip urban nightlife spot. It was quite fun to walk around the area--we had dinner the second night at Ted's Montana Grill (quite reasonable, but a little generic), followed by gelato.

After my meetings, I spent a few days visiting Beemer and his boys (Jerry and Greg) in Broomfield. It was lovely to hang out with them--very nice to finally meet Greg. There's also something really relaxing about having friends who think that, "Hey, I'm going to hang out on your couch and answer email on your wireless connection this morning" is a perfectly acceptable plan. We had dinner at the Yak and Yeti (Indian and Nepalese), and lunch at the local pho place, followed by a wander through the Asian market. It definitely won the "scary mystery meat" contest: a cooler case had, "PORK STOMACH" "PORK TONGUE" "PORK BUNGUT" and "PORK UTERUS." Yeep. (Nope, Google doesn't know what bungut is.)

Spent an evening visiting Julee, who has just moved to town to go to med school. We had a very nice time wandering around LoDo, including dinner at the Wynkoop Brewing Co., and hanging out at the Tattered Cover--an independent bookstore with lots of comfy couches (a recommendation from Dave and Katie--thanks guys!).

<Architecture-Engineering Geekery>

One of the signature architecture pieces in LoDo is the Millenium Bridge--it is a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks that is held up by a tilted 200-foot tall ship-like mast; it is a quite striking version of the cable-stay design (i.e., a similar technology to the Lenny Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston). You can check out more images here.

Julee and I wandered around it, trying to figure out, "Why the heck is this thing put together this way?" I was wondering why a much more simple design (i.e., a beam or truss that could span those rail tracks) wasn't used. This website from the design firm talks about it:

Site constraints, utility configurations as well as complex and overlaying easements offered the opportunity to develop unique design and cable geometry. Our solution places the mast at one end of the bridge and arrays the cables from the mast to both the bridge deck and grade. This design employs the thin deck structure reducing the elevation from the street by ten feet.

What's really cool is that this is a cantilever design--the entire bridge hangs from the mast, on one side of the tracks. The only structural portions on the far side are only holding the deck down, thus stiffening the structure. If this is non-obvious, take a look at the last diagram on the web page linked above.

</Architecture-Engineering Geekery>

Anyway, Julee gave me a ride to the airport, I survived a redeye flight, and I'm in Boston now! Woo hoo! If you're in town, I hope I'll see you soon!


The Bicycle of Theseus

I recently replaced several bike parts, and I thought I would share my experiences and web research, and talk a bit about my beater bike.

A week ago, I had noticed that my bike chain was making clicking/scraping sounds (in rhythm with the front crank) when I was pedaling hard. I figured that a chain replacement might be in order; after reading about chain stretch and doing some measurements, I realized that it definitely needed to be done. Incidentally, that link points to Sheldon Brown's website, which is an amazingly useful font of bicycle repair information. So this past weekend, I stopped by the bike store to get a new chain, a chain breaker tool, and a replacement mirror. The job went fine--they even sold me an aftermarket master link, which lets you pop the chain off the bike without tools. I really want to try out Brown's suggested method for cleaning chains this way--snap off the chain, toss it in a Coke bottle of citrus degreaser, and shake well.

However, the bike store and Brown's website both had warnings that if the sprockets (e.g., freewheel) are worn, you might get chain skipping due to the mismatch.. Sure enough, when I took it out for a ride the next day, I got: [pedal] POP [pedal] [pedal] POP [pedal] POP [pedal] [pedal]... Time for a new freewheel, at least.

I bought a replacement freewheel (I already had a freewheel remover from the last time I did this). I also bought new tires while I was at it: the rear tire had developed a herniated sidewall, with a bulge of inner tube coming out of the side. Some grunting and pulling later, I was ready to roll. Went and biked down to the remote data collection site.

But anyway, I wanted to talk a bit more about the bike. It's an incredibly old beater: I've had it since about 1989--yeah, my undergrad days. Being an inveterate tinkerer, I have continuously replaced and upgraded parts since then. The original parts are: the frame, the front fork, the handlebar stem, front wheel (minus ball bearings and several spokes), deraileurs, left crank arm, and front chainrings. It's faster to list what's original instead of what's been replaced. I'm pretty happy with how it has gone together--I know it would be annoying to get all the replacement parts I want if I ever had to build another bike. Incidentally, speaking of bicycle repair, I have to give a big shout out to Broadway Bicycle School--it's a do-it-yourself place near Inman Square where you can buy shop time, and use their tools. It was the perfect place to learn bike repair techniques; I used to go there all the time when I lived nearby.

As a final note, the title of this post is a reference to The Ship of Theseus--that Philosophy 101 paradox: if an entire ship is replaced, piece by piece, would it be, in the end, the same ship? Actually, I didn't know the name--I just knew the story. However, Google's brain is quite amazing: a search on "ship around world replacing parts same" turned up the name in the top ten links.

A New Record!

A new record for length of time without taking out the trash: 99 days! In case you have not seen my previous post about trash, this is not a sign of extreme slovenliness, extra-large trash bags, serious misapplication of an industrial garbage disposal, or the use of a domesticated black hole. It's just my exercise in seeing how much I can reduce my trash output, through the use of recycling, composting, and throwing out stinky trash (e.g., meat scraps) as soon as they are generated.

However, this record is a bit disingenuous: it includes the month that I spent away on my Boston-Tampa-Fort Myers-Boston-New York-Ithaca trip. Factoring that in, it's only 65 days--about my typical number.

Incidentally, that's not how I normally dress to take out the trash: I just got back from a very nice dinner with my advisor and chief grad student (and respective girlfriend and spouse). They took me out to a local Indonesian/fusion place for an early birthday dinner.


C.S.I.: Waterloo

Important note: this is a pretty gross post--please don't read it while eating. Don't worry--I am sparing you guys the photos I took.

[Image taken from the Australian Museum's web page.]

As I was heading out the door of my apartment a few days ago, I got a good whiff of something that smelled pretty rank. I'm used to random bad smells around here--you can tell the days that wind is coming from the west by the smell of pig farms. My first reaction was, "Wow... it smells like Chinatown on trash day!" After the smell didn't go away, I realized that there was probably some dead animal in the bushes.

As a side note, the smell of putrescene (the chemical emitted by decaying flesh) is a really distinct and powerfully offensive odor. I think Beemer once pointed out that evolution has done a really good job of making the association of putrescene -> "Don't eat that!" I managed not to hurl while doing my search-by-smell.

I eventually found the carcass--it was a rabbit; I extracted it from the bushes with long wooden sticks. The body had reached the "black putrefaction" stage: portions were skeletonized, while other portions were mostly intact; there was heavy maggot activity. I got it into a plastic sack; it is now in a bunny body bag next to the house.

This experience got me curious enough that I cracked open M. Lee Goff's A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes (NY Times review here). It's odd that I recently mentioned this book in my pillbug posting. The author divided decomposition into several stages: Fresh, Bloated, Decay, Post-Decay, and Skeletal.

I consider the Decay Stage to begin when the combined activities of the maggot masses feeding externally and the anaerobic bacteria internally finally break the skin of the corpse, allowing the gasses to escape and the corpse to deflate. Large feeding masses of maggots are the predominant feature of the early to middle periods of this stage. The corpse is still moist then, and there are large amounts of decompositional fluids present on the surface of the soil and within the earth under the corpse. A distinct odor is associate with this stage of decomposition, and processing the corpse is not a pleasant experience. I have noted a strong correlation between the onset of the Decay Stage and a rise in absences and sick days among my graduate students.

The smell is reduced but still there, likely from the fluids left in the soil. The problem is I keep on thinking I'm catching a whiff of it, even inside. Yugh. At least trash day is on Tuesday, and I'm leaving for three weeks soon.

[Edit: snowninja7 on LJ said: "Pictures! Give us pictures!!!" So, here's the shot.] (White space provided to scroll down, to protect the squeamish.)

Yeah, the little white specks are maggots, indeed. The limbs are pretty non-decomposed--they probably dessicated early. They were only barely being held on to the body with connective tissue.


A Fonzie Moment

I had a repair I did at the lab that I wanted to share. I'm working on a temperature/humidity control system for the test hut, and it was showing some erratic behavior. One of the control relays worked fine, but the other one seemed to run the equipment even when the indicator light was off. Hmm. I took the controller apart, to see if it was miswired. Nope. Checked the electrical receptacles... no problem there. Checked continuity at the controller itself; hmm... odd... it shows Normally Open as closed, with the indicator light off. And Normally Closed is open. WTF? And when I energize the relay, it's still the same. Waitasec.

[Grabs a screwdriver by the shaft]


[Power it up, and the relay is working fine.]


(In case you aren't familiar with electromechanical relays, it means that it got stuck in the "on" position. Percussive maintenance can solve this issue.)


Travelling with Tools

I just thought I'd give folks a little taste of what work travel is like for me.

I'm typically rolling into an airport with my computer bag (with some vitals for travel: Bose QC2 headphones and iPod, reading material, earplugs, Advil, melotonin caps), my clothing bag (EMS conversion pack), and my travel-worn 1620 Pelican Case. I've become a huge fan of Pelican cases: they're incredibly strong (this is after having my first travel tool case destroyed by the airlines), the pullout handle and rollers work great, and they look totally badass-milspec.

One downside, though, is that I end up loading it to capacity--77 pounds on this trip. But it amuses me that even on the far side of the baggage carousel, I can recognize my case coming out of the chute: ka-thump. ka-thump. ka-thump. KA-WHAM. ka-thump. ka-thump. I feel really sorry for whatever bag my case lands on. I also have to pay extra ($25-50) because it is an overweight bag--I have started leaving my collection of HEAVY tags on, to see if the checkin counter folks bother adding another tag.

Another downside is that because it is full of metal parts and looks scary, black, and milspec, I get a TSA inspection tag on literally every trip. I was collecting a sheaf of tags for my own amusement for a while.

So anyway, what's inside this beast?

On a typical trip: an assortment of hand tools, a Conterra chest-mounted tool harness (perfect for crawling around attics), cordless drill, telco punchdown tool, cable stapler, caulk gun, several parts boxes, multimeter with various probes, soldering iron, kneepads. This trip's added load: a cordless impact driver and charger, hammer drill for making holes in concrete, masonry bits, spare datalogger, Delmhorst wood moisture meter, infrared laser thermometer, pry bars, handsaw.

I really wonder if TSA has a WTF moment when they dig through the case. Hey--at least they're not exclaiming, "Jaysus, lady, how many batteries does this thing take?!"

On a mostly unrelated subject (but speaking of travel) I have to say that damn, my friends are incredibly cool. Reading LJ and blogs right now, I see folks in Bali/Indonesia, France, England, China, Italy, and Germany, not to mention Dan B., just back from major world travels.

Buffalo! Woo!

Oh well.

Fun with Bad Karma

I was somewhat hesitant to put up this post, given that I'm getting on a plane in nine days, and more importantly, that most of my friends fly all the time. But here it is anyways.

On my last Southwest flight, they offered their new snack--"Plane Crackers": Produced by Nabisco, "golden airplane-shaped crackers" mark the airline's 35th anniversary. The unique crackers come in commemorative packaging.

My reaction was: "Hey, I can re-enact famous airliner crashes with my food!" To wit: I could bite off the tail, for American 587 (tore off its vertical stabilizer when the pilot pushed the rudder stop to stop to try to regain control). Or I can do TWA Flight 800: snap a cracker in half, smash up the pieces, and throw them in my drink.

Okay, I should stick to reading my magazine and playing my iPod, before fellow passengers get really nervous.


Buffalo NY (Thoughts on Neighborhoods)

My trip wasn't a complete write-off: I landed at Buffalo airport at about 5 PM, so I decided to have a little wander around the city and grab dinner. I have driven through this town several times, but never actually stopped--even to get gas. I had the foresight to make a copy of the New York Times article "JOURNEYS: 36 Hours | Buffalo" to my laptop for this eventuality, so armed with that and my United States map on my hard drive, I took a wander around town.

The section driving in from the Interstate was pretty sketchy and depressing--but remember, after all, that the highways were built through the neighborhoods that didn't have the political clout to prevent it, so it makes sense that they're in pretty rough shape. If you ever want to see the opposite case, look at a map of the Northern State Parkway on Long Island, where it takes a sharp turn around Old Westbury.

The Times article recommends The Anchor Bar, which claims to have invented Buffalo Wings; I found the place and drove by it, but from the outside, it didn't really draw me in. The article also talked about the Elmwood Avenue section: Browse through luminous bracelets and flutes handmade in Cameroon at Plum Pudding, or pick up pottery or an Albert Einstein action figure at Positively Main Street. Talking Leaves is a well-stocked independent bookstore adjoining a shop with good coffee and pastries. Browsing was prevented by my timing (late on Sunday), but I had a lovely dinner of appetizers (pesto, chicken curry soup, and crabcakes) at Le Metro Bistro and Bakery. I have to say that I really lucked out to find it, and it more than made up for my Cheetos and baby carrot dinner on the previous night.

I parked my car on a side street, which was a lovely neighborhood to be in--well-kept small jewel-box old Victorians, packed in tightly enough that you could walk to somewhere useful (i.e., the main commercial street), but it was still quiet and tree-lined.

That experience piqued my interest enough to do some web research. First, the Wikipedia article on Buffalo was pretty illuminating: it is the second-largest city in New York, it gained economic prominence because it was one end of the Erie Canal, but then fell after 1957 with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Also, it seems like it had the classic 1960's white flight/suburban migration/rust belt city story: The city also has the dubious distinction along with St. Louis of being one of the few American cities to have had fewer people in the year 2000 than in 1900.

Second, it seems like the Elmwood Strip is a pocket of artsy hipness (perhaps overhipness) in a somewhat depressed city; definitely quite pleasant to walk about, with a great residential neighborhood right behind it--my kind of area. I found the Project for Public Spaces website's section on Elmwood.

This got me thinking that the older cities of the Northeast and Midwest are full of areas which have the potential (in their infrastructure) to become places like this: they already have the classic New Urbanism/Traditional Neighborhood Development hallmarks (mixed-use commercial and residential, walkability, public transit accessibility). Instead, those areas are still losing population to the South and the Sunbelt--completely rational, given the fact that the jobs are moving there. Those growing areas are being built out in classic sprawl style: the Chicago-area exurb I was working in would definitely require getting in a car just to get to the Seven-11 near the main entrance; each house had its huge moat-like lawn, carefully isolating it from the street and neighbors. For many people, that's the ideal that they're looking for, and I don't know if any amount of education or rising fuel prices (a la End of Suburbia) will make this change.

I guess that although the infrastructure is there in older Northeastern/Midwestern cities, it seems like a critical mass of young, well-to-do, college-educated people is a requirement for it to happen. I really do need to Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class sometime.

Pillbug Mass Graves

Warning: readers with bug squeamishness might find this post a bit difficult. Aw, c'mon, it's not that bad...

At my test basement experiment, I diassembled some of the walls to see how they looked after several wettings. Many of the seams were sealed with builder's adhesive tape (like packing tape, but many times sticker and stronger). Everywhere there was exposed adhesive, the pillbugs/rollie polys were stuck en masse:

A bit annoying to pull off tape and have dessicated bug bodies flying around. I wondered if I could come to some scientific conclusion based on the presence of pillbugs--e.g., do they need a certain level of humidity to thrive? Something like the way forensic entymologists use identification of insect invasion waves to estimate time of death (an excellent treatment of this subject is M. Lee Goff's A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes). It included an anecdote of maggots raining down from a tree onto the investigation team.

Okay, not a terribly interesting post here, but I basically wanted an excuse to talk about giant isopods--Dave and Katie told me about them during my last visit to Ithaca (referring Wikipedia article here). They are basically deep-sea (500-7000 feet) pillbugs, that grow to 18 inches/3 pounds. Waurghahgh! My pillbug massacre made me think, "The giant isopods are coming to get me..."

FYI, the information vector for them was the webcomic Indietits by Jeph Jacques--the guy who does Questionable Content.


Ass-Kicker Trip

Just got back from my four-day trip to Chicago; I went there to work on my thesis field experiment, which is a test basement in the exurbs. I had planned for two days worth of work, with some down time off to see the town.

The trip wasn't hellish for travel reasons--it went pretty smoothly, actually. I flew out of Buffalo instead of Toronto--2 hours of driving instead of 1+, and saving $300 on the ticket.

However, the work was much longer than expected: Day 1 was 11 hours, and Day 2 was longer. At least it was in a nice cool basement, instead of a roasting attic. And I completed the work I set out to do, and was happy with the results. But I pretty much rolled back to the hotel and crashed each night--nothing more adventurous than walking to the Bennigan's across the parking lot.

After Day 2, I left the jobsite around 9, and didn't get to the hotel until past 10. At that point, it seemed like all the restaurants were closing down, and I desperately needed a shower first. I weighed my options: drive around and forage, possibly ending up at Burger King, or just admit defeat and head to the vending machines for dinner. Result:

Mmmm, mmmm, yummy dinner there.

Well, anyway, this is what I managed to see of downtown Chicago.

Enh... no worries. I've gotten to see awesome parts of town before, and I'm sure I'll have an opportunity to come back.


And you thought your flight was long...

My advisor was booking travel to Europe this afternoon on Expedia, and managed to get this itinerary:

In case you can't read the text, it is:

Rome (FCO) to Venice (VCE) Duration 68026774 hr 21 min Flight 5071
Economy/Coach Class

Venice (VCE) to Toronto (YYZ) Duration 3556056 hr 10 min Flight 5071
Economy/Coach Class

Hmm... might be a worthwhile time to upgrade to First Class.

In case you don't want to bother doing the math, the first leg is 7766 years. The second one is a short hop in comparison--406 years. But man.. that extra 21 minutes really kills you there, eh? Oh yeah--if you count the layover, it would probably add up to an even 9000 years. Dude... 828 years stuck in Venice airport (Aeroporta di Venezia Marco Polo).

Using a cruising speed of 600 mph, and assuming my math is right, that's about six round trips from the sun to Pluto (assuming the average orbit radius). Pretty killer for frequent flyer miles.


Construction Projects

Now that I've been back in town for a few days, and have caught up on the basics of life (laundry, housecleaning, data analysis, and hard drive upgrades), I started working on things around the lab that have I've been meaning to fix for a while.

Item 1: There's a hole in my test hut dear Liza dear Liza--it's a bit embarassing that every time it rains, we have to put a bucket in place to catch the water that comes out of the seal around the mast we have our weather measurement equipment mounted to. Especially considering we're the guys who tell people Not To Do Stupid Shit In Buildings on a professional basis. I have done a repair that should work for the next few years at least (and no, it is not the "throw more caulk at it" solution).

In case you're wondering, that white rubberized flexible skirt is made out of DuPont™ FlexWrap™ ("A flashing tape for window sills and custom shapes")--it is actually a totally cool product that has a multitude of uses.

Item 2: I've built many things to organize the test hut, including new overhead power outlets, temperature/RH control setups, and a rolling tool chest. I put a paper towel holder on the side of the tool chest. My labmates make our space into an accelerated wear facility, so they broke off the plastic paper towel holder in short order. I finally got around to replacing it:

Yeah. Break that, ya bastids.

Instructables-style geekery: Parts required: (all pipe parts are steel/"black iron" 1/2" IPS): 90 degree elbow, pipe flange (x2), 12" pipe nipple, 3" pipe nipple. Yes, you really call short pipe lengths "nipples." Therefore, I do have a "nipple extractor" in my plumbing kit. In fact, I have several sizes of nipple extractors. Stop snickering, you.

Thread everything together wrench tight, except for the last flange, which is left finger-tight as an endcap. Install the flange that attaches to the wall with the screw holes in an "X" pattern, as opposed to a "+," so that you can put screws into all of them.


How Much is that Hard Drive in the Window?

I actually started running out of hard drive space this week--it's unfortunate, but somebody pointed out BitTorrent to me. Anyway, looking at drive prices, I realized, "Holy crap, storage is getting really cheap!"

A Western Digital 320 GB for $135 CAD, or $120 US. That's 38 cents a gig. And I was happy when storage went below $1 a gig.

Yeah, that's a lot of pr0n--uh, I mean music! Yeah, MP3s! Honest! See:

I don't know what to expect for reliability with prices getting this cheap--but then again, it is meant as a backup drive that will only be accessed periodically.

<side hardware geekery>

During the installation process, I first got tripped up by the 137 GB limit--the installation software maxed out at that size--it was an, "Oh hell, did I buy myself an expensive brick?" moment. However, Google is much smarter than I am, so I figured out what was going on: I was trying to connect this new drive to an Ultra66 controller card, which seems to have that limit. I had installed the card to add a fifth storage device a while ago. I looked at what devices on the four motherboard connections--a Zip drive?!? Man... if that's not technology that got its ass handed to it by the march of time. Considering that 100 or 250 MB is a small flash drive nowadays... how sad. And that a DVD-R is 5 GB, if you're thinking about longer term storage. So one disconnected zip drive later, I was up and running.

</side hardware geekery>

An Inconvenient Truth

Daniel went to see An Inconvenient Truth with some folks; I had a comment that I thought I'd reproduce here for my audience.

Yeah, I saw it last week and really liked it; I was considering blogging about it, but didn't work up the energy for it.

As you said, it doesn't present too much new information for those of us who have been following global climate change for a while. But two exceptions to that, for me:

I had an "oh duh" moment when he pointed out that the melting of the Arctic ice cap has no effect on sea level (i.e., floating ice cubes, displaced water weight=weight of ice), but that Greenland and Antarctica melting would cause sea level rise.

However, an important effect of the Arctic ice cap melting is that solar reflectivity goes from 90% (ice) to 10% (water)--it's basically a perfect positive feedback loop. Scary.

I thought that using a full 20 foot (6 m) sea level rise was a bit of an extreme demonstration, but it did basically get the point across. In case any of you haven't seen it, I have a link on my blog to an interactive web page that lets you map the effect of 1, 2, or 3 m sea level rise.

The second surprise was the whole "scientific consensus" issue, which he summarizes by noting that out of 985 peer-reviewed scientific papers, none disagreed with the idea that anthropogenic climate change is going on (I think that was the wording, basically). In contrast, in popular news/scientific writing, 53% of the articles have some disagreement with that. Day-umn. They had a great quote from the smoking industry as an analogy--that confusion about the science works to their advantage.

[Edit: Beemer--can you vouch for the accuracy of this point? Or are there nuances that were not presented? I would have guessed that there are 2-3% papers written by shills for the fossil fuel industry that would have gotten published.]


Leaving, On a Jet Plane

So, how do I follow up a month-long road trip? Why, a big load of air travel, two weeks later! (okay, that's a self-inflicted itinerary, but anyway..)

I spent most of Wednesday morning fighting with airline web pages to book a set of flights; it was incredibly frustrating, and reminded me of that piece of net dreck floating out there--"What if the airlines sold paint?":

Customer: But what are all these "Paint on sale from $10 a litre" signs?

Clerk: Well, that's for our budget paint. It only comes in half-litres. One $5 half-litre will do half a room. The second half-litre to complete the room is $20. None of the cans have labels, some are empty and there are no refunds, even on the empty cans.

I always concluded that the algorithm used to price airline tickets must have been written either by geniuses or the feeble-minded, given how opaque it is. Given the financial state of the airlines, it seems to be the latter.

Anyway, here's the quick summary, for all your calendars:

July 13-16: Chicago for work
July 26-29: Denver for work, plus seeing Beemer and the boys
July 30-August 3: Former company's "Summer Camp" (seminar/big party)
August 3-10: Hang out in Boston
August 10-15: Hang out in San Francisco Bay Area
August 16-17: Present at a conference, fly home

If you want to be sure to see me, book time now! I'm thinking that either a coffee hour or dim sum event in Boston will happen on August 6.

BUF-MDW/MDW-BUF Chicago Trip

I need to travel to Chicago to do work on my thesis project, a test basement in the suburbs. I originally looked at a $300 ticket out of YYZ. The next day, the price went up by $300+. My response: "Fuck you, major carriers, I'm going with Southwest." The only catch is that to get this ticket is that I need to drive to Buffalo. Out of the 65 domestic airports that I have travelled through, BUF is not on that list--I wanted to check out how the logistics worked for flying out of it. It's a difference between driving around 2 hours each way to BUF, vs. 1+ hours to YYZ. I'm especially interested, because JetBlue flies direct from Buffalo to Boston, as well as New York.

I'm hoping to have enough free time to catch an evening of blues at Kingston Mines, or maybe Buddy Guy's blues club.

Help help Jen! I need your assistance with some HTML magic! I copied and pasted code, and it gives me this big white space that I can't figure out. I'm guessing its because I've gone from a full browser width to the narrow column of my blog.

Buffalo to Chicago Midway
 Date   Day   Stops   Routing   Flight   Routing Details
Jul 13 Thu N/S BUF-MDW 368 Depart Buffalo(BUF) at 4:05PM
Arrive in Chicago Midway(MDW) at 4:40PM
Chicago Midway to Buffalo
 Date   Day   Stops   Routing   Flight   Routing Details
Jul 16 Sun N/S MDW-BUF 2768 Depart Chicago Midway(MDW) at 1:50PM
Arrive in Buffalo(BUF) at 4:15PM

YYZ-DEN-BOS-SFO-YYZ Denver-Boston-San Francisco Trip

For work, I need to go to a meeting in Denver, and then I give a presentation in mid-August near Monterey; they are covering travel costs. Given that my former company's big "Summer Camp" party/seminar is right after the Denver meeting, and that two round trips from Toronto = four flight legs, it worked out to do it as a big three-week trip, with about a week of downtime each in Boston and San Francisco.

Unfortunately, I had to choose some stupid flights (e.g., redeye back from Denver to Boston on Saturday night) to keep the total package cost around $1000, instead of jumping up to $1500.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing all of you folks!

Toronto, Canada (YYZ) to Denver, CO (DEN) Wednesday, Jul 26
Flight Departs Arrives Class Stops
United Airlines 8499
(Operated by Air Canada) Toronto (YYZ)
Jul 26
5:05 pm Denver (DEN)
Jul 26
6:37 pm Coach Non-stop
Denver, CO (DEN) to Boston, MA (BOS) Saturday, Jul 29
Flight Departs Arrives Class Stops
United Airlines 568 Denver (DEN)
Jul 29
11:55 pm Boston (BOS)
Jul 30
5:37 am (Next day) Coach Non-stop
Boston, MA (BOS) to San Francisco, CA (SFO) Thursday, Aug 10
Flight Departs Arrives Class Stops
United Airlines 211 Boston (BOS)
Aug 10
7:55 am Denver (DEN)
Aug 10
10:26 am Coach Non-stop
Flight Departs Arrives Class Stops United Airlines 309 Denver (DEN)
Aug 10
11:16 am San Francisco (SFO)
Aug 10
12:41 pm Coach Non-stop
San Francisco, CA (SFO) to Toronto, Canada (YYZ) Thursday, Aug 17
Flight Departs Arrives Class Stops
United Airlines 198 San Francisco (SFO)
Aug 17
11:07 am Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW)
Aug 17
4:36 pm Coach Non-stop
Flight Departs Arrives Class Stops United Airlines 8146
(Operated by Air Canada) Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW)
Aug 17
5:20 pm Toronto (YYZ)
Aug 17
9:25 pm Coach Non-stop

Things that are Important to Me

I recently put up the group wedding photo ("Tep Family Photo") from the latest Tep wedding on my shelf. I just took a moment to pause and reflect, that these are the people important to me, in very happy times. It's a shelf that makes me smile every time I look at it.

In case you're wondering, the weddings are (first shelf, left to right): Julie & Nikho, Josh & Liz, Leper & Elizabeth, Raj & Bindu, Indy & Marketa, Squanto & Beth, Schmooz & Jen, Linder & Ara, Morton & Sarah, Jeff & Karla, (second shelf) U5 & Rebecca, Crusher & Cat. (there are two other photos on the second shelf: me, Psycho Security Guard, and Air Force Guy, and me and Perlick on the fabled road trip to Jen & Schmooz's wedding.

Being an obsessive-compulsive quantifier, I felt a need to figure out who attended weddings in common with me. Out of the even dozen weddings, the count is:
  • Bird: 10
  • U5: 9
  • Perlick: 6
  • Schmooz & Jen: 6
  • JMD: 5
If any of you want any of these group photos, just let me know via email or comments.

Speaking of which, I still want a better copy of the group photo from Probe & Becca's wedding--the only one I have is pretty grainy. It's a magnificent shot--the bride lying across the lap of the front row, and a bunch of Teps in black tie formalwear.

Am I a Goofball...

...because I like to anthropomorphize construction machinery? To wit, while walking to the University today, I saw these two machines and thought, "Good bulldozer, good bulldozer... [pat] [pat] [pat]." It seems like there's something oddly maternally protective about the position of the excavator.

Okay, yeah, I'm a goofball.

There was an even better one on I-75 between Tampa and Fort Myers. A division of Case has its headquarters abutting the highway, so on display, they have their tinyest skid loader with a front bucket, facing their story-and-a-half tall wheeled loader, both with their buckets raised. A good caption might be, "Are you my mommy?" Or maybe, "I help daddy!"

I'm reminded of a video I saw on the web: Anne Troake's "Pretty Big Dig", which is described as a ballet of three long-necked yellow excavators performing synchronized manoeuvres to a waltz... It's the ultimate small film about large objects, a wry feminization of heavy earth-moving equipment. If you haven't seen it, it's pretty amusing--pirouetting backhoes.

[Edit: link to the short film itself in comments, provided by Daniel.]

I think guys are programmed to like yellow construction machinery from Tonka Toys onwards... I have pictures of my first few birthdays, and a steam roller and a fire truck were birthdays one and two, respectively. I guess I never outgrew it, to some degree.


Adventures: Part 2

[Part 2 of 2 of a series of adventures I had on Wednesday; apologies for the much belated publication]

The next part was getting from Newark, NJ to Ithaca, NY. My plan was Garden State Parkway -> I-287 -> I-87 -> NY-17/Future I-86 (see this post for clarification on that designation) to Binghamton -> I-81 -> Route 79 (to Ithaca).

You might have heard about some pretty bad flooding in the northeast last week. Did you know some really bad flooding was centered around Binghamton? Apparently, I didn't. [First day's drive shown in red.] So I got a little ways on Future I-86, before I got to a highway closure. Backtracked, and referred to my map to find smaller roads. I thought I'd tack up towards Route 28, which goes across the Catskills, and then try taking I-88 towards Ithaca. That part of the drive made me really start to appreciate Interstate highways, compared to winding, two-lane country roads that go straight through the middle of each town (at 20-30 mph). I've sometimes bemoaned the lack of connection to the landscape and towns due to the Interstates, but I had enough local flavor on this trip to last me a while.

The drive across the Catskills on 28 was very pretty--hiking and camping in the Catskill State Park looks like it would be fun. As a side note, I thought that Jews -> Catskills was a stereotype, but I haven't seen that many Hasidim since I was in Crown Heights. As I got close to I-88, I starting running into detours. Several detours later, as night was falling, I got to the interstate in Oneonta. Rolling towards the onramp, I noticed a distinct lack of traffic. Hrm. I-88 Westbound: closed off with cones across the entrance ramp. Crap. Well, at least I can backtrack on the highway. I-88 Eastbound: closed off. Crap crap.

Well, time for more country roads. I ended up at two or three different roadblocks, and got out to chat with the road crews and truckers who were trying to get their rigs turned around and out of the mess. It seems like nobody really knew what roads were opened or closed--I got directions from a state highway guy that sent me directly to a road closure.

It made me realize that the network of roads we have is a lot more fragile than we normally realize. Looking for a road to escape on at 11 at night, and only finding state troopers and orange cones gave the whole situation a vaguely post-apocalyptic feel. As the hour was getting later and my driving was getting sloppier and sloppier, I saw three or four deer on the side of the road, and ran over the splattered carcass of another, so I figured it was high time to bed down for the night. After searching for a hotel with vacancies for about an hour, the plan turned to: sleep in the car overnight. That was at 2 AM: about 12 hours after I had left New York. Reason #225 why station wagons rock: you can fold down the back and have a flat surface to sleep on.

My faith in my fellow man is low enough that it took a while for my tiredness to overcome my paranoia of sleeping in an exposed locked glass box. I found a nice spot nestled between a dumpster and a van that was being used as a storage locker. At least I had my 3 D-cell Mag Light close at hand. I do have a buddy who had a loaded Sig Sauer pistol under the blanket when he slept at rest stops--that level of protection would have made me feel a bit more comfortable.

Yeah, a really refreshing night.

I got rolling the next morning, trying another small road. I got to see some of the flood damage in daylight. This is what I-88 looked like in Oneonta:

It was a bit eerie to see completely empty highways. I also saw a flooded-out trailer park, lots of people pumping out basements, and a bunch of places where the road shoulders were dangerously undercut by rushing waters. Some more shots of the flood in Binghamton are on this flickr site. The really scary washout was on I-88 in Sidney, NY: two truckers were killed when they drove into the part of the highway that was washed away. See this flickr site for images of the damage--definitely made me say "holy crap."

Anyway, the second day's drive [shown in green] was much more reasonable--especially because I called Jofish to look up road closures on the web. He later sent me this:

Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2006 10:25:58 -0400
From: jofish@XX.XX
To: bats22@XX.XX
Subject: why bats' life sucked

Yeah. That part with all the "Closed" icons--that's what I was trying to drive through.

Anyway, I made it to Ithaca that day, and had a lovely stay (including replacing a set of lights in Jofish's bathroom, and his going-away party). Drove back to Canada on Friday, and made it to Dan and Daniel's in time for Dan's citizenship party.

So I'm home now: I was away from May 27th to June 30th in Boston, Dover NH, Tampa, FL, Cape Coral FL, Boston again, New York (both Long Island and the City), and Ithaca, NY: 2364 miles. Time to get back to work.