OXO Cleaning Product Geekery

I doubt this would be a shock to anyone, but I am very peculiar about my dish washing implements. Especially because right now, I am living without a dishwasher: definitely suckness. I favor some of the OXO products--the Soap Squirting Palm Brush, and the sponge-on-a-stick (with soap in the handle) setup below. However, it just broke the other day.

I don't know if you can make it out from the photo, but there used to be two plastic tabs on the clear plastic part, that lock into the notches in the sponger backer. When they break off, the entire handle part is useless. Grr. I wouldn't be so annoyed except for the fact that this is the second one that has failed this way. I went to several local malls, and none of them carry it anymore. Grr.

I was about to send a nastygram to OXO ("Dear Sirs: Your polymer engineering skills suck ass."), when I looked at their current products on the web. It turns out that they came to the same conclusion (the sucking ass part): the current iteration changes the attachment mechanism of the sponge to a tapered slot setup, which has a lot more bearing area than the two tabs.

So... I'm stuck with a few useless sponge refills, and two broken wands. Grr.

Wait! [Lightbulb]

Fished the pieces out of the trash. Two #6 x 1/2" stainless steel machine screws and a tap set later:

Admittedly, I need to get out a screwdriver every time I need to add more soap. And a drill every time I change sponges. But being a person who carries a Leatherman tool on him for most of his waking hours, that's not much on an issue.

Not a Bad Day

A pretty good day overall. I went out biking, down to the test house in the town south of here to do a download. The weather has been absolutely glorious recently--it has started to cool off for the season; biking was perfectly comfortable wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and a fleece vest. Followed by lunch at my favorite local bakery.

Made dinner for Dan and Daniel--he has posted a description of the meal quite nicely already. Frozen unagi (a bit disappointing--I've had better ones; I need to avoid this brand in the future), kabocha (Japanese pumpkin--very happy to find it at the local farmer's market, a.k.a. buttercup squash--not butternut), scary-looking Japanese pickled vegetables, broccoli, and miso soup. It was nice to entertain--I haven't done so in a while, and they are delightful dinner company.

Incidentally, Daniel mentions the new pedestrian bridge that they're installing in the park, on my walk to school. I got some photos of it yesterday; it must have been a real monster to move down the road.

It's all a single big welded steel arch-shaped truss structure--pretty nuts. Seems pretty hard core to make it as a single piece, instead of field-assembled components. Very nice looking though; the welds look good, and they added some metal decorative elements on the sides.

Yeah, you're telling me, brother.

The down side of today: I got very little done on the literature review/background section of my thesis. My goal is to get it done in the next two weeks or so... not sure how likely that is at this pace. Grr.


On children and happiness

I have previously blogged about the fact that I'd put my odds of wanting children at incredibly low. I have occasionally worried that despite this reasonable and long-standing decision, it might someday make me bitter and sad... well, um... more bitter and sad than I would have been otherwise. So it was reassuring to see studies comparing the happiness of parents vs. non parents: e.g., the Pew Research Center's survey on happiness among Americans, as referenced in the Atlantic Monthly's Primary Sources:

Overall, parents are happier than adults who have no children, but this gap disappears once a person's marital status is considered. That is, married people with children are about as happy as married people without children. And unmarried people with children are about as happy as unmarried people without children.

I found these results a bit curious, but probably explicable. For each person whose child who is their pride and joy, the center of their life, and source of support, I have to imagine that there are contrary cases. For instance, I have to imagine that there are many for whom children can be a source of heartbreak--either by a tragedy befalling the child, or that the kid just didn't turn out all that well (or as they 'wanted' it to).

For instance, they might end up with a child who grows up, makes a perfunctory phone call with negligible content every other week, stops by once a year to have a tense few days at home, and largely shuts his parents out of his life. Nah... I don't know anybody like that.

Also, I wonder how many parents there are who have a 'happiness neutral' view of parenting--it was assumed that this was the path to take, and that raising a family was something to take for granted, that you grind through. This stands in stark contrast to most of my peer group: carefully deciding that they will have children and when to have them. It's unfortunate that the awesome body of genetic potential of my friends have is so carefully self-selecting. [grin]

In addition, there are the financial pressures that come with having a family--not just providing for more people and saving for college educations, but the need to push earning potentials to the edge in order to afford a house in a desirable school district--the thesis of The Two-Income Trap. Not to mention the time/energy pressures of raising children--I could see all these factors pushing down the relative happiness metric.

In a marginally-related digression, there was a quote on an NPR show by Andrew Oswald, an economics prof at the University of Warwick (The Connection “Money Can Buy Happiness”); it resonated with me strongly enough that I transcribed it:

You start happy in your early twenties, and then if you’re a typical person, you systematically become less happy... that bottoms out in your early thirties, and then you start getting happier again. So there’s a sort of U-shape or J-shape in happiness and mental health through the average person’s life cycle. We don’t completely understand why that is, but we think there’s a sort of adaptation that goes on where you begin thinking you’re going to conquer the world, then you realize that it’s hard to do that, you gradually come to terms with yourself, and then you can start getting happier again.

It’s good news is that the older one gets, the happier one gets, partly because you come to terms with yourself, you can accept yourself, and you don’t set impossible goals any longer.

It matches the patterns of my life, to some degree. A good chunk of my late twenties were pretty depressing, but that probably had to do with where I was in my life and career. But now, things seem relatively up; I'm am comfortable and pretty well valued in my field. I don't know quite where my life is going, but hey, it's encouraging to know that I'm supposed to be getting happier.


Two Years

As of Sunday, it is two years since I crossed the border into Canada to start my graduate school career. In addition, it is a bit over two years since I started this blog:

I figured that since I was up moving to Canada, I could occasionally post entertaining stories (if any) or odd events for folks to read, and to keep in touch over long distance. Hmmm... basically, I guess this means I'm lazy enough not to want to answer the conversational question, "So what's new with you?"

BTW--no guarantees on how regularly I will be posting; this blog is pretty much started on a whim. We'll see.

In terms of timing, I'm planning on finishing four or five months from now: thesis submitted by December, and finishing up packing, paperwork, and moving in January. Here's hoping that everything goes smoothly.

When I've mentioned the two year mark to others, they've marvelled: "Wow... is it two years already? It feels like you just left." Well, sometimes that feels true, but at other times, it feels really bloody long. Looking through my collection of photos from the past two years, I've done a lot of things since coming here. My life has not changed in any fundamental way, but there have been enough incremental shake-ups that I do feel changed, so some degree. And I still--at times, almost achingly--miss Boston, even though I have been returning there regularly (typically two or three times a year).

Of course I am going to miss a number of things up here in KW. I'm hoping I'll be able to continue my low-car-use-walking-everywhere lifestyle, with the office moving into town. The moderate-stress lifestyle (ahem... when I'm not taking classes) of a graduate student. The friends that I have made up here (the Dans, and my graduate group & respective spouses). Movies at the Princess, a seven-minute walk away. Pizza or hot melt sandwiches at City Cafe.

I'm sorry, I thought I'd have something more profound to say. Friends, movies, and food... that's about all I have today.

Port of Oakland and the Slang Term of the Day

A bit of commercial shipping geekery to bore my readers.

While I was visiting the Bay Area, we passed by the Port of Oakland, with its huge cranes, stacks of shipping containers, and ships being loaded and unloaded. I wondered aloud whether the traffic in the port was increasing or decreasing over time--i.e., whether it was getting bypassed in favor of small-town-turned-into-shipping-container-yard or not. The intarweb to the rescue.

First, the Wikipedia article on the Port of Oakland states:

The Port of Oakland was the first major port on the Pacific Coast of the United States to build terminals for container ships. It is now the fourth busiest container port in the United States; behind Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Newark.

Container traffic greatly increased the amount of cargo loaded and unloaded in the Port; by the late 1960s, the Port of Oakland was the second largest port in the world in container tonnage. However, depth and navigation restrictions in San Francisco Bay limited its capacity, and by the late 1970s it had been supplanted by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as the major container port on the West Coast.

However, in the early 2000s, severe congestion at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach caused some trans-Pacific shippers to move some of their traffic over to Oakland (especially if the final destination is not in Southern California but lies farther east).

This is backed up by data from the Port of Oakland's website, which is graphed below:

Incidentally, TEU = twenty-foot equivalent units. Most of the containers you see out on the highway, about the same size as a semi box, are forty foot containers (=two TEUs); the "shorty" ones are twenty footers.

You can see the bump in imports starting around 2001. One thing that surprised me: total traffic is going up, but that's mostly because of imports and sending back empty cans: exports are mostly flat. Sounds like a trade deficit to me, huh?

Anyway, continuing my shipping containers geekery, I received a book off my Amazon wish list: The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. So far, it's a pretty good read.

I am also watching The Wire, HBO's police drama series set in Baltimore, written by David Simon. He is the author of the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which was the basis of the TV series Homicide on NBC--he basically spent a year shadowing Baltimore homicide detectives, taking time off from his crime reporter position. I was a huge fan of the show, at least the early seasons--when the squad room was populated with realistic, fat, balding, white male detectives, instead of fashion model multiethnic eye candy. Anyway, The Wire addresses some more complex issues than you would expect for a run-of-the-mill crime drama:

Season three of THE WIRE examined the concept and nature of reform and the role of the political leadership in addressing a city's problems. Earlier themes included the death of the American working class, depicted in season two, and the inherent conflict between individuals and the modern institutions to which they are beholden, as seen in the protracted drug investigation that began in season one and continues into the third season.

The reason I bring it up is that Season Two is set in the Port of Baltimore, with the criminal investigation of the stevedore/longshoreman union, the rackets that they are running, and their struggle for survival against the gentrification of the harbor area.

As a side note, a lot of the characters in the series are drug dealers from the projects, so be warned that I might be subconsciously absorbing urban vernacular. If I start to say things like, "Dawg, all in the game yo, all in the game...." you should feel free to call me a chigga (the amusing slang term for the day; the meaning should be obvious if you're familiar with wigga).


Bicycle of Theseus: Continued

[Note: more bicycle geekery. Previous geekery here.]

I just finished replacing the last of the drivetrain components on my bike: after replacing the freewheel and chain, there was still a grinding/clicking noise while pedaling hard. I have never replaced the chainrings (front gears at the crank) over the life of this cycle, and looking closer, they were pretty "sharkfinned" (i.e., teeth with an assymetric shape, due to directional wear). I've had problems that are symptomatic of chainring wear: when standing to climb a hill, the chain has slipped, resulting in a violent kneefirst drop into the handlebars and a metal-rending sound.

As a side note, these are the original chainrings: Shimano Biopace--a kinda neat elliptical chainring technology that is unfortunately no longer available.

I completed the replacement and went out for a test spin: the bike feels great now; I'm very happy. The ride is extremely quiet (you can hear the tires running against the ground, instead of [crunch] [tic] [crunch] [tic] [crunch] [tic], and it feels like power is being transmitted more efficiently. So if any of you have been experiencing high mileage bicycle problems along these lines, I'd suggest replacing various parts of your drivetrain (probably chain, freewheel, and chainrings, in that order, which is also cost order).

Anyway, my original chainrings were steel, and I thought I might be able to get a set of replacements that were the same. I really didn't need anything fancy--just something that didn't crunch, tick, and skip all the time. However, I went to the bike store, and everything they had available (even by special order) was aluminum. I ended up buying $120 CAD of chainrings (~$30-45 per ring), by Blackspire (hey... made in Canada, eh?--out of BC). It was a special order, being an 'economy chainring'--I just wanted to get my bicycle back up and running correctly, not add performance parts.

First, it surprised me that they were this expensive--I got a freewheel for $60, and it seemed like there was more engineering in that, as opposed to flat machined metal plate stock.

But it also got me curious why steel chainrings were not available: speaking as a former material scientist, it seems like this would be a good application for a very strong, hard/wear resistant material, especially for non-weight-obsessed, non-performance cyclists like me. I started Googling ("chainring steel aluminum difference"), and came up with some links. A review of Surly Stainless Steel Chainrings provided good background:

These days, most chainrings are cut from some sort of aluminum alloy. It's a pretty good material choice, combining low cost and light weight, and it offers decent service life provided that you clean your chain regularly and replace it as it wears.

Those last points are key. Aluminum is a relatively soft metal. If neglected, aluminum rings can 'pit' and 'shark fin', thus compromising the chain interface.


Steel is the material of choice for smaller rings or cogs with lower levels of chainwrap, resulting in a workload that is spread across fewer teeth, and thus increased friction and wear. It has been estimated that, in such applications, the lifespan of a steel part can be as much as five times longer than that of an aluminum equivalent!

A comment in parentheses, "We won't even talk about the non-stainless cheapo stamped chainrings on the inexpensive bikes you see at big box retailers. Apples and oranges, indeed." So that makes sense--my factory chainrings were steel, and I can imagine that they were pretty low cost.

A board discussion on aluminum, steel, and titanium chainrings raised a point of view similar to mine: I'm not looking for the lightest weight components. It's nonsense to pay premiums for lightweight materials when you're going to load up a touring bike with 40+ lbs of gear (clothes, camping & cooking, etc...). I'd be willing to use steel chainrings if they were made properly and compatible with the ultegra triple crankset that I already have. They ended up concluding that not many steel chainrings were available, and the jury was out on whether titanium chainrings were worth it. Overall, they concluded that you should clean and lubricate your chain regularly, and just suck it up and replace the drive components as they wear out.

I wonder if the aluminum chainring-steel chain combination might be a good thing, though, due to tribology (i.e., the field of friction/lubrication/wear)--I remember hearing (during my undergrad days) that a good wear combination is a softer and harder material (as opposed to two equally hard materials). If I remember correctly, two equally hard materials "grind" the grit between them, causing increased wear. In contrast, a hard/soft combination makes the latter conform to the former, and 'traps' the grit by pushing it into the softer material. Any of you hard-core mech E types want to confirm/debunk this line of reasoning?


Bay Area Visit: Concluded

Quite belatedly, the tail end of my Bay Area visit! With more bullets! And soluble fiber! (actually, it's true... U-Boat and Christy introduced me to psyllium husk during my visit... )

  • Brunch at Isla de la Tortuga: What can I say? Brunch, Teps, lots of fresh produce, southern-style grits with shrimp, tomato pie, and U-Boat seeing what he could feed into the juicer. Good times, awesome hosts, wonderful guests. We ended up kicking out the last of the people around 7 PM.

  • Dinner at Lucky and Karthiga's: at brunch, they invited me, Christy, and U-Boat over for dinner. It was very nice to catch up with them and Jayshan; dinner was delicious Sri Lankan food, and Karthiga, coming from Australia, made pavlova (a meringue-based dessert).

  • Wandering Golden Gate National Recreation Area (the beaches on the west side of the peninsula) with Dan: we rode the N Judah MUNI all the way out to Ocean Beach. It amazed me that there was that big of a stretch of park still within San Francisco proper. I guess it is the ocean side, so it's the part that would not have been made into a harbor, and stayed a beach.

    Photo above is Cliff House (the modern addition). It is actually the third one built on that site; the first two burned down. Speaking of burning down, there are some wonderful ruins down by the water of Sutro Baths, a public bath house that burned down during demolition in 1966. This site has a load of historical pictures, including before and after it [was] burned down. A great quote from that website:

    Beyond the striking location and colorful history, it's especially remarkable for such a place to exist in a country where few structures past their best days survive.

    It's allowed to be harrowing and wild in a time and place where shampoos carry warnings and most interesting things are cordoned off for your protection. Here's the playground for those who love crumbling stone clubhouses, jutting pipe monkeybars, stairways that lead you off cliffs and shifting sandboxes that get swallowed by surf.

    I guess it's not in the league of Roman ruins and remains of European castles, but it was still pretty cool to wander around in.

  • Ferry Building: I spent that afternoon with Perlick and Christy, and we wandered over to the Ferry Building--it had a major renovation completed in 2003, and is now a bunch of (relatively yuppie-ish) food and retail shops. I believe that Jamie S.'s wife's cheeses are sold in the shop there.

    We started walking along the Embarcadero to CalTrain, so I could get down to South Bay for the evening. With about 10 minutes left, I asked Perlick, "So, we're almost there, right?" Actually, we were only about halfway. Jogging to make the train with my pack really sucked... a good reminder that my cardiovascular health needs serious improvement. Made the train with moments to spare, though.

  • Monterey Bay Aquarium: the next day, Jen, Max, Delaney and I drove down to the aquarium. It's a great aquarium--got to see penguin feedings, the scuba diver in the kelp tank, the shark and jellyfish displays, the cannery display (the area was originally Cannery Row.. as in John Steinbeck) and the tide pools. I really have to say that MAx and Delaney are amazingly smart and well-behaved kids, after observing the others around me. Max seems like his brain is in total information-sponge mode.. it was pretty neat to watch.

    It is work for me to get my head into kid-interaction-mode... I guess I spend so much of my time being an inhibited stuffy grown-up that it doesn't come naturally. But I heard that Max really enjoyed the company of his uncle Bats, so that made me happy.

  • I gave my conference paper in Monterey... but that's another post (see the f'locked LJ post). But the upshot was that I ended up getting back up to SF by lunchtime, so I got to spend an entire extra afternoon/evening hanging out with folks!--[Bay Area Visit: Extra Bonus Round!].

    Incidentally, I found it oddly comforting to get around the Bay Area on the various transit systems (CalTrain, BART), given the familiarity I've developed. I actually get a goofy smile on my face when I hear the robovoice announce "PITTSBURGH/BAY POINT TRAIN APPROACHING 9 CAR TRAIN."

  • Paramecium Woman was free for a late lunch, so we met at the Mission & 16th BART stop. It has, um, urban charm, I guess... including public urination! As I got to street level, I heard this dripping water sound, and rounded the corner to see a guy not-all-that surreptitiously letting go next to the trash bin.

    Anyway, Xris and I ate at Burger Joint on Valencia, which is one of the "Top 10 Burgers in San Francisco"--their hot dogs and burgers are Niman Ranch meat. Definitely tasty... and just the thing after consuming breakfast while driving.

  • Squid Labs was holding a going-away party for one of their interns, so I got to glom on to the boat ride they were throwing for him. We motored out (in a very small, seemingly overloaded sailboat) from the Emeryville piers, and dropped anchor in the Bay to hang out, eat, drink, and enjoy the view of the Bay Bridge, Berkeley, and San Francisco. Wow... what a way to end the trip.

It was quite flattering and fun that many of the Bay Area folks actively tried to recruit me during my visit. Yeah, you know who you are. And coming home to KW was a pretty convincing argument in itself, looking at the supermarket produce, experiencing the humidity, and smelling the pig farms in the west. But I think I need to keep the Bay Area as the special place that I go to--avoiding the whole 'familiarity breeds contempt' aspect, so that it retains its place in my mind. At least that's what I'll keep telling myself as I deal with the snow this winter. Heh.

Online Dating Site Bitterness

I don't know how many of you already know this, but JMD and Jen set up a profile for me on the online dating site greatboyfriends.com, which is based on a rather clever idea:

Who doesn’t know a great guy (or girl) who is shockingly, still single? Maybe it’s your best friend, your not-for-me ex, your adorable brother -- you get it. Post them here and “set them up” with an equally cool, preapproved date; i.e., no one makes it onto our A list unless a true friend like you signs ’em up.

(If you're curious, try searching for 'Canadabat')

I thought it was very kind of them to put up a post for me. Of course, I have done nothing with this site, nor has anything come up. But I did get one of the site's promotional emails today:

Weddings: A Great Place to Find Love

We bet you have one more wedding to attend this summer for a best friend, sibling, cousin, coworker, or even an ex. Don't dread it -- weddings are beautiful events where two things are guaranteed: 1) some of the guests will be unknown to you; and 2) some of those unknown guests will be single (and cute!). So get primed to party, and put plenty of thought into the impression you make.

This sent waves of bitterness coursing through my body. I guess the thing that set me off is the perky optimism of this message. I did some counting, and I believe that I have been to 31 weddings (at least) as an adult, including seven as a member of the wedding party. This, of course, increases my pathos on their scale--I don't remember having one encounter at any of these weddings that made me think, "Yeah, this could possibly go somewhere; I should try to get her contact info."

Then again, that's not terribly different from most social events I go to. Of course, it is mostly a manifestation of my general social awkwardness, especially around new people. I know one couple that met at a wedding (U5 and Rebecca), and know about at least one or two other hook-ups; I'm not trying to dismiss the concept here.

More importantly, the major problem is that I usually see weddings as events to reconnect with old friends, rather than to meet new ones. As a result, my interactions all end up relatively inwards-looking and 'closed-circle' based. Alternately, there is protection by staying within the herd, and I'm sure the hunters can find more juicy targets than me (although, however, I do fall into the 'old and slow' category, which is usually the favorite of predators).

Historic Building Geekery: San Francisco Edition

On a Bay Area trip back in April of 2005, I noticed an interesting renovation job being done near Union Square, just across from the former offices of SFIS (San Francisco Industrial Software, founded by a Tep, and previous employer of Lucky, Leper, and Perlick).

Cool, eh? Basically, the entire facade of the building was being temporarily supported by this external steel frame, and they were rebuilding it from the inside, new foundation and all. In case you don't believe that they emptied out the guts of the building, see this photo:

The exterior shoring system was pretty cool--big-ass steel tube columns, with bolted-moment connections which are actually machined dovetails inside--see the ConXtech website for details.

So on this trip, while visiting SF with Dan B., I had to ask him to indulge me and let me go back to that building. It is now occupied by "ultra-trendy fashion retailer H&M, or Hennes & Mauritz AB, also known as the Ikea of clothing stores."

A rendering that shows the whole building, with additions, here. Of course, this got me Googling for articles on the renovation; the Elevated Shops was a 1904 or 1907 building that is now retail shops (2 floors) and residential (4 floors), according to the architect's website. I'm not sure how much was lost by gutting the entire interior--the facade is surprisingly plain on the lower floors, and is detailed only near the parapet. But I have to imagine that it was much more sane (and cost-effective) to build an entirely new building inside, with modern structure (especially seismic compliant) and mechanical systems. Hey--it was better than demo'ing the thing, right?

Back Home

Just got home this evening from my travels (the YYZ-DEN-BOS-SFO itinerary).

The annoyances travelling today: first of all, DFW is not "on the way" from San Francisco to Toronto. Just in case that wasn't obvious. However, United/Air Canada seems to find this the right route to send me on.

Second, my SFO->DFW was delayed by 35 minutes or so. Fortunately, my connecting flight was delayed, so I made the connection--barely. They were announcing my name and getting ready to shut the doors when I rushed up from the tramway. Fortunately, I didn't have to spend a night in Dallas. However, my baggage did not rush across the airport nearly as quickly, and made it to the gate too late. Fortunately, this is the end of my trip, so I am in no rush to be reunited with my dirty laundry.

Anyway, this three-week trip was a total blast: thanks so much to everyone who shared their hospitality and hung out in some of my favorite places. I have many updates to post, but I think I need sleep first.


Continued Bay Area Visit

Yay! Another bullet-point based post! Continued fun in the Bay Area.
  • Friday night: dinner with Jen, Schmooz, Max, Delaney, Perlick, and Bradley in Mountain View, immediately followed by liquid nitrogen ice cream at Bradley's place. Many flavors and much ice cream was consumed--a very fun time. Somebody did bring a durian fruit, but despite my claims at being an omnivore, I did not attempt it on this occasion. Yeah, I know, friggin' weak.

  • Friday night: Survival Research Labs San Jose show, "Ghostly Scenes of Infernal Desecration," with U-Boat, Christy, and Perlick. Robotic machines shooting fire and projectiles and destroying each other, along with wailing jet engines and a Tesla coil shooting lightning all around. A definite good time, although I had to hang off the side of the bleachers in order to see anything. See somebody else's blog post about the event, which included a bunch of good photos. Incidentally, I was not generally worried about the projectiles and gouts of flame, but when the vehicles with gas cylinders started to get zapped by the Tesla coil, that genuinely started to worry me. Aren't there truck bombs in Iraq made of explosives and acetylene gas cylinders or something? Hrm...

  • Saturday morning: Oakland Farmer's Market with Christy, which included a flat of gorgeous-looking heirloom tomatoes. Man... California really does have the produce thing going on. Christy is currently oven-roasting tomatoes... they smell awesome.

  • Saturday Afternoon: The Bay Area Power Picnic, organized by Perlick. Included a strong showing of kids, including Spider and Eli's Kayla, Jen and Schmooz's Max and Delaney, and Crack and Joslyn's Lorelei.

    It included more liquid nitrogen ice cream; the last of the LN2 was diposed of via eiting. A good time for all.

Brunch at U-Boat and Christy's tomorrow morning. Woo hoo!


More Travel Misery

So, you know about the big story this week, the terrorism threat from liquid-based explosives and the security impacts? Well, that was happening the day I flew to San Francisco. Man... my travel karma must be really low or something--see previous stories of driving through upstate New York during floods and angering the travel gods on a cross-country flight.

Anyway, checkin was fine, but the security lines were ridiculous. I got to the airport an hour early, and had to be expedited out of line in order to make it to the gate.... after my actual departure time. However, they delayed the flight, because they realized that 12 people had checked in but not arrived at the gate yet.

The security arrangements were less than ideal: they confiscated liquid containers at the security checkpoint. Some folks were saying, "Man, the cleaning crew is going to have a great time tonight--there's a lot of expensive wine and hand cream in that bin..." If you bought water after the security checkpoint, it was forbidden to bring it on board the plane. However, they did not actually implement any security check during boarding--so we're relying on terrorists to be on the honor system here?

But I'm in the Bay Area now! Woohoo! I hung out with the lovely and brilliant Dr. O (i.e., Paramecium Woman) on the first day. I met her at the Civic Station BART stop--where all the homeless and mentally ill people hang out. Hey--at least I fit in there, carrying three weeks' worth of clothing on my back. I told her to meet me by the fountain, not realizing that it is better known as the public urinal for the local population.

We had dinner at a Korean place, and browsed at a very nice used bookstore (Green Apple Books).

Anyway, Friday was Bradley's liquid nitrogen ice cream party last night, followed by the Survival Research Labs show in San Jose. Enjoying U-Boat and Christy's hospitality. Power picnic today!


Technology Mismatch Problems

On this trip, I've gotten bitten on the ass by the fact that I am a geek, and all my friends and associates are geeks. The reason is that I need to connect to the datalogger I have in Chicago (the one that I went to maintain last month) via modem for remote downloads and program modifications. Yeah, modem, like dialup, like, "EEEEEEEEEEE ROOOOOOOOOO GRANGR GRANGR GRANGR GRANGR GRANGR GRANGR"--that ancient technology.
  • At home, I have VoIP and a cell phone.
  • My office is an electronic switching system, plus I can't dial long distance.

  • JMD only has a cell phone, no land line.
  • Bird and Jen are also VoIP and cell phone.
"Copper wire? Telephone? What's that?"

It just annoys me that I'm going to need to go somewhere to connect to the datalogger. Kinda defeats that whole having-a-telephone-in-every-house idea, don't it?


Cabinetry and Birthdays

Bird and Jen have been doing a gut-renovation of the kitchen in their Mando (mansion subdivided into condominiums = Mando) (as in, "I'm Mando Calrissian, the administrator of this Tibanna gas mining operation.") Last time I was in town, I helped reframe the kitchen floor, and install oak strip flooring. This trip, I got to hang kitchen cabinets--to me, that's a fun way to spend a day.

Jen photodocumented the work on her flickr site (latest photos at the bottom); we ran the upper cabinets around the kitchen, which is a job that would be really painful to do solo. I've hung my fair share of kitchen cabinets, but it always takes a bit of refocusing to get the mechanics of shimming/levelling/plumbing cabinets in all three axes, plus alignment relative to each other. I'm pretty happy with how the job came out.

On another note, Jen is a student at UNH (in the nutrition program); she made honor roll last semester. To celebrate, I decided a spoof of the "honor student" bumper stickers was in order. We printed out the sticker below on magnetic backing, for installation on Bird's car:

[Warning: humor in questionable taste follows.]

The weekend wrapped up with a coffee hour at JMD's place. We got to meet Crusher and Cat's baby, Maeve; a very fun time. Many thanks to everyone for coming over--it was great to see you. We were celebrating my (and U5's) birthdays. Incidentally, I'm feeling exceptionally old: with this birthday, women half my age are now legal in all U.S. states.

No, I didn't say that was a good thing. Ick ick ick.

Boston Harbor Islands

One wonderful aspect of playing hookey in Boston is that I get to do Boston Things that I never had the time or inclination for before. For instance, I have probably had as many trips to the MFA since going up to Canada as during the previous years living in Boston. During this visit, JMD suggested a trip to the Harbor Islands; I chose a Boston Light tower tour on Little Brewster Island (one of the outer islands).

The ferry leaves from Fan Pier--if you have not walked around there since they renovated, there are a bunch of displays that deal with the history of Boston Harbor and the shipping industry. One cool surprise is that the name of Fan Pier comes from the (now removed) railroad tracks which used to spread in a fan-like arc, for loading/unloading connections to ships. The boat ride out was about 45 minutes, and it passed Spectacle Island (formerly a horse-rendering factory, then a garbage landfill, then covered up with the dirt from the Ted Williams tunnel, and now a park), Deer Island (sewage treatment plant--the big "eggs" that you see when you land at Logan), a creepy-looking mental health/rehab facility, and various harbor forts and World War II-era bunkers. One surprising thing is that the harbor bottom is not very deep--we were reading soundings of about 40 feet while we were most of the way out; the harbor islands are glacial drumlin hills that were flooded by sea level rise.

The lighthouse is on a rock outcropping; there is enough room for a boathouse, a lighthouse keeper's house, and other ancillary buildings. Boston Light is the only non-automated (i.e., manned) lighthouse in the US; the lighthouse keeper (Mary) led the tour dressed in full-on Laura Ingalls bonnet and dress. She was incredibly nice, but I wonder if you have to be a little bit crazy to be a lighthouse keeper. We also got to meet Sam, the lighthouse black Lab.

So part of the tour is climbing the tower. You might remember that I don't like heights, but I figured it's necessary to push myself whenever possible. The spiral staircase up (inside the tower) was fine; there were good handholds, and I could just keep staring horizontally at the brick walls. The ladder up to the machinery room was mostly ok as well--it's a windowless space. But heading up into the glassed-in light chamber was pushing it. I managed to enjoy the view... a little... while holding on to the glass mullions.

[Note: photo by JMD, not me.]

We wrapped up the day with lunch at Brehznev's, and an afternoon nap. Well, if it is any consolation to those of you stuck at an office, I'm going to spend most of today working on a PowerPoint presentation for a conference (albeit in an airy living room).


Rethinking that Green Line Idea

I mentioned in a previous blog post the idea of finding a place to live in the Boston area near the future Green Line Extension in Somerville. However, my Green Line experience on Friday made me reconsider the idea.

I am staying at JMD's in Arlington, and wanted to catch a train out of North Station to head up to Bird and Jen's. Fortunately, there's a bus (#80) that goes right from the corner near her house to Lechmere Station. The bus worked out fine--on time, and not crowded. At Lechmere, as I was standing in line to buy a Charlie Ticket (grr... they don't take tokens anymore there), I saw a bunch of teenagers run through the new electronic turnstiles, and a blaring alarm sounded (swell: new technology=less effective). After getting through the turnstiles myself, I saw the conductors confronting the teenagers, having a back and forth to get them off the train. They ended up calling the cops ("I hope you don't have any warrants out, 'cause they're on the way"), and it seems like the teenagers refused to get off, because we were stuck waiting there for about 10 or 15 minutes. Did I mention that I was trying to catch a train? Or that the car was completely packed the entire trip? Grr.

I did manage to make the sprint from the Green Line at North Station to my commuter rail train, but it was pretty annoying. So overall, I'm wondering whether I might try to stay within a radius of the Red Line instead.


Another Summer Camp

The main reason for my current leg in Boston is my former company's annual symposium/meeting/party--a.k.a. "Summer Camp." It is both a great time to see colleagues from around the country, learn a few new things, and, well, drink beer and eat good food with other folks in this field. I posted last year about some of the wonderful excesses of the event.

A highlight of camp is the food--one of my industry colleagues enjoys cooking for large numbers of people, so he is "Summer Camp Executive Chef" for that week. One ridiculously extravagant but cool thing this year was the new kitchen: to feed 300 people, they turned the first floor of the rear barn into a commercial kitchen, complete with two six-burner commercial stoves, four refrigerators, two pot wash sinks (complete with overhead sprayers), and rows and rows of stainless steel tables [cute kitchen staff women not included].

It was fun to work in there--I end up volunteering to do knife sharpening and vegetable prep work almost every year. However, with the weather outside over 90 F and the heat from cooking, it was roasting hot in the kitchen. Well, next year, we'll need to remember to bump up the size of the air conditioner back there.