Another Ass-Kicker Week

All of this week was spent out in the field for work--a definite ass kicker (as these trips often turn out). Apologies if I haven't kept up with everyone's LJs--net access was only at the site during work hours.

Anyway, this trip was to do a field installation in Charlotte--like the type of work I've written about previously in Florida and Georgia. It was a bit last-minute--a week before the trip, they realized, "Huh... I think we need more guys on this job. Hey, K., how much would it cost to fly down to CLT on a week's notice?" Fortunately, I wasn't getting slammed in my work, and I was glad to get out of the office and use my toolkit for a little while.

On the flight down, I realized, "Man.. they have advertising everywhere nowadays!" USAirways, in case you were wondering; it's from this company. And I thought that CNN Airport News was a captive audience situation.

The work was basically pretty good--I like the crew that comes together on these jobs; they're competent, hardworking, and fun to hang out with. Another several hundred sensor channel job--I did a lot of work on the data logger side.

FYI, I'm not as tall as chief grad student--I'm standing on a ledge here.

The job went slower than expected--we originally planned to leave on Wednesday evening; instead, we shifted our flights back to Friday morning. But we got to spend the evenings out on the town. Charlotte is an interesting city--we got to stay in the city center (uptown)--it has experienced a recent revitalization, with a concentrated amount of condominium development in what seems to be formerly empty space. Plenty of interesting restaurants and night life. However, it was interesting to note how quickly it went from upscale new development to poorer sections, when driving out of town. For instance, the jobsite was out in industrial warehouse land... reports of period breakins; security cameras and alarms all over the grounds; police helicopters spending a lot of time over the adjacent neighborhood. I told my colleagues, "Well, I guess we're in luck if any of us were looking to score an eightball tonight."

One highlight was having to change a flat tire on the way back from the jobsite--first time I've ever done one on an SUV. It was especially annoying, because the spare was attached to the underside of the car--you need to drop it by cranking it down on an attached winch. I can see why it it makes sense to mount a spare on a bracket on the back door/hatch (as well as for ballistic protection).

Also, the client bought us lunch from a nearby soul food cafe--awesome fried chicken and collard greens. They had chitlins on the menu--I've always wanted to try them. If you know anything about the slaughtering and cleaning process, it seems like a big part of it is to keep the GI tract isolated and closed off, to prevent cross-contamination of the meat. But instead, chitlins are the large intestine--the part that was in contact with the E. coli-rifficness inside. You might ask, "And you want to eat them, knowing this?" Well, eating only a fraction of the muscle mass of an animal seems like a bit of a waste... and at least trying these various forms of offal seem important to do at least once. However, my attempt was foiled by the fact that they were out that day.

Anway, I got back on Friday afternoon, and have been having a nice couple of days of decompression & recovery--A & Guy came over for dinner, JMD and I watched Bride and Prejudice (Jane Austen a la Bollywood, via the director of Bend it Like Beckham, and we also hiked around Menotomy Rocks.


Primary Sources

I'm a huge fan of The Atlantic, and one of their columns is called "Primary Sources"--a brief summary of a paper available on the web. One of them this month (“Public Knowledge of Current Affairs Little Changed by News and Information Revolutions,” Pew Research Center) was so interesting for discussions (and reinforced enough of my beliefs) that I felt a need to reproduce it here. My moral argument for posting copyrighted material is that I'm hoping more of my readers might become Atlantic readers.

Although we live in the information age, a new Pew Research Center study suggests that the American public is no better informed than it was before round-the-clock cable news and the Internet invaded our homes. After surveying more than 1,500 Americans to find out where they get their information and how much they know about current affairs, researchers concluded that Americans “are about as aware of major news events” as they have been for the last two decades.

More people today know that the chief justice of the Supreme Court is conservative than did in 1989, for instance, but fewer know that the United States has a trade deficit. Half the country can identify Nancy Pelosi as the speaker of the House, whereas in 1989 just 14 percent could correctly identify Tom Foley as the speaker; on the other hand, Americans today have more trouble identifying the U.S. vice president and the Russian president than they did in the era of Dan Quayle and Boris Yeltsin.

The most knowledgeable Americans were those who got their news from the Web sites of major papers and those who watched programs like The Colbert Report or The Daily Show; they correctly answered 54 percent of the questions about current affairs, while regular viewers of local TV news and network morning shows got only about 35 percent right.

The survey found that there isn’t necessarily a trade-off between hard-news knowledge and pop-culture savvy: Respondents who demonstrated a “high” knowledge of politics and world events were also adept at identifying celebrities such as Beyoncé Knowles. And while it’s hard to know which sources provide the best information, the report notes that well-informed people gather their news from an average of 7.0 sources—more than the average of 4.6.

First of all: AAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHH! These people are allowed to vote?! To help decide the system of government of this country? AAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHH! (I'm noting the 3000 deaths item--I pop onto The Iraq Coalition Casualty Site every few days, and the Sunni-Shia item.) Incidentally, this is part of my reluctance to participate in elections in general--an ignorant vote counts as much as a well-informed one. Note that I said reluctance, not refusal--here's my absentee ballot from 2004. I figure I'm better off donating money to causes that I like, so they can run ads to help influence the weak-minded masses. That, and the fact that jury duty lists seem to be linked to voter registration lists.

Second: go Daily Show!--I realize that many people in my generational cohort have this as their primary news source; it's good to see that it's linked to above-average awareness. I seldom watch it myself, though.

Third: just another confirmation that local news is as useless as I've always thought it is. I think I moved beyond the local TV news around early high school or so... nowadays, it just fills me with pain to be sitting in front of a TV while it is on. One of the classic lines is that local TV news is 'something that you can stand in front of.' To wit--"I'm standing here in front of the hospital where they are curently treating the victims of tonight's warehouse fire..." "I'm standing in front of the police station where they are questioning the suspects in..." The information density is just so mind-bendingly low in local TV news.

Fourth: I'll admit that I'm somewhat behind the curve on pop-culture news (e.g., how many American Idol contestants could I identify?), but this report is nice to hear that it's not a case of one set of news or the other. The counterexample, of course, would be my sister ("K., did you know that Harley-Davidson is a brand of motorcycle? I just read about it recently in a legal brief!")

Finally: Average of 7.0 sources? Yow. I don't think I'm anywhere near that--New York Times online, NPR, Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe once in a while. Does occasional exposure to CNN Captive Audience Airport Network count?


Weekend Update

A weekend, actually at home? Without a pressing deadline? What a bizzare notion! It revolved around social things (specifically two concerts), power tools, and food (um, one at a time--not combined). The Boston Early Music Festival on Friday at 11 PM--Judy and I saw Ensemble Clément Janequin--male voices plus lute. If you check out the picture in the link, I have to say that the director has an utterly amazing and beautiful countertenor voice, but some of the more regrettable hair I've seen in a while (a bit like Ed's pocket description of Kronos Quartet: awesome music, bad clothing). On Saturday, Rebecca and I went to see the True Colors 2007 Tour (warning, music-enabled website). It warrants its own blog post, but in brief: Cyndi Lauper, Erasure, Debbie Harry, The Dresden Dolls, Rufus Wainwright, all MC'd by Margaret Cho. Probably more hip of a concert than I actually should be going to. As JMD put it: "Bats, no wonder you have a problem hooking up--you're spending Saturday night going to a gay/bi/lesbian/transgender benefit concert with a married woman!" Hmmm... point taken...

Second item--power tools! I've been itching to finish one final item in my current place: a kitchen cabinet upgrade. Yes, I know that you're all incredibly interested in kitchen cabinetry, but I inflicted these posts on you from Canada, and apparently, you're still reading. This is the "before" picture; it is the cabinet that stores most of the pots, pans, and casserole dishes:

I installed a rolling drawer from from IKEA (in case you're curious, a RATIONELL Deep fully-extending drawer)--I needed to build a front for the drawer (attaching mounting brackets, drilling two holes)--for $40, it was a perfect solution to the problem, and saved me a lot of effort of building an entire rolling tray. The upper shelf could be replaced with a full-depth shelf (melamine, with a maple 1x2 biscuit joined to the front. Yay jargon!)

As for food--JMD has had a hankering for Carribean food since getting back from vacation; I found a Boston Globe article talking about local roti restaurants. We went to Singh's in Dorchester; it was pretty good. The problem seems to be that a lot of those will be difficult to get to by mass transit--I guess the Roxbury Crossing one isn't that bad.

Finally, after having a recent bicycle trailer wheels-coming-off failure, I needed to do some repairs. The 2x4 with lag bolts was replaced with two pieces of 1" EMT conduit, and 7/16" threaded rods holding the whole thing together.

Sorry, Omri, no instructable yet.

I managed to do it without setting the house (or my clothing, or myself) on fire--angle grinder with metal cutting wheel >>> hacksaw (i.e., banging the rocks together). Just don't mind the burnt plastic smell wafting around.

"Hey, drywall's fireproof--no worries!"


Boston Local Postcard Supply

All of you probably know about my obsessive-compulsive postcard habit--in the back of my mind, part of it is driven by the thought: "Well, if the next flight I get on augers into a cornfield in Iowa, here's a small physical sign of my existence. To quote Harlan Ellison's suggested epitaph--"For a brief time, I was here; and, for a brief time, I mattered."

Anyway, I previously posted about how excited I was to find a supply of not-the-standard-shots NYC postcards (from Konstantino Hatzisarros/Psaris Productions). I was browsing in Porter Square Books after work, and came across some neat Boston postcards, made by Kittiwake Card Company. You can check out their selection of here--they have things like the Boston Fish Pier, Government Center (yeah, it's ugly, but as a result, you seldom see postcards of it), Davis Square, and even the Fung Wah Bus!

So, if any of you have been infected with my 'send postcards from everywhere' meme, and you're visiting Boston, I insist that you must find these postcards and give these guys your business. You can check out the list of sellers (Cambridge & Somerville).

Anyway, one of their postcards is the Somerville Round House (Robinson House from 1856, in Spring Hill--more information here). Maybe my wicked smaht readers who are current/former Somerville residents know all about it, but I'd never heard of it before. I got the address, and biked up there after work today.

What a neat house--lots of very nice detailing, but it's definitely been through a seriously long rough patch. The paint is pretty much blown off all the clapboards, and most of the windows still seem to be sealed up. But there's a contractor's sign on the front, and a few roll-offs in the back yard, so it seems like it's being worked on.

Aha--the Davis Square LJ community has information on the renovation that is going on.


Dude, You Need a Laptop...

This post is primarily in response to a discussion on a mailing list that I am on, talking about what precautions should be taken before taking a hard drive on a cross-country drive--e.g., whether you need to actively park the heads or anything like that. In regards to that last sub-topic, one commentator replied:

This is done with springs, magnets, airflow, or magic (using the spindle motor as a generator to write out buffers and park the heads) today; the controller nor OS have been involved in this for ages.

Anyway, I rebuilt an office iTunes headless server out of spare parts, so that I can have my entire music collection at the office; I transported it via homemade bicycle trailer:

Sorry, Christy, no instructable yet. As you can see in the picture below, we have some wheels-coming-off problems. Repair is currently in progress.

I tried to provide a bit of protection with some pieces of foam and bubble wrap, but no major precautions beyond that. There were a few moments on the ride of [WHAM!]--"Huh... wonder if it's gonna work after that?"--[WHAM!]--"Dammit!"

The computer made the bumpy ride down Mass Ave (from Arlington Center to Porter Square) without a problem; I'm currently playing music off it now.


Surrogate Home Ownership

I spent this past weekend hanging out at Bird & Jen's place up in New Hampshire. My original plan was to help Bird work on their master bathroom remodel--I brought up my bucket o' plumbing tools. However, just as we were setting up, Bird noticed some water dripping into the basement from the other side of the house. Uh oh.

We started disassembling the corner of the closet, where we saw the leak.

Jen photodocumented what ensued--after disassembling the closet wall, putting a recip saw into action, and engaging in some building proctology (as shown below), we found out that a cast iron drain pipe had cracked along most of its length, and was leaking down the wall into the basement. Yuckness.

At that point, we decided to clean up and hand off the rest of the job to a plumber--I have worked with cast iron hub & spigot pipe before, and it's not a fun job. In case you're curious, old cast iron drain pipe is put together using oakum (tarred/oiled hemp or jute fiber) to pack the joint, and then pouring molten lead to seal it (like this example). At horizontal joints, a collar was required to funnel the lead into the opening. Yeah, yikes.

Incidentally, I wanted to point out that we were dealing with a cracked pipe, not a crack pipe. While formulating an art-geek joke in my head, I did a Google search on the phrase, and found that somebody else had already made it, complete with illustration: "Ceci n'est pas une crack pipe." Damn you internets!!! Damn yooooouuuu!!!

Afterwards, we went to the local Home Depot that is being closed and moved to larger quarters (about 800 feet down the road). They are trying to sell all their merchandise before this move--therefore a 10-30% clearance sale. This seemed a bit counterproductive to me--they could have just run relays of pallet jacks down the street to move the store's merchandise, but Bird's understanding is that they wanted to start their new store with all-fresh merchandise. After all, you don't want any wallpaper that's past its expiration date.

I went in with great anticipation--here's my chance to buy some big ticket items and stock up on assorted useful sundries! However, to be honest, it was a bit disappointing to realize that there are fewer and fewer tools I want or need nowadays. Walking up and down the tool section, I reacted:

"Got one."
"Got one."
"In storage in New York."
"Got a crappy one that works well enough."
"Don't need one."
"Got one."
"Might need it eventually, but not worth buying yet."
"Would be fun to have one, but not sure if I'll use it."
"Got one."
"Can get a better deal on Amazon.com"
"Got one."

I ended up just buying a 4 lb sledge and some other sundry items.

Overall, back to the title of this post: I sometimes wonder if my attitude towards home ownership might echo my attitude towards children--fun enough to borrow once in a while, but doing it full time probably isn't for me. After all, I have too much fun wandering into various house projects at friends' places--if I had my own house to deal with, I probably would never have any free time available again.


Booze Geekery (St. George Single Malt)

A few months ago, I chanced upon a New York Times article talking about a single malt whiskey made in the US:

Single malt? One assumes a Scotch whiskey with a tongue-twisting name, or a similar spirit from Ireland. But now, for the first time, there is an American single malt.

The newcomer is St. George Single Malt, made in Alameda, Calif., by St. George Spirits, a company known for its eaux de vie. This single malt is not your smoky, honeyed, amber Highlands dram, but a lighter quaff, closer perhaps to Irish and with a personality all its own.

It sounded interesting. So on my trip down to New York, I stopped to pick some up at Acker Merrall & Condit on the upper West side--founded in 1820; pretty neat. Incidentally, this is their selection of single malts--seems like I'll be coming back here sooner or later...

Further reading on the web (such as this SF Chronicle article) revealed that St. George is distilled at the old Alameda Naval Air Station--hey, do you Squid Labbers run into these folks? I think their tasting room is on my list of places to visit the next time I'm in the Bay Area.

Their website talked a bit more about their brewing and distilling process:

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. Whiskey starts as beer. I know that it sounds a little weird, but it’s true. So, bearing this in mind, it’s not that big a leap of logic to say that if you distill a more interesting and complex beer, you’ll end up with a more interesting and complex whiskey.

Our whiskey starts as a smoky brown ale. Heavily roasted barley provides a mixture of dried cocoa and hazelnut in the aroma, while a measure of the barley has been smoked over alder and beech for added complexity.

Interesting--a similar concept to Germain-Robin Cognac-style brandy (which I'm a big fan of). Cognac got its start because the white grapes of the region make a wine that is relatively thin and uninteresting. Solution: distill it, and make moonshine out of it! (okay, so it's much more classy when the French do it). In contrast, Germain-Robin uses California varietals with more character--Pinot Noirs, Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel... I guess this approach shouldn't be surprising, given that these two companies are interrelated.

Okay, enough writing... time for some drinking... um, tasting, of course.

The initial nose is much different than what I was expecting for a whiskey--fruity, somewhat sweet smelling; almost notes of a dessert wine (like a muscat). The flavor doesn't have quite the same fruitiness as the nose, but it's still very enjoyable. I needed to add a dab of water--86 proof; I think it lets the flavors come out from under the anesthetize-your-tongue-with-43%-alcohol.

This Malt Advocate review gives a perspective that I think I agree with: As a whiskey, it shows great potential but still needs more time to realize this potential. But in many respects it tastes more like some exotic liqueur. From this perspective, it seems more comfortable with its youth.

Man... we have to throw a Scotchtoberfest here sometime; this one seems worth sharing.


Back in NYC

I just wrapped up a long weekend trip to New York. The ostensible reason was to pick up the vitals that I had in storage at my parents' place: table saw, miter saw, single malt collection, etc. But more importantly, I got to spend the weekend hanging out with Perlick and Jess (among others) in the city. I spent my last day out on the Island; my time there was made more bearable by the fact that my mom got DSL (whoah!), so I'm taking care of some tech support issues before leaving. I have the wireless network up and running now, and I'm running repeated Windows Updates on my sister's computer.

As warning, this will be a long-winded list-full post, like a previous NY visit, but hey, at least there are pictures.

Hanging out in the city rocked; I definitely need to get down there more than twice a year. The first evening was a Moroccan (?) dinner in the East Village, followed by beers at Burp Castle, which serves a variety of Belgian beers (see this series of photos in somebody's blog description). The bartenders put on the role of being "brewist monks," and shush people who are talking too loud. It was a definite keeper--good beer, and there's no music playing, so you can actually hold a conversation without yelling. There was an older crowd there, which made me feel a bit more at home (vs. sitting next to college boys doing Budweiser tallboys and Jaegermeister shots). However, I have to admit that the murals veered in the direction of adolescent boy D&D fantasies, in contrast to the classy dark wood paneled decor (e.g., check out this one--doesn't it make you think "conversion van?"). As a side note, a slightly amusing set of stickers at the men's room sink:

The next morning, we took a walk to H&H Bagels on the West Side, and came back along the Hudson River. On the walk, we came across these large windowless buildings that seemed like they were being made into condos. We were at a loss--ferry terminal? Power plant?

Back on Long Island, I started my infrastructure geekery research. I first started searching for "Helmsley Condo," but that was absolutely useless. Then I started with Google Maps, to see if I could get an address. Wait... it's sitting right on top of the Lincoln Tunnel!

Yep, it's a ventilation building for the tunnel. There is another matching one on the Jersey side--I realized I caught it in the background of my photos.

This was followed by bagels and cream cheese on the roof deck of Perlick's building. Not a bad morning.

We met Woody in Tribeca for lunch, where he was wrapping up some weekend work in the city. He is doing well; he and Robin are expecting kid #2 later this year (September?). As we wandered around the neighborhood, we passed one designer store after another that was air conditioning with the front door open (to entice customers, etc.) This is a clear sign that energy is still far too cheap.

Next was browsing at a used bookstore/cafe in Soho that is run to raise funds for a housing nonprofit organization, followed by picking up Jess' sister at the Chinatown bus and carrying her bags.

That night, a bunch of us went to the avant-garde music festival Bang on a Can--26 straight hours of new music at the World Financial Center. We only stayed for 2-3 hours; there were good and not so good pieces. Perlick raved about the string quartet Ethel, and I thought they were great--Marcelo Zarvos: Arrival and Memory (from Nepomuk’s Dances). Incidentally, Zarvos composed the score for the film The Good Shepherd (a strong recommendation). Another piece was performed by a quintet of brass players, playing from opposite balconies in the large atrium space... the resonant effect worked well with the textures of the piece. But the music itself was a bunch of overlapping slides... I have to admit it reminded me mostly of whale recordings (I noted, "Man, if I was a humpback, I'd probably have a raging hardon now.") The last piece we heard was Franco Donatoni's Arpege, played by eighth blackbird. It was an amorphous atonal piece; my reaction was, "Goddammit, didn't we get this motherfuckin' Pierre Boulez Marteau sans Maitre-style bullshit out of our systems already? Can't we just acknowledge that we went through that phase, it's over, and we don't have to do it again?" Maybe I'm just grumpy in my modern music views--anything to add, Perlick?

Sunday morning was dim sum with Logger in Chinatown... dim sum always rocks--try doing a search in my blog for the term, and you'll see it comes up pretty often. Had pork buns, sesame buns, short ribs, sticky rice... all of the favorites.

The afternoon was spent at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, on the upper West side. The special exhibit (Design for the Other 90%, about design in non-first world countries) was unfortunately closed. But the rest of the museum was thoroughly engrossing. Everything from 19th-century French staircase models to iPods to submersibles to this lamp below ("dear ingo" by ron gilad). Very clever... I liked it.

A walk across Central Park, south of the reservoir, some pastries on the Upper West Side, and then back to Long Island.

Yeah, a good visit. The problem is that every time I go to the City, my list of things to do ends up getting longer, not shorter.