New Instructable!

As repeatedly promised, I have finally put up an Instructable for my dorky bicycle trailer! I hope you will find it informative and entertaining.

There are plenty of other great bicycle trailers on Instructables, but I thought I'd post my own. Some of the key points: no welding is required for this trailer, and it is built (mostly) from items from Home Depot and spare bicycle parts.

This trailer was built over time, with a couple of iterations. A few times in this Instructable, I'll use the phrase, "Ask me how I know..." Most of these lessons were discovered during failures of the trailer on the road... these were cases when "the wheels coming off," is more than a figurative phrase.

Considering I started on this project about a year ago, I'm glad I finally got it posted. You can see the multiple iterations that were needed to solve problems. Basically, since I'm done with thesis, this was the next thing on my list.


Catchup Post: Badlands Vacation

I promised two weeks ago that I was going to write about the camping trip to Wyoming and South Dakota (Devils Tower, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Custer State Park, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (ICBM silo), and several days in The Badlands). FYI, Jess did a great job of recounting some of the more interesting parts of the trip on her blog, so I'm just going to add a few photos and anecdotes.

Outbound travel: Initial travel had an inauspicious start. I decided to mass transit the trip to the airport; however, when I got to Porter Square from the 77 bus, I noticed a lot of people on the platform. Huh. Then more people showed up. And a train heading the other way passed through. Huh. The platform continued to fill up. At about 30 minutes, another train came the other way and stopped. Fuck this... must be an obstruction on the track or something. Of course, no announcement or information from the MBTA.

I scrambled upstairs to find a taxi... no dice. Called one, and waited fifteen minutes... nothing. Then I called one of my coworkers--"I'll give you $50 in exchange for a ride to the airport." Turns out one of them was eating lunch, and wanted an excuse to get out of the office anyway... completely saved my butt.

Rapid City: I am developing a city index--over a certain population, they are likely to have a brewpub (Firehouse Brewing Co.), an organic food coop (as found by Jess), and have a general supply of interesting things to do. It's good to know that travel to places like South Dakota won't be intrinsically painful.

I was fascinated by the town name of Belle Fourche--that's French for beautiful fork. Admittedly, it's named after the fork in a river, but my first reaction was, "What, was this named by the same guys who come up with names for US military operations? Operation Valiant Toothbrush? Operation Urgent Lunchbox?"

Devil's Tower: what a wonderfully bizarre geological feature. FYI, it is some type of lava plug/intrusion, and the surrounding sedimentary rock was eroded away. But it's more an excuse to show off this photo.

Needles (Custer State Park): Our scenic drive to our next site took us through the Needles formation in Custer State Park--a group of eroded granite spires. Pretty wild, and fun to climb around in. There's a single-lane automobile tunnel cut through the peak of the formation:

Yeah, not much clearance on either side of a Nissan XTerra:

Also, it was bloody cold up there, and snowing/sleeting. Poor sunflowers:

National Park Caves: Jewel Cave is known for its crystaline formations--it was originally flooded at one point with a supersaturated mineral solution, and when it dried out, it deposited all over the walls, covering the surfaces. This layer has fallen away in some spots, showing the layers--for instance, covering a rock sitting on the surface, in the picture below. Some people have compared to to being inside a geode. Pretty neat.

Wind Cave is known for its feature called boxwork--it has this strange, almost organic/cobwebby texture--take a look at the pictures in the link. Like giant honeycomb tripe cast in stone.

There is a pretty substantial park around Wind Cave—grasslands and trails; bison have been reintroduced to the park, roaming wild. On one trail, we came across a mostly-skeletonized bison carcass. The long “spines” out of the upper back vertebrae were a bit of a mystery until I finished a bit of research—bison have huge heads, so they need to anchor the muscles back to something—thus their back “hump,” and this skeletal structure.

Badlands: A pretty awesome geological feature—they were originally soft layered sediments deposited on a former inland seabed (the Western Interior Seaway--basically the entire middle of North America, from the Rockies to the Appalachians). These sediments are now being eroded, resulting in these formations. Note that this erosion is pretty fast, in geological terms—about an inch per year. So be sure to get here in the next 50,000 years, before they go away.

Incidentally, throughout all of this trip, it was spectacular to have Drea along as our private naturalist—she could identify birds, plants, etc. at a quick glance, and pointed out things that we would have easily missed at first glance. Also, it was great to travel with a bunch of nerds who are also interested in questions like, “Why is this layer eroding at a different rate? What causes the formation of a clastic dike?”

Also, the cooking was a lot of fun—Ouija and Drea provided home-dehydrated African Chicken Peanut Soup and Dal; we also popped popcorn, and made Annie’s Mac & Cheese using cheese mix, powdered milk, water, and vigorous shaking:

This park also has bison roaming wild—they’ve really made a comeback in these parks. We gingerly drove through a herd of them (“Nice bison! XTerras are not competing for your territory!”)

Our last day in the park was a trip down to one of their more remote units (Palmer Creek), which is on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (Oglala Sioux) (as an aside about the reservation—85% unemployment. Holy cats.) Bird skillfully navigated the XTerra up and down washes, fords, and dirt roads—I have to say that off-roading five people with gear is a pretty acceptable use for SUVs. We parked the vehicle and climbed around on formations—a wonderful way to spend the afternoon, and we didn’t see anyone else out there--it is one of the less-visited areas of the park. It seems like the majority of the park's traffic is people coming in on tour buses, walking around the scenic overlook for five minutes, and getting back on, so it was a relief to get away to this degree.

A wonderful vacation, overall—many thanks to my fellow campers for coming, and thanks to anyone who is still reading and suffering through the slide show!

A Day at Dartmouth

Earlier this week, work sent me up to Dartmouth (in Hanover, NH); it was an interesting job, and I've never been there before, so it was interesting to see the place. It is a beautiful campus; it is an Ivy League university up in the middle of nowhere--it felt like the archetype of the college town.

It was doing one of those days doing the stuff I love to do--crawling around the innards and roofs of buildings, checking out the infrastructure that makes them work. It's neat to see old machines that still work pretty well--old pneumatic HVAC controls; however, the drawback is that fewer and fewer people are trained to maintain this machinery. It is part of the reason why battleships were retired from the Navy after they were reactivated in the 1980's: there were not many sailors trained to be WW II-era boiler technicians, and even fewer young sailors wanted to step into a career in the new, fast-paced field of 1940's ship propulsion technology.

The job itself was quite interesting--we were operating as sub-consultants to a firm that is developing an energy efficiency retrofit plan for the school's buildings. The Dartmouth administrators should be lauded for their strategy: the school is adding buildings to their campus, increasing the demand on their central plant boilers. Instead of simply building new boilers, they are putting some of that money into improving efficiency of existing buildings to control demand, and avoid the need for more capacity (as well as recouping the savings over time).

Here's one of the buildings--a 1960's building by the same architect who designed Lincoln Center and the UN Building.

Unfortunately, it was built with classic 1960's International style technology, in the era when heating oil was cheap. As an aside, I went to a conference on preserving the buildings from the second half of the 20th century, and some presenters commented, "Um, do we want to? Many of them leak, suck down energy, and are uncomfortable."

This building was no exception--lack of insulation, and the entire north wall is single glazed windows in metal frames--yeah, basically, it has a wall made of storm windows. And that's in a location with 7900 heating degree days (it's a metric of how bad the heating season is: if you don't intrinsically speak in HDD, the USA today definition is much more reasonable than the Wikipedia version); as a comparison point, Boston is 5600, Minneapolis is 8000, Orlando is 700).

It was a good day, and it felt like we're working towards Good Things.


Another Clue Tour

Two years ago, I did a "house clue tour" for some of the undergrads living at tEp--basically a guided tour of the hidden infrastructure of the house, from the basement to the fifth floor. I spent far too much time during my undergrad days fixing things rather than studying (as well as staring at the walls of the boiler room during my depressive episodes), so I am glad to share this knowledge with people who might find it useful. Therefore, I did another one this Saturday, after getting off a plane from Kansas.

About five or six of them came along on the tour (or at least parts of it)--where the magic button to relight the Garland oven is hidden, where the sprinkler drain valve is, where the water meter is hidden, and how T-Stop had to crawl through freezing water under the kitchen floor to shut off the water when the pipes burst. Also, told the story of Big Time Wrestling in the center room, resulting in both expansion tanks falling from the cave (boiler room) ceiling, thus taking out both the heating and hot water systems. And recounting Leper stanching the leak like in a submarine movie, stuffing a rubber glove-wrapped broomstick handle into the sheared pipe ("Turn off that valve! No, the one to the right!") It was a good, entertaining time to give the tour and tell the stories.

Also, it's great to be reminded that undergrad Teps are a bunch of smart, creative, and funny people--it's wonderful that the tribe maintains that continuity. And it was great to have undergrads who are appreciative of the information I have to offer.

One of the undergrads asked me how long it has been since I lived in the house... it's about 13 years. He then marveled at the fact that I hadn't lived here for over a decade, and still had this level of detailed recollection about how the house works. Wow... it surprised me to hear that, and I can't explain why my brain has tEp's innards imprinted on it.

Anyway, in terms of continuity, the house is still a pit of unmitigated shit. Well, okay, it's not that bad... but check out the hella large rat that Puck caught in 23's closet!

Partying with FEMA

I'm working in mixed-reverse chronological order on my blog backlog here--I also need to fully cover the Badlands camping trip two weeks ago and the Tep house clue tour; this post covers last week.

I spent the end of last week in Greensburg, KS--the town that got wiped out by the tornado this spring. It was pretty amazing to see the damage--rows and rows of empty lots which used to be a neighborhood (some houses were even condemned down to their foundations, which were dug up); big stretches of misshapen trees (all the larger branches had been ripped off, so just the smaller ones are left, in one direction from the trunk); the FEMA-town of rows and rows of trailers.

Incidentally, if you're wondering if it is a bad idea to live in trailers in this part of the country, FEMA has addressed the tornado shelter problem by berming shipping containers a short run from the trailers--a pretty slick solution. (yay shipping containers!)

Anyway, the reason why I was there was that my company has been asked, under the government program we work for, to promote energy efficient housing (when folks are rebuilding). So we spent three days putting together a mock-up of an energy-efficient, durable, and resource-efficient wall that uses many of the techniques currently used in construction, thus minimizing the retraining required by the available trades.

It was a pretty good gig--although we spent two long days sweltering in 80-90 F with humidity. I was personally surprised--I always thought of Kansas as being dry and flat, but it's close enough to the Gulf coast (i.e., one state above Oklahoma) that it was definitely humid in September.

In order to build this wall, we spent the first day buying supplies in Wichita--there's still pretty limited hardware stores out there, and we wanted to get everything at once to save time. Fortunately, we found a rental company that has Chevy Silverado full size pickups in their inventory, and we put it to work. Totally rockin':

It did a spectacular job of hauling all our supplies, plus keeping all our tools locked up in the rear of the cab. It was kinda fun to drive that rig around--you get used to the size pretty quickly. If I ever have a place for another vehicle that spends 29 out of 30 days sitting in the driveway, a used beater truck that can hold a 4x8 sheet of plywood flat in the deck would be pretty fun. However, my coworker and I amused ourselves as we took wallowing corners around parking lots, yodeling, "Canyonero!" to ourselves. ("12 yards long and two lanes wide, 65 tons of American pride.")

I was a bit worried about culture clashes during my visits with the locals. To wit, the Wikipedia article on Greensburg states:

As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 1,574 people, 730 households, and 453 families residing in the city. ... The racial makeup of the city was 97.01% White, 0.83% Native American, 0.06% Asian, 1.02% from other races...

Yeah, you can calculate it out: 0.06% Asian = 1 Asian person (or rather 0.944). Interesting to note that I doubled the Asian population of the town while I was there.

However, I didn't have much of a chance to talk to the locals, so it wasn't much of an issue--we just worked straight through. One amusing event--it happened to be Homecoming during our trip, and the parade went right by our mockup. They had the usual marching bands, football team, fire trucks, etc.--but farm machinery was a new one to me:

Note that this isn't meant in the vein of urban hipster snarkery--I think it's totally neat that they include it in the parade--it's just that I've never experienced that before, and the surprise factor was funny. I think it might be due to the fact that the John Deere dealer might be a prominent local citizen, or something like that.

Anyway, flew back on Saturday, and enjoyed half a weekend.


A Brief Update

Just surfacing briefly, with a promise of future more-detailed blog posts. I returned on Saturday from a week-long camping trip with Bird, Jess, Ouija, and Drea--a completely packed trip to South Dakota and Wyoming. It included Devils Tower, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Custer State Park, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (ICBM silo), and several days in The Badlands. We had everything from 90 F/20% RH, down to snowing and 31 F--I pretty much wore everything I brought, at least once.

Yeah, that's me in the picture; you can click on it for an enlarged version.

However, my relaxation was short-lived after returning. First, I looked through the email pile that had built up over the weekend, and found out that I had been volunteered to go to Greensburg, KS on Wednesday. So after booking a flight on Sunday morning, I have a 5:45 AM trip scheduled for the day after tomorrow, coming back on Saturday morning. I'll rant more about this trip and project, but that will have to be later (not to mention f'locked).

Second, remember what I said about my thesis before I left? It still feels like there are an infinite number of things that can go wrong betweeen now and September 28th. However, since I'm heading out for a vacation for a week, there's nothing I'll be able to do about it. Well, that turned out to be quite prescient: my thesis submission was not accepted due to formatting reasons--the page numbers of the entire document are not in the right place. Even thought I generated my formatting using the Word template provided on UW's website. Grr. Unfortunately, when I changed the page number location, it screwed up pagination, so I had to verify locations of my inserted graphics (over 340 pages), change page start numbers for all chapters, and regenerate tables of contents, figures, and tables. Fuckers.

Oh yeah--remember the hard copy that I FedEx'd up to Canada for binding? Well, it's now $40 worth of recycling. So I spent this evening at the office (again), printing out three copies on acid-free 25% cotton content archival paper, to send to Canada.

I think it's in the can now, but I once again have a few days when I can't do anything about it. Due date is next Friday (not this Friday), so there's a bit of breathing room.



Three copies of my thesis (printed on acid-free 25% cotton content archival paper) are now packaged up with a FedEx label, for delivery to Canada.

I have uploaded my 15 MB thesis PDF to the electronic thesis submission site.

Took me until midnight last night to finish this, but hey, it's done. It still feels like there are an infinite number of things that can go wrong betweeen now and September 28th. However, since I'm heading out for a vacation for a week, there's nothing I'll be able to do about it--so I figure it's not worrying about.

On a plane in seven hours! Woot!


To Be Honest, I'm Rather Surprised

After reading Jenn's score on this Nerd Test 2.0, I decided, hey, I'll try it out. The results were somewhat surprising. Well, some aspects surprised me.

NerdTests.com says I'm an Uber Cool Science Geek.  What are you?  Click here!

I guess I was surprised that I scored so bloody low on the dumb/dork/awkwardness axis (91% scored higher; 6% same; 3% lower). I consider myself a great big socially dysfunctional dork, but then again, the questions were along the lines of, Have you ever... owned a lightsaber? ...and have it clipped to your belt, right now?. So, I guess I'm a dork, but not that dorky?

I have to say that I was vastly amused by the checkbox:

Was the last naked thing you saw on the computer screen?
X Er, yeah...

I also was surprised that I got as clobbered on literature/history as I did, especially relative to science fiction/comic books. I figure I whiffed questions like "Who was Aristotle's teacher?" and "The Hundred Years war lasted 106 years." (true/false/whatever). There were relatively few questions on this topic (and nothing demanding specific literary knowledge, I think)--so a few missed questions could have a disproportionate effect.

Another surprise:

Average "dork percentile" for
Mac lovers: 51%
Windows users: 63%
*NIX lovers: 51%

Link is in that graphic above, if you want to try it.


A Pretty Close to Perfect Day

A bunch of Tep alumni came into town for E.'s memorial service, so Saturday was a pretty busy day of socializing and hanging out at Tep--Perlick already summarized the day pretty well on LJ. First was lunch at Brehznev's--probably about 25 people or so.

Perlick commented on his 'Norm from Cheers' moment--walking in the door after getting off the bus from NYC, and everyone yelling, "Perlick!!!":

We then headed over to the house, to see how rush was going. The house is looking in great shape, and the brothers seem to be a very fun and worthwhile bunch--and they actually bothered talking to us drooling alumni.

One thing that I realized--the freshmen are so young that instead of hitting on a froshling woman, it would be slightly less creepy for me to say:

Oh, man... so your parents got divorced... when?


Your mom's not still single, is she?

Yeah, I know... classy [grin].

The group of us then walked from Tep, across the Harvard Bridge, and through the Institvte--a brief dip in nostalgia without getting too maudlin. We were headed over to Cambridge Brewing Company--I demanded that our priority was to eat outside on a day as beautiful as this one, and CBC fit the bill pretty well.

As background, when U5 and I were at CBC last, we saw one of these beer towers go by, and we both said, "We totally need to get one of those next time we're back." So here are two towers (split between 8 of us) Minas amber and Minas heather.

We then retired to an evening of wandering around town--ice cream at Tosci's, and hanging out in Kraken's swank bachelor pad in Cambridgeport. Overall, a good day.