Happy Biiiiirthdaaaay Dear AmieandBats...

Last weekend, Amie and Guy were kind enough to host a party celebrating the 40th birthdays of, well, A. and yours truly. Actually, my actual birthday isn't for a few days, but it was a good excuse to have a nice party

It was a neat mix of a party--in addition to the usual suspects, a few of my other friends made it--a coworker, a former coworker who I still keep in touch with (and their respective spouses), and Doug (a.k.a. Air Force Guy), his wife Stina, and their 2-year old, Brian. It was neat to let my worlds churn a little bit--some would call me Bats, others K.

Amie and Guy were fantastic hosts--Guy pulled out all the stops with food and drink, as he often does. They included breaking out the fryolator, and making wings, as well as killer fries. They were based on FoodLab's column on how to make McDonald's style fries--it involves an initial parboiling step:

So McDonald's does indeed use a double fry method, but it's far from the traditional one. Rather than a slow low temperature fry for the first round, the fries get dunked into very hot oil for only 50 seconds (the second fry is then carried out at the actual location). In addition to this, the potatoes get a pre-fry blanching step in hot water. What could the purpose of this be?

(Read the column, The Burger Lab: How to Make Perfect Thin and Crisp French Fries, to find out details).

Of course, this being a 40th, the gag gifts abounded. Including a card from my sweetie--Happy 100th Birthday!--yeah, thanks. As well as other winners, like a denture bath, large print crossword puzzles...

...and generic-brand hemorrhoid cream! Aw thanks... you shouldn't have!

And in case you were wondering, why yes, drinking was involved....

Single malts were the drink of choice that evening--one amusing idea came from a misheard name--Glenkinchie was misheard as "Glen Kimchee." Sounds like a concept for a whiskey-kimchee mixer. Ugh... that's up there with Sporkle Pork 'n' Apple Juice Drink.

What's funny is that the people looking the most zoned in that picture actually were not drinking. As for myself, I did not seriously tie one on... I just savored some single malts. Must be getting old or something...


BatBike Soul Transplant

I've blogged several times about my faithful commuter bike, The Bicycle of Theseus:

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 & rear deraileurs, and the left crank arm. It's faster to list what's original instead of what's been replaced.

...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?

However, on these daily commutes, I've toyed with the idea of getting myself a new bike. I know, shocking, given my engineering cheapness gene, and my buy-less-stuff attitude. However, my folding bike (from 2008) was a noticeably nicer bike than my main one.

Then a few months ago, REI had a clearance sale... including a bunch of bicycles... I was sorely tempted by the Marin Bolinas Ridge Mountain Bike ('09 Closeout). After hemming and hawing, I ordered it and had it delivered for pickup. Man... I probably shouldn't agonize about amounts of money of that magnitude, but I do. More importantly, with my close-to-daily cycle commute, it would definitely get used well; I would be getting my money's worth, and it would be a long-term investment. After all--I've had my old bike since friggin' 1989... at this rate, I'll be buying another replacement bike when I'm age 60 or so.

Anyway, on to the new bike, as I got it from the store:

Time to tear it down, and customize it into the new BatBike...

There were a load of things to do:

  • Soul transplant: to maintain some continuity, I just swapped over the rear fender, handlebar ends, rear view mirror, and the pedals with toe clips. Yeah, I'm not hard-core enough for clipless pedals.
  • New bright lights, front and rear. Be visible, people!
  • Front fender: I was worried that with a front suspension, that a fender would be hard to come by. No such problem--SKS Shockblade was on the display rack at the bike store... simple and secure attachment.
  • Tires--had to transplant over the Schalbe Big Apple city slick tires, of course.
  • A new lock, to keep it all safe.
  • The handlebars were way too high in the original setup... I felt like I was leaning back and driving a crosstown bus. I had never played with a threadless headset, but changing the stem height wasn't that big of a deal.
  • I prefer "straight stick" handlebars, with bar ends--bought new handlebars and swapped them in. Plus I like to customize them by cutting them as narrow as practical... all the better to get between cars without worrying about thwacking a side mirror.

And the finished result:

So how do I like it, and how does it ride? I'm definitely happy. Nice light frame, ergonomics are now set up like I want them, and all new components means shifting and pedaling are smooth.

But all of you are definitely free to mock me, for totally modding up a mountain bike, primarily for city commuting use. Duh, I know, I know, I ought to be getting a skinny tire non-suspension city hybrid. Or a touring bike. But I think I need to maintain my identity as "fat dude riding on fat tires, pedaling until he gets there"... so I'll call that my excuse.

However, I now have a faithful old commuter bike left over. Does anyone know of a good home? Or should I keep it around as a "guest bike," like Jofish does?

Weekend HandyBat!

Back in April, I spent a morning repeatedly clicking on the Mass SaveĀ® Great Appliance Exchange website, in order to reserve an Energy Star dishwasher rebate for his sweetie. I let folks know back then, on Facebook:

K. wants to inform all of his Massachusetts-local friends about the big Energy Star appliance rebates that are opening up tomorrow morning at 10 AM: $250 for a dishwasher, $200 for a fridge, $175 for a clothes washer. Your ARRA money at work! List of qualifying appliances on the website.

I only got a waitlist spot, but it turns out they were honoring them for the rebate! So we went out shopping for a replacement dishwasher in May, and it was delivered in June. So finally, in July... I had a weekend free to install the darn thing!

Man... during the installation, I came to realize that there was some beautiful German engineering going on... it's a Bosch. For instance, those "channels" at the bottom of the dishwasher are there on purpose--to route the electrical cable, and the water supply hose. Very elegant... I'm used to installs where you just have a jumble of wires and tubes, and you try to keep them unkinked as you slide the dishwasher into its opening.

Also, instead of having levelling feet on the front and rear... with the rear ones close-to-inaccessible, there's a clever screw-and-pivot system, that lets you adjust the rear height of the dishwasher from the front, with the dishwasher in place. Very nice.

Another thing that I discovered during the installation... the existing dishwasher was hooked up to the garbage disposal, under the sink:

There's a pipe stub at the side of the disposal, that the dishwasher drain connects to. That drain comes from the factory with a plastic plug in it, and you knock it out when you hook up a dishwasher, so that it can drain:

But check out how the disposal was connected:


Hey Sarah--when did you say the dishwasher last worked correctly?

Oh, about 2003.

So what did it do?

It wouldn't drain... it would chug away and overflow.

Ah. I don't suppose the garbage disposal got replaced around the time the dishwasher stopped working?

Um.... maybe?

Check out this picture...

Haha... that's funny. Also, do you know who installed the disposal?

Um... who?

My ex-boyfriend, D.

Heh... awesome! Fixing repairs that the ex screwed up. Hey... if I was told that I'm a lousy lay compared to the ex, I probably wouldn't be that crushed... hell, I pretty much expect that out of life. But not being able to fix something that the ex could? That would be a bit too much. So my manhood and ego are safe for now.

Also, I took care of some landscaping work that Sarah needed done--a wind-fallen branch that was too large for the bin. So fellas--if you want to impress the ladeez, you might want to whip out the 18 V cordless reciprocating saw with a tree pruning blade...

Yeah. Or something like that.

Anyway: the finished result for the dishwasher: ta-dah!

Yay! No dirty plates in the sink!


Bonus Post: Bus Seat Belts

Sarah is staying in Maine, taking a week of vacation. However, I had to get my butt back to work, so I hopped a bus from Bangor back to Boston--Concord Coach Lines. A couple of nice surprises on the way.

First of all: free WiFi and 120 V electrical power throughout! Took care of some work email, and then some blogging (like the Block Island post).

But the other interesting thing: I don't think I've ever seen seatbelts on a motorcoach-type bus before in the United States.

Kinda cool. After I snapped in, I started poking around on the web--"How did the industry manage to get away with not putting seatbelts on motorcoaches? After all, as stable as they feel while riding, they are still metal boxes hurtling down the highway at 60-70+ mph Even if you don't notice it, physics is still happening, folks." Hey--it was either dorky web research, or watch Fame on the bus entertainment system.

First I found a blog site for the Peter Pan union local out of Western Massachusetts, with an article on the subject "The Case for Lap Seat Belts on Motorcoaches":

For decades, authoritative heads have said that safety belts on busses and motorcoaches are unnecessary due to factors such as "compartmentalization", "monocoque motorcoach construction", high-back seats, and lower G-forces during an average motorcoach collision compared with auto vs. auto.

In Feb. 1999, the United Motorcoach Association issued their "White Paper" report which defended the lack of seat belts on motorcoaches. Although the 3 page article summarizes some of the arguments, it is very thin on facts and details that are available from crash tests and actual crash histories. Taking a closer look at catastrophic motorcoach accidents of the last decades would have tipped the report in favor of seat belts. It is clear, due to the costs involved of retrofitting an estimated 30,000 motorcoaches throughout the USA, that the industry "voice" would lean in the direction of doing nothing.

The post also talks about what happens in bus crashes (and worst of all, rollovers): the great big windows often fail, and the roof can get sheared off, and then the passengers are ejected, often fatally.

I also found newspaper articles from November 2009, stating that NHTSA was planning on boosting motorcoach safety standards, including reinforced roofs, seatbelts, and sensors to determine if the driver has been running over driving time hour limits ("Obama administration proposes seatbelts, other safety measures for long distance buses").

But the most geeky and interesting stuff was a PDF of a presentation from NHTSA: "Seat Belt Testing for Motorcoach Safety". They did full-scale 30 mph frontal collision with a bus, with crash test dummies in a variety of configurations--unbelted, two-point belt, and three-point belt. This was followed up with sled testing. Surprise--seat belts reduce injuries in bus crashes.

Anyway, it seems like seatbelts on buses are a step in the right direction. Sign me up.

Maine Weekend: Up at the Lake!

Sarah's extended family has their annual summer get-together around Fourth of July, up at "the camp"--a cottage up at a lake near Bangor (her extended family's ancestral home). She has been talking up this experience most of the time we've been dating--so this past weekend was going up for the festivities.

It's a fantastic place--a log cabin in a protected cove, looking right out on the lake. Here's the view from the screened-in porch...

...and much socializing goes on there (including relaxing on the porch swing):

We did loads of the classic camp activities: swimming off the dock, going out for a canoe ride, walking around the lake, making s'mores around the fire pit...

... my first solo attempt at kayaking...

... oh yeah, and making the food. I've demonstrated my passable kitchen chops enough times that the family decided that they "needed to initiate me" in the ways of a New England Clambake. Too cool... it involved a washtub basin sat on top of the fire pit, with clams, corn, potatoes, eggs, hot dogs, and lobster, all covered with a sailcloth to keep the steam in:

Seriously yummy stuff. Many lobsters were devoured, in a wonderful feast.

But you might wonder, "What the heck is up with those hot dogs?" They are red hot dogs, which are a Maine delicacy--and yet another thing that Sarah has been talking up all this time.

Yeah, more than a bit terrifying. First of all, they partially dyed the clam shells pinkish. Also, if you need to guide taxiing airplanes on the tarmac, you can wave a pair of these franks around.

After the big lobster fest, we picked the lobster for salads. Personal protective equipment was warranted.

One disturbing discovery made while swimming: I am buoyant only as long as I hold a breath in. I experimented by doing a face-up float, and my face stayed out of the water. When I exhaled (much like a whale exhaling through its blowhole), I sank right down. I have always thought of myself as a fat dude with loads of built-in buoyancy, bobbing away on the water... I'm wondering what's up with my current flotation levels.

Overall, it was a great weekend, although all too short--I am currently on the bus back to Boston on Monday afternoon. Unfortunately, this will be a hella busy week. But many thanks to all of Sarah's family, for their generosity and hospitality!

Block Island Weekend: Holy Cross-Linking!

I am seriously behind on blog posts--so this is in regards to last weekend, on Block Island. Sarah is one of three godparents to the child of her dear friends M&E (down in Attleboro). Ugh... that's one convoluted sentence... let me know if I should diagram that out. So they had a godparents get-together weekend on Block Island, where E's family owns a cottage.

The reason why this post is link-a-riffic is because other folks have already blogged about it--both the parents, and one of the godparents. So it feels like my posting about it is mostly superfluous on the scale of things. But a few items I wanted to mention....

First, this was the first time I've ever been to Block Island--it's a touristy-resorty island off of RI... classic New England island, similar in character to places like Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Complete with simmering conflict between year round residents and vacation cottage owners. ;)

On the 1-hour ferry ride over, Sarah pointed out that the new iPhone OS links the GPS tags of photos with Google Maps. And apparently, she was getting 3G reception all the way over:

Pretty cool. We got in to Block Island around sunset on Friday--what a neat view.

But the weekend was not intended for just lounging about! The house was recently built, and being prepped for the first summer renters.

So all of us were put to work--puting up blinds, painting, and two engineers attempting to diagnose an icemarker. Fruitlessly, sadly.

(BTW--previous two photos c/o the other two blogs.]

But that's not to say it was all work! We also cooked together, a killer funny game of Uno, lounged about looking at the water...

...and got a tour of Block Island the next day (including two lighthouses):

The one here has a cool story--they moved the entire 1870s era birck structure 300 feet back from the edge of the cliff, which was eroding away.

Anyway, a wonderful weekend--many thanks to M&E for their hospitality!


Nano-Vacation: Chicago

I have previously used the term "micro-vacation" to describe small trips that I take as "an event"--like up to Bird and Jen's in NH. I previously expounded on the topic here:

I realized that the way I schedule my vacations currently is pretty unconventionalā€”I often take a few days here-and-there while on business travel, when work sends me to places that are either interesting or where friends live. For instance, I have made use of business trips to San Francisco, Cleveland, Denver, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Seattle, Waterloo, DC, and many other towns to see friends, which has been absolutely wonderful.

But the end of this week was more of a "nano-vacation": work sent me to Chicago, so instead of doing a fly-out-in-the-morning/fly-back-in-the-evening/have-a-15-hour-day plan, I spent the night in Chicago on my own dime after I wrapped up. Also, my sweetie was out of town this week, so there was no rush to get back.

This job was out in the western exurbs of Chicagoland... and amusingly, right near the development where my thesis field research site was located--I've been here 8+ times. It was odd to be back in that neck of the woods, where I whiled away many days down in a basement.

First lesson learned from this trip: when the job is to look at a basement that consistently floods, it might be flooding when you go there... so you might want to bring more than one pair of shoes (or galoshes).

Ugh. So yeah, after splashing around the basement for several hours, I ended up spending the rest of the trip in sodden boots.

After the job, I drove back to O'Hare, checked into my hotel, and dropped off the rental car. I thought, "Huh... Google Maps says I'm 1.5 miles from my hotel... maybe I'll walk it, instead of [Avis shuttle to ORD] -> [Hotel shuttle to hotel]."

Man... an airport is definitely a place inhospitable to pedestrians. I pretty much walked from the bottom of this map to the top:

Also, I realized that anyone walking in that environment is easily mistaken for someone who is homeless, mentally ill, or destitute... I was fully expecting to get stopped by the police during my walk.

Then holy cats... time to get my butt into the city. Hopped CTA in (I was staying at an airport hotel)... maybe it's just how I'm made up, but I get a bit of a thrill, coming in and seeing the skyline of a cool town. Blue Line in, Brown Line out...

... in order to get to Second City e.t.c., to see their new show, "The Absolute Best Friggin' Time of Your Life." Second City was one of those things that Sarah and I wanted to do when we were vacationing here last winter, but couldn't schedule in. I thought it would be neat to catch a show--to go to such a storied comedy club, as well as the possibility that I'm seeing the next generation's Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, John Belushi, etc. before he/she makes it big.

The show was great--lots of short sketches, plus songs... they did a great job keeping the material tight, and ending it before it went flat (i.e., the Saturday Night Live problem). Too many great moments to describe... but as a one liner... "Dinner at Olive Garden... ahhh... it's just like Italy... if Italy SUCKED." Also, I was amused that they use the same technique as crock writers--profanity in the right place often gets a good laugh when applied correctly. Check out the preview video if you have a moment. Some of it veered off into social commentary... which wasn't comedic, but it kept all of our attention really well. And some of it was fun mocking of Tea Party types.

The last set was an improv session... it's really impressive to watch good improv comedy folks work. There are definitely hits and misses, and moments when you can see things are sliding off the rails, nobody's coming up with anything, and you pray they cue the lights and end it soon. But when they knock one out of the park, it's really impressive to see humor that impressive arrive so spontaneously.

Sadly, I didn't schedule enough time for a dinner in the city, which would have made the evening... alas. Hopped CTA back... it's odd going late enough that you have an entire subway car to yourself.

My flight back the next morning was after 10 AM--very nice, as I noted on Facebook:

Kohta Ueno finds that taking a flight home *not* at the crack of dawn kinda rocks. No panicked wakeup, a leisurely breakfast, and a calm shuttle ride to the airport. And time for postcards.

Anyway, a fun trip. And off to Maine with Sarah for 4th of July weekend!