Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Told you so!

Back in January, I ranted about Blockbuster's "end of late fees" program.

Now I can say, "I TOLD YOU SO!" - they just settled a lawsuit about their misleading advertising, which you can read here.

Thanks to Miles for the head's up.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Birthday Steak

My parents came down this past weekend to celebrate my birthday early. I got the obligatory birthday card (which appeared to be an optical illusion involving stacked turtles - but it was a real photo), and a birthday cake.

Mom came through with a bundt cake - I'd been craving one for a while, and this was a glorious tunnel of fudge cake. Tasty.... that was breakfast and lunch today.

But even better, mom and dad brought down some rib-eye steaks from Garners Meats - a meat shop pretty close to their house. They say the meat shop is full of beautiful cuts of meat - and I can believe it. The three steaks each weighed in well over a pound, 18-20 ounces, and were close to two inches thick. They were so bright red, pink almost, that it was a shame to cook them. But that was their lot in life.

So I marinated them briefly in a little garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, and red-pepper flakes. Just long enough to give a little flavor to the little bits of meat hanging on the edge of the main portion of the steak. Then I threw them on the grill.

Mom and Mary's (they were splitting one) went on early, and got the medium-well done treatment, just barely pink. Dad's and mine went on just as the potato planks were ready to flip. Our steaks grilled up beautifully, dark grill marks on the outside, warm but mooing on the inside. After the obligatory 5 minute wait to let the juices re-distribute themselves, we dug into the steaks.


I must say, that was the best steak I've ever grilled myself, and certainly one of the top 3 I've ever had. So very tender, done perfectly (without the aide of a thermometer), and all 18 ounces of it was mine.

I'm gonna have to make a point of checking that shop out next time I'm in Portland for a weekend.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Studded Tires

One of my pet peeves is the fact that people in Oregon are allowed to use studded tires. For 5 months out of the year, people drive with studded tires, even though for 95% of them, 95% of the time, they're driving on either dry or wet pavement.

The amount of damage caused each year is incredible. In Washington (who seems to have the same rules), each year $10 million of damage to roads is caused by studded tires alone. This figure does not include damage caused by accidents due to the fact that cars with studded tires have longer stopping distances and poorer handling characteristics. Nor does the figure take into account the damages caused by accidents due to wear on the road (the ruts fill with water and can cause hydroplaning).

One report (written in 2000) shows that parts of US 97 paved with the standard surfaces had to be replaced 4 times in 9 years (yes, once every 2.2 years) because of damage due to studded tires.

I think we should totally outlaw the use of studded tires. Most of the people in the state do not need them, and should stay home when there is any frozen precipitation at all (don't get me started about the time people abandoned their cars on HWY 26 after it snowed 3 inches). If you need to drive in those conditions - put chains on.

Oh, just found this little article about a proposed fee of $10 per studded tire because Oregon spends $11 million per year to fix studded tire damage. That fee appears to be in line with a study found here.

And to make things even more confusing, an Idaho bill in 2003 stated that Oregon has $24 million of damage per year due to studded tires.

Cactus Bloomage

I'm not much of a green thumb. I pretty much can only grow plants that can survive a month or two without water and perk up with the occasional over watering. So I have a few cacti.

Not only do cacti need very little water, they often are some of the coolest looking plants around.

Somehow I did something right and one of my cacti was actually happy enough to send out a bloom. I've never had that before, and considering the fact that I have no idea what I did differently, I doubt it'll ever happen again. But at least I got a couple pictures of it before the bloom died.

Though I have a feeling my cat ate the bloom. I caught him prying one of the cacti out of its pot earlier today...

My next foray into the cactus world is to try to start from some seed I purchased while in Arizona last February.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The cactus has bloomed!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Over 100

I have 113 (this is #114) posts on this blog, in just over a year. That makes my posting frequencey about 3 times per week. If blogger's stats were working, we could see how many words I've written. Surely enough to fill a small, boring book, but a book nonetheless.

I'm kind of surprised I kept it up this long and this steady.

Par 3

Mary and I took advantage of the beautiful weather and played a round of golf.

I'll keep the scores secret so as not to embarrass anyone, but Mary did very well considering this was her first time ever golfing. I tried my best to give her a couple of pointers, but since I've only golfed about half-a-dozen times altogether, I kept quiet.

Par 3 golf is nice because your mistakes just aren't as big (you're only using a pitching wedge). And even if you can't hit very far you can still finish a hole in 5 or 6 strokes.

Amazingly, Mary hit her ball into mine while driving toward the green. Not once did she do this, but twice. What are the odds?

Thursday, March 17, 2005


This week I picked up my mom's old 12-speed. It's a Univega women's bike, candy-apple red. She hasn't ridden it since I was in middle-school, and Mary is looking for a commuter bike she can ride while wearing a skirt or dress.

The bike has been hanging in the garage for the past 15 years, and slowly my dad has cannibalized parts off it to fit his Univega. Luckily, he still had the original 27-inch wheels (not the now standard 700C). I just need to get a new crank, 2 chain-rings, and a front derailer. And, of course, some new tires and tubes.

The shifter levers are old-school, friction shifters, and are mounted up on the handlebar stem. The handlebars themselves are the swept back style often found on cruisers.

It'll be a fun project for the evenings.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

First Taste

I tapped into my first bottle of home-brewed rootbeer.

Drum roll please...

I could easily see the yeast sediment in the bottle, so I treated the bottle carefully so as to keep the yeast settled. When I flipped open the top I heard a very satisfying pop of carbonation. The rootbeer had the familiar caramel color, but it was a little cloudy, and I could smell a slight yeasty smell. The carbonation bubbles were nice and small, just what I'd expect in a soda.

But what about the taste? Sadly, it tasted a little yeasty. Not too yeasty to drink, but a little different than I would like. The rootbeer flavor was fairly good, a little bitter - I could have used a little more sugar. I think I'm going to let the rootbeer sit for a while in the fridge, as that's supposed to help reduce the yeast flavor.

Next time I'll use less yeast and a different sweetener - probably either honey or brown sugar, and I'll use a little more than this last batch.

City Trees

This question has been on my mind for a couple of weeks now...

You've probably noticed the large trees in the downtowns of cities that line the sidewalks. For example there are the trees the line the sides of the main branch of the Multnomah County library in downtown Portland. These trees are 40 feet tall and have good-sized trunks. But they're planted in the middle of the city, in a sidewalk, right next to the street. There's very very little bare earth next to these trees, practically none.

So where on earth do they get their water?


Yet another beautiful weekend in Oregon this winter. Mary and I headed to Newport for the afternoon to take a nice, long walk on the beach. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing at a steady 15-20 miles per hour, so our walk was short.

But we had a yummy bowl of chowder, some homemade ice cream, and stopped by a couple of nice little shops. Truth be told, the shops were more up Mary's alley - mostly having the home decorating spin. There were pretty cloths, glassware, (women's) clothing, etc. The shop I was most interested in was the needlework shop, the Twining Thread. Like most shops of its type, it focuses primarily on cross-stitch, but it had a few books and magazines on embroidery (my gig).

Joey remembered us, or at least made a good guess (b/c we've only been in once before, about a year ago). She and her husband own and have run the shop since 2003. She's very enthusiastic about needlework, but she's realistic about the business side of things. So, about a year ago, they created their web page, and it's now the major source of their revenue. Joey was very excited about the web page (it's nice and simple) and we chatted about it (and web business in general) for quite a while.

I've heard of a way to make money by somehow having product searches go through your web page, and somehow you get a few pennies from each sale. It seems like magic because your web page doesn't show any of those products, and the people clicking on the links don't know they're going through your web page, but you can make money. A guy I knew from Intel makes a couple hundred dollars a month from this type of thing. It's not enough to live on, but it sure gives him spending money. I'm going to try to hook up the Twining Thread folks with that information and see if they can get it to work for them.

Half the time we were in Newport I couldn't stop thinking about Root Beer. You see, I mixed it up and put it in bottles just the night before. And when we got home the bottles were pressurized and ready to go into the fridge. I'll be popping one open this afternoon after my bike ride, I can't wait. I'm just a little nervous that I put too much yeast in - so it might have a yeasty flavor. The yeast packets come in a 15 gram size (well, this variety did), but you only need 3 grams for a gallon of rootbeer. I don't have a way to measure 3 grams reliably (the kitchen scale goes from 0 to 2 to 4 grams) so I sort of guessed. Oh well, it only took about 20 minutes to put together.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

March 7th

I finally got back to unicycle club. Mary and I missed the last two weeks of the club due to our little trip to Puerto Rico. I was anxious to see how well my body would remember the little gains I'd made during the first night of unicycle club. Mary was unable to join me because of book club, so I had to go it alone. The gym was packed with nearly 20 kids, all zipping around, playing tag, and learning to cycle backwards. I clung to the wall half out of fear of falling, and half out from worrying about crushing one of them while awkwardly pedalling the one wheel. I needn't have worried because the kids saw my obvious lack of skills and nimbly avoided me while I flailed my way across the gym.

Happily, I had some success: two trips nearly all the way across the gym, 5 half-way, and about a dozen that went 30 feet. I certainly missed having Mary there to lend a hand - it's a lot easier to start with a little help, but I made some good progress. I'm confident that I'll soon be able to wobble my way around the block.

Speaking of bikes, the wheel builder finally has the replacement hub from Chris King. Supposedly, he'll be able to lace it up this week and ship it to me very soon. I'm rather anxious about this because it's been several months. Luckily I've got the single speed to keep me occupied for the few trips I've made into the woods.

Right now I'm flying over Corvallis in Intel's chartered shuttle from Hillsboro to San Jose. The customer wants a face-to-face meeting, and it's always good to show some moral support. Relations continue to be a little rocky for some reason, so my group is making efforts to have face-time at the Santa Clara site.

I stayed at a colleague's house because we were both on the early flight. We got to the airport late and only one of our seats were still available. He graciously gave the seat to me, and he'll try to catch the later flight. My stupid phone ran out of battery (I had two bars going to bed), so the alarm never went off, and he was a little too lax in waking me (his ride) up. I knew it was going to be a problem from my last experience of being late to the shuttle.

The traveling is but a diversion from my latest hobby - brewing root beer. All the supplies arrived over the weekend, and I removed the labels off the bottles. I just need to sanitize the bottles, mix up a batch, and try it out.

I tasted the couple rootbeers I picked up at CostPlus last week. The Bulldog brew tasted lightly like honey and (what I assume is) sassafras; good, but not as spicy as I would really like. I liked the Briars a little more as it had a little more spice and had more of a brown sugar flavor. It is going to be hard to determine my "favorite" rootbeer because they all taste different. I definitely like the spicier brews, but the sweetener used has such an impact on the flavor that the spices take somewhat of a back seat. Hopefully I can find a good source of relatively fresh spices - the brewshop has bags of dried spices that look as old as the shop, and the co-op doesn't wintergreen (maybe I could special order it).

Mary and I checked out the local brewing supply shop over the weekend. Like probably any brewing place, they've got everything I would have needed, but I'm glad to have purchased the concentrates from a place that makes their own. The shop even has the roots and herbs for flavoring rootbeer from scratch - including sasparailla poupori. Turns out sasparilla is carcinogenic, so it has to be labeled as poupori and not a food item. Nobody says how carcinogenic the stuff is, so I'm unsure whether I'm going to give it a try or not.

The brewshop also has wine, and Mary picked out a wonderful bottle with a risque name, 2003 Menage a Trois Red (because it has three varieties of grape) from Folie a Deux. It has to be one of the best red wines I've had in years (not that I drink very much wine). It tasted sweet, and very fruity, almost like a great sangria in a bottle. We'll probably pick up a couple of bottles to have around.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Starbucks Chantico

About a week before Puerto Rico I went to a lift class - we did so many lunges and squats that I had trouble walking for the next three days. But, that's not the point.

I was in a class full of women (therefore I had to do all the lunges, couldn't be shown up), and while working out they talked (who the hell has enough breath for that?). The subject of Starbuck's new chocolate drink, Chantico (trademarked no less), came up. For some reason, the gals thought it'd take 3 or 4 people to finish one off. My first thought was, "bring it on."

While waiting for the plane to Puerto Rico in Chicago, Mary brought me my very own cup of liquid chocolate. Turns out, the cup is only about 6 ounces. Six ounces of yumminess I must say. I have no idea how they make it, somehow they keep an entire chocolate bar melted and liquid while in the cup. When a little drip dried out on the lip of the cup, it turned into a piece of chocolate. The Chantico tastes of cinnamon - like Mexican hot chocolate. It's what I always try to make at home and fail.

I had no problem polishing it off, but it was very rich. In fact, it has nearly twice the calorie density as the icing-flavored shake. It's almost got the same number of calories as 2 Hershey's chocolate bars. So, it's not your average beverage.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Root Beer

I like rootbeer. Never liked beer, but rootbeer is pretty tasty.

Generally I prefer Barqs, but will drink Mug or the other name-brand flavors. Thomas Kemper does an ok job, and Heny Weinhard makes a tasty beverage they call rootbeer (but tastes more like cream soda).

Virgils makes a yummy rootbeer, of which Sam and I drank a party keg over Christmas.

Well, I've decided to start brewing my own rootbeer. It's quick and sounds real easy, mix water, flavoring, sugar and yeast (for carbination), wait two weeks, and you're done. I've got the ingredients on order from hoptech, which sounded like it has a couple of different flavors.

While doing research to find out the way to properly brew rootbeer (use ale yeast because champagne yeast can lead to exploding bottles), I found this guy's list of nearly 300 rootbeers, with comments on all of them. While he doesn't like Virgils, he does like Bulldog, which luckily can be found locally. So I stopped by Cost Plus and picked up a couple of bottles, as well as a bottle of Briars rootbeer and red birch beer. I look forward to trying both (they're chilling in the fridge right now). Perhaps I'll learn the error of my ways.

Puerto Rico

Mary and I recently returned from a 2 week vacation in Puerto Rico. Our friends Tim and Maria have a condo about half-way between San Juan and Fajardo (right next to the Westin Rio Mar).

Neither of us had ever been to Puerto Rico, nor had we ever even really thought about that little island, we barely even knew where it was.

Needless to say, Puerto Rico was a great place to visit.

The quick synopsis of the trip was 3 nights on Vieques, a couple days of Maria's parents showing us San Juan, some towns in central Puerto Rico, San Juan, and all sorts of Puerto Rican food. We hiked a couple of times in El Yunque, took a snorkeling trip on a catamaran, hung out on the beach, relaxed in the condo. Some unforeseen things came up, so we didn't get to see quite as much of the island as we would have liked, and we were a bit disappointed that it rained 4 days during the last week we were there.

But, all in all, a good trip.

If we were to go back, I'd spend 80-90% of our time on Vieques and Culebra. Two little islands off the west coast of Puerto Rico. Why? Because they each have postcard-perfect beaches. Amazing white sand, movie-like blue water, and almost nobody on the beaches. Mary and I were both blown away by the beauty of it all - I hope the pictures turn out.

If you go to Puerto Rico, you'll have to rent a car. There really aren't any convenient ways to get around otherwise. I guess you could hire a cab if you wanted, but that'd get expensive real fast. Plus, driving in PR is something to experience first-hand.First of all, very few people signal - Francisco said that if you signal you're letting the other person know your intention and they're ore likely to cut you off. And, inexplicably, about a third of the cars do not have functioning break lights. This makes no sense because most of the cars are newish - late 90's models if not 00's. There's a ton o traffic because there are 2 million cars for the 4 million inhabitants of Puerto Rico. Because of the traffic, and stop-lights on the major highways, you get lots of backups at the lights. Well, people will make U-turns around the people in the left-hand turn lane. This is a common occurrence. And you have all the motorcyclists that regularly ride between the lanes. Then you have the people inching out into traffic. If you're at an busy intersection and can't get in, you just slowly, but continuously inch out into the traffic until someone stops for you. This works both on the side-streets, as well as the major highways.

Surprisingly, there was no road rage. Honking is a common thing, but it's not a "get out of my you fscker!" but more of a "let's go" or "I'm here" kind of honk. We commonly came across people who were driving 40 miles an hour in a 55 mph zone. Nobody seemed to be annoyed, the car just parted around the slowpoke like a stream avoiding a rock. Driving was almost relaxing. Though the lack of street signs was frustrating when we were trying to find places. And the "mileage" markers were in kilometers, while all the signs told you the number of miles that remained.

The roads in Puerto Rico are pretty wild. Most of the roads are full of pot holes (oddly, we didn't see a single road crew). And the roads on Vieques and in the middle of the mountains were like roller coasters, as steep and windy as the little plastic tracks you used with Hot Wheels as a kid. I swear we achieved lift-off on one of the peaks on Viragoes - it felt just like a roller coaster.

I really enjoyed hiking in El Yunque. Mary described it aptly by saying it looked like house plants gone wild. There were groves of bamboo, ferns 20 feet tall, plants that grew on the sides of trees, hand house plants with leaves large enough Mary could hide behind them. The day we hiked on "La Mina" trail it was raining real hard, so we didn't swim under the waterfall because the water was a bit rough, but it looked like it'd be fun.

The food was good, everything is wrapped in plantain and fried. Yum. Tostones, mofongo, pinones and alcapurias were both very tasty, however, I could have done without the blood sausage and the tripe (served with boiled green bananas). But, there was almost no fruit, and definitely no vegetables (other than plantains and roots). I'd hoped for fresh orange juice, but each time we tried to order it, they people tried to give us either Fanta or orange punch.

I can't thanks Tim and Maria enough for their help with setting things up and for the use of their amazing condo. Plus, Maria's parents were a hoot, and showed us many things we would have never seen without their guidance.

Nobody in Puerto Rico had mint, so I was only able to try one Mojito while I was there. Everybody had their own version of a rum punch, which usually tasted like canned pineapple juice. The best rum punch I had was made by a mother/daughter pair we met at La Finca on Vieques - that was yummy. The other good drink I had was "Licor 43" - a schnapps-like liqueur that tastes of vanilla. Yum. I brought a bottle back with me.

And I loved La Finca, a rustic place to hang out in the middle of the jungle on Vieques. The showers have no roof, one of the cats has a black face with a tiny white mustache named "Tienes Leche?", hammocks on the porch, and fruit trees on the grounds. We ate fresh star-fruit, and I took a machete to a coconut and hacked it open. Nothing tastes as good as a coconut you chopped open with a rusty machete by yourself.