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Month: November 2009

No Studs Lost! (Broken In Nokian WXC300 Tires)

A quick ride up to River Bends completed the recommended 30 mile break-in period for the Nokian Hakka WXC300 tires that I picked up for winter riding. The relatively-giant knobs and studs make for an uncomfortable, difficult, vibration-y ride and lead to sore sit bones. The metal on pavement contact also makes for a twitchy ride, very similar to what one finds when riding in light snow. At one point I automatically braked hard while turning and my front wheel slipped while making a harsh metal on stone sound.

During this break-in period no studs were lost, likely due to careful braking, acceleration, and turning. As can be seen here (full res) the center studs which had more contact with pavement were pushed further into the tire, which should help keep them from tearing out during normal use this winter. I can’t help but think of a device which would perform this break-in automatically over the course of a few hours using a motor, weights, an old fork, and an old grinding stone, but that’d definitely be overkill for just me and my one set of tires.

Now that this process is complete I can’t wait to get normal tires back on the bike and ride some single track before the weather gets really bad. I may try for this tomorrow, but with the current forecast it looks like it’ll be sometime mid-week before that’s possible.

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Invisible Wires

Today I spent time rewiring my office to incorporate the new iMac. A few armloads of cables connecting the Mac Pro-bearing rack were removed and things were simplified / organized. I absolutely love having a quiet desk with cables only visible where necessary. I tucked a USB hub out of the way under the desk to the right of my chair for flash drives, and another behind the desk for more permanent connections.

As I’m not sure how it’ll be done the scanner is not yet connected, but I suspect it’ll involve a 10′ USB cable run to the hub on the back side of the desk and a shorter cable to Danielle’s desk for when she wants to use it. My older Dell monitor was moved to Danielle’s desk and fitted with a mini-DVI connector so that she can watch movies on it while using the Macbook screen for normal browsing / work. A new power strip was also added to the rack next to her desk to make plugging in her laptop and charging phones easier. This mostly carpet fisheye shot (full res) shows the two desks as they are with the rack.

Before doing all of this the Mac Pro was also wiped and reinstalled. Hopefully it’ll be photographed tomorrow for listing on eBay come Sunday evening.

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Pie for Breakfast!

There are worse things for breakfast than (very, very tasty) pumpkin pie the morning after returning from the other side of the country. Thanks to some great friends this was a outstanding trip for both Danielle and I, and there’s still a few days left. Today should mostly consist of running errands, prepping the Mac Pro for sale, collecting queued mail at the post office, and maybe (hopefully) a bike ride.

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Brown Food and Maths

In the last twelve hours I have seen Alton Brown give a nice lecture and Q&A (which makes up for missing him in Michigan), eaten at a restaurant which uses Papyrus on its sign and does not suck, and watched the Babbage Difference Engine No.2 (Serial No.2) in action. I just finished eating one each of a Russian spinach pie and apple pie, and Danielle is flying out here now. At some point tomorrow we should be up in San Francisco, and more good food is scheduled to be eaten between now and then.

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Ruby Canyon at Sunset

We were ahead of schedule arriving in Salt Lake City, so I’ve had a while here with a nice 3G connection, so I thought I’d upload this photo taken as we passed through Ruby Canyon near sunset. This is from my cabin, taken with a cheap 50mm lens through the acrylic windows, and without any post-processing save for a bit of cropping.

When in the canyons today I’d wished for a wider lens than the 50mm that I brought, but narrower and without the distortion inherant in the 8mm fisheye. Not wanting to carry large lenses I didn’t bring the 24-70L, but it may have been a good idea. Still, I was able to get a few good images, and more time was spent looking at the canyon directly instead of through a viewfinder.

Tomorrow should involve the Sierra Nevada, including passing through an area right near Donner Pass.


Continental Divide!

Here, have a low-res (due to bandwidth constraints) through-acrylic photo of the train rounding a snow-covered curve a bit west of Denver, not long before passing through the Moffat Tunnel and crossing the Continental Divide.

Thus far the trip has been rather nice. At meals people are seated four to a table, with groups less than four combined as needed. Thus far this has worked out well, and I’ve met some rather interesting people. Food eaten and meal companions have been as follows. While this list currently contains three meals, it’ll be updated with breakfast and lunch from the 17-Nov, as appropriate:

Dinner #1 / 15-Nov-2009:

Food: Bison meatloaf a chipotle sauce, salad w/ vinaigrette dressing, bread, mashed potatos, and a key lime cake covered in blueberries.
Companion(s): A woman who takes the train because of a fear of flying, a retired Air Force cargo and commercial pilot living in Salt Lake City, UT who has the time to take the train and strongly dislikes our airport security, and an oral / maxillofacial surgeon interviewing for residency and booking cheap last-minute travel from Chicago to Omaha.

Breakfast #1 / 16-Nov-2009:

Food: Cheese omelet with grits, bacon, and a croissant.
Companion(s):The same retired pilot from dinner last night, eaten while sitting in the Denver station during a short layover.

Lunch #1 / 16-Nov-2009:

Food: Chipotle black bean burger (Morningstar Farms) with crinkle-cut potato chips and chocolate ice cream.
Companion(s): A boyfriend/girlfriend couple taking the train from Boston to Emeryville, then to Portland and back to Chicago (from there he is then flying back to Turkey to visit his parents and she’s heading to her family’s place in Milwaukee), and with a rather quiet woman who lives near Corvallis, OR who seems to regularly the train when traveling.

Dinner #2 / 16-Nov-2009:

Food: Ricotta-stuffed ravoli-esque pasta, steamed veggies, salad w/ blue cheese dressing, bread.
Companion(s): Retired couple from Sacramento area. Husband works as a process engineer, formerly making Polaris missile fuel for Bridgestone, now for the pharmaceutical company they were spun off as. Wife is a retired librarian, considering applying for director positions.

Diverant from airline food there are no vegan, vegetarian-variant (non-ovo-lacto, etc), or religion-specific (Kosher, Halal, Hindu, etc) meals. Overall the food is definitely better than airline food, but I am glad that I brought some extra snacks on board as I find myself wanting something to munch on that’s a little more in line with my normal tastes.

Meals are served with plastic plates and cups, stainless steel utensils, and disposable table cloths and napkins. Meal choice is made at the table and preparation takes ten to fifteen minutes, implying that non-breakfast foods are semi-prepared. As my breakfast contained eggs it was pretty easy to tell that they were freshly cooked, although they may have been from boxed eggs. The menus are half standard items, and half chef’s special / specials of the day. Breakfast and lunch are first come, first serve, with the queue being assigned numbers which are then called out across the train as available. For dinner someone comes around and asks which of a predetermined set of times one wishes to eat at (one of four), then the reserved time is written on a slip of paper and used as one’s dinner reservation. My dinner reservations for both yesterday and today were at 7:15pm, which allow for eating to take place sometime after sunset. After eating one typically returns to their room to find the seats transformed into beds, ready for sleepytime.

Traveling this late in the year with the sun setting so early makes it a bit dull later in the evenings, but drawing the curtains to block light from the car’s hallway and turning out the in-cabin lights makes things outside, including stars, plenty visible. Towns, and their typically rail-side industrial areas are particularly visible and interesting at night. Last night I also used this time to watch a mountain biking historical film called Klunkerz, and today I’m writing this post. I wish I’d brought along one more movie for tonight, but books or the provided-daily newspaper will defintely suffice.

After spending the whole of the day sitting in various comfortable chairs and looking out large windows (floor to ceiling, wrapping around to the roof when in the observation / lounge car) looking at beautiful mountains and canyons I feel certain that this is a wonderful way to travel. If one can afford the extra time and doesn’t mind being with minimum facilities for a few days, this is an ideal way to cross the country. There is generally no security theater††, comfortable seating, decent food, self-service coffee/water/juice, the ability to move around, time to walk outside during smoke breaks / extended stops, and the ability to isolate one’s self in a comfortable private cabin. If I wish to talk to others the observation / lounge car is easily accessible, but while sitting here I’ve felt completely detached from the other passengers, free to simply sit and look out the window, relaxing and watching the country roll by.

Brought along in a Trader Joe’s paper grocery bag were Trader Joe’s Oh My! Omega trail mix, TJ’s Tom Yum Cashews, TJ’s “This apple walks into a bar…”, Meiji Almond, Cisco’s Coconut Sable Biscuits, Suntory’s Black Boss Coffee, a 10oz bag of caramel corn from “Nuts On Clark” in Chicago’s Union Station, and two bottles of Goats Do Roam-brand wine; one eponymous and one bottle of Goats In Villages. Note that a personal stock of alcohol is permitted to be consumed in one’s private cabin, but it may not be brought to common areas such as the dining car, observation car, or coach seating.

†† Unexpectedly there were fifteen or so low-visibility (non-uniformed but with badges and firearms strapped to arms or legs, wearing logo’d jackets) DHS folks all armed with handguns, with two dogs, waiting for us at the normally-lengthy stop in Grand Junction, CO. The cabin attendant indicated that normally they visit the train in Reno, NV looking for drugs, but these dogs were bomb sniffing. I tend to believe the explosive dog claim, as when I walked past one and the dog started to sniff me, the officer holding it pulled it back. I’ve never had a drug sniffing dog not be allowed to sniff me all it wanted. While lingering around the outside of the train during this extended break I overheard the DHS individuals repeatedly refering to a female and boarding the train via the dining car’s non-public ground-level entrance. Despite this, I never saw anyone actually being removed from the train, and all the identifiable DHS individuals seemed to depart the area at the same time, in unmarked vehicles, before the train left the station.


Here We Go!

I’m now sitting in an Amtrak Superliner Roomette much like this one beginning a multi-day trip across the country. Per the timetable we should be in Denver at about 8am tomorrow, meaning that most of the night will be spent transiting Nebraska. The next morning should find us in Reno, and the following evening in Emeryville.

Thanks to the miracle of modern tech I’ve been able to secure a data connection, but I’m not sure how long it’ll last. I’d be very surprised if data connections are available along the whole of the route.

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Now Approaching Ludicrous Size

The iMac has arrived, and its 27″, 2560×1440 display is simply absurd. While perspective in the the image above doesn’t make it look that large, the Apple flying-esque intro video almost made me feel motion sick. The 15″ Dell Latitude D620 (which I’m using while data migrates from the Mac Pro) feels netbook-esque, and the older 20″ Dell UltraSharp 2005FPW feels dimunitive. It is also very quiet, which is wonderful.

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Rough Riding

As expected, the Nokian Hakka WXC300 tires acquired last week are not fun to ride on pavement. They are very noisy (read: difficult to talk over) and knobby enough that the vibration makes one’s ass sore pretty quickly. However, the package recommends that they be ridden for 30 miles on pavement before use off road, so today’s group ride out to Metro Beach and back worked well for this. With roughly 18-19 miles on the tires I’ll attempt another ride tomorrow to finish off the break-in; possibly a quick 12 mile-ish ride up to River Bends and back.

I can’t get the noise out of my head. An hour and twenty minutes of 300 metal spikes hitting pavement with every tire rotation. With a circumference of 2099mm and tonight’s ride being 18.79 miles, that’s roughly 3,034,070 discreet metal-on-stone click sounds in rapid succession, not dissimilar from similar to riding over a sheet of bubble wrap. An endless sheet of bubble wrap. For an hour and twenty minutes.

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