Yay, Physics! Boo, Traffic!

I always enjoy Rhett’s articles. I rarely try to follow the math completely, but good stuff nonetheless. This one is pretty simple physics. I could probably still work out projectile motion problems like this. He often does nifty things with video analysis, although not in this piece. But what really struck me about this particular article was the secondary bits about traffic jams. The last video was cool, demonstrating just how little of a perturbation is needed in order to create a traffic jam of sorts. But the one before it, with Bill Beaty showing how to (help) defeat traffic jams was really awesome. I’ve done similar things in the past, trying to drive at the average speed, but I usually end up getting annoyed or frustrated when others cut in. His is a great reminder to have a Zen attitude about the whole thing. Imagine if everyone drove that non-competitively!! Spread the word!

As American as Apple Pie

I’ve posted before about buying American made jeans. I’ve come to like the All American Clothing jeans quite well, and so I’ve placed a number of orders there over the years. My first order was placed back on March 9, 2009, and was order #40208. It was for 3 pairs of jeans: one American made Carhartt black jeans, one pair of carpenter jeans, and one pair of their “AA101” jeans at $34.95. Curiously, the second order was 2 years to the day later, and included 2 pr of the AA101’s at $39.95. (Order 63502). I had accidentally ordered the wrong size of one type, but the person reviewing the order noticed the discrepancy and emailed me to double check. Score an A for customer service!!

At some point, they stopped selling the Carhartt, and then at a later time they added an AA101B in black. I’m not sure exactly when it was, but I did file this into their customer service website back on November 13, 2013:

Another abandoned cart. So, here I am with 3 pairs of jeans in my shopping cart, and I want to add a fourth — black jeans in size 37×32. But they’re not in stock. You don’t give me an option to back-order them, or anything else. I would backorder them. I’d be glad to wait for them to come back in stock, then have you ship the whole order. But I’m not going to buy 3 pair now, and have to pay to ship the fourth pair later. I’ve been waiting for the black jeans. One of my first orders with you, you still had Carhartt black jeans (I believe it was), and I ordered them. But then you stopped carrying them (perhaps it was that they were no longer made in America). So I ordered my black jeans from Diamond Gusset. But now I’ve been trying to place an order here for quite some time (not continually, mind you, just every so often when I think of it and have the time. Sometimes when you send an ad, I check out the site and try to place my order). But this is at least the second time that one of the items is out of stock. You also don’t offer me a way to be notified when an item does come back in stock, so it comes down to when I think of it and have the time. C’mon, now — you’re American! You can do better than this! 🙂

There was some back and forth in email, all very pleasant and thoughtful with their staff, but it wasn’t until 6 months later that I was able to order the jeans. So that was May of 2014 that I placed my next order, #112475, and the AA101’s were $48.99. They did give me a 20% discount on the black pair for having had to wait so long. At that time, they were promoting some concept of “traceability” and each pair of pants came with some little card with a unique number on it with which you could go to some website to look up the provenance of your jeans. I never bothered. Presumably, you could see pictures of the actual cotton plants that went into your jeans or something like that. And presumably, that was at least part of the justification for the big cost increase.

On the day of the last snowstorm of this season (fingers crossed…), I took a spill which ended up ripping my beloved AA101B’s, so that very same day I went to order a replacement pair. Another pair of blue jeans was getting a bit worn, too, so it was definitely time for an order. When I visited the site, I was dismayed to see that they were discontinuing the AA101B, due to lack of demand.

I don’t know, but it seems to me that demand would be pretty hard to measure if you don’t carry a product for 6+ months, and don’t allow people to back order it, and don’t provide a means for people to learn when something comes back in stock. Sheesh. So, not only that, but they didn’t have my inseam. Not only that, but there was no “sale” on the discontinued product. When I asked customer service, they said that I could get them hemmed for $10 more. After some email back and forth, they offered a 15% discount on the now $52.95 (!) jeans. So I bought 2 pair and had them hemmed. Order #205091 And now, what do I see a week later? Now they are selling them at $25/pair.

Thanks a lot, All American Clothing. I think that back when I initially ordered, the Diamond Gusset jeans were a bit over $50, so they were a lot more than the All Americans. But they have not gone up in price much, while the All Americans have gone up way faster than my salary. Not sure there will be a fifth order from me.


Bike Commuting Stats

So I’ve been stationed in Waltham a little over six months now, and with prime biking season behind me, I thought it was time to check in on the statistics. Since 17 April 2015, I have had 34 days where I was in the Waltham office for the whole day — those are the days where commuting by bike is a viable option. Of those 34 days, I rode my bike to work 26 of them, or 76%. I feel pretty good about that. It’s exercise I wouldn’t likely have gotten otherwise, and it’s also days that I didn’t drive the NOx-imizer. Other mildly interesting (to me…) highlights of the data include the fact that in July I rode in all 6 of the possible days. August, on the other hand, complicated by vacation and work travel, saw only 1 possible bike commuting day, and I missed it for no good reason (failed to prepare the night before).

While the best commuting days are behind me, I will still continue to try to find days to do so. It’s 4 November today, and I did ride in both today and yesterday. With the weather getting colder, and there being fewer available daylight hours, it is more challenging. Though to address the light, I do have both head and tail lights, and a new helmet with built in lights. And other amenities. For the cold, I have gloves, tights, and a long sleeved jersey. Definitely good into the upper 30’s, not sure how much lower. Would probably need thermal shoe covers next, which would imply clipless pedals, etc. While I have those on my road bike, I like being able to ride my commuter in whatever shoes I happen to be wearing. Time will tell…

Fahrschaden: It’s what makes a TDI a Volkswagen

from the German fahren, to drive, and schaden, damage or harm. A play on the old VW slogan Fahrvergnügen: It's what makes a car a Volkswagen.

I wrote a while back about our most recent car purchase, a 2011 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI. I confess I’ve really enjoyed the car. It’s fun to drive, it has enough passenger and cargo space to be useful, it gets very good mileage (so I don’t feel awfully guilty the vast majority of times when I’m alone in it), and it’s environmentally friendly, incorporating VW’s “Clean Diesel” (oh, the irony of that link bringing up a 404…) technology. Or so we all thought.

As it turns out, Volkswagen was pulling a fast one. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get the great mileage they wanted to provide at the same time that they could reduce emissions sufficiently to pass EPA muster. It was interesting for me to learn that there is a trade-off here. I would have thought that burning the fuel more efficiently meant lower emissions. And perhaps that is true, but apparently it can mean more of the emissions that are harmful. For a software engineer, it turns out the answer to this conundrum was straightforward — you don’t need to do them both at the same time. Apparently, according to someone at VW (engineer? management? the engineer in me wants to think/hope it was the latter), you can generally run dirty with good mileage, but when there’s no steering input, you can assume that emissions testing is taking place (or idling) and then you can turn on all the fancy emissions reduction equipment.

I must say, this is very distressing to me. The purchase decision was made in large part from an honest attempt to be environmentally conscientious. As outlined in the earlier post, we bought a used car intentionally; we didn’t buy a hybrid out of concern for the environmental impact of mining the metals that go into the batteries; also, diesel fuel is less refined from crude than gasoline, so my gut tells me (the same gut that tells me efficiency == less emissions) that there must be some environmental cost to the additional refinement of gasoline; diesel fuel is more energy dense than gasoline, so transporting it is more economical; and miracle of miracles, VW had solved the emissions problem. Hallelujah! Now, it’s pretty challenging to get a good, accurate, complete “cradle to grave” analysis of the environmental costs of one car vs. another, but what I’m hoping to convey here is that we gave it some considerable thought to the issue, and intended to do “The Right Thing.”

I have expounded to countless friends and colleagues on the virtues of VW’s “Clean Diesel” technology, the problems of other technologies (i.e. hybrids). I was a walking VW ad at times. I would gleefully point out how I could accelerate uphill at 70 m.p.h. and still get better fuel mileage (thanks, MFI!) than my previous vehicle (a Ford Ranger) averaged with mostly highway driving. I proudly drove this car. I even had mental plans for creating a special TDI badge for the back of the car that would recognize when it passed another TDI and “blink hello” in TDI solidarity and camaraderie.

Now, I confess to being somewhat ashamed about driving the car. I want to put a big “Sorry, I didn’t know!” sign on it. I used to always suggest to Susan that we take the wagon instead of the van when we didn’t have a van load of people, and especially for longer trips. Now all I can think about is the fact that I’m spewing up to 40x the EPA limit of NOx when I drive. And that hurts.

So what is Volkswagen up to now? I’d like to think that in the intervening years since they hacked the software in this engine, they’ve been working diligently to make the promise of Clean Diesel a reality. But if that were true, I think we’d be hearing something telling us they’re close. But we’re not. So I hope that VW has their best and brightest working tirelessly on this now, and until it’s solved. And by solved, I mean delivering on the original promise of Clean Diesel — EPA approved emissions under real world conditions while providing the power and fuel economy we TDI owners have come to know.

On the practical side, what will become of these cars? Will I be allowed to continue to drive it? Will I be allowed to sell it? Will I even be able to sell it? How much value has been lost? Will VW make us owners whole?

Besides which, now my father-in-law is now teasing me about (cheating) VW being the official car of The (cheating) Patriots. Ouch. But at least I can stand up for the Patriots.

2 Days, 33 Miles, 9000′, 6 Summits.

My friend Mike (previously mentioned) has been on a quest to hike up to all 48 NH summits that are 4000′ or higher. I’ve been privileged to come along on a few of those hikes. This one was really quite challenging.

We started early on Sunday morning, leaving Arlington at 4:00 a.m. (which meant that Mike left even earlier) and arriving at the trailhead by 6:30. We ate breakfast in the car so we could get an early start hiking. Good thing, too. The beginning couldn’t have been easier — the Lincoln Woods Trail, which is a railbed and thus flat and straight, even with my 35+ pound pack. From there we followed the Black Pond Trail up to Black Pond, and from there, we “bushwhacked” “due north” until we hit the Lincoln Brook Trail. The bushwhacking was a bit of an adventure, and it wasn’t clear that it saved much time, but now we can say we’ve done it. We followed the Lincoln Brook up to the well marked beginning of the unmaintained scree path up Owl’s Head. At this point in our hiking, we had met up with about 3 other pairs of hikers, including Cathy, who’s training to hike Kilimanjaro later this month!

The hike up Owl’s Head provided a good challenge for maintaining one’s footing. I dropped my pack at the base, and just carried a water bottle up. Owl’s Head is not the most interesting summit, but the hike up and back provided some good views, and interesting greenery. After our descent, we struggled a bit to follow the supposedly marked Lincoln Brook Trail. Also at 13 Falls, we had a bit of trouble finding the Twin Brook Trail, which took us the final 2.7 miles to Galehead Hut. Teasingly, we came across a sign marking when we were within a quarter mile of the hut, but it seemed as though we hiked an hour more to actually get to the hut. This day of hiking seemed about 2.7 miles too long for my legs. That last trail was only completed by thinking about putting one foot in front of the other for a very long time. I confess I was not the best companion at that point. Dinner was immensely enjoyable, with soup, salad, baked stuffed shells, and a dessert that was called Apple Crisp, which certainly did contain apples. I suspect that only hungry hikers (myself included) would have indulged in a second serving.

We had thought that if we arrived early enough, we would drop our packs at the hut, and do the short and easy climb up to Galehead. In the end, we arrived shortly before dinner, and were glad to have an excuse to be done for the day. At least I was. But we did head out the next morning before 6:00 to take in Galehead before breakfast.

In spite of one big mistake on the way down, where we managed to turn and follow the wrong trail rather than go straight on the right trail (didn’t even see the sign!), we got back to the hut well before breakfast, and had time to finish packing up. Breakfast included oatmeal, pancakes, bacon and eggs, and was served with enthusiasm by the hut staff.

From the hut, we headed down the Twinway Trail to South Twin. It was still quite overcast when we arrived there, so the views were less than stellar, but we were grateful not to be socked in with fog. We remained on the Twinway headed to Mt. Bond, and near Mt. Guyot it intersects with the Bondcliff Trail. We followed Bondcliff to a point where a spur trail heads over to West Bond. If we’d been thinking properly, we’d have dropped packs for that up-and-back segment. But that just meant more exercise for me with my 35+ pound pack. From West Bond you get a good view of the ridge between Bond and Bondcliff, and from there, it looks quite narrow and treacherous. In reality, it was not nearly as frightening as it looked, but the wind whipped across that ridge like crazy, threatening to knock us both over. At Bond we once again met up with a large multi-generational family group that had also stayed at Galehead Hut overnight.

We continued on the Bondcliff trail through its namesake peak, then began our long descent. The trek down was about as easy as it gets in the mountains. The slope was pretty gentle, and the terrain was pretty forgiving. We took that about 4.4 miles until it hits the Wilderness Trail, then followed that and the Lincoln Woods trail for about 5.4 more miles. On day 2, at least partly due to the smaller altitude gain, my legs really didn’t complain much. However the final 5.4 miles brought on 2 big blisters on the balls of my feet that made the remainder of the day rather painful. The very flat walk out along the Lincoln Woods Trail was begging me to really push the pace, and I did for a couple of miles, but then my mind ceased being able to ignore the reality of my soles, and I slowed down.

After washing up a bit at the rest room, we stopped for a celebratory dinner. I’m not sure that a burger and a beer ever tasted quite so perfect as they did then, in spite of the pain involved in getting from the car to our table and back.

To summarize:

Day 1: 17.4 mi, 5700′, 1 summit
Day 2: 15.8 mi, 3500′, 5 summits
Total: 33.2 mi, 9000′, 6 summits

Here are some pictures from the hike, in case the words were insufficient.

Mike's Final 6 Summits

The Mike Hike, 2015 Edition

My friend MikeD is an avid hiker, and tries to get me and others out hiking on occasion. Often, we will do a long group hike when a bunch of us have taken a week long vacation together. Those vacations are generally up in northern New England, so hiking is a convenient activity.

On many of our group vacations, there have been two large group hikes: the “family” hike which is traditionally “kid-friendly” and the Mike Hike, so named because 3 of the core group of hikers are named Alan. I mean Mike. In recent years, as our group of children has gotten older and stronger, some have pushed to be included in the Mike Hike. And of course, they can sprint up the mountains, and when/if they fall, they can generally bounce back up. But they are still children, and have yet to develop a certain amount of character, so they are quick to let us know when they are tired, hungry, cold, hurt, thirsty, bored, etc. But that’s OK — it will come.

This year, our traditional group vacation did not happen (it has been getting harder to schedule), but MikeD did invite the hikers of the bunch to go up to NH with him this weekend for a couple of hikes, and a bike ride between (over 3 days). In the end, it was MikeD and myself on Friday, and on Saturday, MikeV drove up to join us. Even before we had finalized plans, the weather forecast for Sunday was pretty iffy.

Even so, we packed up our bikes in the back of MikeD’s minivan, along with our hiking gear, and headed up to Pinkham Notch. We got started around 10:15 a.m. after the long drive, and hiked up the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to the Carter Notch Trail, up Carter Notch to the Carter Notch Hut where we stopped briefly and had our “lunch.” We then continued on the Carter-Moriah Trail up to Carter Dome, then down the Carter Dome Trail with a brief excursion to Mt. Hight. Carter Dome didn’t offer much for views, but Mt. Hight had an excellent 360 degree view. A short while before we arrived, it started to drizzle, so we didn’t stay long, but instead got our rain gear on and continued on. The rain didn’t last too long, thankfully, and we continued on to Zeta Pass where we had to decide whether to continue on and attempt the South and Middle Carter summits after about 5 hours of hiking and some uncertainty about the weather. We elected to wimp out and head back to the car, which still took us 2 more hours of hiking down Carter Dome Trail, and back along Nineteen Mile Brook Trail. It was probably the prudent choice, as we finished up around 5:30.

After the hike, we drove a short way to Jackson where we found a hotel room, showered, then had a moderately disappointing dinner at the Red Parka Steak House, which was surprisingly crowded for a mediocre restaurant. The staff were friendly, though.

Then, after a tired hiker’s sleep, we had a big, leisurely hotel buffet breakfast, and eventually drove back up to Pinkham Notch to meet up with MikeV. Well, needless to say (though we had failed to factor it in), it was significantly more crowded on Saturday than Friday, and there was no parking in the lot. We managed to see MikeV as he was parking along the side of the road (good thing, because mobile phone service was quite spotty! Curiously, my ATT&T was doing better around there than Verizon, who almost always has better service in rural areas). We parked MikeV’s car at the Nineteen Mile parking area, where we intended to finish our hike for the day, and drove back in MikeD’s van to the visitors’ center, where we were starting for the day. It’s about a 4 mile gap.

We started from the visitors’ center up the Lost Pond Trail (which we found for them — you’re welcome!) which meets the Wildcat Ridge Trail. This climbs up to Wildcats E-A in reverse alphabetical order. The two that “count” are Wildcat D and Wildcat A. When we were near the D summit, we encountered a group of hikers, one of whom was in flip-flops. We were simultaneously impressed and horrified that someone would climb a mountain in flip flops. A short while later, we began to hear the humming of machinery, and more human activity, and all of a sudden we came out of the woods at the top of the Wildcat Gondola, and we were then simultaneously relieved and understanding about the woman in flip-flops. Wildcat D has a short tower you can climb to get better views, which we did, and we broke out our various lunches to eat there.

After lunch, we continued on through C, B, and A, and there wasn’t much for views along this ridgeline. The surprising thing was just how much the ridge dipped between peaks. We know that if it were more than 200′, it would be another “official” 4000 footer, so we mustn’t have dipped that far, but it was still a lot. Although the views from these peaks left something to be desired, the views on the way up to E were excellent. When we got to A there was a large group there, and they appeared to be in no hurry to leave. So we didn’t stay long, and barely got to see the “Vista” advertised by a sign along the trail.

The way down was steep, but the trail was quite well maintained. Rocks had been placed along the way to make it effectively a staircase going down. We were glad to be going in the direction we were. The stairs would have been fine to climb up, but the steep trail up to E had us scrambling over lots of boulders, which we all agreed was easier on the way up than it would have been on the way down. Eventually, we met back up with our friend, the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, and hiked along that for the third time in two days to get back out to Rt. 16 where MikeV’s car was parked.

After the hike, we drove in MikeV’s car back to where MikeD’s car was parked, stopped briefly at the visitor’s center, and started back towards home, stopping at the Moat Mountain Brewery where we had an excellent, and surprisingly inexpensive meal/beer for a great way to end the weekend.

Commuting Stats

When we left off, I had commuted by bike 1/1 full days to Waltham. In the ensuing three weeks, I’ve had seven full days here, and have commuted by bike five of those. Pretty pleased so far. The trip to work ends with the final mile and a quarter incorporating three uphills. They are not long, but they are still challenging for me. The first, on Main St. in Waltham just before crossing I-95 is about a quarter mile long and climbs fifty feet. The second comes after turning onto Bear Hill Rd. and elevates me 54 feet over .14 miles — basically twice as steep. On the first, if I really push, I can almost maintain 8 mph up it (but not quite). That second hill, I am generally glad to just get up and over, although the past two days I have climbed it out of the saddle, which got my heart rate up to 161. The third hill is really not much of a hill. It’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t notice unless you’d just been up two other challenging hills — 38 feet over .13 miles. Well, that’s what the GPS reports anyway. Looking at the numbers, I’m surprised it’s as close to that second hill as it seems to be. But altitude is GPS’ least accurate dimension, so who knows for sure.

Movin’ on up!

A couple of years ago, MEDITECH purchased a new building along rt 128 (aka I-95). On my commute to work, no matter whether I was heading into my usual office in Framingham, or other offices in Westwood or Canton (we have others, but I rarely have occasion to go to them), I’d drive right past the Waltham building on my way. I’ve been in the Framingham building since December of 1995, though I’ve had to make a couple of intra-building moves in those years due to renovations. Around the time the Waltham building was purchased, there was a push to consolidate groups into the same building, which limited my chances of getting moved. But there was apparently enough internal resistance that it didn’t really pan out. So recently, my request, along with one other co-worker in my group, was approved! On Tuesday, I packed up my stuff from Framingham, loaded it into the car:
(Un)Locked and Loaded!
and on my way home, I stopped at the Waltham building and unpacked. I did leave behind one thing in Framingham that I don’t know what to do with — two paper boxes filled with hundreds (at least) of CD’s and DVD’s. If anyone has an interesting art project in mind that could make use of these, let me know…

I used to bike into Framingham on occasion. Generally about once a week in good weather, but not always. Riding out to Framingham is not for the faint of heart — there really aren’t good ways of getting there that follow nice quiet country roads. You’re generally biking along pretty fast highways with a fair amount of traffic, and some of them are rather narrow. So when riding in to work, I would always try to leave early, like around 5:30 to avoid the worst of the traffic. Once we adopted our dog, Sadie, and I had to walk her in the morning, this became essentially impossible. But working in Waltham makes biking to work a viable option again. It’s half the distance, and the roads are not as bad. So on Wednesday, my first full day in the new building, I was able to bike in and bike home! Thursday, I drove, but that was because I had a meeting in Canton. Thus far, I am 1/1 for commuting by bike on days that I am in Waltham for the entire day.

#BlizzBlog Day 1: The Plowing

It started snowing mid to late afternoon Monday, but the snow was pretty light until later in the evening. The governor declared a state of emergency, asking everyone to stay off the road except for emergencies. So why, oh why, do the plows go by so often on my little street? I can understand not waiting until the storm is over, but I think realistically there’s no need to plow every 1/4 inch that falls. Sheesh.

The Technology Optimist

I suppose I could rightfully be accused of thinking too often that I can solve a problem around my house with the application of just a little more technology. Guilty as charged. But for some problems, technology is the best answer, or the only rational answer.

Nicholas Negroponte is also a “TO.” I love the vision of the One Laptop per Child organization he helped to found, to “empower the world’s poorest children through education” and to provide that education, in part, by providing

each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. To this end, we have designed hardware, content and software for collaborative, joyful, and self-empowered learning. With access to this type of tool, children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share, and create together. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.

I bought two of these XO laptops, for my two older children, when the devices first came out. The organization had a “Buy One, Get One” campaign at that time. I would have called it a “Buy Two, Get One” campaign, though, because you paid for two devices and only received one. The other one went to a child somewhere the organization was deploying them, generally in conjunction with federal governments. Each “pair” of laptops cost $400 at the time. They were really nifty devices, so well thought out for their purpose like no commercial product could be. They were designed to be serviceable and rugged. The screen was an amazing piece of technology developed just for the XO — it was a color display, but had a monochrome mode that was enabled by turning the backlight all the way down. And in the monochrome mode, the screen was completely readable in the bright sun. This was important to them, because in rural African villages, which were one of their target “markets” that’s where school is held!

The devices were also designed to work together to provide a “mesh” network, so that if there was internet access in a village, the laptops themselves could extend the network outward to homes. They also came up with innovative chargers, and other adjunct bits of support technology. Later on, I bought a third one from a friend who had bought a couple, but wasn’t using one.

In the end, my kids treated the devices more as toys than anything else, at least in part because they had easy access to computers at home that were much more powerful. And I happily donated the three back to the foundation. They continue to work on innovative hardware and software to help spread knowledge and educate children.

So today my Twitter Feed had a link to an IndieGoGo campaign that sounded intriguing and very “TO” — the Lantern. This is a nifty, pocket(ish) sized device that receives all kinds of content over a satellite link, and can provide a wifi hotspot that any wifi enabled device can connect to in order to consume the content. It’s not an “active” connection to the internet, but rather acts like a web server with static content. They plan to provide the content of wikipedia, among many other things, including near real time news and weather info. This can help in areas where other infrastructure has been affected, or where governments restrict access to the internet. And as it’s a broadcast technology, nobody can easily track who’s receiving the data. They compare the drive to get these devices out to people like Andrew Carnegie’s building of public libraries, and it’s not hard to see why.