HBTM!

Today was our first full day in Geneva, and as we are still getting on the local time, we ended up sleeping in until 9:00. We had a simple breakfast at home, and Susan and Emma met at the information booth, then returned home. We ventured forth to the train station, and took a tram out to Plainpalais,

which is a big open square where there is a huge flea market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but today there was only a modest selection of sellers due to the rain. After looking around, we went for lunch at Le Gruyérien and met one of Emma’s friends there.

After a delicious and leisurely lunch, we walked to the Patek-Philippe Museum where we got to see many, many watches. I was expecting more of a history of watchmaking (think the mechanical aspects), but it was more of an exhibit about the artistic aspects of watches. Cool stuff, and made us think about how watches are (generally…) less a piece of artwork/jewelry today, and more utilitarian. On the other hand, most people today could afford a watch, whereas in the early days of watchmaking, presumably only the wealthy could. Lots to think about there. Also, the heyday of watches sort of passed when nearly everyone began carrying a cell phone, which has a built in clock. That said, few would accuse a Patek Philippe (or indeed any of the famous Swiss brands) of being utilitarian.

From there, we headed to see Emma’s digs, but stopped on the way to have a coffee at Boréal Coffee Shop which is Emma’s favorite local cafe. And finally, we headed back to our apartment, where we shared a simple dinner.

Switzerland

So, we made it to Geneva, and Emma met us at the airport. She helped us buy tickets for the tram, and that took us as far as the Cornavin train station, and from there we walked down to the Lac Léman (a.k.a. Lake Geneva) and waited until it was time to be let into our AirBNB apartment where we are staying for the week. We settled in, and some of us napped while Emma went off to run some errands. When Emma returned, we walked to the train station (which also has lots of shopping in it) and bought a local pre-paid SIM card for one of our phones, and did some grocery shopping. We returned to the apartment, had a light dinner, and then ventured out on a surprise outing that Emma had arranged to have fondue at a restaurant (Bains des Pâquis) on the lake. We had a great time there, the fondue was delicious, and the setting was lovely. Plus, we learned a thing or two about ordering fondue.

Travel Day

On Thursday after school/work, our good family friend Alexx drive us to the airport. We arrived around 4:00 for our scheduled 6:10 boarding and 6:40 flight. The Air Canada section of the terminal was small and quite crowded, but we were able to find 4 seats relatively close together. And after a flight or two left, we were able to be all together, though Clara wandered off to the big charging table to top off her phone.

The 5:40 flight to Montreal was significantly late, and we began to get a bit anxious about ours, as the plane had not arrived by 6:00. I’m not sure exactly when it did, but they turned out around relatively quickly, and we left sometime around 7:20. It’s a short flight, but we didn’t have a lot of leeway in our schedule. Our flight out of Montreal was scheduled to depart at 8:50. We got to Montreal around 8:20, but everything takes a while, and as we were hustling to the departure gate, which of course was basically at the other end of the terminal, they announced final boarding for our flight. So we really hustled the last bit only to stand in line at the end of the jetway. That flight left about a half hour late, but got to Geneva on time.

EDC

If you weren’t aware EDC stands for Every Day Carry — the things you keep with you all the time so they will be handy. Here’s what I tend to carry on my person (thankfully, my pants have good pockets):

Top row includes:

Bottom Row:

And about in the middle we have the Nokia Go step tracker. Of course when I got it, it wasn’t Nokia, it was Withings, but they were purchased by Nokia.

Maybe someday I will do a backpack dump, but that would take a lot more work.

Hello, World!

When you start programming, or pick up a new programming language, often the first program you write is referred to as a “Hello, World!” program, because for the most part all you want to do is be able to produce a working program, so printing something like “Hello, World!” to the screen often feels like a great start. Once you have that working, you can expand upon it.

So we have a MOD-t 3-D printer that we bought a couple of years ago, and I’ve printed a bunch of things on it, but they were all things that other people designed. I’d always wanted to be able to do my own designs, and had two particular projects in mind. One is a part of a cover for a Starbucks travel mug. I have one that I really like, but the small piece which closes over the mouth hole keeps coming off. It doesn’t really stay in the cover, and is constantly at risk of being lost. So I’ve wanted to create a replacement. But that would seem to require considerable design skill. On the simpler end, I have a portable phone charger that I carry, which doubles as a flashlight. I like it, but periodically the light will come on in my pocket, and I may or may not notice. If I don’t, the battery will die. So I’ve wanted to create an end cap for it, to protect the switch from being pressed accidentally by all the other things in my pockets.

And so I have! I created such a cap using the program OpenSCAD which allows you to design things by describing them with code. For this particular item, it is essentially 3 things: a pretty flat cylinder for the base, a hollow cylinder for the body, and another hollow cylinder that sits just inside the larger one, which is very small to make a tiny ridge inside the body, enabling the cap to “snap” fit on the device at its seam. On the 8th try, I have something I am now happy with:IMG_2764

And I have “published” this design to a site called Thingiverse, which is the biggest repository of shared 3-D designs on the web. We’ll see if anyone else finds it useful.

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.

AAOrders

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