Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Monday, December 28, 2009

After-Christmas Trip Report

Summary: The way down was a lot slower than the way up, but still not too bad.


Left home at around 3pm; there were a few reports of slowness on the NJ Turnpike, so I just skipped it entirely, taking Route 1 South (which is kind of like the built-up parts of Lee Highway, lots of lights, and just as jammed up in spots, too), to Route 295 South (smooth sailing).

Getting into Delaware, though, it was already congested in the usual spots, so I detoured down another Route 1 (Delaware), to go around and down via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Route 1 in Delaware has a bridge that's lit up nicely at night -- it's the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge (the Senator William V. Roth, Jr. Bridge). One of these days, I'll figure out how to take a good shot while (driving) in a moving car. I got a couple of crappy pics, instead:

IMG_2320 IMG_2319

The Bay Bridge route was uneventful (going through those small towns in Maryland can be kind of a pain, though). I took Route 50 in and cut through the District, to avoid any Beltway backups because of the football game.

Travel time, just under 5 hours.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Christmas Miracle (of Sorts) and Christmas Music Musings

GPS trip summary from Christmas Eve:


Wanting to avoid the bulk of the traffic, I left at 7:45pm (though I probably could have done just as well leaving a lot earlier, this being Christmas and not Thanksgiving).

I actually would have left 15 minutes earlier, but a neighbor's guest had gotten his BMW X3 stuck in a plowed snowbank -- isn't traction control supposed to keep that from happening? -- so I spent a few minutes helping to dig them out. Not sure how much I helped, but it felt right.

Anyway, I got in just at 11pm. Total travel time: Three hours and 15 minutes, averaging just under 70mph, which is really good for me. I don't usually go more than 80, the 90.2 max speed shown above notwithstanding -- I only did it to get past a left-lane hog on the 2-lane section of the NJ Turnpike; he keep speeding up to block me when I moved to pass.

Christmas Music in Review
I've gotten detached from Christmas as the years have gone by. I didn't send a single Christmas card this year, and could barely be bothered to stick a suction-cupped decoration light in the window. I guess that you really need kids to keep the full effect.

Another contributing factor is that I don't really listen to music on the radio very much any more, so I don't get to hear much Christmas music. I made an effort to seek out Christmas tunes on the drive up (aided by a dead cassette player keeping me from using my iPod), though it only reinforced the notion that broadcast terrestrial radio sucks (especially in that stretch around Delaware, in the zone between the DC, Baltimore and Philly stations).

Even with on-demand music mooting most of the old-fashioned seasonal rationing of Christmas music, it's still not a real Christmas to me, unless I hear a few classic tunes -- "classic" as defined by what was popular when I was 12-13, those formative years that lock in your childhood tastes:

* My must-hear song is Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? which holds up really well, even with all the "Wow, is that really Bono/Sting/Boy George?" that comes with it.

* Christmas Wrapping, by The Waitresses. I always found it an amusing contrast to their other hit, I Know What Boys Like. It suffers from no lack of airplay.

* Feliz Navidad, by Jose Feliciano. Nothing more needs to said. I also associate it with the Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (they both come from the '70s and the song is used in the special), which I haven't seen in years, but still makes me tear up remembering it.

* A late entrant for me is Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas Is You. While it's a good song, I heard it an inordinate number of times on the drive up.

* A few Christmas songs that are good year round include The Kinks' Father Christmas, U2's version of Baby Please Come Home, The Pogues' Fairytale of New York (the last of which I don't really even think of as a holiday song).

* The Bing Crosby and David Bowie collaboration Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, which is supposed to be part of the Christmas canon, but I haven't heard it on the air.

* Outliers from the era: Sarah McLachlan and Barenaked Ladies version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings from the 90s and the Beach Boys' Little Saint Nick.

There are a few others -- classic standards, mostly, and some of the lesser 80s songs, like Strange Brew's Bob & Doug Mckenzie's 12 Days of Christmas (though, notably, not Bruce Springsteen's Santa Claus Is Coming to Town -- never liked that one), but finally, Christmas for me isn't complete without this song:

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Notes From the Road

Got a late start tonight, leaving at a little after 9pm. I doing really, really well for the first 90 minutes or so, but then got hit by a corollary of Joelogon's Theorem of Turnpike Conservation, and I got slammed at the Tydings Memorial Bridge, where an accident earlier in the day combined with the usual toll plaza backup knocked me off schedule.

After that cleared out, there were the remnants of another accident at around exit 100 (the highway displays warned of 2 left lane closures, but all lanes were open by the time I passed through).

The only other trouble was that it got really foggy in spots. I kind of liked it -- the fog wrapped everything in softness and made it look ethereal . Going over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, you couldn't see anything off to the sides.

Driving visibility wasn't that much worse since taillights get that halo effect, and with the lights in the fog, I could pretend I was re-enacting the Battle of the Mutara Nebula from Wrath of Khan. (No, not really. Well, maybe a little.)

For music, even though I have an iPod again, I still had to jury-rig my laptop into a really big iPod. This is because my car's cassette deck died a few weeks ago, and without it, I have no way to play my iPod through the speakers. So I was listening through my laptop's speakers, which worked out about as well as you might expect (that is, good for listening to songs you already know by heart).

I also heard a good stretch of programming from WPRB 103.3, the Princeton University station, which I'd never heard before (it's just out of reach from home).

With about 40 minutes worth of delays in just those two spots (Delaware and all through the NJ Turnpike were clean), and just taking a straight shot up the middle (no detours to 695 or 295 -> 195), it took me 4 hours and 20 minutes.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Items That Weren't Stolen From My Car in Baltimore

  • The contents of the hatchback [too numerous to mention]
  • Lightwave Tec2000 LED flashlight
  • River Rock 0.5W LED headlamp (useful for hands-free operation, like changing a tire or cutting brake lines)
  • Big-ass 5-D-cell Mag Lite with EverLED conversion (apparently thieves don't like LED lights, despite their higher efficiency and lifespan advantages)
  • Half-bottle of generic Pepcid AC antacid (Famotidine)
  • Bottle of Blink Contacts lubricating eye drops
  • Spare eyeglasses with clip-on sunglasses; contact lens case (a.k.a. the Morning After Navigation Kit)
  • Eclipse mint tin filled with Trident bubblegum
  • My E-ZPass
  • One set of Etymotic ER-20 high-fidelity earplugs
  • Air pressure gauge
  • Mileage log and repair log notebook
  • Spring-loaded center punch (Irony Alert, since I keep it in the center console in case I need to... break a window out)
  • The CDs in my side door pockets, as well as few burned CDs in the center console. Guess they didn't like my music.
  • A disposable 35mm camera.
  • My (cheap) sunglasses
  • About $8 in singles and change in the ashtray
  • Cassette audio adapter (still in the deck)
  • A couple of other sundries
Items That Were Stolen From My Car in Baltimore:
A few Saturdays ago, I was up in Baltimore for the 2009 Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race. I'd gotten a late start (expected for a Saturday, but also because I got to Tyson's Corner before I realized I'd forgotten my 8 gig memory card and had to go back, since I wanted to take video), but I got into town by about 11:30am and scored a street parking spot right in front of the Digital Harbor magnet high school, just a couple of blocks from the American Museum of Visionary Art.

The day was great and I'll write it up in a separate post. I got back to my car about 8pm, and had just loaded up the hatch and gone around to the driver's side when I saw the mess inside:


Someone had smashed my passenger side window, and tossed my glove box (unlocked) and center console, stealing and bypassing the items above.

My iPod and GPS -- not bad for 15 seconds of work.

Of course, I'd marked myself as a target by leaving the cassette adapter cord in plain sight; I'd also had my GPS suction-cup arm mount on the dash (the GPS itself was in the glove box) with my sunglasses on it, and if that wasn't enough, I think I left the power cords on the passenger seat.

I scraped out the rest of the window and got ready to drive home. I wasn't even going to report it, but as I started to drive off, I saw a Baltimore police car parked about 50 feet in front of me -- an older couple's car had also been broken into, and they'd called the cops. So I stopped, made it a two-fer and gave a report.

Despite the security cameras out front and the group of skate rats doing the stairs nearby (witnesses or suspects, who knows), I have a feeling that this one will go unclosed.

Anyway, after I got home, I scooped the broken safety glass out and saved it. I put it in a coffee can and shook it up in small batches to break up the bigger pieces and dull the sharp edges, then washed off the glass dust and put it in the oven to dry:


Why yes, I have been watching a lot of Breaking Bad.

Yes, definitely. Too much, probably:


It's kind of pretty:


Though I have no idea what I'll use it for. It's back in the coffee can.

So, the window is fixed now (after driving around gingerly, plastic flapping, through two rainy days). I've got a refurbed, same-model GPS on order as a replacement. For the iPod, I'm not sure if I'll just get another nano or upgrade to an iPod Touch, but in the meantime, for my drive up to New Jersey for Mother's Day, here was my iPod stand-in:


I'd bought the power inverter a while back just to have on hand, so it came in handy for the laptop (it causes a pretty big hum in the speakers, though). It worked okay.

In summary, I'm a lot more careful about what I leave out nowadays.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Sunday in Koreatown

I went back up to the homestead for Easter weekend. Because I am hellbound, I don't usually make the trek back, so I didn't realize that every Christian-minded person on the Eastern Seaboard makes the pilgrimage up/down I-95. I guess it wasn't too bad.

After a lazy Saturday at home and Sunday services, at Mom's suggestion, we went to NYC to get some Korean food and look at the pretty flowers (alas, Macy's was closed Easter Sunday).

But the food was good -- we ended up at Kum Gang San on 32nd St. in Koreatown, NYC.

We had Bul go ki:

Shot from above:

More photos, including random strangers, and Times Square, in the full set: Easter in Koreatown, 4/12/09.

The trip home was just slightly-below average. Gas in NJ was $1.89 (cash), about 15 cents cheaper than in Virginia, which is par for the course. I made it back in just over four hours, though as I twittered, 95 in Maryland sucked, enough so that I did the 695 swing-around, taking the Key Bridge (which is actually a pretty nice drive, especially if you like refineries).

The drive gave me a chance to catch up on a few NPR Music podcasts, including the Heartless Bastards show from NPR's SxSW concert podcast. I also listened to the Liz Phair 'Exile in Guyville' show from The Troubadour, which was okay, but I thought the accompanying interview was great.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Joelogon's Theorem of Turnpike Conservation, and More Notes From the Road

Posited: Any time you save by avoiding the Delaware Turnpike, you will lose on the New Jersey Turnpike.
This Thanksgiving, I skipped the nighttime drive and came up from DC on Thursday morning (leaving later than I'd wanted, naturally). I also decided to try out the Washington Post's suggestion to skip I-95 and most of Delaware by taking Route 50 across the Bay Bridge.

I even cut through DC to skip the Beltway entirely. I almost got away clean, but made a wrong turn and ended up spending more time than I would have liked going through Capitol Hill neighborhoods at 35 mph.

Route 50 was fine, save for a left-lane Scion that decided at the last moment that he needed to exit to 495, cutting across 3 lanes, almost causing two accidents (me being one of them), and still missing the exit. Last I saw, he was sitting on the shoulder past the exit, no doubt getting ready to shift into reverse.

Confession time: I'd never driven over the Bay Bridge before. In fact, I don't think I've ever spent any time on the Eastern Shore. It, and the drive on 301 was uneventful -- I spent a little too much time going 35 through small towns, though on the plus side, I did accidentally avoid the Route 1 toll.

The Delaware section was mercifully brief, yet even then, I ran into some congestion at the splitoff for the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

Some other observations -- for a time, traffic was moving too fast to Twitter, so I recorded some voice memos for later transcription and further elaboration:

12:00 noon: Cherry Hill. The Cherry Hill water tower used to have the town name marked in big, red, block letters (all caps, of course). To be honest, it was kind of ugly, but now, as part of the ongoing march to a universally-branded America, it's also marked with an "American Water" logo.

Also, it was at this time, along the 4-lane stretch of the southern NJ Turnpike, that I restated my preference of surfing into those strange, empty stretches that sit in between two long packs of cars. They never last.

12:10 pm: iPod Isolation. In the old days, after we got tired of talking and ran out of music (which happened), we were forced to listen to the local radio landscape (corporate radio homogenization notwithstanding... but that came later).

With the iPod and satellite radio, now, you can travel in your own little audio bubble, with a soundtrack that's the same from coast-to-coast, north-to-south.

Would I go back? Probably not, though I did get perverse pleasure driving that stretch of the North Carolina/Virginia border that, due to geographic and atmospheric anomalies, only allowed you to get one country music station, and one Christian evangelist proselytization station.

12:51 pm: In full crawl mode. When you get old and resigned, you realize that, in a traffic jam, with rare exception, all advantages are momentary: It really doesn't matter what lane you're in -- you can't hit just the peaks of the traffic waves, and you end up seeing the cars over and over: The Cadillac SUV, weaving back and forth in its lane like a Formula One racer warming up its tires; the dirty Durango; the Nissan Versa; the Scion with the rear fender panel pushed in.

1:23 pm: Sign of the Times. The DJ, looking for contest winners, asks for, "The 92nd texter," not caller.

There were also a couple of Twitter posts with a florid lack of consequence (though, in a correction, the Fountains of Wayne TV ad song I mentioned isn't actually a Christmas song -- it's just used in LL Bean's holiday ad. I was probably conflating it with Alien for Christmas.)

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I Should Have Listened to My Dad, Part XXXXVIII

I think I figured out why the tread on my left rear tire has been wearing out oddly: As I was leaving the office this afternoon, I noticed that the rear wheel looked funny. It seemed smaller than it was supposed to be. Lower, you might say. (This, as you might recall, is also the wheel that needed a new brake caliper. I'm having bad luck with left rear wheels this year.)

Now, in my regular calls with Dad, we usually ask each other how the cars are running. And then he'll ask me a few things:

Have you checked your lights?
Yes, Dad.
How's your tire pressure?
It's fine, Dad.

It's down to a script at this point, and I give the proper response, regardless of whether or not I've actually done the thing.

Invariable, this comes back to bite me.

I got the tire pressure gauge out of the glove compartment (another Dad-mandated item) and checked the tire, which is supposed to be at 32 psi.

The needle barely moved. That's bad. So either it developed a slow leak sometime after my car passed inspection last month, or I've been driving on a dangerously low tire for an even longer period of indeterminate length that includes regular trips on the Toll Road, 66, and oh, a trip up to Baltimore.

I limped over to a nearby gas station and filled it up. We'll see how the pressure holds up overnight, which will determine if I was unlucky (new leak) or simply really, really dumb.

Since the tread on the edge is pretty much shot, I'll have to get order new rear tires and then go from there. Probably overdue for an alignment as well, though since I just passed inspection, I don't think this will be another $2,000 flat tire.

I know it's early for Father's Day platitudes, but you should listen to your Dad.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Schmoozing

I'm just about headed out the door to go to 1223 for Tech Cocktail DC 2. Lots of familiar names on the list, including plenty of former cow-orkers. Should be fun.

I spoke to Paul, and the NoVA Open Coffee event is happening tomorrow morning, 9AM at Panera in Tysons Corner. I'll stop in before I go to my consulting gig in McLean. How early I get there depends on how long it takes to get a drink at Tech Cocktail (and they're usually pretty good about that sort of thing)...

Yesterday's Web Content Mavens event was pretty good. I'll talk more about it some other time.

In other news, my car passed inspection, though apparently one of my rear tires is getting kind of iffy. At first, I was all pissed off ("I just got new tires?!"), but looking at my Tire Rack receipts, I replaced my original tires in April 2005, after 3 years, then I replaced my front tires after a flat tire in April (remember, running on a flat tire is not the same as having run-flat tires). It being 3 years from now, I guess I'm on schedule.

Also, I came this close to getting tickets to see the Breeders at the 9:30 Club in June; however, since I have a prior kickball engagement, plus the fact that the Ticketmaster convenience and shipping fees add $10 to the ticket, plus I've seen mixed reviews of the album and previous tour dates, I'm going to hold off. Since I'm guessing the show will sell out, that just means I've essentially decided not to go.

Decision-making through procrastination.

Okay, schmooze time.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Running a Red Light When You're Leaving a Bar Is Never a Good Idea

For the NCAA Men's Final on Monday night, I was so tired that I thought I might stay at home to watch, but I ended up dragging myself down to Carpool.

Being Monday, it was pretty dead, though I did get to see someone get kicked out for trying to roll a joint at the bar (among other things).

As I was leaving at about midnight (remember, kids: make your free throws down the stretch), there were a couple of cars waiting at the red light to make a left onto Elden Street from the parking lot.

At the head of the line was a grey pickup truck, and after a few minutes, I guess the driver didn't feel like waiting any more -- he just up and went through the red.

This is not the first time at that light that I've seen a driver pull that move. However, it was the first time that I'd seen the driver get nailed for doing it (at least, I think it was the same grey pickup, pulled over by a cop down by the Urgent Care).

And the thing is, he did it for the dubious gain of about 15 seconds.

In other news:

Slow Cookers Are Slow: I did another Brunswick stew tonight. I started it at around 6pm, stripped the chicken off the bone at around 10pm, and tasted it around midnight. I used too much onion, but otherwise it's okay. It'd better be -- I'll be eating it for a while.

I've tried, but I just don't think I can make slow-cooking fit into my lifestyle. I just don't like the idea of leaving it going for however many hours when I'm not at home.

Because of the cooking, tonight was a pretty domestic night. Moreso than I'd planned -- I had to do dishes to clear out the sink, and then I splashed tomato sauce all over my shirt, so I ended up doing a couple loads of laundry. (Including some ironing. I hate ironing.) Also, there's flour all over the place.

An Isotropic Distribution of DVDs at Circuit City: I've been trying not to buy new DVDs until I can get through more of my purchased-but-unwatched ones, but I caved today -- I stopped by Circuit City and picked up Miami Vice, The Good Shepherd, Breach, and A Fish Called Wanda for $20.

The problem with the DVD section at Circuit City is that, as far as I can tell, their shelving system does not conform to any accepted organizational standards and practices. While it's not quite completely random, it is almost completely useless.

It might be a baroque experiment in applying isotropic distribution models to retail. Though I'm thinking it would be better if they just had an associate take a few hours to do some hard core alphabetizing (cheat sheets are available upon request).

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

The White Van Speaker Scam Blows Into Reston

I was driving back from lunch and stopped at a red light on Reston Parkway, when I heard a loud conversation coming from behind me.

A guy in a white van in the left lane was talking to the driver of the car behind me. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but when the van rolled up to me and the passenger motioned to me, I figured they were asking for directions.

I rolled down my window and heard:

"Hey, you want a set of speakers? For your house?"

This, of course, is straight from the script of the White Van Speaker Scam. (If you haven't heard about it, it's pretty interesting to see how it works. The mechanism relies on people's greed for a bargain, as well as the desire to help someone stick it to The Man. See also.)

I just shook my head no and rolled up the window. I should have taken a picture of the guys, but I only got a crappy and useless cellphone photo of the back of the van:


They moved turned in to the North Point Shopping Plaza, presumably in search of another sucker.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Only 2/3rds as Screwed as Projected

I'm taking a late lunch in Tarbouch right now, which is a Mideast/Mediterranean place on the corner of Lee Highway and North Kirkwood in Arlington.

It used to be a carryout place -- I'd stopped in a few times before, since it's right off the Spout Run I-66 exit, a convenient stop on the way to Clarendon. Over the winter they expanded it and fancied it up -- there's a restaurant section now, complete with hookah.

It's 4pm and there are three different groups of people smoking up now. It's a thin, sweet, fruity smoke, so it's not nearly as annoying as regular smoke.

Ah, my spicy falafel sandwich and chips are here:

It's a perfectly serviceable and tasty falafel sandwich, but if I'd had my druthers (who still talks like this?) and easy parking, I'd prefer to spend my euros getting the full experience over at Amsterdam Falafel.

Anyway, following up on yesterday's brake situation -- I dropped my car off at the dealership this morning -- not the one I'd been to before, though -- I didn't want to go all the way into Arlington.

The waiting room had wifi, though I hit a content filter a few times. No, I wasn't surfing porn in a crowded waiting room. (Not at eight in the morning, anyway.) Oddly, popurls and Cyanide and Happiness were both blocked as mp3/filesharing sites, and some ad providers were blocked, which is not as useful as it seems, since it was hanging pages that had those ads in an iframe.

They diagnosed my car, gave me the keys to a loaner (a Mazda3) and I was on my way to McLean for work. A few hour later, I got a call and picked it up -- I probably still got ripped off, but only 2/3rds as much.

Okay, the smoke is getting really thick. Time to relocate to a coffee shop for a bit before I head on over to tonight's DC Blogger meetup.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I Am Going to Get So Screwed Tomorrow

And it doesn't have anything to do with the March Washington Blogger Meetup (7:00pm at RFD, across from the Verizon Center).

A few days ago, I started smelling this really strong burning brake odor from the back of my car. I wasn't sure what to make of it until yesterday, when I was filling up at a gas station, smelled the smell, and touched my rear left wheel.

It was really hot. The other wheels were cool.

Even I, with my limited car knowledge, put two and two together and figured it was a stuck caliber (which might explain why my mileage last week was a little worse than usual).

I took it in to the local brand-name brake/tire/burrito place today -- after some initial confusion with the ticket (when they tried to sell me on a new timing belt -- I'd just gotten it inspected at the proper interval -- and all the usual unnecessary fluid replacements), they confirmed, yes, it was a stuck brake caliper.

This is apparently something of a known issue with the Mazda Protege5 (mine is just under 6 years and 70K miles old).

They told me I needed two new rear calipers, rotors and pads. They didn't have the right replacement calipers (they should get in tomorrow), so I'm driving only locally, and carefully. right now.

However, based on my reading, and seeing their ridiculous price quote, I'm going to get a second opinion at the Mazda dealership tomorrow, especially since I don't think the local shop is up to speed on my car's brakes (like, how to free up a stuck piston). I've got a couple of 16ths of an inch of brake pad safety margin left to spare, so I have a little time, and if I'm right, this would probably save me a few hundred bucks.

Of course, my initial thought was to either: 1). Ignore it and hope it goes away, or 2). Throw money at it, but neither of those is really an option right now. But I can't afford to procrastinate on this one, as it's hurting my meeting schedule.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

What an Amazingly Great Idea for Teen Girl Drivers

I took this cameraphone photo in Herndon on Saturday -- a Honda Element with "I'M 17!!!!!" marked up all over in window paint:

The sides were done in similar fashion.

Young miss (and it was a girl -- I saw the driver, but was that ever a question?), I can guess that you're excited about turning 17, and I also realize that, generally speaking, fears of stranger danger are overblown, and that anyway, there are plenty of ways that people accessorize their cars that reveal all kinds of personal attributes, but screaming out "I'm a 17-year-old girl!" on your ride just seems like a bad idea.

(Incidentally, I remembered afterwards that I had a real camera in my pocket.)

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Don't Honk at Me, Bitch -- You're the One Who Cut Me Off

I was coming back from McLean this afternoon, when a driver made me very angry.

I was on Spring Hill Road, getting ready to hop onto the Dulles Toll Road:
View Larger Map (screenshot b/c Blogger didn't like the iframe)

Now, it's covered by the Dulles Toll Road overpass, so you'll have to trust me on this, but there are two left turn lanes, which undergo a leftward lane shift as you pass under the overpass.

So, if you're in the left lane and not paying attention, you'll ignore the lane shift and continue straight, cutting off the driver next to you. If you're lucky, said driver will anticipate this, avoid the collison and simply honk his horn instead of getting all road-ragey.

However, if you decided to honk back at me (I mean, the other driver)... well, then, all bets are off and there's no telling what could happen.

I was seriously contemplating ways to initiate a frank and thorough educational discussion with the other driver, possibly leading to an ad-hoc brainstorming session, culminating in some concrete suggestions on improving the intersection that we could take to VDOT, but what ended up happening is that I stewed for a while, then went to Lake Anne, where I browsed for a bit at the Reston Used Book Shop (cut short because looking up at the higher shelves was hurting my neck), then went to Cafe Montmartre for a few drinks and to use the open wifi hotspot.

Incidentally, it's an optimal day for outdoor laptop use: No wind, no bugs, temperate, and cloudy enough so that the sun is behind a big diffuser, with minimal screen glare.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Geekiest License Plate & Car Combo Yet

I was driving on Reston Parkway this afternoon when I noticed this vanity license plate. It's pretty geeky: "TO SOL-4" -- in other words, "To Mars."

Then I pulled up behind the car at a light, and saw that I had barely scratched the surface of the geekiness:

See the photo on Flickr for notes.

Please note the following items (you'll have to take my word on it, since it's not my finest cameraphone pic):
  1. "TO SOL-4 [Mars]" vanity license plate, in a Planetary Society license plate frame
  2. Matching Planetary Society bumper sticker
  3. Linux penguin sticker
  4. Discordian bumper sticker
  5. And of course, it's a Saturn.
Bonus: "I'm Pro-Choice on Everything" Libertarian bumper sticker.

And those were just the items I could identify.

In other news, it was really windy late this afternoon. I was driving north on Route 28 and I swear my car was headed northeast.

But at least the days are getting longer.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Meet the Black Giant With Valiant Temperament

I don't normally make fun of Engrish because it's too easy. (Well, there was that one time, but it wasn't Engrish, just a translation open to immature interpretation.)

Plus no matter how egregious the error, their English is still better than my Chinese (or Japanese, etc.).

So, I'll just take a higher road and riff on the All Things Considered story from the Detroit Auto Show a few weeks ago) and say that the product listing for their SUV, the Liebao CFA2030C/D(Black Giant) with the valiant temperament, shows how far Chinese automakers, and Chang Feng Motors in particular, need to go before they can crack the U.S. market. [link via a redlit TotalFark submission]

Besides some standard English conventions that are annoying in their absence (spaces after commas, that sort of thing), it's clear that they need a native or otherwise fluent English copy editor:
"...The automobile appearance is more mighty and more intrepid ! With the powerful engine,the design of environmental protection and energy-conservation.All these present to your perfect driving and experience,seem more majestic-looking even more!"
Among the listed features, we have:
  • ABS anti-explode device
  • Anticollision pole
  • Axes: 2
  • Imposing manner
  • Double safe gasbag
  • Genuine leather sofa
  • Pillow
  • Semiconductor refrigerator
And much more.

Now, this is far from the worst Engrish you'll ever see, since you can pretty much see where the translations took a left turn.

Though I'm not sure about the semiconductor refrigerator.

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Simulating Your Way Out of a Speeding Ticket

I was looking at the TruTV (formerly Court TV) Web site to find the next airing of their new Tiger Team show, since I missed it and the premise sounds interesting.

The site wasn't particularly helpful in that respect, though they do have a full episode online.

Anyway, along the way, I saw a promo for a Flash game for one of their other shows, Speeders -- you try to talk your way out of a speeding ticket:


I tried it out, and got off with a warning. Makes sense, since I'm such a smooth, articulate, and persuasive talker, right?

Then I tried it again, taking an alternate tack:

A Children of Men reference.

The police officer reacts negatively, as do I:


Realizing I may have gone too far, I express contrition:


The police officer reacts positively to my honest expression:




Armed with this tru-to-life simulation, you can be sure I will follow this script the next time I get pulled over.

If nothing else, this could lead to an appearance on another one of their shows.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

As if I Needed Another Reason to Hate You

It's not enough that you're glued into the passing lane like you own it, and that you're physiologically incapable of moving out of it, no matter how many cars are stacked up behind you or how many times you're passed on the right. (I'm thinking it's a genetic trait, but I also consider environmental factors, such as having a Maryland license plate.)

Oh no.

You also have to be sporting a "9/11 Was an Inside Job" bumper sticker.

I'm a little surprised I was able to resist the urge to PIT your car and run you off the road.

I got a late start on the road this afternoon. (One of the benefits of joblessness is being able to extend a holiday weekend to avoid traffic.) I'd wanted to leave at noon so I could go see the tanks at the Army Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, or maybe visit the NSA Museum, but one thing led to another and I didn't get moving until about 3pm.

Just in time for DC rush hour, yay.

Anyway, I made it back. I liberated my sister's old Mac Classic to add to my own junk pile/hardware museum, as well as a few other things. Now back to the non-work.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Casual Encounters: Thanksgiving Driving as a Series of Craigslist Titles

* Late-Blooming SAM Seeks Poss. LTR on the Beltway: I got a later start than I'd hoped, so I didn't really get moving until 12:30pm, which was probably about an hour too late to skate. I lost at least 30 minutes crawling on the Inner Loop. 95 and the Harbor Tunnel weren't too bad, much better than I was expecting.

* Must Love Dogs (Your Pic Gets Mine): Snapped this cameraphone pic in Delaware, which was slow around the $5 toll, but not too bad otherwise:

There were actually two dogs in the bed of that pickup, but you can only see the one.

* Rants and Raves: Hey fuckface in the blue Eclipse, zipping by the jam-up in Delaware using the left shoulder -- your flashing hazard lights aren't fooling anyone: Die in a motherfucking fire!!!!

* Missed Connection -- You: Blue Dodge Charger sedan. Me: Red Mazda Protege 5. Where: Crawling between Exits 5 and 8 on the New Jersey Turnpike. Did you feel a real link between us: How you saw how I maintained an even pace, trying not to touch my brake? The sense of mutual trust I felt, that you would pay attention to my needs, respect my boundaries, and not slam into my car? How you didn't lose your cool, even if a couple of cars snaked in ahead of me?

Call me.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Why Don't We Wear Helmets in Cars?

As the Great Thanksgiving Migration approaches, I've got driving on the mind, which kind of nudged something I've been percolating on for some time: Why don't we wear helmets when riding in cars?

Yes, I know it's just a bike helmet.

This is not a new musing; people have tried marketing car helmets for kids. (The thin end of the wedge?)

It also comes up whenever there's a debate about motorcycle helmet laws -- the "let the riders decide" crowd brings it up, and the pro-regulation folks either ignore it or dismiss it as a reducing the argument to absurdity.

Of course, the very idea gets wrapped up in issues of societal costs vs. personal responsibility and freedom, and is invariable accompanied by such terms as "nanny state" and "bubble-wrapping the world."

Do we even need helmets in cars? You could rationalize not needing them lots of ways:

* Inside a car, your head isn't as exposed as while on a motorcycle (But it's to prevent your head from banging around inside -- that's why fighter pilots wear them. But what about airline pilots? Hrm.)
* The safety systems inside cars already protect the head in many ways -- padded interiors, head rests, seat belts, and particularly air bags (though what about before they were available?)
* Helmets cut down on visibility and hearing (but isn't that also considered and dismissed for motorcyclists?)

But then you look at race car drivers. Even autocross drivers, many of whom drive (mostly) regular cars, use helmets on the course.

I don't know if there have been every been any studies about the benefits of helmet use in regular driving -- I would assume it'd be so unpopular that even a study would be a non-starter.

It basically comes down to the fact that most folks (myself included) just wouldn't want to wear a helmet inside a car. Ever.

Helmet laws for motorcyclists? Sure -- comparatively few people ride motorcycles, and if someone else has to do something that benefits society, we're all for it. Right?

Now, I don't think I'm turning libertarian; I don't plan on driving with a helmet anytime soon; and I do still think that mandatory helmet laws for bicyclists and motorcyclists are a good idea. I just wanted to think a little bit about why we think what we think.

Oops, forgot to put on the seat belt.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Continuous Flow Intersections Are Keen

I'm backing up my hard drive in preparation for upgrading to Mac OS X Leopard, so in the meantime, here's an item that's been sitting in my topic slushpile.

I've been doing a lot more mid-day driving, and consequently, I've been doing a lot more sitting in traffic. Which sucks.

I saw an item on TotalFark about a different type of traffic intersection installed in St. Louis last month (there's also one up in Accokeek, Maryland) that might help things along -- a continuous flow intersection.

It addresses the problem where traffic that's turning left interferes with oncoming traffic (even with left-turn lanes and arrows and such) -- if northbound traffic is turning left, southbound traffic has to stop (except for those folks turning right), tying things up.

By essentially extending the intersection and moving the left-turny part up a few hundred yards up the road, it moves the left-turn folks out of the way:

It's one of those things that's really hard to visualize, even with photos -- Flash animations really help here:

* Utah Dept. of Traffic: Continuous Flow Intersection Tutorial

* Video Demonstration of Continuous Flow Intersections

They're kind of odd to look at, and they involve a kind of double-traffic light, but seeing the animations show how they work. They take up space, though, so I guess you'd only see them at major intersections. I'm also not sure how pedestrians and cyclists fit into the picture. But I'm for almost anything to help improve the efficiency of traffic (until our flying cars get here, of course).


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Virginia: #1 for Nerdy License Plates

More anecdotal evidence today supporting the data that says Virginia leads the nation in vanity plate usage (and by extension, nerdy license plates):

SAT 800 Virginia vanity license plate
I'm hoping that's not a combined score.

Displaying one's SAT score, even a perfect one, skillfully demonstrates both nerdiness and social ineptitude.

Virginia vanity license plate Kal-El
Obviously, a huge fan of Nicholas Cage.

I never really thought about it, but I wouldn't have guessed that Superman drove an Acura.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Flat Tire = Enforced Coffee Break

I ran over something in the road, driving on Lee Highway last night. I don't know if it was a pothole or something sticking out of the roadbed, but either way it made a pretty good thud.

When I got to O'Toole's Pub in Centreville (it was for a birthday party), I took a look at the right tires and didn't see anything, and I was able to drive home on it okay.

I had a nagging feeling, though, so I took another look this afternoon (I forgot to look when I grabbed the paper this morning) -- there must have been a slow leak, because, the right front tire was dead flat. So I had no choice but to put on the spare (not that I hadn't also learned my lesson from my previous flat tire experience.)

All things considered, it was an ideal flat tire scenario -- still light out, not raining, right in front of my house, plenty of time to put on the spare, limp to the closest gas station to add 40psi worth of air, and drive to the tire place, which is open until 7pm and conveniently located next door to the Greenberry's Coffee. (So I brung the laptop with me.)

It all went by the book -- I chocked the back wheel, loosened the lug nuts (Dad always insisted we pack a full-size 4-way lug wrench -- it gives you a lot more leverage than the little ones, though if you're on the side of the road, you might not have enough room for the big one), jacked the car, changed the tire, done.

It would have been perfect... except I forgot to take the chock off the back wheel, so I backed over it and broke it. Oops.

Anyway, so now I'm having a scone and a latte, waiting.


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Monday, August 27, 2007

Dr. Thaddeus Venture Pitches for Shell Oil

Driving in on the toll road this afternoon, I had the radio on and was half-listening to a commercial for some Shell credit card, when I realized (with a start -- which is probably the anti-cliche for the NYT Metropolitan Diary's overused saw "without skipping a beat") that the voice-over was coming from none other than Dr. Thaddeus Venture, the ineffectual, developmentally-arrested, amphetamine-addicted scientist-patriarch of The Venture Brothers cartoon series.

Although the odds of me getting a Shell credit card were already approaching non-existence to begin with, hearing the voice of Dr. Venture as pitchman effectively bumped that down to zero.

As it happens, James Urbaniak, the voice of Doc Venture and others, mentions the Shell gig in his blog.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Fighter Jets Over I-66, and a Housewarming Bar Crawl

Saturday, I went to a housewarming party/bar crawl in Arlington.

On the way in, I was on I-66 (actually, the part of the Dulles Toll Road just before it runs into 66), when I started wondering why I was hearing jets, since the news story I was listening to didn't have anything to do with planes or the war.

I turned down the volume and realized that it was actually a jet. Low-flying, too, since it was pretty loud.

I opened the sunroof to look up, though that wasn't necessary, since I saw out the front windshield that it wasn't one plane, but a flight of four fighter jets (I think F-16s) flying out ahead.

Anyway, after that bit of excitement, the party was pretty good. The housewarming theme was "Stock the Bar", so guests were asked to bring a bottle of liquor.

Depending on the drinking habits of your particular group, this could be a net gain, wash, or net loss for your liquor cabinet.

To be honest, there was more housewarming than bar crawl, though we did make it Dr. Dremo's, where there was a dog:


Then we walked over to Gua-Rapo. On the way, we passed a girl in the Wendy's drive-thru:


It was fun. There are a few more pictures.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Arts Festivals and Unsecured Loads

I went to the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival today (though to be honest, if I'd known earlier that the Joint Service Open House Air Show was going on at this weekend at Andrews Air Force Base, I probably would have gone to that instead.)

It was really windy at times (which was fine for the wind-powered whirligig and kinetic sculpture folks, bit troubling for others, especially as tents threatened to blow over), but it was an otherwise nice day. I took a few photos:

A biophysical archer.

A piano-ish sculpture.

However, the most interesting photo was one I didn't get: Driving home on Baron Cameron, there was a Mustang convertible in the oncoming lane, probably only going about 30 mph, with hazard lights on and a full-sized sheet of plywood (at least 4'x8') and a few 2"x4"s propped up in the back seat.

Which meant that the plywood was sticking up into the air about 5 feet, like some gigantic spoiler. With nothing to tie it down to.

Of course, the driver and front-seat passenger were trying to hold it down (a la the guys you see with one arm sticking out the window, trying to hang on to a mattress tied to the roof).

It was pretty comical. I'm sure the long line of cars following them as they blocked the left lane (presumably from the Home Depot) also found it to be comical.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

I Hit a Dead Possum Traveling at 65 Miles Per Hour

A few late nights ago, I was driving home eastbound on the Dulles Toll Road.

I was in the second from left lane, and pulled into the left lane (the HOV lane) to pass a car that I'd been stuck behind since the toll booths at Route 28...

...and promptly ran over a dead possum in the middle of the lane.

(At least, I think it was dead. It might have been playing... well, you know. It wasn't playing any more, that's for sure.)

I didn't have a chance to avoid it, so I could only reflect on the money I'd just dropped last month on new front struts, tires, and alignment as I waited for the THUD.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

The Late, Late, Late Rush Hour?

You know, I understand that the eastbound on-ramps to I-66 may require ramp metering during rush hour ("One Car Per Green") to ensure that the number of cars entering is roughly equal to the number of cars exiting on the other end.

But at 12:30am? That seems unlikely.

This occurred as I was coming home from Arlington last week. And it wasn't the first time, either.

I'm no highway engineer, but I don't see the purpose, unless it's to make sure that the drunks are evenly distributed.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A $2,000 Flat Tire

Coming into work yesterday morning, I noticed that the speed bumps were feeling a mite bit bumpier, and I was getting a weird vibration in the front end.

I parked at the office and took a look, and noticed that my front left tire was a lot flatter than it was supposed to be. So I limped on over to the local car place, in the process, probably killing any chance of patching the tire.

I had to get my 60,000 mile service and state safety inspection done this month, anyway, so I figured it was a sign.

And it was. Unfortunately, the sign was a dollar sign, and there were 2,000 of them (two tires, front and rear brakes, front struts, alignment, and an overpriced (yet not quite as overpriced as the dealer) 60K service.

Driving is fun.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day: Could Be Better, Could Be Much, Much Worse

Today had the potential to be a really bad day.

When I left the house this morning, my heat pump had stopped working again, and because of the ice, I couldn't get a repairman until Thursday.

Then, my car got stuck as I pulled out of my spot. I dug out after a few minutes and a little sand.

I also had some trouble making the turnoff from my street, so when I finally got onto the road, I stopped to fill up at the gas station (to have a full tank in case I got stuck).

I pulled back out onto the road, when I saw that my badge was missing. That was bad, since my security token is attached to it -- if I lose it, I can't really do anything. I turned into another unplowed parking lot so I could double back, and again almost got stuck.

I finally got back to the gas station. No badge. The only other possibility was that I'd lost it as I was digging out my car, so I went home. It was lying in the snow.

So I pretty much went to work to relax.

Coming home from work, I came across a stuck car; it belonged to a Papa John's driver, and he and another guy were trying to get the car out. I stopped, unfolded my shovel and brought the deli container of sand that I'd packed this morning.

We made a valiant effort, though we didn't really make much progress until two other guys came over, and the four of us muscled the car unstuck. But it felt good to help.

When I got home, I turned on the heat pump for grins. It fired up. I guess it must be union.

I decided to call things even and not try to find other singles to commiserate with. After all, the only thing dicier than having a couple of drinks and driving home is trying to do that on ice.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Fat Penguins and Scenes from the Snow

This no-camera thing is sort of liberating, actually.

I met up with the folks at the Boulevard Woodgrill (the original plan had been to hit up RiRa, but there was a line).

The bar area there is really narrow and crowded (which is a little odd, considering that by the end of the night, the rest of the restaurant is empty.) It makes for lots of incidental contact and some okay people watching -- I had my eye on a large chocolate cake, as well as a trio of young bucks trying to pick up on 2 girls (leading in with the ever-popular, "we got a round of shots for you.")

There was also a comparison of different pickup lines/jokes -- Jenny led with "Fat Penguin," and Scott countered with the Reese Witherspoon stabbing (which is a joke, believe it or not)

We got kicked out at midnight and went to Galaxy Hut (where we met and hung out with a visiting Aussie named Dan); after that closed, we went to Ryan's house (after a brief encounter with an Arlington County fire truck that was blocking my car in).

I didn't get home until around 4am. I also rediscovered that the left travel lane at the intersection of Reston Parkway and Baron Cameron Ave does not trip the roadbed sensors that trigger the traffic light.

Snow Day

I woke up this afternoon to the snow. I had some vitally important errands to run, so I blatantly disregarded any suggestion to stay off the road. My ABS kicked in one or twice, but it was generally okay, though I did see:
  • A seven-car accident on the toll road (two cars were facing the wrong direction; only a few of them looked smashed up, though)
  • A Trans Am driving backwards on Sunrise Valley Drive -- the bit by the golf course is hilly, curvy and surprisingly treacherous; I guess he couldn't make it.
  • A couple of cars high-centered on medians or slide off the side of the road, as well as a few just abandoned in turn lanes.
Anyway, I survived. I would prefer to have the unseasonably warm January we had before, though.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

My Mom Subscribes to Stuff Magazine

It's true: My mom subscribes to Stuff Magazine:

My Mom Subscribes to Stuff Magazine

Apparently, she had some expiring credit card points to burn on magazine subscriptions, so she picked Businessweek, Fortune, and then a few other random titles.

At least, that what she says.

It must run in the family, since that's how my uncle in California ended up with a subscription to Essence. At least, I think it's Essence. I was just told a Black-interest magazine, so it could possibly be King.

I got a late start home, leaving Virginia a little before 3pm. I hit some traffic on the Beltway, then lost 40 minutes sitting in traffic on I-95.

Everything else was fine, excepting the usual slowdown at the Delaware tolls, so I made it home in just under 5 hours.

Also, there are now 4 open wireless connections available to us, though the parents now have DSL (which is primarly used by the sister and me when we visit, though we're working on that).

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