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Sep.22nd.2011 | 10:35 pm

Yesterday I made my semiannual trip to the Shopping Mall. It often takes me 6 months to prepare for the trip. The wardrobe is especially critical since there is a fine balance between being "too unstlyish to shop here" and being "stylish enough to possibly spend a couple hundred here". Both cases tend to grab unwanted attention from the sales people.

Usually I get overwhelmed by the amount of clothing available... After about 4 or 5 hours, my brain starts to hurt and I just can't focus anymore. I've discovered that most of the frustration comes from spending too long in one place. If I keep moving and make simple decisions (i.e., 'do I like it or not' -- instead of 'how much do I like it') then it is easier to survive.

This time around I was able to go for 4.5 hours of shopping before I finally lost focus. Somewhat impressive.

I've noticed a couple of trends that are new since the last time I went shopping. The first one is that the t-shirts and long-sleeve t-shirts seem to be getting longer. The fit is still about the same, but they now cover up a good portion of my jeans, so much that it might impede my time to use the restroom.

The second fashion trend is that hoodies are now zip-up. It is very difficult to find a hoodie that does not have a zipper somewhere in it. This is unfortunate because I wanted to buy a hoodie that I could wear on a motorcycle, without scratching up the tank. No luck. There are a couple of them out there but they tend to have "BRAND NAME BRAND NAME BRAND NAME" in big letters all over the place. Ehh. At least some of them have a protective ribbon of fabric on either side of the zipper to provide some buffer.

I can tell you that long-sleeved shirts all have their sleeves rolled up, as if the owner was about to do some serious work in the food service industry. I admit there is dual function if you can convert a long-sleeved shirt to short-sleeves simply by adding wrinkles.

Plaid dress shirts, or shirts with themes resembling plaid, still seem to be popular. Maybe not as much. There were also quite a few long-sleeved t-shirts, which I applaud because I like wearing long-sleeved t-shirts. But, the plaid shirts were still there as if to say "We know this was popular, so if you feel more comfortable buying plaid then please feel free".

Finally, jeans are still overpriced at the designer stores.

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Aug.12th.2011 | 11:08 pm
music: SITD - Redemption

I tried an experiment at work yesterday. Since it was nice weather I rode the motorcycle. It was kind of cold in the morning (lower 60s) and probably reached about 80 in the afternoon.

The experiment was to park the motorcycle on the side-stand for 1 day without using any sort of "puck". It's actually an interesting problem. The motorcycle only leans at a slight angle, so there isn't a whole lot of weight on the side stand. But, when the sun heats up the blacktop, the side stand has a tendency to start sinking. If you let it go long enough, the end result is either that the stand gets stuck in the blacktop or the motorcycle flips on its side when the stand collapses.

The puck is basically a circle about 4 inches in a diameter, made of about quarter-inch thick plastic. The side stand sits on this, and the puck distributes the weight so that it can't sink into the blacktop.

My hypothesis was that it has to be really hot (e.g., 85+ for most of the day) in order for this to happen. I reasoned that it was cold enough in the morning and generally cold enough throughout the day that I didn't need to use a puck. ... And I was wrong. The stand actually sank about 1/2 inch into the blacktop throughout the day. It didn't flip over or get stuck, but it was enough to make me think twice about not using the puck.

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Jul.26th.2011 | 10:23 pm

For a couple years now I have been getting together with a group of friends from work to play music. It all started when C decided to learn guitar. I played piano, C played guitar, and V sang. We weren't amazing but overall it sounded pretty good. As time went on, others joined the group for some impromptu music making.

Now, the group has grown to upwards of 10 people -- usually not all at once -- and includes instruments like piano, guitar, drums, synthesizer, and saxophone. We have 4 vocalists who take turns or join each other. It is quite an impressive group and there is a ton of potential. But, despite all of this, I still prefer the old group.

The interesting thing about playing music is that it involves a lot of listening. In order to sound good, there has to be some coordination between the members of the music group. Modern music seems to favor effects and post-processing, which is all fine and good, but still everything is very carefully layered. I think this is kind of lacking in our group.

The tough part about rehearsals is that everyone wants to hear what they are playing/singing. The more people you add, the louder it gets and the harder it is to distinguish what is happening. This is an unfortunate phenomenon because I think everyone recognizes that, if the music were being produced, certain tracks would be louder at certain times and nobody would be loud all of the time. But, then it is harder to hear when playing live! So the natural tendency is to just play loud all the time.

I remember sitting in the room listening to this and thinking, "My god, we have so much potential but this just sounds awful". I couldn't hear what I was playing. Maybe it just wasn't clear that everyone needed to take turns being loud. After a couple sessions of this, it seemed like I was wasting my time. I decided it would be better if I just took a couple weeks off. Artistic differences.

So my comment is that musicians should spend more time listening and less time playing. Anyone who has played in a music group should know this. A lot of the people in our group haven't had this experience, unfortunately. I have played in several orchestras, and it was critical to listen to other people for cues and style. I also played solo viola for many years, and it was critical to listen to myself for tone and pitch. Most musicians get better by listening to other people.

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May.22nd.2011 | 12:51 am
music: Decoded Feedback - Silent Killer

Today I went to the wedding of one of my closer friends from grade school (and someone who is on Live Journal, of all things!). The wedding was nice and the reception was fun and everything went well. So I'm going to talk about the emotional/mental impact that I felt and keep things a little bit away from tangibility.

I have been to weddings of people my age over the past couple of years, and generally they are kind of sad events. The wedding tends to mark the end of the individual social life and the beginning of the "couple" social life. So instead of getting to hang out with the person I normally hang out with, now I hang out with the couple and feel awkward (unless I am equally balanced with a girlfriend by my side). And even then we must do civil things like wine tastings that both parties enjoy. I think this is unfortunate.

Mainly for selfish reasons like this I find it easier if people I know just don't get married. Even if I am friends with both the bride and groom, it's just too much work to fit into the couple's social schedule. And it is never the same.

The wedding today was not like that. I felt genuinely happy for the couple and I think it is for the better that they got married. It does kind of push the envelope with my own fears of commitment -- and I felt a lot of that this evening -- but, ehh, I can get over that. I think a lot of it has to do with the childhood perception that getting married is something that old people do. It seems like a big deal when you're in grade school and people get married. But now that I'm getting to the age when people start to "settle down", it seems like more of a normal life process kind of decision. Not too unusual.

The only thing that I do find a little unfortunate is the cost associated with weddings. I imagine that I will only get married once, so it seems worth spending some money on it. And yet if it were just about pleasing the bride and groom, the cost could be minimal. Instead it seems to be more about pleasing relatives, friends, etc. At the reception table this evening several people were joking about serving pizza or burgers at their weddings. I think this is a great idea, but I imagine all of the people there would feel a little screwed. It is quite political.

One unexpected delight of the evening was getting to catch up with a lot of grade school and high school folks. It is interesting to talk with someone after 10+ years of silence and discover where life has taken them. I think the primary interest is remembering my (grade school!) perception of them and trying to figure out if I could have predicted their current position in life. Usually not. I'm kind of happy about that.

Anyway, just a few rambling thoughts on the evening and subject.

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May.8th.2011 | 07:43 pm

I was talking with a friend at work, and he told me the story of his father's first motorcycle. Back in the 1970s, his father bought a motorcycle, learned how to ride, and then rode out to California from Ohio. He rode around California for a while, and then rode back to Ohio. When he returned, he sold the bike because he was "satisfied".

I think this is an interesting story on a number of levels. The most obvious part is the idea that most humans have some level of tolerance for most things, and when that level is reached it forces a decision. For example, maybe my body will tolerate 30,000 miles of riding in my lifetime. I could do it all next year or I could spread it out over 10 years, but at that point I will lose interest. Figuratively speaking, of course. When I do lose interest, there will be a number associated with that point in time, but in general I can't predict what that number will be.

The story is also important because it stresses the importance of realizing when something has reached completion. In this case, my friend's father realized that he didn't want to ride anymore and sold the bike. Most people would think, "Well, I don't really feel like it but maybe tomorrow" and store the bike indefinitely. I would. But, it is interesting that he recognized his threshold and acted on it.

The final part of the story goes something like this... About 20 years after the sale, a guy offered to trade him the same year/model of bike in exchange for his tractor. He took the offer, and now has 4 bikes in the garage.

So, the final point is to revisit decisions. This one bothers me a little bit, since the idea of revisiting every single decision is overwhelming. For example -- packing a lunch in the morning, but reconsidering the idea of going out to eat at lunchtime. Combine this with all of the other decisions in life, and it would be impossible to function. I think that maybe there is a time period after which it is alright to revisit the decision, but again this isn't clear to me.

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May.1st.2011 | 08:15 pm

I was reminded this weekend that there is age-dependence for the socially acceptable reaction to finding out someone is pregnant.

When I was in high school or college, the appropriate reaction was "Oh shit" because most of the time it was the case that the person didn't want to be pregnant. After college, it turns out that some people do in fact want to be pregnant. So, my knee-jerk reaction of "oh shit" is no longer appreciated.

Strange world.

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Back on the Road

Apr.14th.2011 | 03:51 pm
music: Linkin Park - New Divide

I took the motorcycle out for a ride this afternoon. The weather was in the low 50s, but it was sunny and not too freezing to ride around a little bit.

As far as I can tell, I haven't forgotten much from last time. It's kind of like riding a bike...

Over the winter I did a bunch of maintenance on the motorcycle which seem to have had either no effect or a positive effect. I reset a number of the cable tensions, replaced the spark plugs, did a valve clearance adjustment, and changed out the various fluids. The old plugs were pretty bad and the valve clearance was slightly out of spec. So, overall, I would expect performance to improve a little bit, but maybe not a noticeable extent on local roads.

I remember last year it took me a while to get comfortable with leaning the bike in order to turn. That was not the case this time around, although I still feel more comfortable taking left turns than right turns. Also last year, I remember that traffic lights on side streets often would not detect the bike. This is, of course, frustrating and a dilemma shared by anyone who isn't surrounded by a 3000-lb cage of metal. Sometimes the best option is to sit there for a little while and hope someone with a lot of metal shows up -- or just go through it if nobody is around, I guess.

I tried unsuccessfully to do a carburetor synchronization on the bike. The service manual describes the procedure being done at idle, and when I tried this it looked like everything was in sync. But, when the throttle was increased to 3000 rpm, the carburetors were no longer in sync. However, the entire procedure needs to be run with the bike warm and the gas tank off, so you really only get about a minute of gas left in the carburetor bowls before everything shuts off. There just isn't enough time to get it all balanced. I think I might try looking for a small gas tank with a 1/4-inch hose attachment. My prior technique involved using a syringe filled with gas, which worked about as well as it sounds.

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Mar.11th.2011 | 10:35 pm

It took me the better part of the last 2 years to realize a major difference between the working world and college. I always imagined that college would make me do pointless stuff, like writing essays that will never be read and various other busy work that has no real impact on making peoples' lives better. For the most part, this was true and I accepted it. But, I assumed that once I entered the working world, there would be immediate relevance and everything would have some purpose. This is not entirely true.

What I have realized only recently is that there is no end to most work. The task will never be complete. You can work and work and work on something, and there will always be more work. You likely will find people who are more than happy to point out what has yet to be done. It will never end.

Eternal work is part of college too, I suppose. A research paper can always have more sections and more words (and likely more research). But, at some point, there is a sufficient critical mass of information that yields an "A". Usually after a few classes or a few years, most people understand about how much effort/work/time is needed to get an "A" on a paper.

The working world seems to be less well-defined. There is no "A" -- only varying opinions on the completion of the work. Usually the problems themselves are not well-defined. I have spent a lot of the past two months working on a differential audio amplifier, for example, which will never be complete because there are infinite ways to solve the problem. The only way it will ever end is if I can convince someone that what I have created is "good enough" and it meets some qualitative or questionably quantitative measure of performance. Even then -- even then! -- I can still spend many more months working on the problem, trying to make it better. It will never end.

Once I began to realize that everything is subjective and never complete, it changed my perspective on the work that I do. I don't think that my work is useless, but I think there is an asymptote of productivity. It tends to grow quickly at first, but slower once the problem is solved acceptably. After this point, it takes a lot of work to make anything much better. There are diminishing returns. It becomes more critical to recognize this and move on to the next project than to make the last project better.

I guess one of the sad things I have observed is that some people don't understand that the work doesn't end. They believe that if they just put in a little more effort, they will get an "A". If it makes them happy, then they should go for it. But, don't involve me in that quest. I am especially impressed by people who operate in chaos, where expectations and schedule change by the hour, who expect to put in extra effort and call something complete. They are inspirational -- and they want me to work weekends.

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Not Me

Feb.18th.2011 | 11:33 pm

Over the past couple of years I've been trying to spend more time hanging out with people from work. Some weeks I have more success than others, depending on what else is going on in life. The majority of these people work in other areas and not with me directly. And there seems to be one common theme that I can't explain: camping.

From what I have been told, families like to go camping. Most of these friends were camping frequently as children, hanging out in campgrounds and RVs and other things at least once a month if not more. And now they themselves like to go camping and backpacking, and they like to talk about all of the interesting places they are going to go camping in and out of the country.

I don't understand this.

My father always enjoyed going to national parks and I have a lot of fond memories of doing that. But, we always stayed in a hotel somewhere near the park, drove there in the morning, and drove back to the hotel in the evening. Lunches were often packed into coolers and we would find a stray picnic table, but breakfast and dinner tended to be in a more conventional place like a restaurant or cafeteria. We would do a lot of hiking, but not for more than a few hours, and generally not with a backpack. I enjoyed the outside and I like spending time outside, but I also like sleeping in a bed and having running water.

This evening I was talking with some folks who want to go (or have gone) backpacking in Chile, hiking Mt. Everest, and hiking/climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I'm sure these are great things to do, but I don't understand (at this point in life) why they are worth doing. I guess I didn't grow up in that culture.

I noticed that my income right now doesn't really let me travel that much. Most of my money is allocated to other things... projects at home, working on the car/bike, etc. Not to mention a mortgage and all of the associated insurances. Maybe other people don't have to deal with this -- maybe I jumped into it too soon. I have considered this a lot, especially since I could have gotten an apartment for a similar amount of money and spent about 1/10 of the time working on it. That's worth thinking about. Some choices really aren't reversible.

The people around us tend to make good mirrors, reflecting our own personal biases and differences. It's not too hard to see how I am different from these outdoor types. I kind of wish I understood a little better whether I have "found a better way" or whether I am missing out. The best option would be to find someone going hiking in Africa and make plans to join them -- but there is considerable apathy toward this option, and my general lack of both understanding and empathy doesn't help.

I think I like staying in cabins in parks. It is about as close to nature as I care to sleep, and there is cereal and cereal bowls waiting for me in the morning. Maybe in a couple of years that view will change -- we will see.

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Wow, that would be really cool-ant

Jan.20th.2011 | 09:31 pm

For the past few months, ever since the cold began, my car has been showing a low coolant temperature. It hasn't fired off any "service engine soon" lights or anything, but it has taken a while to warm up in the mornings (sometimes not at all) and the temperature overall stays low.

I saw this happen to a car 2 years ago when I owned the Grand Prix, and it was a faulty thermostat. They changed out the thermostat and magically everything was back to normal.

So, jumping to conclusions, I ordered a new thermostat and spent the better part of 5 hours with my hand wedged up into the most uncomfortable spot they could have put the thermostat. It is right below the intake manifold, in front of the engine, which means that you really can't see much from the top. It is possible to reach from the top, but that only provides access to 1 or 2 of the 3 screws. So, really the job needs to be done from underneath the car.

To make a long story short, the job got done and I spent the next 2 weeks in pain from all of the odd positions involved.

And now the coolant temperature indicator is still reading a low temperature... which leads me to believe that the problem is in fact a faulty coolant temperature sensor. Luckily these are easier to replace, although now I will have to drain the coolant again.

I'm feeling somewhat frustrated that the problem just doesn't resolve itself. The service manual has specific voltage ranges that I should see coming off of the sensor, so I need to take some trim off and find a way to probe the engine control unit in order to check the voltage. Naturally, the car has to be warmed up to operating temperature and the radiator fan has to turn on (it has an independent sensor that can provide insight to the coolant temperature). This will involve sitting in my driveway revving the engine for 10 minutes in 10-degree weather. Ugh. As if the winter mileage was not bad enough.

The other option is to just buy a new sensor ($37.50), drain the coolant, install the new sensor, re-fill the coolant, and hope that does the trick. If it does not, then I will have spent $70 on the problem without any definite results, which would be more frustrating.

The final option is to take the car to a dealer and pay someone $125/hr to sit in the dealer's driveway and rev the engine until the radiator fan turns on. Yay!

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