August 28, 2005

buying a bathroom scale

after watching my waistline shrink drastically during two extended trips to asia, i figured it was time to buy a bathroom scale. i though it would be easy, just go to my local bb&b and get the one that looks the best. (i was figuring something with clear glass.) boy was i wrong. as it turns out, buying a bathroom scale was a royal pain.

why? well, it turns out my initial assumptions about bathroom scales were wrong. i shouldn't be trying to find a scale that looks good. i should be trying to find a scale that tells me my weight accurately, doesn't lie about it, and is easy to use.

i realized some of this after talking to my roommate, blake. he has a digital bathroom scale made by taylor. it sucks. not only does it suck. it lies. here's how. if you get on the scale it will tell you one weight. then if you get on it again, it will tell you the same weight. seems ok up till this point. but then, he showed me that if you turn the scale on, don't weight anything, wait for it to turn off, and then weight yourself again, you'll get a compleatly different reading (off by a few pounds.) and if you weight yourself again, you'll get the same second reading value. so the basic conclusion to draw from this observed behavior is that the scale is remembering the last weight it weighed, and if it sees something close to that, it just displays the old number again. so to sum up. the scale is crappy (since it tells you multiple different weights) and it also lies (since it just re-displays previous weight values.)

given the high crap factor of blakes scale, his normal procedure for using it in the morning is: weigh himself, turn the scale on and wait till it turns off, then weight himself again and use this last measurement. i adapted this procedure to test new scales in an attempt to find one that doesn't suck. here's what i did:

1) weigh myself, call this W1
2) pickup some heavy object(s) and weigh myself again - W2
3) put down the heavy object(s) and weigh myself again - W1'
4) pick up the same heavy object(s) and weigh myself again - W2'

then check, does W1 == W1' and W2 == W2'.

with this testing procedure in mind i headed over to my local bb&b and proceeded to try out almost all of their scales on display, i tried about 11 in total. first off, across all the scales my weight varied across a 10 pound range. seems pretty poor. also, most the scales failed my tests miserably. the interesting part was that it seemed to be broken down by manafacturer/brand. if one scale from a manafacturer/brand sucked, then all their other scales did too, and if one scale worked well, all the scales from that manufacturer/brand worked well.

so here were my findings. scales from the following manufacturers/brands suck and should be avoided:
- Homedics
- Taylor
- Terraillon
- Thinner (made by ConAir)
- Weight Watchers (made by ConAir)

The following manufacturers/brands seem to have good scales:
- Soehnle (made by Leifheit)
- Tanita

what's also interesting, is that while my weight varied wildly across all the scales, the two good brands of scales seemed to match up in their measurements of my weight. a good sign.

having finally found some accurate scales i was pretty happy. then i had to choose between the remaining four scales (one Soehnle and three Tanitas) and i discovered an additional important selection criteria i wouldn't have thought of before hand. ease of use.

it's worth mentioning that all the scales by these two manufacturers are "fancy". by this i mean that not only do they measure your weight, but they also measure your body fat, and to do this they need to know your sex/height/age. so each of the scales is programmable and has multiple buttons. i decided that if i had to read a manual to figure out how to use a bathroom scale, the scale is too complicated.

as it turns out the Soehnle and the high end Tanita are a little too complicated for their own good. the high end Tanita verges on silly. i couldn't even turn the scale on to get a weight reading without bending down and randomly pressing multiple small buttons. with the Soehnle, getting my weight was easy enough but i couldn't figure out how to use any of the other features without the manual.

in the end, i went with the cheapest Tanita model. for getting weight it was really easy. kick a button and stand on the scale. for the more advanced features, i was able to figure out how to program the scale in a couple minutes and then once again it was kick a button and stand on the scale.

whew... so that's it. in the end i'd say i wasted about two hours at bb&b. i also wasted a bunch of time online before going to bb&b looking at scales. what a way to spend my time. course the icing on the cake is this blog entry. well, i guess i'm finally done wasting time on this.

August 27, 2005

belgian style dobblebock

i started a 5 gallon batch today. the OG was 1.082, the highest i've ever tried. i'm worried that my yeast will give out and that i probably should have done a yeast starter. my target FG is 1.030, which would put this beer at almost 6.9%. this one is gonna need at least 4 months to age, so i won't be tapping it till the Feb 2006 at the earliest. man that's far away. here's to hoping i didn't screw it up.

selected readings

while traveling around south east asia for eight weeks me and ronda did manage to do quite a bit of reading. when leaving the paske airport the guy working the xray machine looked a little surprised after seeing my bag and turned to me and asked "books?" here's a quick look at what i read (presented in the order that i read it) while travelling. (excluding all the lonely planet travel guides of course.)

the gulag, by Anne Applebaum. this was a book my parents got me for my birthday and i took it with me on the trip. an excellent book. i learned a lot about russian and comunist history and culture from this book. the book was really well written and presented a LOT of information. it covered every possible aspect of the russian forced labor camps and gave you just enough related background information and history to understad the information presented. also (aside from the subject matter) the book itself was pretty easy reading. you didn't have to keep flipping back to the footnotes in the end, and it wasn't a dry history book since it pulled so much from archives and writings of personal accounts of experiences with the gulag. the book is a pretty imposing tome (i was never able to get ronda to read it), but you should not let this discourage you. i would strongly recommend this book to anyone since it coveres very recent aspects of little known, little discussed, and relevant history that has had a large impact on our world today.

Catfish and Mandala, by Andrew X. Pham. this book is required reading for anyone even thinking of going to vietnam. actually, you could probably read this book, go to a travellers cafe, and talk like a real vietnam tourist vet by retelling the authors experiences from this book. all that said, i haven't actually read this book. ronda read it. and while reading it she stopped every ten pages to tell me "holy shit, the same thing happened to this guy" and then she read me his recounting of our experiences. (which is weird since he published them before we had our experiences... creepy.)
the book is about a young man, a viet cue (someone who left vietnam at a young age for the US and then returns to vietnam), and his experiences after returning to vietnam to discover his native country/heritage and bike from saigon to hanoi. me and ronda though that we got bad treatment at times because we're "rich westerners", but the way that the author gets treated is amazingly worse, bordering on appaling. the book is well written and a easy quick read. (bear in mind, i've only heard the "books recited by ronda" version. fyi, i do actually plan to read this book myself.) the book also coveres different aspecty of vietnames culture and history, and talks about the different areas that the author visits while there. also, his experiences sync up with what we learned talking to some viet cue we met while travling threre.

First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung. this is a personal story of a young girl who survived the labor camps and genocide inflicted by the khmer rouge in cambodia. the author starts out as a young spoiled upper class child living phnom penh, cambodia at the time the khmer rouge came to power and documents her (and her families') struggle for survival. aside from the topic matter, the book is easy to read since it's written mostly from a childs perspective. the labor camps in cambodia differed from the ones in russia since in cambodia since they affected all of society, instead of individuals accued of crimes against society. in cambodia, if someone was though to have commited crimes against society (or was discovered to be educated or have come from any type of middle or upper class) they were simply killed. the book goes all the way to the present, covering the vietnamese invasion of cambodia and the fall of the khmer rouge, the authors escape/emigration from cambodia to the US, and her eventual return to cambodia to see other surviving family members. it's a good book but it's also depressing to read about more horrible atrocities that were commited recently (and continue to be commited) while the world community sits around and continues to do nothing.

Voices from S-21, by David Chandler. this book was about another horrible aspect of the khmer rouge regime. aside from the forced labor camps there was S-21 and the choeung ek killing fields. S-21 was a school that was convered to a prision. everyone who was ever sent to S-21 was killed and burried at choeung ek. this amounted to thousands of people. this book documents what how S-21 evolved, who worked there, and what went on there. it's an amazing and tragic history, but unfortunatly the book doesn't do it justince since it's so horribly written, it's a very dry and boring read. information is scattered all over the place without a real structure. i couldn't help but compare this book to the gulag, since they are both about prisions, and the difference in the quality of writing is striking. what's also unfortunate, is that if you search for other books about cambodian history or books about the khmer rouge you find that most of them were written by the same author, and after reading this book i'm really not interested in reading any more of his books.

Angkor (Fourth Edition), by Dawn Rooney. while visiting angrok we really wanted to have more than our lonely planet to guide us through the temples, and at $4 USD in cambodia, this book was a great deal. first published in 1994 and now on it's 4th edition (from 2005) it's already pretty out of date. but regardless it was a great book to have along. it's devided into two major sections. the first half of the book covers lots of background information that is helpfull for visiting the temples. if like me, you don't know much about hinduism or buddhism, this book will introduce you to the basics. you'll get to know the names of the gods and people that you'll see over and over again. you'll also get to know the names of the epic stories that you'll see depicted at the temples again and again. it'll tell you about the history of the area and the different kings that spanned the centuries that it took to build all the ankgor temples. it also covers some of the different architectural aspect of the temples themselves. finally it coveres the discovery of ankor and attempt in more recent years to perserve and restore the temples amidst the political turmoils of cambodian history. the second half of the book is a guide to the temples. we used this half to help plan which temples to visit and what order to visit them in. it also includes descriptions of each of the temples and gives you advice about how to approach and what to look for when visiting each temple. of course this half was the most out of date half. it warned about potential robbers at "remote" temples that are no longer considered "remote" and get a lot of visitors these days. in certain temples it also described areas that have now been roped of and you can't walk through anymore. the only main thing that the book didn't cover that i wish it did was more information about the restoration processes. there are different techniques being used by different organizations and it would have been interesting to learn about the different approaches being used.

In Retrospect, by Robert S. McNamara. since we had just visited vietnam this seemed like a good book to read, and it really was. this book came out in 1995 and a lot of the issues and mistakes that mcnamara talks about are still relevant and being repeated today. it provides a great historical presentation of events in vietnam and at home, and our constanty increasing involvement in south east asia. the book presents the past linearly and allows you to see how basic mistakes and problems were compounded on each other without people stopping to ask basic questions and look at the realities surrounding the conflict. one interesting thing that jumped out at me was that early on in the conflict almost every time vietnam is mentioned laos is mentioned as well. our involvement in south east asia spanned three countries but somehow in the end only vietnam is remembered. this was a great read.

Another Quiet American, by Brett Dakin. If your thinking of going to Laos you really should read this book. it's an easy quick read about a young princeton graduate who goes to work at the tourism board in laos for two years. each chapter covers a different aspect of laos life, culture, and the authors interractions with others. the book provides thoughtfull insights into life for both locals and forigners in a current day communist country. (and might change some of your opinions, if you have any, on international aid mondy and how it is spent.)

travels with barley

i finally finished Travels with Barley, by Ken Wells. I started the book before leaving for vacation and finally finished it after getting back. (i refuse to travel with hard cover books.) it's a lucky thing i finally finished it since ronda got it for me on my last birthday and it might look bad if i didn't finish it for my next birthday. well enough about me, now some blather about the book.

this is the story of Ken Wells rambling down the mississippi in search of the "perfect beer joint". he's also searching for anyone who's willing to talk to him about beer and tiny bits of beer arcana. (for instance, did elvis drink beer? if so, what was his favorite beer?) it consists of one half re-tellings of his beer related encounters with people, one quarter of insights into those encounters and different aspects of beer culture, and one quarter of random beer culture and personal history. it also includes quite a few detour chapters where he discusses different aspects of beer drinking, beer brewing, and beer culture in the US. (chapters about yeast rustlers, mico/home beer brewing, SAB Miller hop farming, beer festivals, the evolution of the current US corporate beer juggernauts, etc.)

the book is a really easy and quick read that never gets too serious. unless you're the ultimate beer guru then this book definitely includes interesting information about beer history and culture that you didn't know, and if you are a guru then the you probably love beer drinking and that's what this book is about.

if you do read it you'll probalby want to have a beer handy and in the end you'll probably be jealous of Ken since he just got paid to wander around for a year and drink beer. (and scratch down enough notes while doing it to write a book, unless of course his next novel turns out to be fiction...)

August 16, 2005

intestinal apocalypse

this should keep me busy for a while: these guys are even more obsessed with burritos than i am. impressive.

backpacker survey

i finally found it again. here it is. this is the survey ronda found before we left. after looking at it we wondered why vietnam scored so low for "Recommend" and "Come back". well, after spending five weeks there we know why. (the people there just aren't all that friendly and traveling there gets tiring due to constant hassles. i guess that would explain the low "Shopkeepers" and "Local people" scores as well.)

from moles to holes

so today (at the urging of ronda) i went to see a dermatologist to have him check out my moles.

little did i know he would find two of them so facinating that he would want to keep them. (the sicko probably has a mole collection in back of his office.)

he was particularly excited by the irregularly shaped mole on my back. he gave me two shots of a local anesthetic and the proceeded to cut it off. he then cauterized the newly minted hole in my back with some chemicals. after that one he moved onto another mole on my chest. this one was much larger, but at the same time much less interesting since it was nice and round. regardless he thought it would make a good addition to his collection so he gave me about 5 more shots of anesthetic and continued to cut and cauterize away.

after all this fun he managed to inspire me with confidence by telling me that i should start applying spf 15 every morning. even though i take a train to work and sit in an office building without a window all day long, i'm still exposed to uv radiation for short periods of time during the day, and research has shown it's the cumulative effects of these short exposures that can lead to cancer. how come now one ever warned me about this earlier? unfortunately i hate sunscreen, but i also don't think i'd enjoy cancer, so after thinking about it for a bit i've decided to never leave my house again... and to stay away from all the windows. i blame ronda.

August 14, 2005

complete re-integration

well. friday night i was hacking on work stuff till i fell asleep on my laptop at 4am. saturday night i up playing price of persia 2 until 6:30am. talk about a weekend well spent! well, at least it seems like i'm back to my normal trials of trying to get to bed at a decent hour.

August 13, 2005

back to the beer

immediately after getting back from vacation last week i tapped two five gallon kegs of home brewed beer that i had lying around the house aging. one keg was a six month aged porter that i brewed back in january and the other was a two month aged stout that i brewed shortly before leaving.

i had actually tapped the porter earlier, before leaving on vacation two months ago, and back then i thought it was a really tasty and smooth brew. the good news is that it didn't go bad during my time away and it's still a tasty brew that has only improved with age. it's also the strongest beers i've ever brewed, my current calculations put it at 7.3% ABV. (OG: 1.069, FG: 1.013, 38.27 IBU)

the younger keg was a stout and it was supposed to be a "double chocolate" stout, inspired by a stout or the same name from Youngs. (see and here.) unfortunatly this one is a bit of a disappointment. the beer itself isn't actually bad... it's just no where near as good as youngs, which is excellent. today i actually did a side by side tasting comparison of the two.

Youngs has a slightly smoky smell with a definite chocolate and burnt malt taste to it. it has a slight bite, but it goes down smooth and doesn't leave much of an after taste. my stoute on the other hand has a mild smell that actually reminds me of pine and/or citrus. thinking about it further, it smells a little like hops. while this might be ok in an IPA, it's not a great feature in a stout. the taste is a bit more harsh than youngs. it's has a bit more of a bite, but it's not really a burnt or smoked malt type of bite, it's a bit more of an acidic bite that lingers after you swallow. (mind you it's not too strong bite, but it is there.) also, i really should have used more chocolate. (actually, i used baking coco since prepared chocolate has oil in it which doesn't mix so well with beer.) lastly, it has a bit of a thin mouth feel. ie, it feels watery compared to youngs. (of course i should mention that i think most the beers i brewed are too watery and i keep upping the amount of barley in them to fix this. i guess eventually i'll hit a point where it's just right or too much.) well, regardless of all the flaws i've listed above it's still very drinkable beer and i wont be pouring it out. actually, i'm drinking a pint of it right now.

August 12, 2005

more travel

time for more travel, and last minute too!

i dropped ronda off at the airport yesterday. she was heading back to her parents house to spend some time visiting her child hood romping grounds. (her parents will be moving to florida soon and so she wanted to got back before they sell the house she grew up in.)
so today i bought tickets to come out and join her there. i'll be heading out there thursday morning and returning sunday night. i've never been to upstae ny. should be interesting. (but i have to wonder, why oh why do i keep going to these hot and humid places climates when i hate hot and humid weather?!? the cool summers in san francisco are so perfect....)

August 7, 2005

same old, same old

my first weekend back from vacation and what did i spend it doing? re-installing my home server with solaris 10 of course! ah the joys of fresh installing a server an migrating all the old services over (dns, mail, web, nfs, virtual hosting, etc.) and of course in the process i discovered a couple more bugs in s10 that i'll have to file this upcomming week when i go back to work. welcome back home!

August 4, 2005

buisness class

wow. there's a world of difference between flying economy vs buisness class.

since our flight from tokyo to san francisco was delayed a day we got to fly on a mostly empty plane back home. also, since ronda has premier status with united, they bumped us up to buisness class. i've never flown buisness class before and i have to say it was pretty nice. with seats that reclined like lazy boys, enough footspace to have brought along a couple dogs, and ungodly amounts of food and drink, we somehow survived our flight back home.

disneyland tokyo

disneyland tokyo... i didn't know it existed until we stayed at the tokyo bay hilton right across the street. (by far the nicest hotel we stayed in on our entire trip.)

when we arrived in narita tokyo (from bangkok) we discovered that our connecting flight to san francisco was delayed a day. we went to the united service desk and they set us up in the tokyo bay hilton for the night.

after spending a while trying to find the bus to the hotel and getting to know some of the other travellers who were stranded with us, we passed disneyland tokyo on our way to our hotel. the hotel itself was pretty fancy for one that seems to cater to families who are taking their kids to disneyland.

our bathroom was pretty over the top. normally in the shower you have one or two dials that control the temperature and preasure of the water and then another switch (or dial) that controls if the water goes to a shower head or the bath faucet. in the bathroom here there were four dials. one to control the temperature, and then one each to control the flow for the bath faucet, the main showerhead, and the secondary showerhead (which was on a hose so you could spray water where ever you want.)
hell, you could run all three at the same time. i think it was actually designed for this because the water preassure here was so high that it was painfull to have the shower on full blast. also, the toilet seat was a number.. it had a scent neutralizer and a bunch of options for shooting heated water up your ass. (a "bidet" and "spray" mode, each of which could be augmented with an "oscillation" option.) i don't like heated toilet seats because whenever you sit down it seems like someone else has just finished up an extended stay on the can right before you. also, i didn't like the fact that whenever you sat down the toilet seat started humming.

for food, united (the airline we were flying) provided with coupons for the hotel resturant. initially we were really upset about this because most the time hotel food sucks. but in this case it wasn't too bad. dinner consisted of a large buffet with a resonable selection of decent food. i pigged out on the sushi and it was pretty good. (MUCH better than i was expecting.) the one thing not covered by the coupons was drinks. boy were they expensive. a bottle of beer was going for about 10 bucks. (The buffet itself cost about $45 USD.) we decided to stkip on the beer with dinner and hit the bar after dinner for a martini.

well, the hotel bar decour (which was really just an extension of the resturant) was great and we ordered two bombay saphire martinis. the going rate for one of these babies was about $18 USD and unfortunatly it was THE SMALLEST martini i have ever seen. i know that the japanese can be small people but this was ridiculous. it was served in a tiny martini glass (probably about a 2.5 oz glass) and it was only 2/3 full, if that. a real disapointment. my normal two martini limit could have easily been raised here to a four of five martini limit... but of course that would have done some serious damage to my wallet.

August 3, 2005

one day in bangkok

we only got to spend one evening and one full day in bangkok.

we were supposed to have two full days in bangkok but after flying out of pakse we missed our connecting flight in vientiane, so we ended up spending one night in vientiane instead of bangkok. ah the joys of international travel.

but bangkok itself seems like a pretty cool town and i wish we had spent some more time here.

it's a really huge city and since it was the end of our trip ronda decided we should live it up a bit and we rented a "nice" hotel (for just under $100 USD a night.) well, as it turned out our hotel was really more of a corporate apartment. we had a mini-kitchen, living room, and office. the bedroom was really small and had a large walk in closet. needless to say we were disapointed, but what made up for it all was the giant jacuzzi bath. ronda even had to find a drug store to but some bath bubbles/oils/whatever to put the thing to good use.

for eating in the city, we tried two interesting places for dinner. the second night we went to anna's cafe (a moderatly expensive resturant, despite the cafe name) and it was a huge dissapointment. the food was all pretty greasy and the curries (we ordered two) weren't even that tasty.

dinner the first night we were there was much better. we went to a place called Le Lys and the food was great. we had two curries, both of which were super tasty. the green curry was actually a little sweet and had what looked like large green peas in it that tasted sour (but not too strong.) they contrasted really nicely with the sweetness in the curry. also, since we were the only ones there when we arrived (we got there early) we got to talk with the owners a bit (a thai woman and a french man.) we told them we were a little surprised by the sweet green curry. they informed us that classic thai green curry is supposed to be sweet. we had no idea. (we also asked them what the little green peas were but the best english explanation they could come up with was "little eggplant", which really didn't seem to fit.)

after our dinner at Le Lys, we took an excursion on the sky train to a bar called the Londoner Brew Pub. the attraction here was that they brew their own "Londoner's Pride Cream Bitter", and let me tell you... it was mighty fine.

as for the actual touristy stuff, we did some of that as well. we spent a day at the royal palace, Wat Phra Kaeo, and Wat Pho. (oh yeah. all the guidebooks say you need to wear shoes that cover your toes and heels. this is wrong. sandals are now ok. i made the mistake of believing the guide books and roasting my feet for the day.) Most these sights are golden, sparkly, and somwhat impressive stuff. one of the hilights for me was the reclinig 47 meter long budda at Wat Pho... that's a whole lot of budda.

one funny bit was all the signs around this area that said: "don't trust strangers. the palace is open every day of the week." etc. apparently strangers around here may lie and try to scam you. (our guide books also repeated this warning a lot as well.)

there is also a thai massage school in Wat Pho and we decided to try half an hour of massage. we wanted the foot massage, but they were all busy so we went for the regular massage, and well... the students got some practice. it was definatly amature. they masseuses/masseurs don't really pay that much attention to you. they don't realize when their hurting you, or even take much care to check that your body is in a safe position for certain streches. most of the things they did felt ok, but some of the moves left me a bit achy. luckily i don't think there was any permanent damage.

two more interesting things we checked out in town were the night market and the red light district.

the night market was like the biggest swap meet i've ever seen. they had an unbelievable amout of stuff. millions of small booths with tons of crap. you could buy furniture, lamps, vases, clothes... anything really. you could compleatly decorate a house from this place, or clothe a family. and since most the stuff is made near by it's all pretty cheap. (a lot of the stuff reminded me of things you might see at urban outfitters.) i of course bought nothing there.

as for the red light district, it wasn't as crazy as i was expecting. i dragged ronda here because i wanted to see it. it was closer to north beach (in sf) than amsterdam. well, ok, it was a _little_ more explicit than north beach. there were lots of buildings with dressed up girls all standing in _front_ waiting for buisness. i even had someone ask me if i wanted to see a "ping pong show." but the stranges thing i noticed was that there were an amazing number of japanese resturants.