Saturday, December 28, 2019

25 First Dates

It's Christmas Eve, 1994. I take an attractive young lady to Ho Ho, a restaurant located in the hinter lands of Rochester. We go there to avoid running into mutual friends. I had mapo tufu, a massive plate of jiggly squares of soy covered in brown sauce. It would be the start of the greatest adventure of my life.

This past Christmas Eve, Shira and I celebrated the 25th anniversary of this first date.

These last 25 years have been amazing. I can't wait to see what the next 25 bring!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

'Mercia Sighting

Spotted on our walk yesterday:

I'm no ornithologist, but I do believe that's a bald eagle.

This seems relevant:

From the above video:

In 1776, Uncle Sam and this bald eagle found Lady Liberty and her rocky mountains
They knocked boots and yelled Yee Yee
And boom, there it was, just like that
Merica was born

This photo was made possible by my $4.99 mobile phone telephoto lens. That lens, like 'Merica, is awesome!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Finding a Quirky Cell Phone Plan to Match my Quirky Cell Phone Usage

For the last 4 years, I've used a tiny M5 Phone in addition to my fancy Android device. This credit card sized dumb-phone is awesome! I use it on Shabbat when I want to be effectively off-line yet still connected for emergencies. I carry it in my man-bag as a backup phone. I use it traveling and in the back-country when I want to receive calls and texts from Shira, but want to save battery on my Android phone by leaving it in Airplane mode.

The M5 phone itself is cheap (less than $20!). The primary catch is my cell provider's monthly service charge. For the last few years, I was able to get away with adding an extra line to our standard T-Mobile account for $9.99. But recently, we had to upgrade our account and we lost this benefit. Sure, I could add an extra line, but it was going to cost at least $20/mo. Suddenly, my backup phone was looking like an extravagance I was going to need to forgo.

The challenge is my backup-phone's usage is so non-typical. I want tiny amount of talk and texts and no data; whereas cell providers focus on offering unlimited talk, text and data. While T-mobile had an antiquated text and call plan, it was still overkill and expensive.

I looked into prepaid plans, but found those to be even worse in terms of pricing.

But there was hope: through a Google search I found US Mobile. US Mobile let's you build a fully customized plan, including opting out of data and selecting just a few minutes and text messages:

A bare bones plan for $3.50/mo? Yes, please!

I ordered their SIM Card starter kit, inserted the SIM into the phone and I've had flawless service ever since. Of course taxes and fees mean that I'm not paying $3.50/mo - it's more like $7/mo. But still, I'm delighted that I was able to find a phone plan that fit my needs.

Another scenario where US Mobile could come in handy is for an Internet-of-Things experiment. I could imagine powering a project that works over text messages using a $2.00/mo US Mobile plan. That would provide an amazing capability for a remarkable price.

Bottom line: if you've got esoteric cell phone needs, US Mobile is your friend!

Friday, December 20, 2019

That DC Glow

Context: A couple weeks I was running on a rainy night. Surprisingly, the low cloud cover made for an interesting effect: the lights of DC were being reflected back to Earth.

A Protein Packed, Locally Sourced, 100% Organic Treat

Context: a hawk decided to eat his lunch outside my office window. I grabbed my DSLR and captured his meal.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Convenient and Tasty - Neutral Cold Soaking

Earlier this year I outlined a cold soaking strategy that worked well for me while backpacking. Briefly, the idea is to reconstitute a neutral base and then add flavor to it. This is a vast improvement over my previous cold soaking attempts which had me eating gloppy and questionable tasting mixtures.

Lately, I've been using this strategy in the comfort of my own kitchen as convenience for meals throughout the day. In about 2 minutes I can prepare rice, toasted couscous and steel cut oats:

Step 1. Grab 3 single serving 8oz containers.

Step 2. Fill with 1 serving of a cold-soaking friendly base. That's 1/2C (46g) of Minute Rice, 1/4C (40g) of steel cut oats and 1/3C (50g) of toasted couscous.

Step 3. Add a 1:1 ratio of water, so 1/2C for the the rice, 1/4C for the steel cut oats and 1/3C for the couscous.

Step 4. Wait. I come back a few hours when I'm ready to eat again.

Step 5. Marvel at how the grains have properly re-hydrated. Put two of the containers in the fridge for later. Grab the third container, add mix-ins and eat.

Sometimes I'll add backpacking friendly mix-ins, like maple syrup, olive oil, cheese powder, raisins or nuts. Other times I'll microwave or stir-fry the base, say adding spaghetti sauce, cheese and seitan to make a quick and delicious spaghetti and meatballs type meal. Regardless of what I mix in, I find the strategy tasty, convenient and excellent practice for backcountry and travel cooking.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Las Vegas Adventure - Day 7 - Coming Home

[Composed 12/1/2019]

Thankfully, everything about our travel day today was uneventful. We had no issues at the airports, two easy flights and I even managed to watch a couple of fun movies. Men In Black: International was as silly and predictable as I expected. But I found Stuber exceeded expectations. Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation from getting up at 3am, or maybe it was the altitude, but I found the movie funny, touching and tons of fun to watch. Predictable, sure? But that didn't seem to take away from my enjoyment of it. I did get a kick out of the fact that both movies starred Kumail Nanjiani, and he was by far the best character in Men in Black: International.

So we're back home, safe and sound. Here's a few final reflections on Vegas:

  • We stayed at the MGM Signature, which is a non-smoking, all suites hotel that doesn't have any gaming. What it does have is an indoor walkway to the MGM Grand, which does have gaming and is located on the Strip. One major factor in our trip was the cruddy weather: rain and cold temps. Having a walkway to the Strip was ideal. I'm assuming this walkway is just as handy when it's 110°F out. This hotel was an absolute winner.
  • Vegas is one of the few places in the US where smoking is still an issue. As far as I can tell, all of the casinos allow smoking, which just blows my mind. The Vegas style casinos around the DC area do just fine without allowing smoking, but this trend just hasn't hit Vegas yet. Yuck.
  • I'd hope that Vegas would be a gateway to great hiking, and it was. If you need to choose a single hiking area to visit, I suppose you should select Valley of Fire. But there are so many hiking opportunities around, it would be a shame to choose only one.
  • The food options in Vegas were great: we had plentiful vegetarian *and* Kosher options. These required a 15 to 30 minute drive off the Strip, but were totally worth it.
  • Perhaps it was the cold weather, but the city had less of a Sin City feel to it. Years ago we spent 24 hours in Vegas, and while entertaining it definitely gave me a vibe of being a place where you could indulge in whatever vice you wanted to guilt free. That Vegas is probably still there, but the impression I took away this trip is one of a more complete city. I could see bringing our nieces and nephew here to enjoy the hiking, food and supposedly kid friendly entertainment. Perhaps when it's warmer, and people are drinking more and wearing less, I'll feel differently about a family vacay to Vegas.

Definitely good times!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Las Vegas Adventure - Day 6

[Composed 11/30/2019]

If yesterday's hiking was great, today's was off the charts amazing. We did a number of short hikes in Valley of Fire State Park, and we were both blown away by the epic beauty of the place.

We used a number of blogs as a guide to where to hike in the park, including: Leave No Tracy and Earth Treks. Both are excellent resources. With that said, I think the Pink Canyon (found here) was a bit oversold, and Mouse's Tank Trail was a bit undersold--though more on that last point in a moment. Regardless, all of the scenery is jaw-dropping good.

I was excited to finally see some desert wildlife, including goats desert bighorn sheep, chipmunks white-tailed antelope ground squirrels and an impressive flock of Gambel's Quail.

The weather totally cooperated today: it was in the 50°'s but with the sun shining it was a perfect day to be walking on nearly shade-free trails. I tried to imagine how difficult a visit to this park would be when it was 110°F. Our leisurely strolls would have become death marches.

As I noted above, I think Mouse's Tank Trail is a bit underappreciated. The reason: petroglyphs! Yesterday I was excited to see a handful of 800 year old rock etchings. Today I had the chance to see dozens, if not hundreds, of them! That's because Mouse's Tank Trail is crammed full of this artwork. It's not clear how old the petroglyphs are, but there's evidence to suggest they are between 1000 and 2000 years old. As for their meaning, your guess is as good as mine. Are they an historic record, warning, advice to travelers, or 'just' art?

Some of the etchings remind me of the stick-figure-family decals people add their car windows. That's not just because these characters are typically simple, but because they tell a story with such efficiency. Whether it's a suburban with a family that includes a dancer, painter and a hockey player, or a Prius with a T-Rex chasing a fleeing family, I can quickly learn something about the driver of that car. And so it is with some of the petroglyphs. Other markings on the wall are abstract, and include funky lines and circles. I find it all amazing and I'm blown away that you can see so much of it in one location. For that reason, I suggest exploring Mouse's Tank and doing so with an open mind.

Looking at a map of the Vegas area, it's not obvious which green spaces to visit and in which order. I think we picked an optimal order when we did Red Rock Canyon yesterday and Valley of Fire today. Both give you opportunities to see amazing geology, but Valley of Fire is just a bit more dramatic in my opinion and builds nicely on what we saw yesterday.

In short, this place is amazing!