Thursday, May 19, 2011

Quotes from the Best Good-ol-Boy Scientist EVER

"Mother Nature is gonna take us to the woodshed and we are going to provide most of the butt"
--Randy Julander

Well, we are about due for our annual blog posting. More to come soon, I promise.

In case you haven't heard, the state of Utah is sitting under historically high snowpack levels deep into May. The continued precipitation and low temperatures mean that we are not chipping away at the water runoff task at hand. At some point soon we are going to hit high temperatures and it is all going to come down in a short time period. There is a certain schadenfreude around the neighborhood as the mansions built on the river look poised to enter some class 5 rapids. But that's not nice.

Without a doubt, the best thing about the impending Waterworld apocalypse in the desert has come from an unexpected source: a good old boy hydrologist named Randy Julander. Julander has been appearing on the local news almost every night with analysis about the minor flooding that is already occurring. From what I can gather, Julander is a hydrologist employed by the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service. I have no doubt that Julander is a smart scientist, but the best thing about him is that I have to rewind the news to rewatch the hilarious things he says. I think this guy could have his own show ala Bill Nye the Science Guy.

I first took notice of Julander when he dropped the gem at the top of this post. A short search of local news turns up some more. This guy is awesome. Sit back and enjoy:

"Sooner or later, Utah is going to heat up. It will be like filling a thimble with a fire hose." (ksl May 18th, 2011)

"Bottom line, it's like trying to stop a semi with a squirrel." (ksl May 18th, 2011)

"Mother Nature is going to take us to the woodshed," (ksl April 26th, 2011)

‘"It's not too late to buy a pair of waders." (ksl April 26th, 2011)

"What we're getting right here is Bubba's all-you-can-eat southern BBQ" (ksl April 26th, 2011)

"the first thing we ought to learn out of this is where we've been stupid. ... There's no kinder, gentler way to say it." (ksl April 26th, 2011)

"The minor flooding that we see in and around various areas, this is just the appetizer," Julander said. "We still have soup, salad, the main course and dessert yet to come. Every day that it is cool and wet increases the potential for much higher stream flows later on six weeks from now." (ksl April 10th, 2011)

"This will freshen what we already have. Anything after this will be icing on the cake," (ksl February 16th, 2011)

"And it's not just Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. It's basically all of the western states except Arizona and New Mexico," Julander said. "We're waiting for the chute to open and the bull to come out bucking, but he ain't moving, yet." (ksl May 18th, 2011)

"They're wishing they could get a little of what we have. (The wet weather) just continues to get worse. At this point, all you can do is open the chute, let her buck and hope your butt stays glued to the saddle." (ksl May 8th, 2011)

"It simply sends a message that climate is variable, and you can't count on having x number of good years and x number of bad years." (ksl March 12, 2007)

"Is this one bad year we're having in the middle of ten really good ones? Or, was it two really good years in the middle of say 15 years of drought? I wish I knew." (ksl Jan 30, 2007)

"All you can do at this point is open the chute, let her buck and hope your butt is glued to the saddle. And there is no shame in riding this beast with two hands!" (fox13, May 5, 2011)

"It is sweet," Julander said of the huge snowpack that Utahns depend on for water. "What can you say except for hot-diggity dog ... but if April is cold and wet, it's 'Katy, bar the door!"' (, march 26, 2011)

and, reaching clear back to 1993:

"You can take the brick out of the toilet. There is still a lot of water that can stand to be stored in Bear Lake, but everyplace else in the state is looking good."

EDIT -- (I got an email from Julander himself after posting this. The guy is as cool and as gracious as you could possibly hope for.)

Monday, April 05, 2010

Dead Kennedys

Seen on the commute this evening.

Colonel Conk moustache wax: $5.99
Genuine Stetson cowboy hat: $149.95
Audi S4: $45,000
Driving around Massachusetts with a Texas vanity plate that never, ever would have been allowed by the Commonwealth's Registry of Motor Vehicles: Priceless

Mary Jo Kopechne Chappaquiddick Ted Kennedy

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Belting My Kids (into the Land Cruiser)

After our experience last summer with our Utah Land Cruiser, we decided that we liked it so much that we would get rid of our supremely useful Honda Odyssey and replace it with a Land Cruiser. My honey feels that she has better visibility than in the van, and I feel very confident that this is a safe vehicle for my family to be trucked around in (see here). After a lot of research, we settled on the purchasing an FZJ80. You can read lots more elsewhere on the Internet about the intricacies of Toyota Land Cruisers, but I'll say here that many people think that the FZJ80 is the best LC ever. It was the last LC with a solid front axle (and serious off road performance stock), but it also has a reasonably powerful engine and a luxurious leather (not Corinthian, unfortunately) interior. We looked around for a while and found a 1997 LC that was really nice. It had been well taken care of and had been well maintained. The difference between this vehicle and the 1991 FJ80 is remarkable. Although they are very similar, the newer LC feels like a vastly more modern vehicle. Funny what some extra power, leather, and soundproofing can do.

The one shortcoming of the FZJ80 relative to the FJ80 is that the newer truck came with only 7 seat belts rather than the 8 in the FJ. For most people, this is not important, but we seem to use the 8th seatbelt a few times per week hauling kids and friends around. Interestingly, the two vehicles' seats are identical--it's just that Toyota took out the center lap belt in the third row seat in the final years of FZJ production. My understanding is that this was done because the US government began requiring shoulder belts, and this would have required some expensive engineering in the final year of a dying model. After some detective work, I found that the seat frames in the third row are identical to the ones in the older model. So I felt confident that it would be safe to back date our LC's seats, and I ordered a lap belt set from . Unfortunately, there are no brown seat belts available anywhere in the Toyota parts network anymore, so I settled for a grey one. It bolted right in to the third row seat, and now we have a Toyota original third row seat that holds three people.

Here are some photos:

Folded up the rear seats and unscrewed plastic cover on the seat stand.

Here is the Grade 8 bolt that holds the receiver (the part with the buckle) of the left side shoulder belt. I will take out this bolt and use it to hold two receivers--the driver's side shoulder receiver and the new receiver for the middle belt.

Here's my little helper using ratchets and screwdrivers on anything he can find. Nice shoes, kid.

Here are the two seat belts with the one bolt passed through them. I didn't need a longer bolt--Toyota didn't even put in a shorter bolt when they took out the third seat belt.

I did the same thing on the other side, replaced the plastic covers, and Voila! Here's the finished product. It works great:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Acorn-Fed Free Range Rodent (censored for the squeamish)

In the last few years I have solidified my position as a carnivore. I don't really like steak THAT much, truth be told. I am committed to the IDEA of being a carnivore more than I am actually in love with the taste of red meat. Vegetarianism is great, don't get me wrong. Some of the people I love and admire most are vegetarians. But for me, somehow I feel that it is important for me as a homosapiens to pay a visit periodically to the food chain, if only to show it and my body that I do, in fact, still reside at the top. Doing otherwise would feel like letting down my ancestors who spent millions of years sharpening sticks and bringing down mastodons. Look, I never said I was normal. And the world would be a sad place without In-N-Out burgers, bacon, and chicken tikka masala.

My buddy D sees life the same way, I think. I know that we have both worried that our kids only have a vague idea that their chicken nuggets and Chinese beef and broccoli have their origins in an animal somewhere (not the broccoli, duh), but the connection is not clear. And if you are a regular reader in this space, you know that there is a glut of healthy, acorn-fed squirrels living in the oak trees in my yard. When D's wife H announced that she was hosting a Harry Potter party a few nights ago, D and I thought it would be a great idea to harvest one of the squirrels and serve it to the guests. Here's the documentation.

Before you read on, know that I have replaced the more gruesome photos with a cute book cover from Amazon. If you would like to see the real photo, you can click on the photo and you will see an enlarged photo of the real thing. Viewer beware--some of the photos show the insides of the animal. Also, you should know that the little fella passed on to the big oak tree in the sky quickly and quite painlessly. He lived a happy life right up until the last twenty seconds, when a foreign object traveling about 700 FPS passed through his liver and spine before leaving his body, with a spade handle finishing the job.

On with the show....

Shortly following the death, I put him in a freezer bag and buried it in the snow while I waited for D to come over and start the butchering.

D removing the squirrel from the bag.

The future meal, ready for what comes next.

Little pitch for my sweet knife here. It is a Spyderco Military S30V, a really beautiful and useful knife. Its open design allowed for easy and thorough cleanup after the job documented here. D Made a cut under the tail that didn't get into muscle or the digestive tract.

With that cut made, he stepped on its tail, grabbed it by the hind legs, and pulled. This essentially started to peel the squirrel's shirt up and off.

Shirt almost off...

Shirt off entirely (except for head).

Head and pelt removed and thrown away. We think the wound created a hernia, and in the final seconds some of the digestive tract tried to get out.

Checking the liver for spots. This is very important in assessing the squirrel's health. Spots would be a sign that we need to throw the squirrel away and wash our hands. This guy was very healthy apart from for the aforementioned hole in the liver. Notice the full stomach. It's the greenish balloon.

We cut open the stomach to show young E, who has expressed interest in the surgical arts as a career. Full of acorns and scavenged Iggy's bread. Healthy little dude. He had some fat stores, too.

Two legs ready for the frying pan.

Look closely and you can see the major blood vessels. No angioplasty needed here. Apparently eating acorns and chasing female squirrels around all day is a healthy lifestyle.

Brought the meat in to wash it in the sink. That's not dirt around the claws--it's residual fur. Feet were cut off and discarded.

D with the meat in a bag of ice and salt. Notice curious, curiously untraumatized, 8-year-old looking on.

We made a reduction of Trader Joe's concentrated chicken broth, white cooking wine, a splash of olive oil, and a few drops of Tabasco sauce. (Notice the brownies. They had to wait their turn.)

The legs going in.

Brazed legs on both sides, got nice caramelization from the reduction and meat before the slower cooking started.

Splashed some water, covered, and turned down the heat in order to cook through.

Hind legs took longer to cook through--they are thicker. The meat turned out beautifully. I feel that this cooking job respected the squirrel.

Eager kids(!) lined up for a bite of squirrel.

G's first bite. Squirrel on a toothpick? Who woulda thunk it?

The delectable R holding a leg.

Chewing it. It was very good. Best description is dark turkey meat. The reduction was heavenly, if I do say so myself.

The lovely L getting ready to tuck into a leg, as the Brits say.

Young A, with parents away in San Diego, tried squirrel for the first (and last?) time. And liked it.
G, laughing on the inside as a munches rodent.

G doing his best impression of Morrissey eating squirrel. Meat is Murder, dog!

Friday, December 25, 2009

An Innovative Ring Solution

A close friend of ours made her husband's wedding band many years ago. She did this when she was working at a high school, using the jewelry-making equipment in the art studio during her off hours. She had a piece of aluminum lathed to the diameter of her husband's finger, and then wrapped bands of wax around the aluminum blank to build up a wax ring. The ring was then cast in gold from the wax pattern she had built up.

Fast forward many years to the present day. Not long ago, her husband lost this ring. I don't think it would offend anyone involved to say that her husband is her property, and that she had every right to put another ring on his hand as a signal to the rest of the ladies in the world that his is taken. She wanted to recreate the original ring, but she couldn't find the equipment to do this. In addition, she didn't have the measurements from the original. She made a drawing of the ring and worked out the likely dimensions of the original. Then she got a piece of jewelers wax and a ring-sizing ream from a jeweler friend. She started making a copy by hand, sawing off a piece of the wax and reaming it out. She didn't have a way to cut the outside diameter of the ring precisely enough, so I offered her the use of my lathe. She brought her accumulated jewelry paraphernalia over to our house, including a framed photo of him in which the ring is quite clearly visible. We measured the ring in the photo with a micrometer, and used a Bic Pen in his pocket for scale. We found a real Bic Pen of the same type, and solved for X to find the width of the real ring. Unfortunately, the estimate we came up with was quite different from what she remembered the true dimensions to be, probably because of lack of precision in the photo (which, parenthetically, we discovered to have been Photoshopped because the ring is on his right hand and his hair is parted on the wrong side, but his colleague's name tag appears to be normal. Sneaky.). So we went with her recollection of the ring's measurements.

We mounted a piece of the jewelers wax in the lathe and bored the inside diameter to match her husband's college ring that is known to fit well. Then we cut the outside diameter of the ring and two grooves, slightly radiusing all of the right-angled edges. I was worried that heat generated by the cutting process would deform the wax, so we held a piece of ice against the workpiece while it was spinning. Between cuts when we were discussing proportions, we hung a bag of icewater over the headstock of the lathe to keep everything cool and dimensionally stable.

The first ring we manufactured just didn't look right. Our friend came to the conclusion that it needed to be thicker--it was too thin (2mm)--and that the proportions of the three bands around the circumference needed to be changed to make the center band wider. She was right. The second iteration was about 3mm thick and the outer bands were reduced by .3mm each. Additionally, we made the outer bands of very slightly smaller diameter than the large central on. These changes made a huge difference in the ring's aesthetics.

The next day, she took the wax pattern to our jeweler friend to have it cast. He told me that:

1) This was a big ring (her husband has very large hands).
2) That we could come and work for him if our day jobs don't work out. I was particularly flattered that his normal wax pattern guy was slightly offended that he (our jeweler friend) had used someone else to make this pattern, until our friend told him what I do for my day job (I am not a jeweler).

Monday, December 14, 2009


Perhaps it's the fact that I spent the two years immediately following the fall of the Iron Curtain just across the Adriatic from the disintegrating Yugoslavia. Or maybe it's that I think one of the greatest and most underrated films of all time is Mr. Wrong (starring Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Pullman; halfway through the movie it magically sheds it romantic-comedy cocoon and emerges as a crazy psycho thriller). What does this have to do with the price of beans, you ask?

My little friend Pops had his first haircut last spring. I gave him a buzzcut in anticipation of a long summer of swimming pools and beach trips. And it worked wonderfully. Fast forward to the middle of a New England winter, and how has the buzz aged? Not so well, thank you. A good buddy who spent the mid 1990s in the Ukraine and I were riffing on just how bad the poor kid's hair looks, and somehow we determined that his coif makes him look like an early-90s Serbian gangster. Either that or Ellen DeGeneres having a bad (good?) hair day. Later that night, I woke up in a cold sweat with the realization that Pops needed a shirt with the Supercuts logo on it--a fitting exclamation point on the walking bad-hair advertisement he has become. I searched in vain for one from their official site, and finally just ordered one from . I am sure I could have found one at some ironic hipster Urban Outfitters type store, but I was able to order from the comfort of my bed from my iPhone. Here are the results:

Straight on:

What you see when he runs away from you:

A face so cute it nearly make you forget about the Balkans and the Russian mob:

The shirt:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I Spy With My Little Eye

On our family trip to Washington DC this year, we spent an afternoon in the International Spy Museum. It is VERY cool. Really, the US government missed a big opportunity by not building a museum like this. I suspect, however, that it would not be as nice if it were publicly funded as part of the Smithsonian.

The photography room is one of the more interesting exhibits in the museum, especially if you are a geek. It contains all sorts of interesting cameras, from shoe cameras to aerial reconnaissance ones. One camera that caught my eye was a little SLR called the Pentax 110. It was the cutest camera I have ever seen. It looks like a 1/2 scale Pentax SLR, complete with interchangeable lenses:

(this photo borrowed from another website)

According to the information in the display case, the KGB issued these cameras to their agents in the '70s and '80s. I sat in front of the display, smitten by this little camera despite its associate with the KGB. It's ironic that the protector of the People's Party turned to the capitalist Japanese for camera technology.

In a testament to the power of modern technology, I pulled out my iPhone and started researching the Pentax 110 on eBay and Wikipedia, all while standing in the Spy Museum. It turns out that these cameras can be had complete with a few lenses

for a very reasonable price: The 110 film is available, but is quite hard to find. I bought one on eBay complete with three lenses, an autowinder (works, but I haven't used it), and a flash (ditto).

These are some photos from my first roll, taken around Boston and at Acadia National Park. The film is a bit grainy, and the colors are oh-so-retro 70s looking:

Rock wall at my work. I have always loved the sweep and height change of this wall. It is a little nugget of beauty I get to admire every day as I walk in to my office

An office building (my office)

A nice little Dutch Colonial (my home)

Friends Tal and Anita on the day of their engagement
(he proposed at sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain)

A strikingly beautiful little kid I am related to

View from the lawn of Jordan Pond House Restaurant in Acadia,
purveyors of yummy popovers and double-billed credit card statements