Saturday, July 27, 2013

Garman's Irish Flub

Last night, Dr Desert Flower got home at 5pm, unusually early for a week-day night, so I suggested we go out to happy hour and get a bite to eat.  I wanted to surprise her, so I took her to a place we'd never been before - Garman's Irish Pub, in Mission Viejo.  It's about 5 miles from our house, a short drive, and it had outdoor seating, good yelp reviews, and appeared to be a nice "neighborhood place", not a chain, local.  Let's try it, why not?

So we drive Celeste up to Mission Viejo, found Garman's, and as we approached the door, it was opened by a hostess and greeted (good so far).  The hostess also had to double as our waitress... (oh...) since they were short staffed (strike 2).  We asked if we could be seated outside - it was 75F and a pleasant evening.  No, the outside dining area was closed for a private function - a fashionable ensemble of perfectly dressed and quaffed young high school and college aged boys (the OC young men's choral group, perhaps?), they were fabulous!  Ok, we'll sit inside... that's fine.  Our hostess/waitress assured us that she'll be right back to take our drink order.  Sure.

She arrived a few minutes later with ice waters, and took our drink & appetizer order.  Ok.  20 minutes later, after talking our our work days, we noticed we still were nursing ice waters.  Hostess/waitress returned, apologized for the lack of drinks, assured us they'd be right there, and came back 5 minutes later with drinks.  We should have just paid for them, and left to get dinner somewhere else, but we thought we'd give dinner a try, so we ordered, thinking the appetizer would come sometime soon.  We each order a soup and salad combo, but in different configurations.  Pleasantly, the hostess took the order, and we sipped our drinks, though the lime on the edge of DDF's glass looked more like a sad, wilted lemon, but OK, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

There's no silverware on the table, so I ask if we can get some. "Yes, right away" hostess replies with a smile, and returns with 2 forks, one dirty butter knife and one clean one, and a stack of bar napkins.  I examine the knife, try to clean it with one of the bar napkins as DDF comments "Just keeps going downhill".  I used to work as a bus boy in high school and college, so serving unclean silverware is a pet-peeve of mine. Easily avoidable, if the staff is paying attention, from dishwasher to bus boy to server.  But that's fine, I am not eating anything that requires the use of a knife.

Another 15 minutes pass, and my soup arrives.  No soup for you DDF!  It's soup... it's already prepared...  just ladle it into a bowl...  but ok.  I asked the hostess (as she brought the soup) "so we're not going to get the appetizer?" and she blankly looks at us and asks "you ordered an appetizer?" "Don't worry about it, that's fine."I tell her "We don't need it".  She apologizes profusely, looking at her ordering tablet.  "We're really busy with the private party, I'm so sorry!"  "It's fine, don't worry about it".  2 minutes later, a cook hurriedly brings us a plate of 7 cold stuffed mushrooms. I eat 2 of them, and DDF eats the rest (we're hungry) as I finish my soup.

My tomato bisque gone, DDF's potato cheddar soup arrives, and two very small (dessert plate sized) arugula salads are placed on the table, one on a small plate, and one in a small bowl (maybe the kitchen ran out of same sized serving dishes?).  They have no dressing on either of them.  I finish my Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey.  DDF's drink has no discernible alcohol content in it.  We wait for the dressing to arrive as DDF finishes her soup.  Other waitresses, and the t-shirt & jeans clad owner, are actively avoiding our table.  The owner is glad handing and greeting all of his regulars - a group we will decidedly never be - patting them on the back, shaking hands, greeting them by name.  I try for a solid 5 minutes to flag down a waitress, a bus boy, anybody to bring us some salad dressing for our dry salads.  I am invisible, despite our table being adjacent to 2 large (20+ person) family gather group tables, and the busy out door seating area.  I finally catch the hostess as she is seating a newly arrived couple at the booth behind us, and ask her if we can get some salad dressing as neither salad has any.  "Do you want one, or two portions of salad dressing?" she inquisitively implores.  "Two salads, two portions of dressing, please" I politely reply.  A few minutes later, vinaigrette dressing arrives, and she asks if we'd like to refresh our alcoholic beverages.  "No thanks, just the check".

$35 for 2 soups and salads, cold stuffed mushrooms (that were barely the diameter of a US quarter), one finger of whiskey ($7), and one weak vodka mixed drink.  I tipped our beleaguered and stressed out hostess/waitress 16% out of pity.  It wasn't her fault that the kitchen was slow & incompetent, that the bar was short staffed, or that her boss didn't help her out.  She was pleasant and apologetic - but usually when the service is that slow & forgetful, management steps in to knock something off the bill or offer a free desert or something...  but we were not regulars, and now, we won't be back.  It was interesting to try a new place...  but after the first 30 minutes of waiting for food, the experience started to become a tragic comedy.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Watching A Train Wreck

The phrase "like watching a train wreck" is frequently used by English speakers for a variety of situations.  Actual "old timey" black and white footage of train wrecks showing steam locomotives going over broken bridges or colliding head on into each other are anachronistic and un-relatable by modern humans.  But the Spanish high speed rail train wreck yesterday in North West Spain was captured on video (link here).

It is a terrible tragedy that more than 70 people died and 130 were injured on that train wreck.  Spain has one of the most enviable rail systems in Europe.  I've taken the train from Madrid to Toledo and found it comfortable, affordable, efficient, clean, and pleasant.  If you watch the 14 second video
from a purely mechanical stand point (no humans are visible, even if you know the train is full of real people) around the 5 second mark, you see either the first car or the 2nd car behind the engine begin to leave the track.  As the car starts to shift, part of the train rises and hits the high voltage line - or the shifting car hits a tower supporting the high voltage line - and I think that is what causes the flash that looks like an explosion.

As part of my job as an engineer, I analyze failures of large, complex systems.  Rarely is there video footage of the point of initiation of failure events, and usually we have to piece together secondary evidence to try and understand what lead to the failure.  So it is difficult for me to not watch this particular train wreck.

The engine does not appear to be the cause.  The cars behind the engine did not fully decouple from the engine, because if they had, the engine would have continued unabated while the rest of the train careened off the tracks - unabated that is, until it coasted to a stop several miles away, the high voltage lines being damaged and the main breakers at the last relay station tripping.  So what makes a train car leave the track?  A bad track / damaged track can, but in this case, the track supported the heavier engine just fine.  A ruptured wheel (wheel burst) on the car could cause this, but the investigation has not yet shown that to be the case.  There did not appear (in the video) to be any explosions under the train, so sabotage / terrorism does not appear to be an obvious cause.

My heart goes out to all of the families of those people killed and injured on the train crash.  I do hope that the Spanish transportation investigators are able to piece this together, and issue corrective actions to mitigate risks of future crashes that might have the same cause.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Welcome To Paradise

It is the middle of July here in Orange County, 4 miles away from the Ocean, about 5 miles from the
base of the largest mountains, the first summer I've ever spent in California.   The nights have been in the 60s, and the days have been in the 70s, sunny, with a light breeze.  The humidity is averaging between 20% and 40% most days.  We HAVE Run our AC for 3 or 4 days, usually in the afternoon on a day with little-or-no-wind, when solar heating has brought the inside of the house up to about 80.

When I compare this to July in Arizona, where it is regularly over 110F and the AC runs non-stop even at night, this is a much better quality of life.  When I hear from my friends in NY, SC, GA, IN, and New England about how hot and humid it is there in July, I cringe, and encourage them to come visit us here in California!  =)

We've got an extra body board... and the water is now averaging 72F down at Dana Point... come and visit, and I'll take you body boarding.  Send your progeny (who are old enough to feed and bathe themselves) and we'll look after them for a few days while they're here (yes, free room and board), and pick them up from the airport (20 minutes away) or train station (5 minutes away).

It's really a beautiful place.  We pay huge amounts in tax, but we are getting fantastic parks, traffic lights that work, roads without pot holes, rapid police response, a distinct lack of graffiti, prompt city services, nearly non-existent crime, delicious and diverse restaurants, breathable air, stunning landscapes, and an excellent quality of life.

CFPB Cordray Not Corddry

The newly confirmed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is Rich Cordray - finally confirmed after a ridiculously and unacceptably long wait from republican senators beholden to corporate banks. (link here) Rich Cordray is No Relation to Rob Corddry - thank goodness!  lol  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hope I Can Find A Parking Spot

The air is warm, the water is "warm enough", time to go body boarding!   (short post, I need to get going!)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Otter Box Wanted

I want an Otter Box for my iPad, so I can goole THIS, or THIS, or THIS, while soaking in the hot tub and drinking a drinky drink with alcohol while soothing my sore muscles after a 5 hour bike ride on a Sunday afternoon.   Anyone who can steal a day (or two or three) of vacation away from my beloved wife, (and vicariously from me, as well, since my world and my wife's world, are intrinsically linked, in plans and planning, and weekends) and who THINK they know more about science than scientists...  when they are just MDs who deal with patients who are all on slides...  not living, breathing, family-waiting-for-an-answer patients (no, those would be General Practitioners, Hospitalists, Heads of Internal Medicine, Heads of Residency, Oncologists, ER docs, and other actual medical doctors).

Sorry, but I have little patience for those who THINK they know what they are doing when they are just "winging it" and scrambling because they are otherwise clueless egomaniacs.  Leave the actual science to scientists.  Thanks!

Aliso Summit

I accidentally found Aliso Summit today.   It over-looks Aliso Creek park, the Pacific Ocean, Laguna Beach, Dana Point, the Pacific Coast Highway, and many many expensive neighborhoods.  It is also over-flown by Coopers Hawks, Red Tailed Hawks, Vultures (maybe California Condors?), and Peregrine Falcons (not to mention all the mocking birds, tit mice, finches, and sparrows, who are a food source for the previous mentioned predators (Condors excluded)).

I say "accidentally" because it was HIDDEN behind a "gated community" of elitists who think that because they are rich, they are "better than" everyone else, and can exclude non-residents from access.  HA!  Well, take Google Earth, and Suck It, rich elitists.

My high school buddy Rick G.K. is visiting tomorrow, and I am going to take him to Aliso Summit, if he has good walking shoes (the path is dusty and changes elevation about 1000 feet, all-together) and it is before Sunset.   On a clear day, we'll be able to see Catalina Island!

Raise Your Bike Seat!

So I go one a 5 hour, intense bike ride today, in Orange County.  I visit Aliso Summit, Aliso Creek Regional Park, Niguel Regional Park, and get home 5 hours later.   4 hours into the intense ride, I experience INTENSE quadriceps cramps for the first time in my life.  But it is NOT all 4 quads on each leg, it is just the inner two nearest to the groin, and the outer two, near the IT bands.

I call my son, who rides bike Every Day of His Life, and ask him "if my seat is not high enough, could this cause my outer quads to cramp?"  "Yes Dad, your inner two quads are the strongest ones, your leg should be straight or nearly straight on the down stroke of each pedal."  Well...  my leg was at most about 165 degrees out of 180 on each down stroke, and I had just finished riding nearly 7 miles on a dirt road that was covered in recently shredded "bamboo like" vegetation that Orange County is trying to eradicate from the Aliso Creek river bed.  My pedaling was "at best" about 80% efficient, with 20% being wasted on spinning my back tire in the shredded plant matter.  In my entire life, I've Never experienced dehabilitating quad cramps that LOCKED UP my legs like I did today after getting off the shredded path.   My bike seat is NOW raised to the point where my leg is about 178 degrees straight on a down stroke (about 2 inches higher than it was, the previous 4.5 hours).

Lots or dark rum,a potassium pill, and an hour of hot tub soaking later, I am cramp free and feeling much better, thank you  =)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Chateau Bertinat Lartigue Saint-Emilion 2009

Chateau Bertinat Lartigue Saint-Emilion 2009, Mis En Bouteille Au Chateau (bottled in the actual Chateau, so that's always a plus), an Alfio Moriconi Selection for Total Wine.  Dr Desert Flower picked this up for about $20 at Total Wine in anticipation of one of her former co-workers coming to visit us who particularly enjoys red wine.  It was a good vintage, and it was enjoyed by all as a wonderful first bottle - we followed it up with 2 other much less expensive bottles throughout the night over the next 3 hours.

M.MORICONI has consistently demonstrated that he makes good selections, and while I used to be skeptical of such mass-purchased wines, I have grown to trust Moriconi's selections over the years.  His tastes are similar to my own, and most all of them are affordable - though the European wine prices are continuing to go up over time.

Rondel Brut Cava

Do you like Champagne, but don't have $30 a bottle to burn?  Do you find Asti a little too sweet?  Have you enjoyed a nice Prosecco, but your retailer is out of Processco, and you see this Champagne shaped bottle labeled "Cava" but are not so sure if you'll like it?

Buy it!

Cavas are great.  They're similar to Proseccos (though the Italians would SCOFF at that statement), not as sweet as a Asti, and about 1/8th the price of a entry level Champagne - a TRUE Champagne from the Champagne region of France, not a California bubbly, made of similar grapes as Champagne might be made, and in a similar style, but then jacked up in price just for the name "Champagne" which has falsely been put on the label.

Yes, I like Champagne too, and at major anniversaries, weddings, celebrating new jobs or massive promotions, births of children or grand children, a bottle of Champagne is warranted (in my book) and can be afforded (in my bank account).  But for every day drinking, Cavas and Proseccos are preferable and affordable.  The Rondel Brut Cava was delightful at $5 a bottle form Trader Joe's.  It was consistent with other Cavas I have had, and it did not disappoint.   I recommend it for every-day drinking, especially in the summer time.

Vina Alarde Tempranillo

Vina Alarde Tempranillo 2011, 134th Cosecha De La Familia, Bodegueros Desde 1877 (since 1877) Berberana.  This Total Wine selection was one that they were offering at a "tasting" at the Laguna Hills Total Wine.  But aggravatingly, due to some arcane Californian rule, they can't "give away" the tasting, so you're required to "pay 10 cents".  I didn't have a dime on me, and I didn't want to pay a whole dollar for a wine that maybe I didn't like.

So I picked up the bottle, and saw it was a "Rioja" D.O.C. ... as I understand it, that means it is 'at least ok'.   It's not the best, nor is it the 'minimally worse' that a Spanish wine maker could produce.   Bottled for Bodegas Berberana S.A. by United Wineries.  Asked how much it was?  $8 - ok, worth a gamble.  It was fine.  I enjoyed it, even without the previous tasting.  The tasting hostess was "put off" slightly that I didn't want to "donate" a dollar... but I was in a hurry anyways, and it was a warm and humid day here when I bought it.  I really didn't need a bunch of red wine in my system on the 20 minute drive home - I was at the store to get Canton Ginger liqueur for Dr Desert Flower, and the Rioja was just a 'convenience buy".

Black Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Californian Fat Cat

Last month, I was on a wine buy spree at Trader Joe'
s, and bought a bunch of wines that I'd never tried before.  I wanted to see if they were any good, since each one was < < $10 a bottle (most were five or six dollars).  At the end of an aisle, Trader Joe's had this "Fat Cat" Cabernet that looked appealing.  I try to avoid "end of the aisle" stands, as they are often excess inventory, where the retailer bought way too much, and they are trying to 'dump' it at a discounted price.  But being a Californian now, I also wanted to try and patronize affordable, drinkable, local Californian wines, so I took a chance.

Black Mountain Cabernet did not disappoint.  It had a smooth, silky finish, and was very enjoyable.  The back label says it is from both Sonoma and Napa - it also says it was plum, anise, black cherry, and vanilla.  I detected a slight hint of vanilla and berries....  but the other descriptors on the tasting wheel I could not differentiate.  It was fine, and at $6 a bottle, it was a successful experiment from wine maker Bob Stashak.

Abancay Crianza Mascara Del Sol

Abancay Crianza 2009 Tempranillo-Merlot Mascara Del Sol is a nice, light, Spanish blend from Trader Joe's.  For $5 a bottle, it was wonderful.  I had it with Pollo Asada and it was refreshing and crisp.  The Picasso-like label is not something I typically go for, but Trader Joe's had it priced right, so I tried it.  I was not disappointed.

It is an Arinena Demominacion de Origin.  13.5% alcohol by volume.  It's worth a try if you're going to have spicy food and want a nice inexpensive red wine to go with it.

Friday, July 5, 2013

3-2,4-3, 7 or bare

Before I moved to California, I had NO IDEA about wet suits.  South Carolina is warmed by the gulf stream, and hence, I never needed one.   The Pacific is DEEP and COLD.  The slope of the Pacific, offshore, is steep, and cold water comes up to shore, readily.  There is no warm "Gulf Stream" that donates its endothermic enthalpy to the California coast.  It's chilly, and that's how thermodynamics meant it to be.
 So after I waded shin deep into the Pacific at Dana Point in 2012, and my feet became numb, I sought out wet suits.  I called my cousin Mike, who LIVES in Phoenix, but who surfs in San Diego (since Phoenix has NO Ocean).  My cousin, like me, grew up near Chicago, and shares not just some genetics, but also the proclivity for warm water.  He recommended O'Neill wet suits, since (in his words) "O'Neill invented the wet suit over 50 years ago, and keeps improving it".

I looked online, and decided upon an "O'Neill Mutant" suit as my target purchase.  It looked warm enough, flexible enough, and reasonably priced.  Killer Dana, the very personable and very helpful surf shop in Dana Point that had rented surf board and wet suit to my progeny over Christmas at a very reasonable price did NOT have the Mutant suit, but they DID have the Psycho suit, and it fit very well.   I also tried on an O'Neill "Heat" suit made of 5 or 6 year old technology, and it was VERY difficult to get my broad shoulders into, or to zip up.   The Killer Dana Staff told me that the Heat suit was being phased out and used older technology.  The Psycho suit was nearly twice as expensive as the Heat, but Killer Dana had a 30% off sale for "winter suits", so that made it reasonably priced - and the Killer Dana staff were very helpful, informative, and customer-centric.   It was a pleasure shopping there.  It is a 3-2 suit, ideal for California cold water.  A 4-3 suit is for REALLY cold water, and a "7 mil" suit is for ice diving and arctic scuba.  The 7 mil suit is SO THICK, that when your arms are bent, it cuts off the circulation below your elbows.  3-2 for CA water.   4-3 for really really cold water.   7 mil (with a hoodie) if you are going to be a polar bear.

So I bought my new XXL Psycho 3-2 suit, and I was determined to go 'down to the shore' to begin snorkeling, body boarding, and enjoying the vast Pacific Ocean.  The Very Next Day, I head down to Strand Beach at Dana Point, with mask and snorkel and fins.   I get to the beach, and the Strand Beach lifeguard says to be "dude, you're not going to need that suit today" as I squeeze my arms into the suit.  "What's the water temp?" I ask him.
"68 or 69"
"I will need to suit, that is barely Lake Michigan in August, and certainly not South Carolina gulf temperatures".
I head out into the surf.. swim 200 yards off shore.. and see NOTHING but sand.  The 3-2 Psycho suit IS warm, that is for sure...  but all I can see is a sand blizzard, and my arms and legs are stuck in kelp, so I turn around, and head back to shore.  Day one, failure.

4 days elapse as I work, and pine for the surf again.  Then Friday afternoon, I head down with Body Glove Body Board, and 3-2 wet suit, back to DP Strand Beach before the 4th of July holiday week.   I notice I am one of about 5% of swimmers in a wet suit.  Body Boarding is A BLAST!   I have great fun for 2 hours, and accidentally ingest about 2 litres of sea water in the process.   I tell Dr Desert Flower about it, and we plan to go the beach the week of July 4th, when it is "warmer".  Then July 2nd, the ambient is almost 80F, the water temp still a chilly 69F...  and we head to the beach, me in my 3-2 Psycho suit, her in her bikini.  Again, I am one of 5 or 10% of swimmers in wet suits.

Intrepid DDF ventures out into the water without a wet suit, and doesn't freeze her butt off.  I feel somewhat silly in my very warm suit, and strip down out of it, to swim shorts after about an hour.  I find the surf Chilly, but refreshing...  not "teeth chattering"...  so I stay out body boarding with my lovely wife.  DDF is a natural body boarder, very bouyant...  riding waves nearly to shore, while her much heavier husband grounds out beaching himself many yards from the edge of the water.  It was great fun, even without the wet suit.

So I have rinsed out my wet suit, and let it dry for 2 days in the guest bed room - using "the coldest water possible".  Killer Dana sales personnel warned "never leave the wet suit in direct sunlight to dry" - yes, yes, the UV will get it (and they looked at me with a knowing nod of approval).   Never put it in the washer or drier.  Never use chemicals on it to clean it.  If it starts to smell "funky" they have a wet suit "shampoo" they can see you to clean it...  but with proper rinsing after each use, the funk should be avoided.  After Labor Day, l will get it back out again, and wear it through the winter at the beach, but for now, I will Body Board in just swim shorts and sun block (including putting the sun block in my hair to protect my scalp).

Come to visit us in Southern CA, and I will show you how much fun you can have body boarding in the surf....   it's as much fun as it looks, and more!  =)


Révélation Cabernet-Merlot, Pays D'Oc, (Negotients) Badet, Clement & Co is a pretty good, in-expensive, Trader Joe's French red that is worth drinking.   At under $8 a bottle, we enjoyed it with a nice steak.  55% cab, 45% merlot, imported by Trader Joe's Latitude wines, we enjoyed it.

You should try it too.  Not bad at all.

Badet & Clement are showing me that Negotiant wines don't have to be low quality, soulless, cut-throat yuck...  they an be enjoyable, delicious, full bodied and wonderful wines at reasonable prices.  (photos are from my MacBook Air's camera....  if you don't like the quality, complain to Steve Job's ghost).