Thursday, November 17, 2005

My Christmas List for 2005 - Part 1

Here's a list of things that would be nice to receive for Christmas gifts. They are not listed in any particularly logical order.

SanDisk Cruzer Mini flash memory stick
It is also available at Costco (though not at
The one pictured is a 1 gigabyte capacity stick, they are the best value right now. It's about $69 at Costco, Amazon's MSRP of $299.99 is totally out of proportion.

An iTunes card would nice... Get them locally, Amazon's shipping charges are ridiculous. They come in $15 and $30 denominations.

REI Granite Pants. They come in three colors, I'll take any or all... 36x34... But since we both work there, an $18 gift card would be just as appreciated. Heck an REI gift card of any denomination would be welcome!

The Oxo Good Grips i-Series vegetable peeler. There are two Good Grips swivel peelers, the "i-Series" is the important part in this case. America's Test Kitchen gave it high marks this season... I think you have to go to a specialty store like Kitchen Window or Cooks of Crocus Hill to get one.

And on a related note... A subscription to Cook's Illustrated Magazine would be fun. Or one of their cook books, such as Inside America's Test Kitchen or America's Test Kitchen Live!

Gadgets!!! No not Kitchen ones... Geeky ones!!

Like this: Ethernet crossover Adapter.

Well That's part one... No, really, there will be more parts this time, I promise!!!

More Time On My Hands

Like the song from Styx's Paradise Theater album said, "I've got too much time on my hands." After one week shy of six years, I was laid off from my full time job at the end of October. On the one hand, I at least have held a part time job at REI since April. So the days that I am not at REI building bikes and working on skis, I'm scanning, and the local papers, submitting resumes. If I were truly bitter about it I'd post the name of the company, but frankly I probably should have gotten off my butt years ago and left on my own. I feel confident that this will all work out for the better in the end.

It makes it kind of awkward to assemble a Christmas gift list, when I know we aren't going to be able to give many gifts this year. None the less, a Christmas list will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another cool gift, belatedly acknowledged

If you are a faithful reader of the Random Bodger, you have noticed that I think my wife is pretty darn good at picking out cool gifts fro me. Well for my birthday she did herself proud by getting me a ThermaPen Superfast digital thermometer.

This thing is slick, easy to read, and, well, as its name suggests, fast! It reads fast enough, and is easy enough to read that you can very easily cook a food item to a precise degree of 'doneness' and do it time and time again.

The Thermapen has made several appearances on Good Eats and America's Test Kitchen but it is not listed in the equipment pages of Alton Brown's web site. We ended up asking him about it during the book signing segment of Alton's visit to the local Barnes and Noble this past winter.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Boundary Waters - Part 2 - Our Adventure Begins

When last I posted I had every intention of posting more updates of our planning, before we headed North. That didn't exactly happen.

It's been a week since we entered the Boundary Waters for a three and a half day adventure, and it is time to start writing down the story before it starts to fade. I did keep a journal of sorts each evening, and I'll be referring to that as I write this.

We left the Twin Cities on Friday afternoon, apparently along with a significant portion of the Metro population. I guess we knew that was going to happen. After a stop in Duluth for dinner, our last chance for fast food, we arrived at Sawbill Lake as the sun was setting. Sawbill Canoe Outfitters was still open so we picked up our permit, our boats and one more portage pack for the food.

SCO operates the US Forest Service Campground near the entry point, so we camped there for the evening, sorting out our gear and making last minute adjustments. In preparation for an early departure the next morning we took all the boats down to a holding area. No locks, no security, it's nice to be able to trust that people will be decent.

Saturday morning started cool and clear, the lake was pretty well socked in with fog until the sun came up. We cooked up breakfast burritos to get us going. Once camp was broken down and every thing loaded back into the portage packs, we were off! Boats into the water, paddles in hand, and we were heading up the lake into the wilderness.

The Sawbill Lake Entry point is near the lower left corner of this map scan, and yes there is a small sign on that island at the red and black border line. We were heading for the far north end of the lake and that 50 Rod portage near the top of the scan. Our first challenge wasn't the portage but rather the dinner. Yes, it was only 9am and we were being dogged by a meal we wouldn't cook for six hours. I had decided on cedar plank salmon for the first night's dinner and one of the preparations for that recipe is to soak the cedar plank for several hours so that it smokes instead of just burning up. I had the brilliant idea to drill a hole in the corner of the plank and drag it along behind us. Little did I know that it would act like something out of the Rapala catalog and dive spin even at a canoe's pace. Brenda and I struggled with dragging that darn thing for the first hour, unable to keep up with the other two boats.

Our compatriots decided to take a break and wait for us. When we finally caught up with them the discussion led to us taking he board out of the water, only dunking it into the water occasionally for the rest of the day. The difference was night and day, I could not have imagined how much of an anchor that board was! At least as far as the paddling was concerned the rest of the day was smooth sailing.

Reaching the end of the lake brought us to the second skill involved in surviving the Boundary Waters: Portaging. The first portage was 50 Rods long, and of average terrain, or at least what would turn out to be average. A rod is 16.5 feet long, yielding 320 rods in a mile. A rod is an ancient unit of measurement, perhaps only outdone by the cubit. Rods were originally defined as the combined length of the right feet of the first 16 men to come out of church on Sunday. A rod also happens to be about the length of a canoe, I suspect this is why the unit has persisted when it comes to portages. Brenda and I decided that I would take the canoe, and she would take the pack. That meant she was actually carrying more weight, but at least it was a little awkward than the 42 pound canoe. I knew 50 roads wasn't really that long, but as it turned out I wasn't really prepared for it either. By the end of that first portage I was huffing and puffing and pretty sweaty. Things were pretty awkward as we had yet to develop a system for unloading and loading the boats. Once we were back on the water, it only took a few stokes of the paddle before I had faith again that we would do ok on the portages.

The next lake was only a short paddle, and then another portage, this time 80 rods. Half again the distance of the last portage wasn't going to be too bad. A momentary pause somewhere near the middle and then I was at the landing ready to put the boat back into the water. Brenda and I were already starting to work out the system of unloading the boat at the start of the portage and reloading it at the end. We were back into the water and heading across the third lake of the day!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


So I have learned that there is some dissent, at least between me and the rest of the world, with regards to the pronunciation of the name of the Canadian wilderness area to the North of the Boundary Waters.

It is spelled thus: Quetico

Most seem to pronounce it kweh'-tih-ko, the 'Qu' being like in "queen"

Let me remind everyone that the Franco-Canadian province is "Quebec" it has always been my understanding that the residents of said province pronounce it ke-bek So it only makes sense to me that the wilderness should be pronounced keh'-tih-ko.

This has come to a head as I think I either severely confused, or mildly offended someone with my pronunciation.

Any Comments? Enlighten me!

Saturday, March 26, 2005


I've always thought it is important, when possible to use the right terminology when discussing, well, just about anything. Maybe it was my upbringing, one of the people who helped raise me was a technical editor of training manuals; maybe I'm just naturally anal-retentive.

What's the difference between querying and polling. How about, "running a query" versus "running a report"

One of the recommendations in the great book, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" is something to the effect of "You don't always have to be right." I have a hard time balancing that against using the correct terminology when I see those errors causing confusion in others. Maybe I just need to pick other times to be wrong. Sometimes I just gt tired of keeping my mouth shut.

Boundary Waters, Part 1

Many outside of the Upper Midwest have never heard of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), I'm pretty certain I hadn't before moving to Minnesota. The BWCAW is, in fact, one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the U.S., at over a million acres, it is half again bigger than the country of Luxemburg. The are over 1200 miles of canoe routes in the Boundary Waters.

Entry into the Boundary Waters is by permit, and only at designated entry points. Each entry point has a daily quota of permits, and once that quota is met, one has to either wait or choose a different entry point. However, once you are in, you are free to travel anywhere within the wilderness.

Why am I writing about this? My wife and, plus two of our friends have set a date for a long weekend trip to the Boundary Waters this spring. I've gone camping before, many times, and I've gone paddling a few times, including a guided trip on the Upper Gauley River in West Virgina (but that's a story for another time). But this will be the first time that I've ever tried to put the two things together.

I'm very much looking forward to hte experience, knowing that I will be challenged, but believing that I will rise to the occasion My wife, I know, is looking foward to it too. She has long been regaled with stories of the Boundary Waters by her best friend, whom we hope we will be able to add to the excursion. She however is concerned that she won't be able to meet the callenge and that the rest of us will have to pick up her slack. I don't think she gives herself enough credit sometimes.

Why is the boundary waters so special? I guess I won;t really know until I am there, but it sounds like it is the fact that it is possible to paddle all day long and never see another human being outside your own party; to have a greater probability of seeing wolves or moose.

It's eight weeks until the trip, and in the mean time I have an auto race to help organize, and the largest single technology purchase my employer has ever made to coordinate. As er proceed with the planning, I'll post further updates, however, don't expect me to post reports from out there, I'll leave that to LivArneson and Ann Bancroft.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Someone linked to my Blog!

In an attempt to determine if Google has ever crawled my blog, I found a reference to it on a blog called Small Thoughts About The World At Large. I'm flattered that Bean Frog would add a link to here, but I am also perplexed as to why! It's not like I have ever written anything particularly interesting. Only person has ever posted comments to any of my posts, but there it is, a link.

I guess, I should get off my butt and add a links sidebar so that I can return the favor.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Competitiveness in the State of Hockey

Having moved to Minnesota and being married to a Minnesotan, I now have several cousins and nephews who play hockey. They are 7, 13, 15, and 17 years old. This time year, the hearts of Minnesotans turn, not to thoughts of springtime, but to the Boys State Hockey Tournament in Saint Paul. Here in Minnesota the State Hockey tournament carries the clout of a high school football championship in Texas: Over fifteen thousand people will fill the Xcel Energy Center each of three nights of play to watch what will be for many of the student athletes the the highlight of their sports careers.

And so the discussion has been of late, what is the balance between involving a kid in hockey to teach them how to play a game, have fun, be active, and (for a lack of a better description) grooming them for the next olympic team.

The youngest nephew plays on an urban hockey association team. This association is commonly recognized for the diveristy of its players and the dedication of the parents. But the reality is, most of the kids in this association will end going to urban public schools, some of which may not even have prep level hockey programs. One of this nephew's friends plays hockey for a suburban club. This particular suburb is, historically, probably in the state's top 5, having, in 61 years, at least 19 appearances in the state tournament. I've seen my nephew play, and have watched him since he was first learning to skate. The other night during the first intermission, I had a chance to see the nephew's friend skate and play a little hockey. I was amazed at the difference in the general playing skills.

The next youngest, a cousin, is a freshman at another of the state's legendary teams. A team on it's way to another Class A championship. That team this year is made up mostly of seniors including the goalie. The nephew has played goalie for several years, and at one time played ahead of the current backup goalie. He could be in line to be the backup goalie on the varsity team next year. But like so many other 15 year olds these days, his attention is divided amongst the many diversions, electronic and otherwise, that his parents allow him.

I think in the first kid's case, casual participation can net significant gains in skills and ability. Not because of who he is, or the talent he may have been born with, but because at the level he is at he is learning skills. In the friend's case, he will be coached hard, but will probably fall off the bottom of the program before he reaches high school. In the third kid's case, it has to take significant dedication to the sport just to maintain one's place in the pecking order. Again, not because of who he is, or what he was born with, but because every other athlete at that level is honing and refining their skills, thus smaller gains make bigger differences.

So I guess I have to agree with my wife that there is nothing wrong with our nephew playing hockey, perhaps at a lower level than his friend, but "get to be kid" while doing so. I have to disagree with her about the 13 year old cousin though. He's playing at level in 'the system' where if he isn't willing to dedicate himself completely maybe he is just consuming resources that another, fully dedicated, player could use. At the prep level, should a kid train and play like his goal was the NHL?

I certainly don't mean to down play all the good things that are supposed to come with prep athletics, fair play, sportsmanship, and the like. But there's a fundmental difference between being out there to slap the puck around the ice and being out there to win a championship. I think at that level a kid needs to decide to fish or cut bait. If they aren't willing to knuckle-down, put away the PlayStation and dedicate their fullest effort to academics and their sport, maybe they should just be out playing on the pond.

And so the question remains, where is the middle ground, the transition point?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Which is Mightier? The Sledgehammer or the Pen

It never ceases to amaze me, when asking someone for a signature, how many people ask for someone's "John Henry."

I could go on for a while citing sources, but it's pretty simple:

It was John Hancock with the flowery signature on the Declaration of Independence. John Henry, whose life is preserved mainly in folk lore was a railroad worker. By the most popular accounts he pit himself against a steam-driven hammer machine in a bid to save the jobs of his fellow rail workers.

So unless you want them to hit something with a sledgehammer, ask for their "John Hancock"

Friday, January 21, 2005

Gluttony and Pacing

As an occasional attaboy, my manager will give out a $50 expense account to individuals on his staff. I was the recipient of one of those recently. If you have read my other postings, you know that my wife I don't go out for sit down meals all that often. So as we had some "free" money, we decided to go somewhere nice.

We decided on The Melting Pot, a national chain Fondue restaurant.

Not giving it much thought, we just showed up with no reservation. We were told there was a fifty minute wait, but we weren't in a hurry and we were looking forward to this, so we waited it out in their lounge. Two excellent, and reasonably priced Margaritas later, we were called to our table.

The menu is thick, mostly covering the amazing wine selection. But we were there for the fondue. We opted for a three course dinner for two, to which we would add desert. There are basically three ways to go: a four course meal, a three course meal, or a la carte.

We started with a cheese course fondue containing Fontina, Butterkasse, and a smidge of bleu cheese. It was served with Veggies, chunks of apple, and of course cubes of various hearty breads. We were off to a good start, but we knew we had to pace ourselves.

The next course was salad. My wife selected the Mushroom salad: a reasonable portion of greens and a mound of thinly sliced, no, shaved mushrooms. Tasty, but the mushrooms were limited to basic button mushrooms. A variety of mushrooms would have made this good salad great. But, again, we were there for the fondue. My salad was the California Salad: mixed greens, slices of roma tomato and red onion with bleu cheese, and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I had to remind myself not to eat too much of the salad as we still had the main course coming.

The entree fondue was a platter called the Pacific Rim: Marinated beef tenderloin, duck, chicken and pork along with pot stickers and shrimp. At Melting Pot, you not only choose what food you are going to eat, but how you are going to cook it. There are four cooking liquid choices, we chose the "Coq au Vin" broth. The entree also comes with vegetables and a selection of dipping sauces. We made it through about two thirds of the entree before throwing in the towel. We knew we would have to save space for desert. One would think that fondue would not be something conducive to a doggy bag, but on a whim I asked if we could just cook the leftovers up and take them home. But of course!

It was about at this point that it sunk in. We had to wait when we arived not because all the tables were full, but rather because they strictly limit the number of tables any waiter has at a given time. They limit the seating rate at the great benefit of service. And great service it was! Our waiter was congenial, prompt and attentive all without hovering.

The extra cooking time for the leftovers gave us a little time to "recover" for dessert, for which we chose a dark chocolate fondue with Bailey's Irish Cream. The dessert fondues are served with an assortment of pound cake, marshmallows (coated in oreo crumbs or graham cracker crumbs), and fruit. Like the entree where you can request more vegetables, with the dessert you can request two items from the platter for replenishment, we chose the bananas and pound cake.

The evening has to be chalked up to one of the very best dining experiences I've ever had. So when the bill came, and we had spent just a tick over $100, I didn't even bat an eye. It was worth every penny!

If there was a low point, I'd say it was the salad, but I'm willing to give that it is the least important part of the meal in this case. Sure it works well to cleanse the palatte after the cheese course, but it is probably what they do least well. For a night on the town, and a nice relaxed meal, The Melting Pot is a winner!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Experiences of Dining Out

My wife and don't often dine out. Sure, we grab a bite to eat somewhere if we have errands to run after work, but it's seldon that we go some place to "sit down and enjoy a meal". Last night however, owing to having a gift card that we knew "we really should use one of these days," we decided to go to "The Cheesecake Factory".

After were seated we started looking at the menu, just anyone else would. To my surprise, every other page of the menu was advertising, and not for the restaraunt. Mainly, the ads were for stores in the mall the restaurant is attached to. But ads! I found them to be distracting. They went to such ends to have a consistent look and feel throughout the restuarant, and in the menu, and then they go and shatter it with all these ads!

Did it detract from the meal? No, not really. The food was pretty good, the service prompt but not hovering, and I would have to concede that the price matched the value, at least for the entrees we had. The bill was about $38 for two entrees, two sodas, and a shared desert.

Random Acts of Kindness
When we were seated, there was a gentleman seat at the next table midway through his meal, dining alone. He paid his bill with a giftcard as well. When the waitress brought his reciept back, she informed him that there was still some value on the card. I didn't catch the exact number. He gathered his belongings, put on his jacket, and as he walked by our table he put the card down on it saying, "There's twelve bucks still on there, enjoy!" He didn't even give us a chance to thank him!

With the combination of the two cards, we walked out there having spent just under eight dollars including the tip, plus we both had doggy bags for today's lunch.