Friday, January 28, 2011

Abolish the TSA and install Personal Anti-hijack Devices.

The Transportation Security Authority spends about 82% of its total budget, approximately $5.5 billion dollars on Aviation Security and Federal Air Marshal Program.

This is my alternative to the enhanced screenings and armed air marshals.

With a push of a button from the cockpit, the cabin will be depressurized, the masks will drop, as well as these Personal Anti-hijack Devices. I don't think anyone can successfully hijack a depressurized plane with a bunch of angry and scared passengers armed with box cutters.

And in a regular airline emergency, the box cutters can be used to cut stuck seat-belts, and if one is unfortunate enough to end up in Lost, fight polar bears and unseen monsters with the box cutters.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I thank Julius Caesar for Belgium. Carbonade Flamande!

Every July 13 should be celebrated as Julius Caesar appreciation day. Born in 100BC, Julius Caesar, in his quest to elevate himself as dictator of Rome, marched his Legions through what is modern France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium before his failed attempt to conquer the Britons. Because Roman Legions marched wherever they went, Julius Caesar's engineers built roads and bridges. Because marching armies needed to be fed and a place to rest, Julius Caesar's armies built a chain of forts, many of which became settlements, that litter the modern borders between France, Germany, and divides Belgium into Flanders and Wallonia.

While Belgium has had to deal with ethnic instability and a complicated government, its unique geography as the ethnic boundary between the French and Germanic peoples has provided its people and the world with Belgian beer and culinary wonders like French frites!

Anyway, all this anthropological crap is just a strange interlude to what I was really interested in sharing, the carbonade flamande!

        • 2 bottles (~12oz.) of a drinkable wheat beer (I used Hoegaarden)
        • 3 pounds of beef (chuck)
        • 2 medium yellow onions
        • 2 tsp of minced garlic
        • 4 tablespoons of flour
        • 2 cups of beef broth
        • 1 tsp of dried thyme
        • 2 bay leaves
        • 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
        • 1/2 pound of mushrooms
        • 1/2 pound of carrots
        • 1 medium stalk of celery
        • 6 small/medium potatoes

1. Chop the onions into 1/4 inch strings. Cut the carrots, celery and mushrooms into bite size. Wash/peel the potatoes and cut them into over-sized bites.

2. Clean and trim the beef. Cut the beef into 1 inch cubes. Liberally apply/rub salt and pepper all over the cubes.

3. Open a bottle of beer. To verify its freshness and suitability for cooking, take a swig. Taste good? Great! Unfortunately, now you don't have enough beer for the stew, so go ahead and finish that bottle and open another one (for cooking). Let it sit on the counter while you begin cooking.

4. Apply high heat to a large oven safe cooking vessel with significant thermal mass. I used my stainless steel pot (~6 quart). Add some oil, then sear the cubes of beef until they've developed a nice flavorful brown crust. We do this for flavor. Contrary to conventional wisdom, searing does not seal in juices.

5. Take your time while searing, good things come to those who wait. Once you're done, set the beef aside in another bowl, and pour the juices on top of the beef. Don't wash the pot. You'll see why later.

6. Preheat your oven to 300°F.

7. Apply medium heat to your beefy pot. Apply some oil. Then throw in your onions with a pinch of salt. Saute until they're brown and the bottom of the pot is de-glazed.

8. Toss in your minced garlic and stir. Then toss in the flour and stir.

9. Keep cooking and stirring until the mixture is sticky, and somewhat brown. Then pour in your beef broth and that bottle of beer sitting on the countertop.

10. Toss in your thyme, bay leaves, and vinegar. Bring the mixture up to a slow simmer.

11. Toss in all the beef with all the juices. Toss in all the carrots, celery, mushrooms and potatoes.

12. Bring the mixture to a slow simmer again.

13. Loosely cover the pot, and stick it in the oven. Set a timer for 2 hours.

14. Drink some more beer and wait. Thank Julius Caesar for landscaping the cultural national borders of Western Europe.

15. Many beers later (2 hours), serve the carbonade flamande with something like bread, rice, egg noodles, boiled potatoes, or frites!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Top 3 Silly Automotive Trends.

There are some pretty lame automotive design trends. For 2011, I hope these things die and never reemerge, but I doubt it'll happen because people keep eating this crap up! But that doesn't mean I can't complain about it

So here is my list of "Top 3 Silly Automotive Trends."

3. Gratuitous Vents and Chrome

Fake gratuitous vents are lame. They don't do anything, and so are useless plastic chrome bits. I'm not a design Nazi who believes that there is only one way to build the exterior of a car, but really? Fake vents? Plastic chrome bits?

Ummm.... No.

Electroplating metal with chromium used to be a decorative but practical way to make exterior bits more resistant to corrosion. Now it is for cheap tasteless POS plastic components, probably approved by some idiot who was looking to fix some fundamental stylizing element issue with a budget of only $2 dollars.

2. "Sport" Pedals

"Sport" pedals, a new favorite amongst "Sport" models of passenger cars, are neither sporty, or safe. In other words, they're just stupid. Pedals are important functional components of a car. They should be safe, not stylized.

Besides for dumb car buyers and silly "VTEC just kicked in yo" types, no one else pays any attention to pedals - except for when their foot slips off after getting in the car on a rainy or snowy day. Pedals need to be slip resistant. That means they should be covered with a rubber-like substance, and textured to be as rough as possible. A boring black pedal is cheaper and safer, and the car manufacturer wouldn't have to worry about drivers getting into unintended acceleration events, and finding a hack product liability lawyer to dig the deep pockets.

1. Unnecessarily Large Rims

Nothing screams "I suffer from micropenis, hypogonadism, and gynecomastia" than unnecessarily large rims. Large rims are the automotive equivalent of Viagra®, only ineffective and completely stupid.

Large rims are stupid because they add unnecessary weight, do not necessarily improve grip, and definitely harms performance and fuel economy. It is one thing to increase rim width for added grip on dry conditions or increase rim size to allow for larger disc brakes and calipers, another thing to just make rims increasingly large because of "looks" better.

Lighter rims provide less unsprung weight for the suspension to handle, and therefore engineers can more easily perfect the balance between comfort and performance in any given car. But unfortunately,
My owner has a small penis!
automotive designers, who don't always listen to engineers, are increasingly looking to improve the appearance of new cars by selecting huge rims.

One of the worst offenders is the Infiniti FX50, which has absurd 21 x 9.5 inch rims. Each OEM rim and tire weigh about 74 lbs. That is a lot of weight to get turning and move with the suspension, and really quite stupid.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Old Country Memories: Sausage Gambling

When I was growing up in the middle to late 1980s, Taiwan had barely just emerged from under martial law, and people were relatively poor. One of the more amusing memories I have about Taiwan is the sausage gambling phenomenon at night markets or in the rear gates behind schools (where all the "illicit" and "shameful" stuff like candies and pop stands were). Gambling was and still is illegal in Taiwan, but because martial law meant swift and harsh disproportionate punishment, people never gambled in cash, but instead offered "games" for goods like soda, candy, and sausages.

A modern sausage stand.

Taiwanese sausages are sort of thin tubes of pork that is over-salted and over-sweetened. They tend to be a little dry, because they literally are hung on a rack above the grilling station. Unrefrigerated in Taiwanese weather! But whatever! They were tasty and I never got sick.

So anyway - one of the stranger things is people gamble for these sausages. Back then, prices were relatively low, so you could buy a sausage for like NT$ 5 (something like 17¢ USD). So once you bought your sausage, the dude behind the stand would grill it up for you. But if you opted to, you could gamble with your sausage.

Usually hidden under the grill, the guy had a mini roulette wheel or  a dice board, and you could gamble a sausage for more sausages! Hypothetically, you could win the entire cart and just go home with a few hundred sausages, but I don't think that ever happens because the games were probably all rigged like in any real casino, where the house always wins.

I never gambled with my sausage - probably because the only money I ever had was the random NT$ 5 that I found while I was looking at the ground. But I recall some classmates had the gambling bug.

I guess no matter where you go, there is a portion of the population that enjoys gambling. Gambling is like extreme alcoholism, if you have the genetic predisposition, all it takes is the rush of the first roll of the dice and you're hooked for life.

I guess my former classmates could say "it all began when I started gambling with my sausage."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Authoritarian Managers and Unpopular Teachers should avoid the Easy Fuel™ Capless Fuel System.

I'm a big fan of Ford. Of all the American manufacturers, it is the only one that did not require a bailout. Ford has always produced fundamentally good products, and spent much of its resources on product R&D, even if they were not always available in North America.

But for the authoritarian manager, unpopular school teacher, or someone who lives or works in West Virginia, you should avoid a Ford.

Ford's Easy Fuel™ system is an innovative development that in lieu of a traditional gas cap, utilizes two self-closing flaps that seals the gas tank automatically. The driver (or if you're in NJ, the gasoline pump technician), just needs to open the fuel door and insert the nozzle. The nozzle head will push open the first seal, and then second seal, minimizing fuel evaporative emissions that pollute the atmosphere.

The capless fuel system also prevents the possibility someone will improperly insert and twist the gas cap and set off an EVAP code (one of the most common unnecessary trips to the dealer in modern cars).

Sounds great right?

Only Ford has made the business decision not to include a locked fuel door... so anyone can covertly open your fuel door, siphon gas out of it, or even worse, pour foreign liquids into your gas tank (solids will get trapped by the fuel filter). The evil individual can then close your fuel door. And when you you start the engine with the foreign liquid? Bam! Now you need to take your car to the garage for repairs. It can be as simple as flushing the fuel lines and changing the injectors, or you've suffered actual engine damage.

If you call Ford, they'll tell you that you can buy a special lockable gas cap, but that renders the Easy Fuel™ Capless Fuel System worthless. Why won't Ford just install a locking fuel door? Who knows?

Please siphon or add water to my gas tank!

So if you're an authoritarian manager, unpopular school teacher, or someone who parks in West Virginia. Either avoid Fords, or buy a locking gas cap.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Snow Driving in NJ.

We took a 800 mile road trip during the Christmas weekend. Unfortunately, the snow followed us all the way from western Pennsylvania to the eastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey.

We saw many cars that wrecked in the often times icy and snowy conditions - but I couldn't help but notice that the preponderance of wrecks involved luxury cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks driving too quickly on the left lane. The only exception was an elderly man who managed to overturn 1980s clunker. He seemed ok, he was standing at the scene of the accident with a neck brace.

Our car, which has relatively narrow all-season tires, handled like a champ in the snow.

 12/26 - Approximately two feet of snow + drift
causedby 40mph gusts.

12/27 - After about an hour of digging.

12/27 - After a couple of hours of digging.

The fruits of snow removal! Beef Udon @ Mitsuwa. Yum!

Happy New Year.

Last year was a year of transition and much cautious optimism.

For obvious reasons, this year sucked. Hopefully 2011 will be a better year.

Happy New Year Folks.